Thursday, January 31, 2013

Down the Wrabbit Hole: Liebster Blog Award Recipient

Writing this blog is a labor of love for me.  My posts are like diary entries about the most exciting, enchanting, or exhilarating moments in my life.  Writing these entries is cathartic, and re-reading them down the road akin to visiting an old friend.

I don't monetize my blog.  I don't ask for PayPal donations, or petition sponsors to send me free stuff.  Any magazine articles I write are from the heart and don't benefit my wallet.  I'm not in this for the "goods".  I do this because I love to travel, and I want to share my stories with like-minded people.

However, I won't argue that it was nice when I opened up my Twitter account today and learned that I had been given the Liebster Blog Award - a "pay-it-forward" blogging award shared amongst blossoming writers in the blogosphere.  The fantastic Sonja at "The Happy Travel Bug" was kind enough to acknowledge all of the time and care that I have poured into this little site.  For that, I sincerely thank her!  

Here are the rules of the Liebster Award:

  • When you receive the award, you post 11 random facts about yourself and answer 11 questions from the person who nominated you.
  • Pass the award onto 11 other blogs (make sure you tell them you nominated them!) and ask them 11 questions.
  • You are not allowed to nominate the blog who nominated you!
  • Make sure the blogs you choose have 200 or less followers.
  • Include a link to the person who nominated you & let them know about your post
Made apparent in the rules listed above, this blog award is designed for small blogs with the intention of giving them more exposure, upping their popularity, and assuring the authors that, "Yes indeedy!" someone out there DOES read your blog! I thought it was a fantastic idea!  So, without further ado, here are my contributions to the Liebster Blog Award!

11 Random Facts:

1. Spiders are allowed to live outside my house.  I won't squish them outside because they kill other, nasty bugs.  But they are NOT allowed to live inside my house.  It is a squishing free-for-all in that case.

2. I can play bass and sing at the same time. I used to be in a band in high school where I was the bass player and main singer. We cut a demo. It was not that good.

3. I collect fridge magnets from every place I have traveled to. My downstairs fridge looks super tacky!

4. My husband and I go out for dinner so much, the waitress at Boston Pizza knows what we're going to order before we sit down, and sometimes brings our drinks before she even says hello.

5. My favorite book from C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia" is "The Magician's Nephew" because they jump into the magic pools and go to new worlds. I wanted those pools in my backyard.

6. I am scared of waterslides. I'll go down the baby ones, but that's pretty much it.

7. I am the most organized-disorganized person you'll ever meet.  I love to label things, have everything sorted chronologically and alphabetically, but I'll be darned if I can find my keys or bank card when I need them.

8. I love being a bridesmaid, but didn't want a wedding for myself. Go figure.

9. I make my own wine, and prefer red over white.

10. Before I was a teacher, I worked as a pita maker, a theater cleaner, a coat check girl at a bar, a telephone operator, a psychologist's secretary, and a chiropractic assistant. 

11. I once got so lost in a parking lot, I had to go back inside the building to regroup.  I am NOT good with parking lots.

waterslides Edmonton, biggest mall in the world
West Edmonton Mall waterslide.

My questions from Sonja, who nominated me:

1. If you could travel anywhere in the world, and money was no object, where would you go and why?  Well, if money was no object, than I would do a tour of the Mediterranean.  I would check out Greece and all of its majestic isles, Sicily, the French coast, and sail the Balearic Islands in Spain.

2. Best meal you've ever had?  While traveling, it would be the BBQ oysters from New Orleans - freshly shucked in front of me and cooked right up.  So delicious.  At home, it would be my Grandma's traditional Hungarian dish of Halushka.

3. What's your favorite post on your blog?  I love my post on Loch Ness, mainly for the photography.  The article was also picked up by Trek World, an online magazine, which makes me love it all the more!

4. Favorite cruise line?  I have never been on a cruise!  I'll let you know if I ever do go on one!

5. Favorite candy?  I love me some Reece's Peanut Butter Cups!  Or Nibs...

6. Who would you want to play you in a movie about your life?  I think only Angelina Jolie could capture the magnitude of my lips.  However, she might be too old to play me, so probably Zooey Deschanel.  She and I are both kinda quirky!

7. Favorite quote or saying?  I have two.  The first is my Dad's: You never grow up, you never grow old.  The second is: A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.

8. What would your super power be?  Oh, teleportation all the way!  The ability to just be somewhere else in an instant would be amazing!  Think of all the items I could check off the bucket list!

