A time to give thanks!

Tomorrow, in the United States of America, it is Thanksgiving – so, “Happy Thanksgiving” to all my American friends!

Happy-Thanksgiving-2015-clipart-free-download-1

On the fourth Thursday in November Americans gather together to enjoy family, feasting, and football. It really is a big deal. Unless you have visited America during Thanksgiving, you may not appreciate it. It is an important time of year and very much family oriented. In fact it is estimated that 47 million people will travel to make a Thanksgiving dinner! There is also much turkey and pumpkin to be had!

Happy-Thanksgiving-2015-clipart-free-download-4

Australia has no equivalent holiday. But I think I like the Thanksgiving tradition. It is far less commercial most other American holidays, and it’s all about family – just being together and giving thanks for what you have. I really like that idea, not enough people take the time to do this; there should be more of it!

The first Thanksgiving is believed to have occurred in 1691 when the pilgrims in Plymouth (Massachusetts) invited the local native Indians to join the celebration of their first successful harvest. However, the tradition as we now know it wasn’t born until 1863, when President Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day be held each November. If you would like to read more about the history of thanksgiving, click here.

Thanksgiving-parade-images-8Thanksgiving celebrations are big and the biggest has to be the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, held in New York City. This event dates back to 1924 and has been televised since 1952. Millions watch this 3-hour parade and enjoy the spectacle of the elaborately decorated floats as they wind their way through the streets of Manhattan.

 

Thanksgiving generally marks the beginning of the “holiday season” in the USA. It also marks one of the biggest sale events of the year – the black Friday sales, occurring the day after Thanksgiving – and signals the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. This day is generally a holiday for many as well, so a long weekend for most and a good deal of shopping is to be had if you can stand the crowds.

So, putting aside the parades and the sales and getting back to the essence of Thanksgiving, I would like to encourage you to see the blessings in your life and give thanks for what you have; I have much to be grateful for (even though I find many things lacking in my life – it’s still a blessing), I also give thanks for friends, especially those recently found (a benefit of my most recent adventures) and of course, for my family!

I would like to sign off with a prayer – whether you are religious or not (ignore the mention of God, or substitute your own deity if you prefer) – the sentiment is what is most important:

 Prayer of Thanksgiving by Vienna Cobb Anderson

God of all blessings,
source of all life,
giver of all grace:

We thank you for the gift of life:
for the breath
that sustains life,
for the food of this earth
that nurtures life,
for the love of family and friends
without which there would be no life.

We thank you for the mystery of creation:
for the beauty
that the eye can see,
for the joy
that the ear may hear,
for the unknown
that we cannot behold filling the universe with wonder,
for the expanse of space
that draws us beyond the definitions of our selves.

We thank you for setting us in communities:
for families
who nurture our becoming,
for friends
who love us by choice,
for companions at work,
who share our burdens and daily tasks,
for strangers
who welcome us into their midst,
for people from other lands
who call us to grow in understanding,
for children
who lighten our moments with delight,
for the unborn,
who offer us hope for the future.

We thank you for this day:
for life
and one more day to love,
for opportunity
and one more day to work for justice and peace,
for neighbors
and one more person to love
and by whom be loved,
for your grace
and one more experience of your presence,
for your promise:
to be with us,
to be our God,
and to give salvation.

For these, and all blessings,
we give you thanks, eternal, loving God,
through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Goodbye Texas

It’s time to say goodbye to Texas! And, yes, there will be (& has been) tears. 😥 sads

 

Almost 2 years ago now, my husband was made an offer to work in the USA for 12 months. What an opportunity – we could live in Texas, experience a new culture, do something different for a while and maybe have the odd adventure or two! We have now lived in Texas for 19 months and it has prematurely and abruptly come to an end.

Although this is a very sad turn of events – I think I recognised myself passing through most of the acknowledged stages of grief with anger and depression featuring strongly – I have now moved into acceptance and am trying to move past my sadness and bitterness and appreciate all the wonderful experiences I have had whilst here in the US; things I would not have done otherwise.

It wasn’t easy at the start, but I managed to make a life here and I have meet some amazing people; some will be friends for life!

Living in the North Texas town of Sherman, we have tried to experience as much of Texas (and Texoma) as we could, and also explore further afield when we could. There have been so many wonderful experiences. I was going to list our experiences here – but I now realise that we have done so much, it’s way too much to mention it all.

