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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Learning something new

Jackman's Fabric Store

Life presents plenty of opportunities to explore new ideas and stretch your thinking.

Design Cathy bought. She'll
take the idea and make
something unique.
My friend, Cathy, lives near St Louis and on a recent visit, she introduced me to Jackman's Fabric Store. A quilter's delight, to be sure! I attended a quilting meeting with her and found myself in the midst of a group of creative, passionate women who know their craft and are ready to learn new ideas.

Since I have problems threading a needle, it's probably best that I mention I was way out of my comfort zone. Since I met Cathy, I've admired her innovative designs and enthusiasm for all things creative.

Made by a quilt guild member
After the meeting we wandered the store, and like many of the women there, she found several new designs and fabrics that captured her attention. Back at her home, she diligently tried to show me the intricacies of designing wall hangings. Did I mention I'm a slow learner? I loved watching her work, but left to my own devices, I know I'd be lost.

That evening we attended a quilting guild meeting and I was once again in the midst of women passionate about designing and quilting.

I thought about all the creative women I call friends. Whether in painting, quilting, taxidermy, photography, writing (from books to magazine articles and blogs), or other endeavors, they all share an amazing energy that brightens our world.

My photo printed on fabric and stretched
on canvas frame

My photo printed on fabric and appliqued
on fabric.

Friday, May 26, 2017

He Promised Me Africa - Part 7 - Durban and Shakaland

We took a ship, the original Pacific Princess of "The Love Boat" fame, from Capetown and cruised up the eastern coast of Africa. Our first port of call was Durban, a modern city that reminded me of San Diego for some reason. We boarded a motor coach and drove through town to Shakaland a couple hours north. Shakaland is billed as a village celebrating Zulu cultural. However, it reads like a theme park since it was originally built for the movie, Shaka Zulu.

This was no problem for Johnny who watches Zulu and Shaka Zulu almost as much as I watch Jane Eyre.  In fact, going to Zululand was one of his top priorities. I was less enthusiastic about the prospect until we got there. Our guide and the folks who welcomed us with traditional food, weapons, and arts were warm and charming. For all the research I'd done on African culture, I was amused at my own shocked reaction to beautiful young women dancing bare breasted. Turned out that I wasn't the only one who was surprised and a little embarrassed as our guide explained that Zulu women didn't cover their breasts until they were married which signified that they were no longer available. I made a lot of eye contact with these girls because I didn't know where else to look. Even the men in our party averted their eyes. In retrospect, I think we were caught in that mix of feelings because we didn't want to be rude or disrespectful. Apparently, we needn't have worried. They had obviously encountered confused tourists before.

Zulu maidens showing us how they carried their water jars.

Johnny posing at a gate.

Zulu wives weaving mats.

Our guide and one of the maidens in front of a typical Zulu house showing us a selection of clay pots.  

As our guide took us through the village, a child wandered out of one of the thatched houses crying for his mama. He couldn't have been much more than a year old. Our guide scooped him up, wiped his nose, and carried him with us. Eventually, the boy's aunt showed up to fetch him. Johnny and I were touched that everyone in the community took responsibility for every child. If real Zulu life is like what is depicted in this park, they reminded me of how neighbors show up to raise a barn in our Amish communities and how we bring food to families who are grieving. It made me feel that people aren't all that different no matter where they live in the world.

The Zulus showing off their hand-made shields.

Zulu tribe members showing us one of the many dances they perform for different events.

After we toured the facility, we sampled Zulu food from a buffet. I  selected something simple -- some kind of grain cooked up like we prepare grits. It was topped with a warm tomato, onion, and green pepper stew that was delicious. All in all, Shakaland was great fun and we learned a lot.