9. Favorite smell?  Clean sheets.  That doesn't happen very often in my house! Ha!

10. If you had to live in a decade other than this one, what would you choose?  The 1920s!  I would be a flapper, dancing away in all those speakeasy clubs in my shimmery dress, using that film noir accent and ending every sentence with, "See?"

11. How old would you be if you didn't actually know how old you are?  I feel about 25.  I definitely don't feel like I'm in my 30s!

Fort McLeod Alberta Canada, buffalo display museum
Oh grow up?  Not me!!

My 11 nominees - Let's hear about you!

This was the hard part!  I know so many good bloggers, but it was really tricky to stick to the 'under 200 followers' rule.  I did my very best!

1. Becky -
2. Corrine -
3. Keara -
4. Travel Chick Diaries -
5. Liz -
6. Marriann -
7. Lilian -
8. Amy -
9. Hilary -
10. Laeta -
11. Brandy -

My questions for those that I have nominated:

1. When you travel, are you an 'explore every nook and cranny' or a 'sit back and relax' kind of person?

2. When ordering a drink that requires an umbrella, what do you order?

3. Favorite season and why?

4. Most embarrassing story you are willing to tell online?

5. When you go camping, do you use a tent, a trailer, or do you prefer hotels to camping?

6. What are your top 5 items for YOUR travel bucket list?

7. If you had to pick an animal to represent you, what would it be? Why?

8. Have you ever lost anything while traveling? - Tell your sad story...

9. How many pairs of shoes do you have?

10. Best way to get exercise?

11. Strangest job you've ever had?

And that's that!  Thanks again to Sonja for the Liebster Award and for making me a part of this movement.  I look forward to reading all of the responses from my own nominees!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Travel & Escape TV Host Audition: Vote for Me!

I love teaching.  I truly, truly do.  You could say it is my calling.

But how cool would it be to moonlight as a TV travel host?  (Or even better, begin a second career as a TV travel host?) This is a rhetorical question, because we all know the instant answer is, "AMAZING!"  I am now hoping to find out.  I have sent in an audition spot to the travel channel Travel & Escape with wildly hopeful ambitions to become their newest host for the show "My Top 10".

From Pinterest (oh Pinterest - you addictive thing!)

Look, I know I'm not some young, 20-something college grad.  I'm not supermodel thin or tall.  My eyes are a bit too small, and my nose a bit too big.  When I talk, I tend to overemphasize the 's' sound in words. (Why do I do that?  I didn't even notice until I made this audition tape - it's so weird!)  I might not be the stereotypical television personality people usually tend to envision.  And I'm okay with that.

I am okay with that BECAUSE: I know am funny and admittedly quirky, I love to experience new things and I'm willing to try just about anything, I have tons of energy, I'm smart and can research on the fly, and I know how to get an audience interested in stuff (after all, I teach elementary kids - that's like putting on a one-woman TV show every day, all day).

Quirky enough for TV?  Just maybe!

There are too many cookie-cutter looking TV hosts out there.  Travel is about unique experiences and adventures.  So hopefully the producers of "My Top 10" are looking for a unique host to match that.  Hopefully I stand a chance in... well, you know.

If not, I have to admit it was still a lot of fun to make the video.  I will treasure it always!  Please take the time to watch it, comment, like it, and for goodness sake, share it so that Travel & Escape says, "Holy cow, look at all the views and likes!  We just GOTTA hire her!"

Like I tell my students, "If you're gonna dream, dream BIG!"

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Journey to Antiquity: The Village of Assisi, Italy

If it weren't for the Black Plague, the lack of hygiene, the gigantic discrepancies between rich and poor, and the non-existence of most modern-day technologies, I think I would have fared very well during the medieval ages.  The poetry was pretty good.  Dresses were nice, if you were part of the nobility.  I wouldn't have minded a knight in shining armor or two, as well.

A medieval village street in Assisi, Italy.

Hmm, that's actually all I can think of that was nice about the medieval ages.  Maybe I wouldn't have survived those times.  But I do know that I love the layout of a medieval village, thanks to my visit to the always beautiful town of Assisi in the region of Umbria in Italy.  The narrow lanes, the cobblestoned streets, the steep staircases, and trellised balconies... they all mesh together in a beautiful and ancient harmony that just appeals to something deep within me.  And now in the 21st century - plague free! Bonus!

medieval building Assisi Italy, Umbria Italy, things to see in Assisi
The Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi in Umbria, Italy

I had the privilege to visit Assisi during my student field trip to Europe in 2010 - yes, this post is a little late. I was prompted to write about Assisi by my grandmother, who lives in Texas.  My grandfather recently passed away on Christmas Day, and I was down in Texas for his funeral.  My grandmother and I were reminiscing about him, and the topic of their trip to Italy was brought up.  My grandfather had particularly loved Assisi, for many of the same reasons I did.  This post is as much in his honor as it is in honor of the beauty of Assisi itself.

