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Here I am when I was blonde in Florence, Italy

Acrophobia  is an extreme or irrational fear of heights and I “fall” (which is what I am really afraid of) into the 2 to 5 percent of the general population who suffers from this type of phobia.  Research indicates that women are twice as likely to be affected as men.  I don’t know if I have it as severe as some because I can overcome my fears and experience height in many instances but in some situations it is all I can do not to have a panic attack that makes me feel so “out of control” (which is also what I am afraid of) that I have no peace until I get myself down to safety.  On the other hand, RM has a head for heights so when we travel we often find ourselves at divergent points when selecting sight-seeing options.  I seem to forget how extreme my acrophobia can get when on vacation and can get myself into some pretty scary spots.  Here is a list of the top three adventuresome ones in recent memory.

1.  We celebrated my 40th birthday at the top of the Eiffel Tower which is nicknamed “the iron lady” which I found very ironic since I felt more like the jello lady most of the way up up the 984 feet to the top viewing deck.  The two bottom levels we walked up just so we could experience the beauty of this architectural wonder (did I study engineering in college?  I did not) and we needed to do this at night to truly enjoy the famous Paris lights but then thankfully we had to take an enclosed elevator to reach the precipice or I would have never made it to the top.  When I walked out onto the shaky top deck (it sways), I wanted to hug the inner wall and stick myself to it like a gecko does with her sticky toes.  RM thought it was important that I have my picture taken, since it was the big 4.O., with the panoramic view of Paris behind me.  This meant that I had to leave the inner wall, walk across to the deck edge, turn around and smile, and pray that no one bumped into me or any unexpected tremors occurred (only the sound of my beating heart).  I agreed but I told RM he had one shot and he better be quick about it.My heart beat so hard in my chest, I wondered how many silly tourists ended up dead at the top of La tour Eiffel of cardiac arrest.  I knew I couldn’t miss this experience but I was much happier when we got back down.

2. The Duomo in Florence is magnificent but “we” wanted to see if from the top looking down so we started up the 463 steps,winding around and around and around and always going up. The staircase is not wide enough for two people to pass one another. I found I had another phobia which I call “confineophobia”.  I don’t usually mind tight places but this experience was different in that I didn’t know if I turned around to get out, if I could, because of all the people climbing up the steps behind me. The great part of this climb is that at one part you come out and you are at the bottom of the dome, inside the Duomo and you look up and there is Michelangelo’s painting staring down at you. Then when I looked down, how did I get the nerve?, I was looking right at the Duomo’s main altar. You can walk around the entire perimeter of the ceiling and take as many pictures as you want and gaze at the wonder of the gigantic fresco that is painted by hand.

Of course, then you go back into the stairwell and up, up, and up and always winding. Then, you pop out again and you are even closer to the ceiling. Then back in the stairwell, and up, up and up.  Then all of a sudden you notice that the walls are sort of slanting inwards and you have to duck at some points to go under beams and under jutting walls, and then you come to this stairwell which is more like a ladder and you can see blue sky at the top. So you climb and then hit another ladder and you push through and you are looking out at all of Florence before you and it is very, very, too far below you.  If I hadn’t been so winded, I probably would have immediately turned around to the safety of the stairwell.  But , it was spectacular, worth the climb I think in the end (not sure I would do it again), and definitely not for those with a weak disposition to small spaces.  RM and I had a little picnic up there after I got my balance enough to soak up the Italian sunshine.

3.  Built in 1889, Capilano Suspension Bridge stretches 450 feet across and 230 feet above Capilano River.   I walked across the swaying bridge, did all of the attractions at death-defying heights, with a stiff, white lip, ignoring comments of concern from nearby strangers, so I am definitely never doing suspension bridges again.  I sprinted back over the hanging, swinging bridge, snaking around laughing teenagers, not stopping when RM again mentioned a photo opportunity, to the sweet, solid ground in Vancouver, B.C., just happy to get across without bursting into tears.  I can’t seem to even get myself to write much about this more recent experience.  I guess it is too fresh in my mind.