We have had opportunity to visit quite a few of the local sights and have enjoyed the uniquely Texan experiences of shooting rifles and pistols both at a gun range and on a ranch.

Cate_shooting

Other places we have visited in Texas are Fort Worth (where we saw the longhorn drive),

Cattle drive at Fort Worth Stock Yards

Cattle drive at Fort Worth Stock Yards

Texarkana, San Antonio – the Alamo and it’s wonderful riverwalk,

Riverwalk-view_from-bridgeWichita Falls, and the Texas hill country town of Fredericksburg. I also managed to get to visit Houston.

With Dallas being so close we managed to see most of the major touristy sites. We visited Dealey Plaza and the Book Repository, took a look at Old Red museum, checked out the DMA, enjoyed a visit to the Dallas Aquarium, took in the view from the top of Reunion Tower and enjoyed several visits to the Arboretum (one of my favourite places).

 

arboretum

There is so much to do in Dallas – make sure you visit some time!

We also enjoyed the very unique experience of visiting the Texas State Fair.

BigTex

In addition we also caught a couple of Baseball games at Arlington.

Cate_baseball

Besides Texas though, I have had the privilege of visiting another 13 states! Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Washington, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Iowa and New York.

Some highlights:

View from the Space Needle, Seattle, Washington

View from the Space Needle, Seattle, Washington

The Grand Canyon, Arizona

The Grand Canyon, Arizona

Monument Valley, Utah

Monument Valley, Utah

Statue of Liberty, NY

Statue of Liberty, NY

Beale Street, Memphis, Tennesee

Beale Street, Memphis, Tennesee

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge – New Mexico

I had no desire to visit the USA before coming here ,but I have a new appreciation of America and it’s people. Texas in particular will always have a place in my heart.  💕💕

I hope I can come back one day!

 

And the clouds rolled in!

This post has been a little while in coming; the last week and a half has not been easy. It has been a roller coaster of emotions for us. Shock, sadness and anger have been warring with each other – it’s exhausting. So, to try and overcome some of those emotions we thought we would take a road trip – our last one here in the US; it’s time for us to go home, but the decision was one that was imposed upon us with Andrew being made redundant. It’s a bitter pill to swallow when you are invited to work in another country and then have the rug pulled out from under you and you are sent packing!

Anyway, back to that road trip. It’s fall here in the US and there are many areas where the leaves changing color are quite a spectacle. One of those places is an area known as the Talimena Scenic Drive (a 50 mile stretch of road from east Oklahoma to west Arkansas). So, we set off to have a look before all the color disappeared.

It didn’t turn out quite as expected however. We encountered quite a bit of cloud, fog and rain. We were advised to drive along the valley road first – so glad we did, at least we saw a little color. Driving became very challenging once we got further up the mountains! These are some photos taken from the car:

Talimena_CarDrive

Talimena_CarView

Talimena_QW_stateParkWe stayed a night at the Queen Wilhemina Lodge (the castle in the clouds), a recently renovated lodge; very popular & I managed to snag the last available room (people had cancelled due to the weather!) – this was the view from our room when we arrived:Talimena_QWL_view

There was a nice fire to sit by, but no reviving drinks to be had – there was no alcohol at the lodge – its situated in a dry county and they are required to wait 12 months before applying for a liquor license – damn!  The weather continued to move in; it got worse and we experienced a severe storm, with lots of rain and a power outage. The next morning it was still very cloudy, but still beautiful, mystical, even!

Talimna_beautyInFog

It eventually cleared enough for us to start our drive back along the mountain ridge. We saw some pretty sights;

Talimena_AutumnColour Talimena_AutumnLeaves_0955

Talimena_AutumnLeaves_0952 Talimena_AutumnColour_0976

it wasn’t quite what I had hoped for, but all in all, it was still another great experience!

Halloween, All Hallows’ Eve, Samhain!

Tomorrow is Halloween! And how fortuitous that it falls on a Saturday this year.

Halloween can be traced back to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced Saah-win, or sow-in), celebrating the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. At this time, the veil between the world of the living and the realm of the dead (the Otherworld) is at it’s thinest and the departed souls ghost could cross into the land of the living. If you would like to know more about the history of Halloween in America  – check it out here.

Americans go crazy for this time of year – it’s not just the kids who dress up and trick-or-treat, the adults do it too. Decorating your house at Halloween is also very common (approximately 50% of Americans decorate their yards at this time of year) – some go to great lengths, with a full on light and show spectacle (similar to Christmas light decorations). Google Halloween House Decorations and see what images pop up – amazing!

