My husband and I recently returned from our autumn trip to Italy. This time, we spent a few days in northern Italy and reveled in the beauty of the Dolomite mountains. Check out my images and story on Steller:
This morning I made preserves and shared the story and recipe on Steller. Check it out:
On July 6, in the middle of the night, I got the call from my brother that I knew would eventually come, but was not prepared to hear — my father passed away back home in Canada. My Dad had not been well (with dementia and bladder cancer) but his sudden passing was still disquieting for us because we didn’t have the opportunity to be by his side when he took his last breath. That alone has been a great source of heartbreak for me.
My father was a humble and kind man who worked so hard to give us a reasonable life despite barely scraping by for many years. I owe my work ethic to him. Dad was a softy and his eyes would often tear up when talking about both happy and sad times. This he passed down to me as well. I also get my sense of humor and wit from him. He was a great storyteller. My brother Gord and I made sure to include many stories about Dad in his eulogy, which we delivered together. There was laughter at his memorial and he wouldn’t want it any other way.
We laid his ashes next to the grave of my brother, Tom (who died in a tragic work accident at the age of 19). It had been cloudy and threatening rain most of the day. When my brothers placed his urn in the ground, the sun came out and radiated warmth upon us — it was like Tom was sending a warm welcome to my Dad. It made me smile through my tears. I’ll never forget that moment.
Before I left the Crowsnest Pass, I stopped at two of my Dad’s favorite fishing spots along the Crowsnest River. The first is a spot near the Frank Slide where Dad took me fishing when I was a teen. I scattered some of my father’s ashes in this beautiful and peaceful spot.
The second place that I stopped at to remember my Dad was Lundbreck Falls. He loved fishing there too. I spent quite a bit of time here in reflection and remembrance before I scattered some of his ashes in the water at the bottom of the falls. Now his spirit flows along with the river.
The song my family chose to have played as we processed into Dad’s memorial service was “Go Rest High on that Mountain” by Vince Gill. It was a perfect choice.
Rest peacefully, Dad. Love you forever.
I admit it, I have a fondness for herding dogs. I grew up with Border Collies. My husband and I had a Border Collie with us in Texas for 15 years. When I flew across the Pacific to Australia to visit my sister Judy, I had the opportunity to spend time with their five black and tan Kelpies. It was impressive to watch my brother-in-law, Bruce, work with them on their little hobby farm. Time with the Kelpies was a part of his daily routine (he’s also an accountant). You could tell that working with these dogs was his true passion. These Kelpies are gorgeous dogs and were so attentive to Bruce’s mustering commands.
It was great fun to get to know each of their personalities. Tia, the only female (mother to the 3 younger kelpies) is very sweet, but likes to terrorize the chooks (chickens). Max loves to hide and sneak out from behind the trees on the property. Two of the brothers enjoy taunting Charlie until he suddenly runs off at high-speed. His two brothers chase him until he stops — and the taunting and subsequent chase begins again.
I spent a morning with Bruce photographing the dogs during their exercise time as Bruce played fetch with them. Here they are, the Ruthven Kelpies in all their wonderful, playful, hard-working glory.
Sometimes when you’re listening to music, there is a song that makes you stop what you’re doing so you can be pulled along with it. “I Need You” from Nashville songwriter, Angel Snow, is one of those songs for me — I heard it and was mesmerized immediately. The video’s imagery is appropriately haunting too. Take a look and listen.
I Need You – Lyrics
I need you like holes in my head
I need you like lit candles in my bed
I need you like raw knuckles in the winter time
and I need you like storms in my heart
like dark secrets that… keep tearing you apart
like addiction that’s keeping you up at night
I need you
I need you
I need you like friends who deny me
like old lovers that continue to defy me
I need you like thieves knocking at my door
and I need you like stones in my heart
like dark secrets that keep tearing me apart
like addiction that’s keeping me up at night
I need you
I need you
Late last year, we became fractional owners of a Tuscan medieval hamlet in the forest not far from Cortona, Italy. Here’s the story on why and how we invested in Borgo di Vagli.
