Caribbean Cruise – Dominican Republic

Our first destination on the cruise was the Dominican Republic.  It was the only day on which we went on an organised excursion.  This was a good move for two reasons.  First of all, the ship docked in a cove that was designed purely for cruise ships which meant it was completely artificial and overtly touristy and the nearest actual town was too far to walk to.  Secondly, the excursion turned out to be excellent and allowed us far greater insights into the Dominican Republic than our own explorations would have done.

2018-12-24 16.38.52

2018-12-24 08.33.22

We met with our tour guide and driver and hopped on the minibus.  There were the eight of us and a dozen other people so it was a small group.  The nearest city to the dock was Puerto Plata and, as we drove through, our guide was able to point out several things unique to the country and explain a bit about the culture.  We saw lots of whole roasted pigs on sticks being cooked and sold at stalls on the busy streets.  We learned that this was because this type of roasted pork was the traditional meat for Christmas dinner and lots of people would be buying it that day, Christmas Eve.  We were also informed that the city took its name not from the metal silver but because of a particular tree that grew on the hillsides, the grey leaves of which seemed to look silvery in the mountain fog.  Our drive also took us past various views of the mountain named Isabella.  We learned that this was a name bestowed upon it by Christopher Columbus and that the first European village in the New World was located nearby.  It was such a beautiful place to be the launch pad of a history of disease, conflict, slavery, and genocide.

DSC_0302

DSC_0187

Soon we were leaving the city and were wildly bouncing and careering along unsurfaced, winding, uphill roads that took us into the lush vegetation of the rural areas of Puerto Plata province.  On the way, we learned about eclectic subjects such as vernacular architecture, mahogany, the lottery, and tiny stores that sell individual ingredients such as one egg or a few slices of meat at a time.  Our destination was a village where we could learn more about the rural way of life in the region.  We were invited to enter one home, which was Tardis like in its use of space.  I especially enjoyed seeing the kitchen, which was an adjacent but separate building from the home, and the clay wood fired cooker.

2018-12-24 09.50.02

2018-12-24 10.01.20

DSC_0129

DSC_0130

We were shown around the agricultural area and the produce being grown was identified and its uses explained to us.  I found that to be thoroughly interesting.  I, for one, had never seen coffee plants in real life before.  I also saw my first breadfruit tree.  Our 9 year old had two bucket list items for his time in the Caribbean: to see bananas growing and to see cacao in the wild.  He achieved both goals on the trip as there were seven varieties of banana being grown, including a red variety I had never seen before, and there were trees full of cacao pods.  Our wee chocoholic was elated.  He was even more ecstatic when he learned that he was going to get to sample hot chocolate made from the locally grown cacao.  It was richly delicious.  Other members of the family tried the freshly ground coffee.  We all thoroughly enjoyed chunks of freshly harvested pineapple and guava.

DSC_0138

DSC_0218

DSC_0167

DSC_0168

DSC_0151

Our next stop was the village elementary school.  As an educator, I found it really interesting to see the similarities and differences in the education system and the way the school buildings and classrooms were organised.  I was, however, glad that school was not in session (given it was Christmas Eve) as I would have felt uncomfortable seeing the students used props for tourists.

DSC_0181

We then had a break for lunch.  It was a buffet of the types of food Dominicans would eat on a typical day.  I especially enjoyed the rice and beans.  The boys loved the fried chicken.  During our lunch pit stop, there was some dancing entertainment to showcase the fusion of indigenous, African, and European culture in the Dominican Republic.  We also saw a man making cigars and sampled some local alcohol.  Our cat fanatic 9 year old was absolutely thrilled to meet a local cat.

DSC_0189

DSC_0193

DSC_0206

DSC_0209

DSC_0216

DSC_0239

The final destination for the day was a beach, as this area of the country is famed for its beautiful beaches.  The boys loved the opportunity to just let loose and splash and crash among the waves.  Our guides provided some body boards so they tried that out too.  Even as someone who does not like sand, I had to agree it was a pretty good way to end the trip.

DSC_0246

DSC_0269

I liked what I saw of the Dominican Republic, from the brief sampling we had, and would definitely consider returning to explore more of the country, its varied history, and its diverse cultures.

Advertisements

Caribbean Cruise – Miami

We Picts closed out 2018 on a bang as we spent the festive period on vacation.  My in-laws had generously gifted us a Caribbean Cruise for Christmas so the eight of us celebrated the season on the high seas, spending a week exploring new places and cultures (for the kids and me at least), and experiencing a cruise for the first time in the case of our youngest two children and me.