Upper Chapel St. Francis Basilica, medieval building Assisi Italy, Umbria Italy, things to see in Assisi
The Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, Upper Church entrance

Assisi is located in the province of Perugia, which is in central Italy.  My students and I arrived by bus after passing through the Alps via Eurorail from France.  We'd left Paris after a whirlwind tour through the city, and were in need of some quiet R'n'R.  We had no idea how wonderful our stopover in Assisi would be!

medieval building Assisi Italy, Umbria Italy, things to see in Assisi
The beauty of the province of Perugia in Italy

We drove through the main town of Assisi without stopping to visit; instead, we climbed the hill to the Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi and to the small village surrounding it.  Our bus let us off at the main entrance to the village, and we slipped inside through the main gate.

medieval building Assisi Italy, Umbria Italy, things to see in Assisi
The entrance of the medieval village of Assisi

Instantly, the cameras were out - we were all enchanted by the quaint and ancient feel of the place.  Nuns and priests strolled the sidewalks, herb gardens growing in scattered pots dotted small yards, and stores made of stone and brick sold unique and fascinating wares.

medieval garden Assisi Italy, Umbria Italy, things to see in Assisi
The cute potted garden in the village of Assisi

medieval village of Assisi Italy, Umbria Italy, things to see in Assisi
A narrow staircase leads us to some shops in Assisi

It was a lesson in architecture for my students, as well.  One of the buildings boasted some gorgeous flying buttresses, and the students enjoyed posing underneath them.

Of course, we had come to see the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. Our tour guide from Explorica gave us some time to enjoy the surrounding area of the Basilica, with its stunning view of the Umbrian hills and valleys.  The day was calm and sunny, and everything was peaceful.

medieval building Assisi Italy, Umbria Italy, things to see in Assisi
Enjoying the view of Umbria

Inside the Basilica, we explored the Upper and Lower Church sections, with their frescoes of Saint Francis' life, and some beautiful stained glass windows. The Crypt was extremely interesting, with the tomb of Saint Francis set right into the middle of the room.  People had tucked prayers, written on little slips of paper, into the grill work surrounding the tomb - apparently a tradition with the Basilica.

medieval building Assisi Italy, Umbria Italy, things to see in Assisi
Outside the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi

No photography was allowed inside any section of the Basilica.  Some students and I found ourselves outside, overlooking a courtyard of some sort, and got to see some Franciscan monks wandering about.

medieval building Assisi Italy, Umbria Italy, things to see in Assisi
The courtyard outside the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi

We all agreed the Basilica was very beautiful, and were happy it was open. We had been told by our tour guide that in 1997 there was a big earthquake that had shook the Basilica, destroying large portions of the building, and killing four people who had been trapped inside. The structure had been shut down for two years for repairs - thank goodness, because it is something that is not to be missed!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Backyard Bucket List: A Hunter's Haven in Calgary, Alberta

I am not a hunter.  Please let me emphasize this before I begin my post.  I love cute animals, and when I was young, I wished I was Sleeping Beauty so that all the animals of the forest would follow me around and sing with me.  I wanted birds to help bake my birthday cake, just like in the cartoon.  Of course, I now realize the cake would be riddled with chunks of bird droppings and dusted with a light coating of feathers and parasites, but back then, it was my dream. 

My childhood dream! Image courtesy:

However, I don't completely abhor hunting either. When the animal is used for food, the hunting is legal, and there's no "let's-take-a-trophy-and-leave-the-carcass-to-rot", then I guess I'm okay with it.  I myself have never gone hunting, but when one of my students slapped a slab of frozen deer steak on my desk to defrost as a Christmas present one snowy school day, I did take it home and cook it.  Mm... gamey.

With that colorful introduction complete, I'd like to discuss one of central Alberta's finest shopping experiences - if you are into that sort of thing.  I am talking about one of the most extravagant, over-the-top, and gigantic stores I have ever seen: the Bass Pro Shop in Calgary's Cross Iron Mills Mall.

Bass Pro Shop in Cross Iron Mills.  Image courtesy:

She wants to talk about a store in a mall on her travel blog?  How lame.