As Halloween isn’t really celebrated in Australia, and we are here in the US where Halloween is evidently an all in event, I thought I might embrace the culture and get involved – just a little, and try my hand at carving a pumpkin.

I acquired myself a pumpkin (not the prettiest of the bunch, since I left it a bit late and all the good ones were gone), I bought a simple carving kit and went for it. Scooping out the middle is the worst bit, but all in all, it wasn’t too bad.

My hollowed out pumpkin

My hollowed out pumpkin

Meet Jack!

Halloween_Jack

Or maybe it’s Jackie?

Halloween_Jackie

Not too bad for a first effort. I didn’t use a stencil, but did this freehand. And since I just can’t embrace the horror aspect, he’s reasonably friendly looking.

Tomorrow, we are going to our first Halloween party and Jack’s coming with us! It should be a fun night!

Fun trivia facts about Halloween:

  • One quarter of all candy sold in the USA annually is for Halloween
  • Jack-o-lanterns originated in Ireland and were made from turnips or potatoes – they were used to scare away ghosts and spirits. It wasn’t until Irish immigrants in America discovered pumpkins that a new tradition was born
  • 120 million people in America dress up for Halloween
  • Orange and black represent the colors of Halloween – orange is associated with the Fall harvest and black is associated with darkness and death

 

A Visit to Houston

So, I am spending a couple of days in Houston with a friend.

Yesterday, after a 5 hour drive from Sherman, we took in some culture and visited the Museum of Fine Arts Houston

I was particularly taken by the Roman Vishniac photographic exhibition and his photographs of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. Many poignant and candid photos giving the viewer a real glimpse into a life that many of us can only image, particularly those taken in post war Berlin. I could have spent so much longer pouring over these images; it was fabulous.

I also got to enjoy some more classic paintings from the masters – Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet & Matisse.

  

I have seen some wonderful art whilst in Texas – we miss out on so much in Australia, where we have to wait for a special traveling exhibit.

Also at the museum is the Shadow Monsters interactive display – we made scary shadows and had fun! Great for young and old! 

  
There was also a fabulous interactive LEGO building exhibit where you could indulge your inner architect or city planner. Everyone is encouraged to add to the LEGO city creation.

  
The MFAH is a very interesting museum and is spread over 2 buildings. Between the two, is an interconnecting walkway which is a piece of art in itself – a light tunnel, where the color changes every 6 minutes.

  

If you get to go, Thursday’s are a great day to visit as entry is free!

Anyway, the reason I am in Houston is that I am accompanying a friend on a business trip – so I took the opportunity to see a little more of Texas and poke around a little in Houston. My friend is a well respected quilter and author (Becky Goldsmith) and is attending the Quilt Market in Houston. Now, this ‘convention’ is a BIG deal – I didn’t realize just how big. More later!

It’s Pumpkin Season!

1pumpkinI think I may have only just realised that Americans are just a little bit obsessed with the humble pumpkin.

If you have ever been in American during the autumnal season, you will know that Fall brings cooler temperatures, and colour-changing leaves, but it also brings an overwhelming display of pumpkins and anything and everything associated with pumpkins. I believe the pumpkin must be the unofficial symbol of autumn in the US; pumpkins are literally EVERYWHERE! I can’t liken this to anything similar in the Southern hemisphere, it is something uniquely American.

If you read my last blog about visiting the Dallas Arboretum’s Fall Festival – you might get a bit of an idea of what I am talking about – you will have seen some of the photos I took of all the pumpkins there – and the parents and children clamouring for photos with them. Yes, even I got amongst it and got a photo with some of the thousands of pumpkins on display there.

Catherine_PumkpinPatch

Decorator pumpkins

Decorator pumpkins

 

When I have been out shopping, it is impossible not to note that it is the season for pumpkins! Pumpkins adorn all sorts of decorator and household items for you to take home. Both food stores and hobby stores are all too willing to help you decorate for the Fall/Harvest season. Pumpkins themselves are also used as decorator items – you can buy bags of mini pumpkins, as well as the larger varieties (both real and artificial) to decorate with.

Pumpkins

Pumpkin_pieBesides decorating with pumpkins, the flavour of pumpkins has infiltrated it’s way into just about every food group as well. The pumpkin pie is, of course, an old favourite, but consumers are now inundated with pumpkin-spice flavoured everything!

