Monday, December 21, 2009

The Sweetest Thing

One thing that a traveler comes to appreciate is family. There really is 'no place like home.' This past Thanksgiving, I was able to relax with the family and participate in one of our favorite past times: making food. In the past we've made everything from cookies to homemade pretzels. This year we made one of my favorites: rock candy! Though the recipe is not very complicated, it takes many hands to get the job done. My main job was to 'man' the stove. What you can't see in this picture is my grandma in the background chanting- "Keep stirring! Keep stirring!" The candy has been doled out to family members, and in a few weeks it will be consumed. But I have tucked the memories of that night into the corners of my mind. It is the sweetest thing.

Here is my scrumptious recipe. I hope that it creates many good memories for you and your family:

Rock Candy:

3 3/4 c. sugar
1 1/4 c. white Caro syrup
1 c. water
(4# powdered sugar)-pour this into 4 jelly roll pans and make valleys

Cook til syrup reaches 300 degrees F. Remove from heat and add 1/8 t food coloring and 2 drams of oil (1 oz). Stir rapidly and pour into powdered sugar pans.

When cool, cut. Sift excess powdered sugar off. Makes 2 1/2 lbs.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Survival of the Fittest

A friend of mine who grew up in Africa recently shared this bit of wisdom with me:


Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up. It knows that it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows that it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle, when the sun comes up, you better start running. -- African Proverb --


This makes me ponder the race of life. Am I running from something or to something? Am I the gazelle or the lion? When the race finally ends (and it will eventually) will I eat or be eaten? Will I be exultant or harbor regret?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Creation Museum

A few months ago I went with my family to the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY which is literally on the outskirts of Cincinnati. Answers in Genesis, a Christian organization that promotes creation and refutes evolution, is the core of this museum. For me, this wasn't a museum; it was an experience. Every exhibit and show was top of the line quality; the sequence and placement of quotes, displays, and information was obviously purposeful and meaningful.

One of my favorite thought-provoking signs asked about each person's starting points. It seems as though nearly every decision and path you take in life stems back to your core values and beliefs.







Another picture full of impact depicted a potter's hands, referring to God being in control of our lives and fashioning us to His will.




















The museum not only had powerful images and insightful messages, but it also engaged the visitor with animated displays from the Garden of Eden through the birth of Christ. Think Disney in Kentucky. I would thoroughly recommend the Creation Museum to anyone-even if you don't believe in creation. The planetarium and the outdoor gardens alone are enough to draw a tourist in. So if you're on the border of Ohio and Kentucky, stop on by-what do you have to lose?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Chicago


This past weekend I had the chance to explore Chicago with Joel. We spent the day people-watching, shopping, eating, and walking. I was saluted by a man dressed in a kilt, we were given free soy-joy bars at a curbside stand, and we were entertained by a certain window-washer 10 floors up. But, my favorite experience by far was going to see Jersey Boys. This Broadway musical follows Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons throughout their conception and careers. John Michael Dias played Frankie Valli, and his voice was absolutely incredible! He looked and sounded like the real deal. We got rush tickets earlier that morning, and it was definitely worth the $25! "Oh What a Night..."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Knobstone Escarpments

Hiking in Southern Indiana is full of surprises! My brother and I went to the Knobstone Escarpments (http://www.indianaoutfitters.com/Destinations/Knobstone_trail.htm) last June for a lil hiking adventure. The Escarpments have a certain aura about them; the only people living nearby are the Amish, and the trailhead is off the beaten path. We ended up hiking 14 miles, growing more tired at each mile marker! The Escarpments are quite hilly. The terrain was virtually a rollercoaster ride with the rare stretch of flat trail. Some people train on this trail in aspiration of the Appalachian Trail, so we'll see. Maybe I'll tackle the giant next...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Canadian Wedding

A memorable, picturesque wedding reception is the goal of many an engaged couple. My cousin got married in Acton, Ontario to a wonderful man named Kyle, and their reception was stunning. It was located at the Terra Cotta Inn in Terra Cotta, Ontario- not far from Acton. The food was scrumptious and the gardens and stream were gorgeous, but my absolute favorite aspect was the deck. The deck, or terrace, was quite large and airy. Various smaller umbrellas and a larger canvas shaded the numerous wrought iron chairs and tables from the sun. The stone foundation of the terrace allowed the deck to blend serenly into the gardens surrounding it. I would highly recommend the Terra Cotta Inn for wedding receptions; they were very accomodating and personable, and the atmosphere was perfect. Check it out at: http://www.terracottainncanada.com/gardens.html

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Grocery Stores Offer Glimpse of Culture