Over the years, I  have continued to taunt my acrophobiac fears from time to time.  Empire State Building, Willis Tower and the ledge — only a single toe over the line — Boston’s Bunker Hill Monument (no elevator just ancient stairs upward and downward so got to experience confineophobia once again), escaped the experience of the Eye in London (too long of a line), Tokyo Tower (too young to have full-fledged acrophobia plus due to extreme teenage peer pressure, I held it together), Reunion Tower (made me queasy inside), lookout points over the Grand Canyon (grateful for the fog that filled the canyon on our visit),  ski lifts (not so bad), TCU’s new football stadium, top row (why are we so cheap sometimes?), Ferris wheels (forget about it  – not doing them ever, ever), Royal Gorge Bridge (who thought is was smart to make a bridge to no where?Coloradans did it before our frozen friends in Alaska frittered away tax payer money on the same idea), Pikes Peak (remember Lucy Ball and the movie The Long, Long Trailer?), and old rickety lighthouses in Maine (kinda lame for even the most strident acrophobiac).

Garrison Keillor described it well when he said that he wasn’t afraid of falling but he was afraid of a magical force that would pull him over the edge.

Did I mention that RM squeals like a girl on roller coasters?

There I am sprinting back over — isn’t it crazy!

Here is to conquering or better yet, to living with our fears. We are headed to Germany next month.  I wonder what attractions wait for me there?  Those castles look amazing in the photographs.




Over the last year or so, I have been involved in a mentoring project at the Young Women’s Leadership Academy (YWLA) matched with Sofia, a young woman in the inaugural graduation class.  Next year, in 2016, seniors from the first, all female gender Fort Worth public school will graduate its first class.  And Sofia will be part of it.  She is amazing.  Her parents immigrated from Mexico many years ago and have a home in southeast Fort Worth where they are raising five beautiful and amazing children.  Sofia is 2nd in birth order.  With support from her parents and school staff, she sought out YWLA in 6th grade and it has been her school and home away from home ever since.  I can tell she really loves her school and her friends, teachers and staff.  And they take care of her as well.  This last year, we have watched movies together, went bowling, had lunch, emailed, and shared common interests.  Sofia had dinner with my family and I met her parents and her Lego-addicted little brother and her crazy and loving sisters.  Her mother and father are master gardeners with a beautiful front courtyard garden and neat as pin yard and home.

Sofia and I are planning a college visit in February, with her parent’s blessing, to Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.  Since Sofia was attracted to a school with a smaller student to teacher ratio and single-gender based, I want to expose her to Southwestern with an enrollment around 1,000 students—many of them young women.  I advised her, she would likely know when she walked onto the college campus which one was the right one for her.  It was the case for my three daughters.  So I encourage her to listen to her heart and mind as she tours the universities that YWLA organizes for her which is such an a wonderful and important part of any high school student’s junior and senior year. Many of our FWISD schools don’t have the resources to take students on these field trips.  YWLA is fortunate because of their relationship with a network of female gender schools in Texas and foundation support.  Sofia may choose UT Austin, UNT, UTA or many of the other fine universities in Texas but C1, a proud Pirate grad,  and I look forward to the opportunity to share Southwestern with her.

Sofia earned all A’s last semester and is on her way to a productive and self-supporting life.  She is interested in media and film as well as STEM and liberal arts.  She is studying for her SAT and preparing applications for scholarships as well as exploring college options.  It is a stressful year for her with so many expectations and options to explore and limited time as she is taking some of the hardest classes of her high school experience.  Her friends, who ate with us at lunch today, seemed excited, exhausted, overwhelmed, and at the same time caring of each other and the options they face.  The last question they wanted me to ask was, “what college are you considering after high school?”  It was better just to offer up an option, plan the tour, and hope that one of her experiences clicked for her so she can at some point in her near future, make an educated and informed choice.

I looked up the Common Application essay questions just to get an idea of what is expected of her in the process of applying for college.  She is already writing draft responses.  Too bad this is supposed to be non-fiction and biographical because going in the direction of fiction would so help the quality of my responses at that time in my life and hers today.  Please show some initiative and creativity, Sofia, and the college admissions counselor will appreciate it especially if you select words like “used” versus “utilized” but also watch out for the common gaffes shared below the essay prompts.

  • Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure.  How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
  • Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea.  What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  • Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content.  What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

The following miscellaneous gaffes found on the internet, while not directly related to college essays, nonetheless reveal the dangers in poor writing:

  • “I am eager to be part of your diverse campus so I can expose myself to many different people.”
    • We know what this student wanted to say, but the words did not come out quite right.
  • “I’d like to thank my parents, Mother Theresa and God.”
    • Without the serial comma before the “and” in this sentence, it seems as if this writer’s parents are Mother Theresa and God—which would probably look great on a college application.
  • Seattle’s PBS Station magazine was sent out to subscribers with this headline in 18-point type on the cover: “KCTS, Your Favorite Pubic Television Station.”
    • Did you miss the spelling mishap? Don’t rely on spell-check. Review everything with your own eyes. speed to all the Sophia’s as they ponder their options and make choices.


Berlin * Munich * Trier

Berlin * Munich * Trier

I spend the free time I have planning for our journey in March to Germany.  RM and I are traveling just the two of us and intend to stay for about 10 days.  Four days in the northeast section of Germany centered in Berlin, then a half a day train ride south to Munich to stay for three days and then we catch Rail Europe for Trier in the Mosel Valley (think Napa) very close geographically to Luxembourg and near France.  This map from Rick Steve’s Germany 2015 shows the reverse route but we wanted to end our trip in Trier so we could spend the week-end with our “adopted” fourth daughter, Melina.  She has visited us several times for extensive stays but we haven’t seen her home, met her family, or toured her birth city of Trier which also happens to be one of Fort Worth’s Sister Cities.

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Map of Germany

We have purchased airline and train tickets, made hotel reservations, identified our major “must sees”, researched restaurants and cuisines we want to taste, spotted a couple bookstores, antique shops and shopping excursions but mostly we want to soak in the history, the arts and the culture.

We are staying in East Berlin (hard for this baby boomer to think possible) as it is now gentrified in many areas especially in Prenzlauer Berg where we are staying.  Our hotel is near the Hackescher Markt and we hope to walk to most sites but I did secure a transportation pass for four days of “free” travel on Berlin public transportation options.  Steves says to not miss seeing the German History Museum, Pergamon Museum, Reichstag, and Bradenburg Gate. The Ann Frank Center is on our list.   We will have a pilsner of beer at Clarchens Ballhaus  — it is one of the oldest dining and drinking establishments in Berlin, having just celebrated it’s 100-year anniversary in 2013.  See picture below.


In Munich, we are staying in the old center. An area south of Marienplatz, an ideal location for walking and near to the most famous landmarks in Munich.  The hotel we are staying in is referred to as a pension which I gather means a very basic room (we have a bath and water closet in our pension room) but I don’t think this is always true (maybe down the hall or shared?) and then breakfast is included.  I think the family name is associated with this type of hotel like Pension Marshall if RM and I owned and operated one.  I wanted this option so we could eat a typical German breakfast. Must sees for us are Marienplatz and maybe a glockenspiel joust, Viktualienmarkt, English Garden and an important stop outside of Munich to the powerful museum and memorial at Dachau Concentration Camp.

We catch the train to Trier with one transfer– the trip is about five hours total and I hope to see some beautiful scenery along the way.  The Trier experience we will leave to Melina and family as we know they are outstanding hosts.  All of our daughters have been to Trier, some multiple times, and each one comes back just bursting with excitement about the experience. Germany will be chilly in March so we are packing like when we went to Chicago last March with lots of layers, a good coat and boots.

Before I take a trip, I try to study the place a bit before I go.  I read travel books, make dishes from Pinterest, and read books famous from authors from the country I am visiting.  This time I am reading Thomas Mann’s novel titled the Buddenbrooks, The Decline of a Family, which was first published in 1900 when Thomas Mann was just 25.  He chronicles four generations of a North German mercantile family from prosperity to bankruptcy — I am half way through it and can imagine the stir it made back then as it is quite gossipy and filled with earthy humor.

Many of you have already traveled and lived in Germany and I so appreciate your suggestions, ideas and comments. Güte Reise!


My mother’s food and how it shaped me (I would call it an apple shape).

My mother’s food and how it shaped me (I would call it an apple shape).

My mother was considered a great cook by us kids and my dad but her offerings leaned toward the simple and hearty food common in the Land of Oz. Dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and eggs, are common ingredients in Midwest cooking. As a child, we bought our milk directly from the dairy farmer.  Her macaroni and cheese was sublime.  Eggs are king too.   Fried, scrabbled, over easy, hard-boiled, poached and sunny side up but never served in an egg cup (not practical).  Kansan main dishes may include roasts, stews, and casseroles.  Casseroles are king…perhaps trumping eggs. Meat, carbohydrates and some sort of veggie combined with a dairy product and dinner was “complet”.  Tuna casserole with peas anyone?  I still find it comforting today to have myself a serving or two.  Wheat bread and cornbread typically accompany meals.  My mom seasoned with spices that were generally mild, and fresh herbs such as dill, parsley, and sage.