Of course, before we could board the ship and sail off in the lap of luxury, we had to get to Miami.  We, therefore, spent two days driving south from the Philly suburbs to Miami.  That’s a whole lot of the I95, a useful but incredibly boring road that sometimes feels as if it is never going to earn.  We spent the first night on the outskirts of Savannah and arrived in Miami the following evening.  We had hoped for a bit more time in Miami but holiday traffic had other plans for us.  Nevertheless, we were able to meet up with my in-laws (who had flown over from the UK) in time to have a delicious dinner.

However, as early risers, the next morning we had enough time to explore Miami Beach.  As frequent readers of this blog will be well aware, I am not a fan of sand.  The only good sand is glass as far as I am concerned.  However, Mr Pict and the Pictlings love the beach so I suck it up, brace myself, and just deal with my discomfort.  The kids found a shiny but decidedly dead fish and our youngest son found a teenie-weenie coconut.  While they enjoyed the beach and the warm sea air, what I liked about the beach area was all the 1930s architecture of Ocean Drive and its environs.  I love Art Deco for its elegant use of geometric shapes and clean lines and pops of colour.  There were also some sleek buildings in the moderne style and some that seemed to have a hispanic influence.

DSC_0009

DSC_0011

DSC_0027

DSC_0029

DSC_0016

DSC_0040

DSC_0010

As luck should have it, we happened to be standing on Ocean Drive when the local fire brigade drove past in a formation.  While the emergency lights were flashing, there were no sirens.  That is because this was no emergency.  Instead, it was their Christmas parade.  The fire engines were being driven by Santa and elves while the Grinch and a gingerbread man appeared as passengers.  There were children on board too so we waved enthusiastically at them as they passed by.

DSC_0050

DSC_0053

We left Miami beach and headed to the port area to ready ourselves for embarking onto the cruise ship.  I admit that I found the whole process quite stressful.  As someone used to either travelling entirely under my own steam when road tripping or experiencing the relatively controlled routines of flying, the process for boarding the ship felt quite stressful.  My anxiety hit peak when we had to leave our luggage with a porter which pretty much left it unattended among hordes of people.  Having travelled around London for decades and then having flown in the post-9/11 world, the whole idea of “unattended luggage” is anathema to me.  Add to that the fact that I experienced having possessions stolen from my luggage 20 years ago and I was deeply unsettled by the whole thing.  Then there were milling crowds.  I am British and, therefore, culturally hard-wired to strongly prefer orderly queuing.  The random hustle and bustle unsettled me further.  It all just felt a bit chaotic and haphazard.  Even when we boarded, because our rooms were not going to be available for a few hours more, it was a case of everyone scuttling to find a space in which to settle down.  In the grand scheme of things, these are all small beer quibbles but I cannot deny that those were an intense few hours for me, neurotic control freak that I am.

2018-12-22 12.28.37

We wandered the ship to start getting our bearings and finally had access to our rooms in early afternoon.  Then we were finally off.  We bid farewell to Miami and I headed off on my very first cruise.

2018-12-22 16.04.15

Happy Holidays!

Apologies for my blog having gone so quiet lately.  It has become a bit like a wee ghost town with tumbleweeds breezing through.  Life has just become super busy but not with anything that would be a worthy subject of a blog post – even if I could find the time to blog.  However, the festive season should help me reset and I should be able to get things back on track in the new year.  I am putting my blogging on a brief break but will then return with more posts about slivers of family life, travel, trips, and art.  Until then, however, I wanted to wish you all Happy Holidays and send you best wishes for 2019.  The thing that keeps me motivated to blog is my interaction with all you readers and bloggers, either on my blogs or on yours, so please know that I appreciate each and every one of you and have so enjoyed our online chit-chats.  I look forward to more of that in the coming year.

DSC_0015-Best

DSC_0056-Best

Scarlet Leaves

I desperately needed the therapeutic, decompressing assistance of some art time yesterday so I made some time and cracked open the pages of my neglected art journal.  I had not experimented with any of the items in my December Art Snacks box so I reached for that and decided to see what emerged on the page.  As is so often the case, what I drew was a female figure.  I gave her completely unrealistic anatomy as far as the arms are concerned (I have literally no idea why) and, thanks to the nature of the media in the box, I kept the figure monochromatic.  The pop of colour came from a bold red, chunky paint pen.  The nib was much larger than I am used to working with so attempting leaves was probably – definitely – a challenge too far.  However, leaves aside, I am pleased with how the page turned out and am definitely pleased that I was able to benefit from some time at my art table.