PumpkinSpice_coffee

Dunkin Donuts pumpkin spice coffee

The fault probably lies with Starbucks who introduced a seasonal pumpkin spice latte in 2003 – since then the number of items with a pumpkin spice flavour seems to have risen exponentially. Others have jumped on the bandwagon and offer pumpkin spice flavoured coffee at the supermarket:

Pumpkin_Coffee

McCafe pumpkin spice coffee

You can now find pumpkin spice flavoured Oreos, pumpkin spice flavoured M&M’s, pumpkin spice air freshener as well as everything from pumpkin-spice flavoured beer to pumpkin-spice flavoured chocolate! I am convinced America has gone a little pumpkin-spice crazy!

Here are a few items I came across whilst shopping recently:

Pumokin-Ale_Shocktop

Pumpkin Ale

Pumpkin_muffins

Pumpkin Muffins

Pumpkin_cupcakes

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

Pumpkin_Cider

Pumpkin Cider – no, I didn’t try it!

Pumpkin_Chocolate

Pumpkin Chocolate!?

Pumpkin_almonds

Pumpkin Spice Almonds

Pumkin_BelVita

Pumpkin Spice biscuits

I have to admit, I haven’t actually tried any of these, but – has it all gone too far?

Travel Newsletter Links

Under the heading of Travel Newsletters there are links to pages that contain  “newsletters” (in pdf format); these document some of our travels within the USA before I started this blog. It has come to my attention that since we swapped servers the links to the pdf travel newsletters were not working. I have now fixed these and all are working as they should – apologies if you tried to use them and they did not work!

The newsletters include Oklahoma City, Tulsa, San Antonio, Seattle, Las Vegas, Arizona, Arkansas , New York, Memphis , Fort Worth and Dallas if you are interested.

A day in Des Moines!

Yesterday morning, in Des Moines, Becky and I decided a visit to the State Capitol building was in order; it proved to be a wonderful idea. We spent a couple of hours enjoying the sights of this grand old building, belatedly joining a guided tour, which was great.Iowa - State Capitol building

Completed in 1886, the outside of the Capitol building is spectacular – with wonderful Renaissance style architecture. The most striking feature being the golden dome crowning the building. And, yes, it is real gold. The 23-carat gold leaf covering the dome is the thickness of a human hair and costs more than $400,000 every 20 or so years to replace (predominately labour costs).

Decorative door hinge

A decorative door hinge

Inside the building is just as spectacular, if not more so. There is a lot to see in this building – great art works – paintings, mosaics, sculptures and other points of interest. Even the floor tiles, marble wall trims, brass door hinges and air vents are works of art.

Some of the lovely floor tiles at the Capitol building

Some of the lovely floor tiles at the Capitol building

It is marvellous to stand underneath the rotunda and look straight up at the inside of the dome!

I took this photo actually lying on the floor underneath the dome!

I took this photo actually lying on the floor underneath the dome!

You are also able to access the upper level of the dome with a tour guide – it’s a great view from up there!

The marble and granite grand staircase leads visitors to the second floor where you can view the Iowa House of Representatives and the Iowa Senate (exhibiting original paintwork and the original chandeliers).

The Senate

The Senate

However my favourite feature was the library (all law books) – I could have spent hours there just absorbing the atmosphere!

Oh, The Library!

Oh, The Library!

After our tour we had a lovely lunch at the Scenic Route Bakery located in the very pretty (and fashionable) historic area of the East Village.

Becky then had to go and work – so I went for a look at the Des Moines Botanical Gardens.

Des Moines Botanical Gardens

Des Moines Botanical Gardens

Now these gardens are not huge (about 1 to 1.5hrs will see you cover it), but the water gardens were very nice. It was also a great place to practice some photography!

Pretty Gardens!

Pretty Gardens!

Water Lilies at the Gardnes

Water Lilies at the Gardens

Pretty Flowers!

Pretty Flowers!

Water Gardens

Water Gardens

Des Moines was a great place to visit (even if only for a couple of days) and if you get a chance to go to the Iowa State Fair – don’t miss it! 🙂

Please like and share if you enjoyed this blog – thank you!

Des Moines and Iowa

So, I just got back from some time spent in Des Moines – capital of Iowa and thought I might share some of my experiences and tell you all about Des Moines! It’s a nice city, by the way and what I immediately noticed about Iowa was – there are lots of corn fields Corn field– and it is much greener than Texas.