My first visit to Tuscany, Italy was in early March of 2008. I was in Hungary on a business trip, and decided to take a long weekend and hop over to Tuscany to scope it out as a possible return destination with my husband. I booked a tour with Tania von Barkenhagen, who runs a small custom tour company that specializes in wine tours of the area. Since she is also an avid photographer, I thought we’d be a great duo running around the countryside, trying to capture as much beauty as we could in a few short days. Tania’s tour was the beginning of my love affair with Cortona and Tuscany.
I came back in the Fall, this time with my husband, Chuck, so he could experience Tuscany and fall in love with it too. We stayed in Tania and Keith’s vacation rental near Cortona and went on various day trips to the small hill towns in the Val di Chiana. We tasted lots of terrific wine and wonderful cheeses, ate fresh pasta and Chuck savored the wonderful varieties of sausage and salumi. After this trip Chuck, despite his dislike of long flights, decided that he’d like to come back to Tuscany and discover more of what this area is about.
During two more trips we were able to attend festa celebrations with Tania and Keith, took a cooking class (from Alessandra – highly recommended!), attended wine dinners in Cortona (amazing!) and visited Assisi, Buenconvento, Creti, Firenze, Pienza and San Quirico. Chuck was also able to fulfill a fly fishing dream and went fly fishing on the Nera River in Umbria. And, of course, I photographed the area to my heart’s content.
We added Tuscany as a possible retirement destination along with Central Mexico since they both had the things we wanted — a relaxed pace, a sense of community that is centered around piazzas and jardins, access to fresh food grown locally, friendly people, a sense of culture and history, and beautiful landscapes and architecture for me to photograph. In the summer of 2013, after my 25 years as an Information Technology manager, and after Chuck’s 30 years as a librarian at a university, we retired to our casa in Mineral de Pozos in Central Mexico (not far from San Miguel de Allende). The choice was based on proximity to our families for visits. But, Tuscany was never far from our minds.
Last year, I read a post online from Alessandra about her visit to a “paradise on earth” not far from Cortona called Borgo di Vagli, a restored hamlet that you can invest in as a fractional owner (along with other people from all over the world). I asked her more information about it and she put me in touch with Lee Cogher. After reading about Borgo di Vagli and visiting their website, I approached my husband about the possibility of investing in Borgo di Vagli as a vacation home. We contacted Lee and arranged a “Discovery Visit” in September. We flew across the ocean, drove up the steep and curvy road deep in the Tuscan forest to the Borgo. We stayed at the Borgo for a week in a beautiful and rustic stone house with an amazing view of Pierle Castle in the valley below. The pergola outside the front door was covered in grape vines and we were able to reach up and pluck the sweet juicy grapes to enjoy with our breakfast. It was so peaceful, the views were magnificent and the air was fresh. Then there was the food, the amazing food. The delicious meals were prepared fresh by Dina at the trattoria right at the hamlet. What a great way to win over two foodies! By the time we had been there for 4 days, we decided that we were going to buy a 15% fraction of Borgo di Vagli. The actual sales process was very simple and we were able to do it remotely. So, now we have a vacation home in Tuscany that is cared for by a terrific staff, both when we’re there and when we’re back home in Mexico. We plan to share the Borgo with our family and friends and will return at least twice a year.
We feel very fortunate to be truly “living the dream” — we live in a casa in a former ghost town in Central Mexico and now have a vacation casa in a restored medieval hamlet in Tuscany!
The Las Fallas festival in Valencia, Spain is filled with activity all day and is especially colorful, loud and bright at night. Every neighborhood comes alive with street parties, music, processions, loud firecrackers and crowds milling around the fallas monuments while eating buñelos or churros dunked in hot chocolate. The atmosphere at night was very festive! Here’s some night shots I took during the 2016 Las Fallas festival in March.
The fallas monuments are lit up and take on a new mood after dark.
The beautiful “Illuminations” shine brilliantly and light shows are choreographed to music. These huge lighting structures take up an entire city block and are several stories tall. So beautiful!!