We reboarded our bus and headed back to Durban. We had been on the road since breakfast and it was now just past 2 pm.  We were hot, tired and sunburned. Most of us closed our eyes intending to nap as we rode. However, it wasn't long before the air-conditioning unit began leaking cold water down the backs of our necks. Everyone gasped in surprise and complained. The bus driver stopped a couple of times to examine the guilty device, but apparently the only option was to shut down the AC. That elicited another round of moans and groans as it was in the high 90s Fahrenheit and dark, heavy clouds pressed the breath and good humor right out of us. After about twenty minutes, the gods responded to our sweaty whining with a cloud burst. Soon cold rainwater replaced cold air conditioning water dripping on us. That bus's roof was a rusty sieve. The driver ignored our pleas and drove on. I suppose he didn't have an alternative.

A woman in the front of the bus pulled a tiny umbrella out of her backpack and opened it over herself and her seatmate. Pretty soon everyone sitting under a leak followed her lead. It looked like a whole flock of Mary Poppinses. We drove on in gloomy silence until a lady in the back of the bus started singing "Rain, rain, go away, come again some other day" in a sad, funereal manner. I giggled and someone else laughed -- and then we were all first any song anyone could think of that had the words "rain" or "water" in it...and then any old song like "Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall" and "The Hokey Pokey." By the time we arrived back at the ship, we were all friends. We clambered off the bus and hurried to our cabins to shower and change before dinner. As we entered the dining room, we could hear people telling wild stories about our adventures in Shakaland and all the umbrellas in the bus. Ah, the challenges of travel!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Boonville MO, a town of friendly faces and historic places

Butternut Bread building

Butternut Bread and the old Mitchell MotorCar. What do they have in common? You can learn about both in Boonville, MO.

Friendly residents - the lady
on the L is the granddaughter
of founder. On the right,
a new friend
As many times as I've driven I-70 between Kansas City and St. Louis, I've never visited Boonville until today. I wanted to see Warm Springs Ranch, where the Budweiser Clydesdales are bred. We drove by but needed a reservation to enter the ranch. Knowing we want to tour it, we decided to check out Boonville today and plan for a return trip.

A building with a big Butternut Bread sign first caught my attention and I was hooked. I stopped to take a photo of the mural on the building and met a lovely woman, a lifelong resident who loves her city. She gave me a smattering of history and introduced me to her friend who is the granddaughter of the man who founded Butternut Bread. If you've been around long enough, you'll remember seeing Butternut Bread on grocery shelves.

Boonville Katy Depot
Boonville, which grew along the Missouri River from Boone's Lick to present-day Boonville, witnessed the Lewis & Clark Expedition, explorers, pioneers, the early days of the railroad and in recent years, the famous Katy Trail which crosses Missouri on the old MKT (Missouri, Kansas and Texas) Railroad bed. The entire trail is designated as a state park. The Spanish-style Boonville Katy Depot has been completely renovated. The old drawbridge crossing the Missouri River is only partially open at this time. For information on the Katy Trail, check out

Young men I met on the bridge
On the bridge, I met seven young men biking part of the trail. The bridge and river seemed to impress them as much as it impressed me.

When you visit Boonville, the new visitor center and River Rails & Trails Museum is the place to start. You can plan in advance at

On a schedule today, we had little time to explore but plan to return to visit the Mitchell Antique MotorCar Museum (owned and operated by a direct descendant of the Mitchell family). Check it out at

We also plan to follow the history tour and take photos of 23 of the area's old buildings and homes that are on the National Register of Historic Places. (

Missouri River

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

He Promised Me Africa - Part 6 - Table Mountain, Capetown, South Africa

After we spent time in Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia, we traveled down to Capetown, South Africa. This was in 1999, only five years after apartheid was abolished. The country was still making adjustments and there was still a lot of poverty. We were warned to be careful lest we become victims of crime. However, we were treated with the utmost courtesy and kindness wherever we went in South Africa.

We spent the better part of a day exploring Table Mountain which is at the tip of the African Continent. We came up a winding road to the base of the mountain where we boarded a huge round cable cart to get to the top. 