My friend Becky Goldsmith (quilter extraordinaire) had a working gig in Des Moines doing some teaching, a book signing and attending a quilters guild meeting for a few days and she let me tag along with her. When she wasn’t working we shared some sightseeing, and when she was – I did some exploring on my own.

Together we went to the Iowa State Fair on Saturday afternoon – and had a great time.

Crowds at the State Fair

Crowds at the State Fair

On Sunday afternoon, whilst Becky was teaching, I explored Des Moines city. I looked around the Capitol building (being a Sunday it wasn’t opened – so just looked from the outside), looked at a few of the other monuments

Shattering Silence Sculpture

Shattering Silence Sculpture

and drove around exploring downtown and the river area. I was grateful to see and experience another American city.

One of the main streets in downtown Des Moines

One of the main streets in downtown Des Moines

One of the many bridges crossing the river

One of the many bridges crossing the river

Some great art work on the side of a building

Some great art work on the side of a building

A delightful garden in the middle of the city

A delightful garden in the middle of the city

Monday saw us both touring the Capitol building and then later in the afternoon, I explored the Des Moines Botanical Gardens on my own. See my next post for more on this!

About Des Moines

  • Des Moines is the capital city of the state of Iowa in the US.
  • It is the county seat of Polk County
  • Named after the Des Moines River (which is probably an adaption of the French Riviere des Moines, meaning “River of the Monks”
  • The metro area of Des Moines has a population of around 271,000.

and Iowa:

  • It is known as “the Hawkeye State”
  • It became the 29th state of the Union in December 1846.
  • Motto: “Our liberties we prize, and our rights we will maintain”
  • Bird: the Eastern Goldfinch
  • Tree: Oak
  • Flower: Wild Rose
  • Rock: Geodes
  • Some noteworthy products of Iowa: Actors John Wayne, Elijah Wood and Ashton Kutcher, TV host Johnny Carson, musician Glenn Miller, singer Andy Williams, president Herbert Hoover and the American Pickers (Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz).

Anyway – Go and see Iowa and Des Moines if ever you get the chance! 🙂

 

A visit to Iowa State Fair!

So, I am in Des Moines for a few days accompanying a friend on a business trip. As we had Saturday afternoon free, we decided to take in the Iowa State Fair – it was huge! The grounds were lovely – plenty of trees.

Iowa State Fairgrounds

Iowa State Fairgrounds

We managed to get a car park not too far from the fairgrounds and was able to hitch a ride on one of the golf carts zipping around ferrying people between the car-parks and the fairgrounds (it was very welcome since the day was hot).

On the way we passed camping grounds where people park their huge RV’s and camp for the duration of the fair – there were hundreds of them and apparently these sites are passed down through families and there are lengthy waiting lists to get a site.

So many RV's

Camp grounds at the fairgrounds

We wandered around the grounds, taking in the atmosphere, checking out some of the displays and took a look at some of the exhibits within the expo buildings.

Quilt - USA states

Quilt – USA states

We saw some wood sculpting using a chain saw,

Wood sculpting with a chain saw

A wood bunny

some old tractors,

A rare 1938 tractor

A rare 1938 tractor

a butter cow (yep, a cow carved from butter) and some great sand sculpting.

Sand Sculture

Sand Sculpture

Along the way I was amazed at all of the food vendors – there were so many! Becky was thrilled to find a gluten-free corn dog and had to indulge (she convinced me to have one too – I have to admit, they don’t do it for me though).

Corn Dog at Iowa state fair

A Gluten Free Corn Dog

The Iowa State Fair is also a bit of a magnet for the Presidential candidates – both Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton were there, however, we didn’t see either of them (but I did see Donald’s plane at the airport)!

The fair was quite an eye-opener and quite different to its cousin – The Texas State Fair in Dallas. There was a greater focus on agriculture here in Iowa and seemed to be more like a country fair that I would have expected.

Get along to the Iowa State Fair if ever you get the chance!

The Iowa State Fair is held in Des Moines and is known as “America’s classic state fair” because the event features all of the traditional activities associated with state fairs. The fair is held in park-like grounds covering 450 acres and has been in the same place since 1886. Adjoining the fair grounds is 160 acres of Campgrounds – both areas are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Most of the buildings pre-date World War I; and are good examples of American exposition-style architecture.