Category Archives: Travel

My favorite photo — Paris

Great expectations but little time in a beautiful city

The Old Man and the perfectly preserved Sea-side home

Evidence of Ernest Hemingway’s demons remains scratched into his bathroom walls and, for a moment, I had to look away.

A journalist, then novelist, whose honest exploration of the human psyche (most often his own) earned him both a Pulitzer and a Nobel Prize, Hemingway courted specific details for his characters.

I like details too, so I turned back and observed.

Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s Cuban home, still looks as though its celebrated resident might lumber through its perfectly preserved rooms. His typewriter rests, waist high on a book shelf, with easy access to a pacing author.

Trophies from his big game hunts decorate the living room walls. American magazines from 1959 still fill the rack. Though empty now, his swimming pool looks as inviting as it did back in 1957 when Ava Gardner reportedly swam naked in it. Up and down the walls on either side of his bathroom scale, Hemingway’s meticulously recorded weight, scribbled there with various pens, still hints at a troubled mind.

Hemingway wrote both For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea while living at the house, before a crippling bout of writer’s block stole his words.

“Can you imagine a writer with his talent unable to write a single word?” asked the docent who gave us a tour.

Back-to-back plane crashes left both Hemingway and his fourth wife Mary Walsh Hemingway seriously injured though not, as had been widely reported in 1954, deceased. He spent some time at Finca Vigia locked in his bedroom, recovering from injuries, drinking Mojitos and reading his own obituaries.

Reconstructed with care, Finca Vigia offers a telling look into one of America’s most talented and troubled authors.

Hemingway bedroom

Hemingway’s bedroom, including the typewriter he kept on his bookshelf, remains exactly as he had left it.

Hemingway headline

The headline on this newspaper reads “Heminway, wife killed in crash”. I’m not sure which would have been more insulting to him — the premature announcement of his demise, or the misspelling of his famous last name.

Hemingway's bathroom

I took a quick glance at the bathroom and had to turn away…

Hemingway's scale

I thought the meticulously kept hand-written weight notations on either side of his scale hinted at a sad obsessive compulsive tendency and I wondered how pleased he’d be for the whole world to see.


He didn’t invent them, but Hemingway did love a Mojito and we sipped one or two during our time in Cuba as well. Cuba still loves Papa Hemingway and so many bars and restaurants in and around Havana claim to have served him that our guide joked that it would be difficult to find one that didn’t make that claim. When Hemingway died, the fishermen in Cojimar, a nearby village, wanted to pay tribute to him, but they had no money. So, they collected small pieces of brass from their boat propellers and anchors and melted them down to create a bust.

The librarian and Hemingway's library

I snapped our own library media specialist, Kathy, in front of Hemingway’s well-maintained, 9,000 volume library.

Hemingway's boat

Hemingway’s boat, the Pilar, rests in a place of honor above his unused tennis court. On the left you can see grave markers for four of his beloved dogs. I found it interesting that the passionate big game hunter shared his home with 57 cats and six dogs.

Hemingway's pool

You could easily imagine Papa Hemingway cooling off in this immaculately maintained swimming pool. (Had there been water, I’d have jumped in myself. Cuba in July is hot!)

Hemingway house

Hemingway’s home now looks very similar to…

Hemingway's dining room

…Hemingway’s home in 1957. This is the exact same table, game trophies, and dinnerware you see in the dining area above. The picture is shot from the opposite angle as the one above.

A good Cuban cigar

The best baseball pitcher you’ve never seen

Cuba — A people to people cultural exchange

Father’s Day in Hofa Park

An old Polish expression says, Nie chwal dnia przed zachodem slonca  (Don’t praise the day before sunset.)

We’re a pessimistic lot, we Poles.

But, we knew as soon as we set our chairs under a green and gold tent in Hofa Park, that Sunday would be sublime.

A fresh breeze rustled the tarp, the new dance floor smelled of sawdust, the polka band sounded like a party and the cool priest never broke a sweat (which is more than I can say for myself after a turn or two around the floor.)

The father among our little party, Vince, who’d been talking about the St. Stanislaus Parish Festival for months, had a great time.

He kicked up his heels with a polka band, wandered through rows and rows of vintage tractors, cheered on an old school baseball game, and enjoyed a giant piece of caramel apple pie.

We saw another father, the holy kind, preside over a Polka Mass, then offer a blessing to the farmers, then bless each tractor with a spray of holy water, then make his way to the dance floor to socialize with parishioners and guests, all while layered in robes and vestments.

“How do you stay cool under all of that?” someone asked Fr. Patrick Gawrylewski, OFM.

“I just don’t think about it,” he said.

In short, our second trip to the tiny but fascinating town of Hofa Park turned out to be just as enjoyable as our first. We can’t wait to go back.

Na zdrowie!

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I thought this little boy on the Massey-Harris tractor was adorable.

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Crop Adjustr

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Fueled by moonshine.

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I loved this vintage car and these two vintage friends.

Holy water

Father Patrick was everywhere. Here he is blessing each tractor with holy water.


Oh man, the pies! My piece of strawberry pie filled my entire plate…and I ate every bite.

Tractor blessing

A farmer’s blessing.