The cable car goes at an upward sloping angle for a good part of the climb, and then as we approached the top of the mountain, it rises vertically. 

The cable car turns as it rises allowing us to see Capetown below us as well as the ocean and the mountain before us.

Johnny on top of Table Mountain, Capetown, South Africa, 1999. We were at the very tip of the continent of Africa. You turn one way and you feel the cool breezes off the Atlantic Ocean, the other and the warm wind from the Indian ocean hits you. As we went from overlook to overlook, a feeling of euphoria came over me. It felt like we were in a misty, mystical wonderland.

 These folks were far more adventurous than we were. Apparently, they decided to climb the mountain. We stood at the summit looking down on them, appreciating a smaller peak called Signal Hill and all the cruise ships in the water preparing to round the Cape of Good Hope where they turn to go up the eastern coast of Africa. 

The little critter on the rock is called a Hyrax. They live up there and they are about the only animal you see besides tourists and birds, although they say snakes live up there as well. Like in other places in Africa that we visited, the snakes chose not to make an appearance while we were there.

A great story that our guide told us was that at the bottom of the mountain...before you wind your way up to the base...there was a bakery. Folks quickly learned to lock their cars if there were baked goods inside because the local baboon troop loved donuts AND they have opposable thumbs...meaning that they can open just about anything...including unlocked car and hotel doors. Anyway, as folks learned to lock up, the baboons had to come up with an alternative strategy to score their treats. Seems that every day, the bakery would load up their van and drive to winding road to the base of Table Mountain where businesses had popped up around the cable car. One day, as the van started up the mountain, a bunch of baboons attacked the truck with rocks....until, the driver gave up, jumped out of the van and ran...leaving the goodies for the horde of baboons with a taste for sweets. We loved that story and I've told it for years now.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

He Promised Me Africa - Part 5 - Zambia

Our trip to Zambia was a short one. It began mid-morning at the Victoria Falls Train Station. We were all excited because this was the only train ride we'd scheduled and it was old-fashioned and quaint. I was thrilled that it was a series of beautiful cars outfitted to provide us with interesting food -- all the way there and back.  I was equally thrilled by the steam engine. I hadn't ridden on a train like that since 1970 and my ride to Obama, Japan.

Our Zimbabwean guides posed under an umbrella to send us on our way.

We had no sooner left the station than we were provided with coffee and juice. It wasn't long before we crossed into Zambia. As we slowly rolled out into the countryside, we saw a group of boys sitting under a tree. When they saw us, they jumped to their feet and raced to the train.

I turned to the porter. "Who are they?"

"Just poor children, ma'am."

"What do they want?"

"They carve little animals that they hope to sell."

The boys had a conversation through the window with a tourist a few seats in front of us.

"Nah, get out of here," the tourist said. "I don't need your trash."

I leaned out the window as the long-legged boy jogged alongside holding a carved-wooden hippo.

"Would you like to buy this?" He held it up when he saw me.

"How much?"

"Ten dollar?"

I looked into my wallet. All I had in cash was an American twenty-dollar bill. The train was beginning to gain speed. I looked into the boy's eyes. Something in them was inherently sweet. Tall as he was, I realized he couldn't be older than eleven or twelve. I looked at the porter. He shook his head. "No, too much."

It was all I had and it wouldn't be long before the boy wouldn't be able to keep up with us. I handed him the money. His eyes grew bigger. "No, no, no," he said and tried to give it back to me.

"I want the hippo!" I smiled at him.

He dropped back a bit and called to one of the other fellows.

I turned to Johnny. "Look at them. They aren't even out of breath yet."

"Ma'am? Ma'am!"

The train was going faster.

I reached out and he gave me the hippo and a giraffe with hinged knees. "Oh, look at this," I said when I realized it. "He gave me two."

I stuck my head out the window as we left the boys behind. "Thank you!"

He grinned and waved.

I leaned back in my seat and examined my treasure.