Scarlet Leaves

Liberty

I was off work today while my kids were in school for the morning so, with some bonus free time, I grabbed the opportunity to do some art.  I had not found time to play with the supplies in my November Art Snacks box so I got those and my art journal and set to work.  The Liquitex acrylic gouache I received was in a deep turquoise colour, one of my favourite colours, and I let that inform the subject matter as I thought the colour would suit an illustration of the Statue of Liberty.  I didn’t want to try and draw the actual sculpture, however, so I drew my version of the iconic figure, changing her pose, hair, and face, but leaving enough elements for the subject to be obvious.  I have not used gouache much generally and have never used acrylic gouache so this piece was a big experiment in media for me.  I liked that I could use it thick on the crown but that diluted down it behaved a bit more like watercolour, which is how I used it on the body of the figure.  I even managed to get some watercolour-like pigment blooms going.  Gouache and I never got on well in the past, which is why I have barely used it, but I may have to give it another go.

Liberty

Meeting the Ancestors in Prison

The second and final leg of my birthday trip involved a cemetery.  This will come as no surprise to those who have known me a long time or who have been following this blog for a while.  I love cemeteries of any kind, from poky wee family plots to provincial church graveyards to massive municipal burial grounds.  I am also a family history nerd and this trip combined both of these passions.

Mr Pict is a dual US/UK national (well, we all are now but he has been one from birth) and he has branches of his family that go all the way back to early colonial times, including Mayflower passengers, and a branch that goes back to 16th Century Switzerland.  This latter family, the Stricklers, were Mennonites who were forced to flee Switzerland because of their religious beliefs (Mr Pict’s 10x Great-Grandfather is known as “Conrad the Persecuted”) and they eventually found their way to Pennsylvania in the early 18th Century.  Back in August, I had used a family trip to Buffalo as an excuse to drag the extended family around three cemeteries to “meet” direct line Strickler ancestors.  This time, however, we were seeking to meet ancestors from two generations even further back, including the first Strickler – another Conrad – to emigrate to America.

The weird thing about this cemetery – which is named the Strickler-Miller Cemetery – is that it stands in the grounds of the York County Prison.  It is outside the walls and the barbed wire but is nevertheless plonked so adjacent to the prison facility that we were always in sight of guard towers in what presumably is an exercise yard.  The prison stands on land that my husband’s ancestors once owned and farmed in centuries past so it makes sense that the burial plot is where it is but nevertheless it was a very peculiar feeling to be pootling around a cemetery in the shadow of a prison.

DSC_0357

While we had experienced so much success in locating graves in Buffalo, we were much less successful in our explorations in this cemetery – despite it being vastly smaller than those cemeteries.  The issue was the age of the graves we were looking for.  My husband’s 6x Great-Grandfather died in 1771.  I was looking for a small and worn field stone and saw a couple that might be right but could also be entirely wrong.  We did, however, find several collateral ancestors and finally – after much viewing of the eroded transcription from different angles – we found the grave of Mr Pict’s 5x Great-Grandfather, Johannes Strickler, who died in 1795.  We were in pursuit of his wife Elizabeth’s grave when we were thwarted in an unexpected way.

DSC_0389

We were methodically wandering up and down the rows of wonky grave markers when a corrections officer drove down the road from the prison to the cemetery, rolled down his window, and ordered us to leave.  We tried to explain why we were in the cemetery but he was having absolutely none of it.  I could have either argued the toss or asked if we could speak to the governor to ask permission, as nothing I had read indicated that we were not allowed to be there.  However, I was not about to argue with an armed man in any circumstances.  Furthermore, the kids were complaining of being cold (the wind chill had picked up), one had accidentally whacked another in the face with his sleeve, and I had twisted my ankle by falling down a grass covered groundhog hole.  It was time to accept defeat and depart of our own accord before we were escorted back to the main road.

DSC_0357

It, therefore, was not a wholly successful cemetery trip but the kids were happy to have the prison guard anecdote to share with their classmates on Monday morning.  It’s a risky business being a nerd sometimes.

 

 

I Voted!

I voted early this morning.

I was so excited and enthusiastic.  I literally squealed when I saw my name and signature in the electoral register.  I had had nightmares about my name not being in there because I became a citizen and registered so recently and was all prepared for requesting a provisional ballot.  Turns out the admin for voting runs more smoothly than most American bureaucracies I have had to deal with.

Five years of living in a country while not enfranchised to vote has been stressful.  I am raising my kids here and I pay taxes here and I intend to stay here so I am invested in this country.  Today I was relieved to be able to exercise my right and responsibility as a US citizen.

2018-11-06 08.14.37