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Lots of action on the dance floor.

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This little peanut tore up the dance floor. She paused a minute to chat with Father Patrick.

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They’re pretty serious about their polka.

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But they had a great time. What can I say? Vince loves to polka!

Tractor blessing 2

The antique tractor parade.

Heart and soul in the City of Love

Warm soufflés and the fine art of French flirting

I picked up some excellent tips on cooking and the fine art of French flirting during our recent trip to Paris.

The tres beaux Chef Erich taught me the former; my own two daughters taught me the latter.

It happened like this:

Katherine, who can whip up a perfect triple chocolate marshmallow cookie faster than you can say “oui!” took one look at our handsome instructor and forgot how to crack an egg.

“Kat-reen,” Chef Eric said. “You must hit the egg firmly on the table.”

“Like this?” Katherine, who had been successfully cracking eggs since the Bush administration (the George H.W. Bush administration), giggled a little.

I rolled my eyes and turned to Molly, my partner in sarcasm.

But, she was otherwise engaged.

“I’m trying to think of a whisking pun right now,” said Louie, a tall, precocious California teen-ager.

“Well, I’ve been whisking you had one,” a laughing Molly responded.

Mon Dieu! We’d only been in Paris a few short hours and already I hardly recognized my own kin.

I busied myself taking pictures while the two girls, the sweet teen, a mother/daughter duo from Pittsburgh and a Parisian couple helped Chef Erich whip up a cheese soufflé, a très délicieuse vinaigrette salad, and, best of all, a chocolate soufflé.

“Kat-reen will you help me serve dessert?”

“I’d be delighted, Chef Erich.”

Good. Lord.

I did pick up a few excellent soufflé cooking tips I’m happy to share.

1) Steam makes soufflés rise and crust traps the steam. That’s why you may want to add a layer of grated cheese to the top.

2) To avoid lumps, start whisking in the center of your bowl and work your way out.

3) Butter the ramekin in the direction you want your soufflé to rise.

4) Determine your whisk size based on the amount of air you want to add to your dish. Big speed equals big bubbles. Small speed equals little bubbles.

We all had a great time, ate some delicious food and shared a few laughs. We highly recommend La Cuisine, a cooking school located right on the banks of the Seine in Paris. And tell Chef Erich Kat-reen sent you.


We were very excited to take our Parisian cooking class.


Early on, I determined my most important task would be to digitally record the occasion.


Molly, Louie and Chef Erich school the class in the fine art of whisking.


“Kat-reen” forgot how to crack an egg.


Fortunately, Chef Erich was there to guide her.


Like this? she asked, having cracked a thousand eggs in her lifetime. Mon Dieu!


Awwww. Look how they worked together!

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Our new friend from Pittsburgh has no idea what’s going on here between Chef Erich and Kat-reen and neither do I but this picture cracks me up.


You can write your own caption to this picture. I’m very busy laughing.




Not bad, am I right?


The Souffle sisters.


She scored the biggest chocolate souffle.

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I’m just sayin’ I had no trouble cracking, separating and whisking that egg. I may have to work on my flirting game though.


Less hate. More Monet.

I had no idea, as we wandered through Giverny and Claude Monet’s famous gardens last week, how apropos my favorite Monet quote would become.

“Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love,” he said.

With their gorgeous riot of color maintained for more than 225 years, both the flower and the water gardens stand as universal symbols of empathy and joy. Monet, who painted his famous water lilies series as “a monument to peace”, was right.

It is not necessary to understand a devout woman’s desire to cover up, or a conservative parent’s honest fears, or a young man’s same sex attraction, or a transgender person’s surgical choices. It is simply necessary to love.

In their drive to celebrate the extraordinary beauty in ordinary life, Monet and his fellow Impressionists spawned a whole movement. But you don’t have to be a painter or even an art aficionado to belong to their club.

You can see the kind of beauty they championed every day in the immigrant’s bright, flowered dress, the graduate’s happy gold tassel, the infant’s sleepy smile, the couple’s sweet hand clasp.

You only have to look.

Our time in this big, beautiful world is finite. We all only have the few precious days we get to spend here, and the legacy we leave behind.

I choose to spend my days seeking color, light and love. I choose Monet.


Here’s the path to the Monet’s home where he live with his second wife, two sons and six step children. A visionary, he designed the gardens and then spent the rest of his life working to share their beauty and message of peace and love on canvas.


He tried to cultivate peace and planted seeds of hope. (Photo cred. Molly)


Monet’s studio is full of his work. He painted his way out of bouts of depression. A perfectionist, he often painted the same scene over and over leading to an archive of work that takes your breath away. Even his practice canvases celebrate unbridled life and light. (Photo cred. Molly)


There it is! There’s the door to the garden! She found it! But, where’s the key? (I had a Secret Garden flashback and Katherine indulged me).

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Photo cred: Katherine

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The water lilies were a little water logged from recent flooding but still so beautiful.

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The Japanese bridge.

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225 years later, it still looks like a Monet canvas.

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Molly wore her Monet dress to Giverny.

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Monet’s gardens have been preserved all these years by sunshine and hard work. This is one of several gardeners we saw.

Giverny Thank You