Grocery stores could be the secret to saving big bucks while traveling. I discovered this while in Latvia and Sweden, but this realization should be nothing new! In Latvia, where G is a native, we knew exactly what we wanted and were able to save a lot of money when comparing our meals to restaurant prices. The grocery store is a great place to interact with locals as well. Just observing the layout of the store, what people have in their carts, and how they shop can be entertaining and informative. For instance, in Latvia, the aisles were winding and permitted basically only one route throughout the store. The store also provided a glimpse into "real" Latvian food, and showed what most of the people ate.
Sweden was a tad different. The grocery store we went to in Stockholm was located underneath, that's right-underneath, a department store downtown. I felt like I was entering a secret lair, the store was concealed so well from the street. In Stockholm, the grocery store was much larger and fashioned after the grocery stores in the U.S. Here we did a grab-n-go; we grabbed food we weren't sure about and we went. We did ask a local her opinion on lingonberry jam, and she did not hesitate to point us to the most popular brand. Here also we bought Paskmust, a children's drink that in my opinion was disgusting. But hey, you've got to try everything once...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Must See in Amsterdam


Besides the fact that Amsterdam is clean, aesthetically pleasing, and eco-friendly, it offers some oustanding museums. B and I went to the Anne Frank House, and it was overwhelming-a definite must-see if you have even one night in Amsterdam. The secret annex is completely void of furniture and objects, as Otto Frank wanted visitors to ponder their plight instead of focusing on physical objects. Pictures on the wall depict the rooms as they were while the Frank family and others were hiding out. No pictures were allowed inside and words cannot describe the silence and emotional tidal wave that flooded the hearts of every tourist there.

Amsterdam, my Amsterdam



Amsterdam. B and I had not planned on spending the night in Amsterdam, but a mix up in our flight schedule forced us to stay. Hallelujah. Amsterdam was absolutely amazing, but then again, I didn't need to tell you that. Take, for instance, the bicycle. I adore that fact that so many people ride bicycles in Amsterdam, and that the bike lanes are nearly larger then the automobile lanes.



I feel as though I am starting a love affair with canals and floating flower markets. Amsterdam is teeming with both, which add to its charm and allure.



B and I ate at a wonderful restaurant called Cafe Kale de Grote. Check it out at http://www.18twintig.nl/ I recommend eating at an outdoor table; it offers the perfect vantage point for people watching.



Another pleasant surprise was staying at the Qbic hotel. Very minimalistic, this modern hotel was run almost entirely by electronics, and was stationed in the World Trade Center. Though it was south of the city, it was cheap, clean, and very close to the airport. I would definitely recommend staying there, if only to experience the colored lights in your room.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Soaking Up Riga



My fascination with Riga is endless. I went to a Russian Orthodox church and observed the elderly women wrapped in scarves, lighting candles and kissing icons. The scrumptious pastries are a definite plus. I especially liked touring St. Peter's Church; it's history is fascinating. What really drew my attention was the elevator trip up the steeple. From the top, you can see nearly the entire city of Riga. Kudos to the elderly woman manning the elevator. She was able to give a thorough recitation of St. Peter's history in the 3 minute elevator ride!

Monday, August 10, 2009

The City That Never Sleeps



Who said NYC held dibs on that title? Riga definitely fits the bill. B, G, and I spent a night on the town, and I was definitly NOT sleeping. We had an eclectic experience; I felt as though I was globetrotting my way through the night instead of bar-hopping in Riga. First stop-the Rose Room. Small bar, great atmosphere, romantic place for a date. Mesmorizing jazz music flowed from the fingers of the bassist and pianist on their small stage, while the three of us sipped some Piebalga-a lite Latvian beer.
Next stop-Leningrad, the total opposite of the Rose Room. Leningrad is a bar modeled off of a Soviet house. All of the furniture and decor is from the Soviet occupation; bookshelves lined the walls, filled with Soviet literature. The atmosphere can only be described as bustling-with people and ideas. Conversations were just as important as the drinking in this bar. A live DJ kept the tracks fresh, though not overpowering.
After Leningrad, we ducked into what the locals call the "French Bar." According to G, it is because a Frenchman runs the place. Unmarked from the outside, you walk down a dark staircase to an underground room, only about 10 feet by 14 feet. This bar is extremely popular with visitors to Riga, as the attendance shows. The French Bar is packed, with its own United Nations of sorts. I heard perhaps 7 languages in the course of our 45 minutes there.

Our last stop of the night was the Cuban Bar. The decor and atmosphere (red lights) is decidedly Cuban and the drinks decidedly strong. A live DJ mixed music. Great company and great variety made our night a success!

Sigulda!



