Monday, January 31, 2011

Cream Skimming in Puerto Rico


Continuing with my bird theme, because you know, frigid January temps and piles of snow just make me think of birds. We observed this crafty critter while we were on vacation in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. Notice how he just perches non-chalantly on the creamer's tip. I think he was actually whistling a pretty tune to distract us.


Then he takes a quick glance around. Any humans approaching? Perhaps to claim the abandoned cream?  Nope. They're all too busy cramming their faces and soaking up the sun.


The coast is clear. Sipping down the cream, he scores!  The bird drained the cup so quick, you would think he was storing it up for his Starbucks habit. Have you observed any funny animal scenes during your travels?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Peter the Barbados Birdman



My best friend Sheila the Bajan Beach Bunny, travels to Barbados frequently. I have been pushing for her to get a nice oceanfront house so that we can all ditch Chicago and live in the Barbados sunshine but until that happens, she unselfishly supplies me with many tales of laid back Bajan life. A favorite is Peter, the Birdman. A sculptor and painter, Peter in the picture above, carves intricate  bird designs out of coconut shells.

His gallery is the pearly-sand beach in front of Amaryllis Hotel in Hastings.  Perched in the sand, you'll see delicate lovebirds topping bowls, branches and containers. Peter sits in the sun and creates his art under the shade of palm trees, with waves lapping in the background.


Such a peaceful work setting attracts not just art fans but locals, who lounge on tree stumps, card tables and car hoods to eat lunch, discuss politics or just watch Peter's magic. Visitors can browse through Peter's portfolio, which features photos of his lovebirds in homes all over the world.


With the coconut shell birds swaying in the sea breeze and the turquoise water framing the scene, Peter's art gallery truly looks like a slice of paradise.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Winter Warmth on a Chicago Bears Weekend


This is a historic Chicago weekend.  For the first time since 1941, the Chicago Bears will play the Green Bay Packers in the NFL playoffs. Although I'm not really a sports fan, as a Chicagoan I feel intense allegiance to our teams. Does that mean I'll be at Soldier Field watching the Monsters of the Midway in snow and 5 degree wind chill? Umm, no.  What I have been doing is handing out advice to pitiful travelers trying to figure out how to stay warm on a  January Chicago Bears weekend.

Besides the obvious, (a real coat not a light jacket or hoodie, a hat to cover your ears, gloves and boots.) I recommend a secret weapon I actually discovered in Door County, Wisconsin. I was snow shoeing in 8 foot drifts and 2 degree temperatures and despite doubled-up insulated gloves, my fingers were cold.  My guided offered me a pack of hand warmers. I had seen these stacked up in Chicago drug stores but never took them seriously. Surely, somebody who's never lived through a Chicago winter came up with this scam to squeeze a few dollars from the desperate and freezing. I shook the small, white, packet and placed it in my glove and I was amazed. Warmth oozed from the packet and my hands felt like I had placed them in a warm oven. The heat lasted the entire three hours I was outside.

These non-toxic, air-activated, miracles last 7-hours straight and are  for one-time use. I prefer to keep the warmers in my pocket or between layered gloves because they do get really warm. On the same trip, I also discovered toe warmers, which can be shoved in your boots for toasty heat. If you're standing or walking outside during a Chicago winter, hand and toe warmers are essential.  The Grabber company also offers foot and body warmers but I've never tried them. Somehow, I think the excitement of watching the Bears trounce the Packers, as they did during that last playoff, will generate enough heat to keep most bodies warm.



Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A St. Kitts Safari


There's nothing like seeing a place through the eyes of locals. It's like exploring someone elses's home; only they know the special spots and unusual spaces. That's exactly how I felt on Greg's Safari tour of St. Kitts. A fifth generation Kittitian, Greg revealed the nuances and details of the island that I surely would have missed on my own. The lush scenery above was my view from Greg's Land Rover as we explored the  diverse terrain of St. Kitt's interior.


The Land Rover supplied plenty of views as you can see, above. But we also made lots of stops, sampling genips, gazing at guava and starfruit trees and trying to sneak up on goat herds.

Sugar was the main crop for St. Kitts for centuries so there are scads of old plantations left, like this abandoned house above. There were lots of key lime, frangipani and palm trees in the backyard.

One of my favorite parts of the safari was meeting St. Kitts children. This group was eager to take photos and see their images in my digital camera. They were a jolly bunch, cracking jokes and offering advice on where to go next.


Next was the Whytehouse Estate above, a haunted plantation, which I declined to enter. Built in 1600 as a Carmelite nunnery, it was turned into a sugar plantation in the 1700s.  Reportedly, two families have left the place because of strange happenings like the piano playing itself and windows opening and closing without a trace of wind. Some people have glimpsed a woman in a white dress walking through the empty house. I didn't want to glimpse anything so I carefully walked around the perimeter.


Sugar mills dot the landscape as a reminder of how significant the industry once was. Sugar production stopped in 2005 but St. Kitts still retains a big emotional connection, which is why the mills and plantations remain.


There is no traffic, stop lights or hurry in St. Kitts. Horns only beep to say hello. During the entire three hour tour across the island, I think we only saw three or four cars moving along the roads. It's a peaceful place and  life on St. Kitts is sweet enough to understand  why its earned the nickname of Sugar City.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Black Eyed Peas, Greens and New Year's

It's New Year's Day and for a girl  like me, raised on the Southside of  Chicago with Creole heritage, that  basically means one thing: a heaping meal of black-eyed peas, greens (collards, turnips, mustard) and corn bread. Now gumbo usually accompanied these dishes when I was a child but that's not part of the New Year's requirements. Tradition has it that for a year of prosperity and luck, you must down as much black-eyed peas, greens and cornbread as possible. It tickled me when I strolled into our local grocery store on New Year's Eve and spotted this prominent display pictured above, of back eyed peas and corn bread on sale as soon as I entered.  For those not familiar with the custom, it probably looked like a crazy deal designed to get rid of leftover Christmas dinner dishes. But people who follow the tradition know that the peas represent pennies, the greens, dollars and the cornbread, gold. Frankly, I can't stand black-eyed peas and when my mother explained their symbolization years ago, I ditched them in favor of lots of greens and corn bread. Who needs pennies when you can have dollars and gold?  What's you new year's tradition?