"You need to bargain with them," the tourist who had turned down the boy's toys earlier said. "They don't respect you and will cheat you if you  don't."

His wife glared at him.

I put the toys into my purse. I thought I'd gotten a great deal and maybe that young man would be able to buy himself or his family something special with his unexpected windfall.

Our porter smiled at me as he poured me more coffee. "He is a lucky boy."

I still have those toys. They sit on the mantel over our fireplace. I think I was the one who got the great deal. Every time I see them, I wonder about the boy who made them. He is a man now. Hopefully with many wives and children.

It was a short leisurely trip when you consider how far we'd come. We didn't see many animals but the scenery was wonderful. So was our brunch.


The train ride was to Livingstone where the train turned around. Wikipedia tells me that while Livingstone was the capital of Zambia when we visited the train station, it no longer is. It's only 6 Kilometers from the Zambesi River -- hence the slow pace of our trip.

We only had a few minutes there -- long enough to chat with the engineer who agreed to let me sit in his seat for a few moment while Johnny took my picture.  However, as soon as we got the picture and I pulled the chain to blow the horn, I realized that several other folks decided it would be cool too...and they were waiting for me to get out. We all laughed and we helped take pictures of several other tourists.

Our engineer was kind enough to let me crawl into his seat and blow the horn. I had planned on convincing him to let me drive part way back but the crowd of guys behind me made that not very practical. Still it seemed like it would have been fun.

Retracing our route back to Victoria Falls Station was a lot faster than our slow chug to get to Zambia. Still it was one of my favorite adventures...reminding me of the old movies about travel in Africa.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Beautiful churches represent human faith and dreams

I love to photograph churches, courthouses and old buildings when I travel. This last weekend, we attended a graduation at St. Louis University. After many "You've got to visit the church on campus" comments, I arrived at the church just as a wedding was ending.

Waiting for the wedding photography session to end, I sat down and marveled at the architectural beauty. Architects have quite a challenge designing buildings that represent and inspire a congregation's faith in God. In the case of St. Francis Xavier's Church, the designer(s) most likely exceeded the congregations' dreams.

The church is magnificent and yet lends itself to a spiritual experience. As I waited, I reflected on the human desire to express our beliefs and dreams through architectural wonders. I've always appreciated the creative imaginings of artists and architects take art to an impressive level.

If you travel to St. Louis, take the time to visit this church.

Friday, May 19, 2017

He Promised Me Africa - Part 4 - Chobe Game Park in Botswana

After visiting Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, we traveled on to Botswana where we went on our first game run. The morning was sunny but the air was cool. We climbed into a topless vehicle -- not quite truck, not quite van, not quite car -- and headed out into Chobe National Park. The road was muddy and we weren't  the first tourists to explore it that day. Periodically, we'd stop to watch birds, all of which seemed exotic to us. Baboons were the largest animals we'd spotted as we drove through a brushy area...but then, we braked for a family of antelope who crossed in front of us. I wondered how such delicate creatures survived in a world of carnivores.

First were several females with their babies. They didn't seem too concerned about our presence -- or of our clicking cameras as they moseyed across the road. The buck was the last to cross. He was in charge of his herd of females and babies and we all knew it. He was so obviously proud of his family and we all got a chuckle out of his almost pompous bearing.

We hadn't traveled much further when we found a road that split off from the main one. It was drier there...and the dust hadn't been disturbed yet. Suddenly, the driver braked and pointed. At first, I didn't understand what I was seeing. After a moment though, I realized I was seeing animal footprints...first large paw prints...and then bigger, rounder impressions. "What is it?" I asked in frustration.
"Lions, ma'am," the guide said. "And elephants."
I squinted. "Oh?"
"Lions running away from elephants."
I sat up taller. "Elephants chase lions?"
"If they get too close to the babies," the guide explained.
I sat back down. I was in the middle of the the early morning...seeing the tracks of an animal drama that had happened in this spot not more than a couple of hours before. Wow.