Quiet. Quaint. Prosperous. After the bustling excitement of Stockholm, G, B, and I were ready to return to our Latvia. We decided to explore Sigulda, a calm town in eastern Latvia. The Pilsdrupas (castle ruins) were our objective. We explored two castles, both dating back to the 1200's. I felt as though I were walking back into a fairy tale. It is mind boggling to think of how many people walked where I had been walking, and what their lives entailed.

The actual town of Sigulda held houses with character. One house even had its own moat! Apparently, Sigulda is known for their canes, as one park was clearly decorated with yellow and red walking canes. Sadly, that is one souvenir that I chose not to purchase.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Finding My Inner Sverge

Stockholm is one of the most beautiful and intriguing cities I have ever visited. Its composition is attractive; the city is spread across various islands, connected by bridges. Cross one bridge and you are at the royal palace. Stroll across another bridge and you can view the Vasa, a ship from the 1600's. Narrow alleys, quaint boutiques, high fashion...Stockholm is a mecca for travelers. Culture, adventure, shopping, and scrumptious restaurants are only a few offerings to tempt your wanderlust temperament.


Old Town in Stockholm holds the cobblestone walkways and narrow alleys. G could span one alley with his shoulders! We visited the Palace (wonderfully ornate) and the Vasa Museum. Knight's Island is a great place to snap a pic of the city's skyline. The weather was schizophrenic, which added to the sporadic charm of Sweden.

The details in the city were what really struck me. Every doorknob, every streetlamp, had an unique, artistic twist to it.

The Swedish were very friendly; "hej hej" is the normal greeting used. It always brought a smile to my face. It was wonderful that nearly everyone spoke English; even moreso because they speak with a British accent. I adored staying in the city and discovering the Swedish within me. Once I assimilate into Swedish fashion- black tights, black or brown boots, short skirt, a fitted jacket, and a scarf) - then I will be completely Sverge.



Thursday, June 18, 2009

Caribbean Cruise-to Stockholm?



Yes, it's true; you can take a Caribbean cruise in the Baltic Sea. The cruise is offered through Tallink (http://www.tallink.com/) and is an overnight trip from Riga to Stockholm. The cruise ship itself is not top of the line or impressive in any way. It is, however, a fun alternative to flying. The theme on the ship was Caribbean nights, complete with leis and salsa lessons. At times it was a tad gaudy, but overall it was fun. I would recommend the cruise, if only to experience navigating the archipelago of Stockholm. Make sure to rise early and catch the sunrise. The view is gorgeous!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Where the Magic Happens



Kuldiga-a small Latvian town where all the magic happens. It is almost surreal; soviet buildings clash with the castle ruins while being offset by Europe's widest waterfall, the Ventas Rumba. G's family was kind enough to welcome us for a night- short but sweet. They lived in a wonderfully rustic old house from the 1700's. We walked around most of Kuldiga and then climbed a wooden tower to see the view. Though the weather was a bit drab (it was in March after all), I soaked in the quaint peacefulness and solitude of this village. And what visit to Kuldiga would be complete without paying homage to its famous makeout spot? This alley of love is where all the magic happens...

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Who Needs Sleep?



Who needs sleep when there's a whole world to explore? My friend B and I flew from Detroit to Latvia with a few layovers, and made it safely to Riga. After fourteen hours of anticipation, we were disappointed by the aiport's surroundings. Never fear; the airport is outside of Riga. Our friend G picked us up, and our adrenaline kept us going. Tea and coffee are staples in this bustling city, and we also stopped at a scrumptious pancake cafe. Walking around Old Riga was like turning back the pages of time. The Swedish Gates, the House of Blackheads, and St. Peters Lutheran Church are just a few of the many sights to see. The Art-Nouveau architecture is breathtaking; every doorknob, every streetlamp was unique. The cobblestone streets require some navigating, but they complete the atmosphere of Old Riga. We went to a Mideval restaurant, Rozengrais, for dinner in Old Riga- a true gem. We were each given a package when we were seated and we promptly opened them. It was bread! We drank kvass for the first time (a drink that is nonalcoholic but tastes like beer) and I had steamed pumpkin. We wrapped up the night by going to a concert at Dirty Deals Cafe, run by G's cousin, K. It's an eclectic bar/venue for theater and music. Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4r6zSUU1DE
We wrapped up the night by going to bed; after 40 hours of adventure, we thought we were due for some shut eye...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Final Countdown...


In two days I will be running around Latvia with two amazing college friends! The culture, the allure, and the idea of trodding on new ground is quite exciting. Most of my friends are unsure where Latvia is- it is a Baltic State, sandwiched between Lithuania and Estonia. Needless to say, it is not a hotspot for tourists, but that is what appeals to me. Stay tuned for a taste of Latvia...

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