No, it's really not.  This place is unreal. Even if you are not a hunter, like me, you will still want to visit this place just to marvel at its sheer size and, let's face it, utter lunacy.  I can't even begin to describe to you just how many dead and stuffed animals there are in this place!  There are dioramas of every biome in nature readily available for viewing, replete with taxidermied animals to finish the scene.

hunting store Alberta, hunting store Calgary, Cross Iron Mills mall
The entrance to Bass Pro Shops in Cross Iron Mills.  These glassy-eyed animals are just the beginning...

You like mountains?  There's a diorama for that.

hunting store Alberta, hunting store Calgary, Cross Iron Mills mall
A peaceful mountain scene... I guess.

You like forest scenes? There's a diorama for that.

hunting store Alberta, hunting store Calgary, Cross Iron Mills mall
My sister was rather shocked at the amount of taxidermied caribou in the store.

You like gophers?  Yes, there's even a diorama for that. To view any animal you'd like to see stuffed and mounted, just wander the store for 10 minutes.  You'll probably find it.  But give yourself time. The Bass Pro Shop at Cross Iron Mills (which technically is in Balzac and not Calgary, located just off the QE2 Highway near Calgary, Alberta) is over 150,000 square feet and has two levels.  The store sells everything 'outdoors' - camping gear, bar-be-ques and deck items, clothing, hunting goods, sporting goods, and so much more.

hunting store Alberta, hunting store Calgary, Cross Iron Mills mall
Watch out for moose!

I first visited the store when I went skeet shooting with my sister and her then-boyfriend, an Olympic biathlon hopeful.  We needed some 'skeet shooting ammo' (I don't know if that actually exists - I don't really know what we bought..), and so we visited Bass Pro. I was stunned at the size, and slightly saddened by the sheer quantity of the mounted animals.  After that, I have taken several friends and family members inside the store, just to see it.  It really is a stop that everyone should make, even if you aren't interested in purchasing anything. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Tuscan Terra Cotta: The Fima Pottery Factory

In the Italian province of Perugia, in the hilly Umbria region, near the famous village of Assisi and its Basilica Papale di San Francesco, lies a quaint and unassuming pottery factory.  Located on the edge of a village, the Fima Pottery Factory is nothing really spectacular to look at from the outside.  Inside, however, is a totally different story.

medieval building Assisi Italy, Umbria Italy, things to see in Assisi
The beauty of Umbria, Italy.

I had the opportunity to visit the pottery factory while touring Italy with my Junior High students during our whirlwind Europe trip in 2010.  We had spent the morning in Assisi (which I will write about in a later post) and were headed on a long bus ride to Rome.  Our tour director had made arrangements for us to stop briefly on a little side trip at the factory in order to break up the trip.  I was so glad she did! (Most of my Italian souvenirs from that trip came from the Fima Pottery Factory.)

Fima Pottery Factory, Umbria Italy, things to see near Assisi
A Fima Pottery Factory worker painting some mugs.

My group was granted entry into the factory through the backdoor.  Rather than encountering polished, finished products right off the bat, we got to see the process from start to end. We wandered through the various departments, which were basically open and easy to find since the factory is located inside a big, airy warehouse-style building.  

Fima Pottery Factory, Umbria Italy, things to see near Assisi
An unfinished vase, but still very detailed.

Family-owned since 1960, the Fima Deruta Ceramica makes custom designed items of all shape and size: mugs, plates, pitchers, platters, and so much more.  It was very interesting to watch the items being shaped, the kilned, then painted and glazed. 

Fima Pottery Factory, Umbria Italy, things to see near Assisi
Bells waiting to be painted and glazed.

Fima Pottery Factory, Umbria Italy, things to see near Assisi
Pallets of pottery ready to be packaged and shipped.

Once we had finished with the tour of the factory, our guide led us into the main showroom, where shelves stacked with various pottery pieces wove in a seemingly endless maze. Bright colors assailed our eyes.  Even better, the shop had teamed up with some other local merchants to sell a variety of wares: locally produced oils, breads, meats, and cheeses. Several sample tables were set up for my students and I to taste the selections - I bought a bottle of truffle oil that tasted irresistible mixed with vinegar and soaked into bread!  I also bought a vinegar and oil set with which to use my truffle oil.

Fima Pottery Factory, Umbria Italy, things to see near Assisi
The showroom of Fima Deruta Ceramica.

Getting everything back was a little trickier - I wrapped my pottery very well and put it in my carry-on luggage so I could ensure it wouldn't break.  Oopsie - I also kept the truffle oil inside the same bag! When it was discovered by security in the Rome airport, I had to run across the airport to have the tiny bottle bubble-wrapped and stickered, then shipped home for me!  Didn't think that one through!