The massive fireworks display during Nit de Foc is well worth staying up until 1:00am to watch among the massive crowd near the Alameda.
The grand finale, on March 19th, is the night of La Crema, when more than 700 fallas monuments scattered throughout Valencia are set ablaze surrounded by millions of spectators. There are a large number of firefighters carefully watching these massive structures burn and shoot flames high into the air, readily spraying water on them to make sure the fires stay under control and don’t damage nearby buildings. It was spectacular!
Here’s a few videos of La Crema taken by people who had a much better vantage point to film than I did:
Falla Convento (the one on the corner of the street where we stayed):
The Main Falla in Plaza del Ayuntamiento:
Falla L’Antiga de Campanar:
I’d have to say, this was one of my favorite portrait sessions yet. Capable Kids, a non-profit organization in the Rio Grande Valley, is dedicated to planning events and activities for special needs kids and their families. They organized their first Prom for special needs teens and young adults and I volunteered to be the portrait photographer for this event.
It is not surprising that the Prom was a huge success! All the planning and hard work by my daughter (President of Capable Kids) and the team of organizers and sponsors made this a very special evening for these young people. You could see it in their faces as I photographed them — they felt beautiful. I took the approach to provide very basic direction and let each of them decide how they wanted to pose. I wanted the final portrait to be an extension of their personalities. Here’s a small sample of the portraits from this memorable evening, which still makes me a little teary-eyed.
For two days during the Las Fallas festival, the city of Valencia, Spain was abundant with parades of falleras and falleros in traditional costumes accompanied by musicians and bands. Over 100,000 people from Valencia and surrounding regions brought offerings of flowers to the centre of Old Town Valencia to pay homage to La Virgen de los Desamparados (Our Lady of the Forsaken), the Kingdom of Valencia’s patron saint.
During the week leading up to the event, Valencians constructed a huge wooden monument of the La Virgen in the Plaza de la Virgen. On March 17th and 18th, this wooden framework was soon filled in with thousands of bouquets of carnations during La Ofrenda de Flores. I became captivated with this amazing tradition: one by one, each of the hundreds of falla communities, dressed up in their best and most colorful traditional costumes, passed by the Virgin bringing their flower offerings. The flowers were gathered up and placed into the framework “cloak” by teams of volunteers. These processions lasted for two days, 9 hours each day from 4:00 pm to 1:00 am. The parades were quite joyful as the beautifully costumed groups danced and sang to folk music as they passed by the crowds who responded with shouts of “guapa”! These processions were also quite emotional — I noticed many women wiping away tears upon reaching La Virgen and presenting their flowers.
La Ofrenda de Flores was a very inclusive tradition, with people of all ages participating — from babies, to the elderly, to the mobility challenged. It was an amazing event to witness and to photograph. My eyes fill with tears just thinking about how memorable it was to watch.
Las Fallas is one of those large and wild festivals in Spain that should be on any festival-goers bucket list. What started as a feast day for St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, has evolved into a 5-day, multifaceted celebration involving fire and fireworks. Valencia, a quiet city with a population of just over 1 million, swells to an estimated three million flame-loving revelers during Las Fallas celebrations. I’m one of those millions of people currently in Valencia to take part in this festival.
During Las Fallas, hundreds of exquisitely-crafted monuments called “fallas” are set up throughout Valencia. Each neighborhood’s falla can cost hundreds of thousands of euros and teams of artists have work on these for an entire year. Valencians create these fallas, which are incredible works of art as unique, funny, satirical and thoughtful tributes to past year.
The fallas have been getting set up over the last few days using cranes, workers to assemble each piece and craftsmen to touch them up with paint. They must be completely assembled by tomorrow morning and then the judging will begin. The best fallas will receive rewards. They will be on display until March 19th, La Crema, when (you might have guessed) they set them all on fire!
As I’ve strolled around the neighborhoods near me and in Old Town Valencia, I’ve been photographing some of the fallas as they are being assembled to give you an idea of the amount of work and the scale of the fallas.