The Midwest is famous for its long stretches of grasslands. Corn, wheat, soy beans and potatoes are some examples of staple crops. I wished as a child that farmers would put a sign on their fences to tell me what they were growing.  This patch is alfalfa, this section beans, etc. but then I had my Dad to ask and he always had an answer to my curious, demanding questions.  Beef, pork, and poultry are produced in many Midwestern states.  Occasionally you find a producer of lamb and more common now is bison.  When you are hit with a strong fecal odor from a nearby feedlot, you say, “smells like money.”

Many Midwestern foods are based on the season. In summer months (around May to August), picnic foods such as deviled eggs, potato and pasta salads, and fresh fruits are enjoyed. Winters once forced cooks to find methods such as smoking, pickling, and canning, to preserve food. I am really into pickling now with small jars of jalapeno, cabbage and okra stewing in the frig in their own juices.  Meatloaf (made with ground beef, eggs and breadcrumbs – the trifecta), chicken and noodles, and sloppy joes (a thick beef and veggie combo that feeds C3’s addiction) are hearty foods to keep people warm and full during the harsh winter weather.

Every Sunday growing up, we went to church and then came back home to Sunday dinner (served between noon and 1 p.m.).The menu routinely was fried chicken (in a skillet), mashed potatoes and green beans.  We often had a bachelor male friend of dad’s to join us or some fellow church member of a family visiting to complete the long table of fellowship and food.  I would, as the youngest, play with my food.  I would create a large pool of mashed potatoes, fill it with chicken gravy, line the peaks with green beans for a stockade and sprinkle the entire creation with salt and paper and then…dig in.  Which is why I am now shaped more like an apple than a banana.  The WW 1 initiative of the Clean Plate Club didn’t help any of us raised by Mother’s and Grandmother’s  back then especially in light of the huge portion sizes served to us now in restaurants across the USA.  It is truly impossible, and unhealthy, to finish a plate today in nearly every American restaurant especially the chain restaurants that we all know for huge portions, low prices, and high fat, salt and sugar content.  So like many of us in January, I am again trying to combat the overindulgence of the past holiday season and renew again portion control, exercise, fresh fruits and veggies, and a more healthy lifestyle.  Tofu anyone?  Yes, please.

Pine cone picture frame ornaments, tags, or magnets

Pine cone picture frame ornaments, tags, or magnets


Repurpose pine cones from your holiday decorations and make your very own pine cone frame ornaments, tags or magnets. You could even add them as homemade touches to your family picture gallery wall.  I used sunflower ribbon to remind me of my birth state and it is a flower that makes me happy when I see it.  I just selected duplicate photos of my family that I have always cherished, cut them out using a circle pattern, glued card stock to the back, and then took pine cone pieces and hot glued them to the back all around the edge of the circle.  This took a little patience to get the pine cones pieces cut off the cone. A lot of pine cones you find today in decorations are synthetic but for this craft you need the real ones.  I glued a piece of ribbon to the back and then I cut a circle of felt and glued it to the back to cover up all of the ugly mess on the back of the ornament.  It could be a frame or whatever you decide to use it for.  They would make cute tags for a gift or a decoration for a upcoming graduation party or birthday.  I think the black and white ones looks very vintagey or would it be most vitagey?

Happy crafting.

I went to the local craft store yesterday during the rain and I have never seen the line so long at the check out counter.  I guess everyone had taken down the holiday decorations and were making something new to put in its place.

What are you crafting today?  I think we will take advantage of the beautiful day and get outside for a change.

Who knew?

Who knew?

About Bella ceramic electric tea kettles? I didn’t until now so wanted to share the news about this great product. C3 gave me one for a holiday present and I have used it every day since plugging it in. It also looks pretty on my kitchen counter, pours easily, doesn’t burn my hand, makes super hot water for tea, cocoa or soup, and cleans easily. Above is a link to Bella’s website so you can check out all the cool colors and designs.

Think I will make a cuppa tea and welcome in the New Year!