Giant molten chocolate column.
There’s nothing like living overseas for a year-plus to make you appreciate being home for the holidays. This past month has been a whirlwind of visiting American friends and family as the husband and I have ranged from down south in Texas, all the way up to (what this Texas gal considers) the Far White North of Indiana. Although both of our overseas posts–China and Suriname–celebrated Christmas to some degree, the American Christmas experience is truly unique. In no other place that I’ve lived has the holiday been as sugary, extravagant, bustling, or glistening as I’ve found it to be in the States. Traveling home to share in all that chaotic cheer gives me an effervescent kind of happiness.
One of the moments on this trip that quintessentially captured American Christmas was a stop at Albanese candy store, AKA Santa’s Workshop. Some of our dear, Indiana-based friends took us to this massive–and I do mean massive–sweet shop in western Indiana. The instant we crossed the threshold, we ran into an almost palpable wall of warm, sugary scent. The sights were equally dazzling, with banks of home-made chocolates (maple truffles, malted milk balls, chocolate-covered animal crackers, turtles, haystacks, etc.) and endless bins of rainbow-colored gummy candies (did I mention that their gummy bears are home-made?! From scratch?!) Vintage-style candies lined the back of the store, and an extra wing of the shop boasted a glorious array of glittering Christmas baskets and speciality items. And as if that weren’t enough, a gigantic column coated with flowing molten chocolate stood sway in the midst of all the Christmas sparkle.
Considering all the temptation around, I was pretty proud of the fact that we walked away with only two packs of bubble gum cigarettes (a nostalgic favorite of my husband’s) and 1.5 pounds of chocolate candy (peanut butter meltaways, chocolate-covered cookie dough, and chocolate almond toffee). I’m also grateful that the Suriname to Indiana commute is long enough to prevent our being regulars at Albanese. Because my waist-line cannot take that abuse on a regular basis!
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Texas SouthWind Winery’s tasting room.
An up-close view of it’s awesome door.
A Texas native, this white-tailed deer watches over proceedings in the tasting room.
This winery’s won just one or two awards.
Miles and miles of Texas… grapes.
The lovely outdoor tasting area.
Wine tasting for two?
Early spring is when Texas wildflowers throw their most extravagant gala. But these sunflowers, black-eyed susans, and other blooms of my childhood are making a respectable showing.
A grill–a necessary accessory for every Texas home.
Me and this guy I’m SO blessed to call “bro.” Though I don’t think I can accurately call him “little” brother anymore.
Bye-bye, blueberry wine. You were delicious.
There’s that gorgeous Texas sky.
Perfect spot for a swing.
And no Texas institution would be complete without at least one pickup truck.
At a party this weekend, a dear friend (another American diplomatic spouse) and I were chatting about our home states. She’s a California/Colorado girl, and I’m Lone Star State born and bred.
“But you aren’t one of those annoyingly proud Texans,” she said, reassuringly.
I felt obligated to come clean. “Oh, no, I totally am. I just try to keep it at least a little bottled up, for the sake of my Indiana husband.”
And that’s the absolute truth. As proof, here’s Exhibit A: Today’s coffee cup, last night’s wine glass, our welcome mat, a piece of decor in our living room:
Given all this, it likely comes as no surprise that some of my favorite wines are also Texas born and bred. Continue reading “Wine Not? When in Texas….”
Hubby and me, proving we were there.
Stairs up to Hemingway’s writing hideaway.
I’m a sucker for this sun-licked wrap-around porch.
A tribute to Hemingway’s love for big game hunting.
A snapshot of Hemingway’s writing room above the carriage house (and the iron grate that protects the room from wayward tourists).
Love these posters for the movie adaptations of Hemingway’s novels.
Note the base of this fountain: a urinal Hemingway acquired from a local Key West bar.
Cat standing guard over Hemingway’s writing room.
Hemingway at the helm.
Hemingway’s house is famous for its polydactyl cats. Not all of the approximately 50 cats now resident there have manifested this gene, but all are carriers.
A few pieces of Hemingway’s private library. Most of his books reside in Cuba.
Another shot of Hemingway’s writing getaway. Note to nods to his passions: writing, books, fishing, and big game hunting.
A portable typewriter, like those Hemingway might have taken on his adventures.
A tribute to one of Hemingway’s favorite pursuits, discovered in Key West: sport fishing.
A snapshot of Hemingway’s house, way back when.
This pool, upon completion in 1938, cost $20,000 in the currency of the day. (Or, approximately $350,000 today.) It was the only in-ground pool within 100 miles when built, and was dug out of the solid coral that comprises the island.
As always, a nod to Hemingway house’s horde of feline residents.
A treatise on the Iceberg Theory.
A wall o’ the four wives. A somewhat unsettling group of portraits, perhaps.
A movie featuring Hemingway and wife no. 3, American novelist, travel writing, and journalist Martha Gellhorn.
Hemingway’s bed, custom-made to accommodate his large size. The headboard is an antique Spanish gate.
“The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” one of the stories inspired by Hemingway’s hunting expeditions.
Hemingway’s home was one of the first in the Florida Keys to have running water.
Entrance to Hemingway’s house.
In my last post, I mentioned that I was recently in Key West, soaking up the sea and much longed-for time with family. I got to swim in turquoise waters, stuff myself silly with seafood, and wander streets lined with tropical trees and homes that, to my untrained eye, blended the beach architecture of my childhood with southern-Victorian and Spanish styles.
But of course, no writer’s visit to Key West would be complete without a stop at one house in particular: The Hemingway Home and Museum.
I’m always a bit embarrassed to admit this–after all, I have a Masters in English and American literature–but I haven’t actually read all that much Hemingway. I did read his “Hills like White Elephants,” a short story that exemplifies Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory (the concept of writing around a particular subject–here abortion–without ever explicitly naming it). But my research emphasis in my degree was Romantic, Victorian, and Post-Colonial British literature, and Early American and 19th-century literature. Chronologically-speaking, Hemingway came a little too late for me.
But a few years ago, I picked up Paula McLain’s historical, Hemingway-themed novel, The Paris Wife. Obviously, this book is A) fiction (and therefore, a not-necessarily-rigidly-factual interpretation of history) and B) more focused on Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, than Hemingway himself.
Continue reading “Key West: Hangin’ with Hemingway”
When this greets you before you even step inside the shop, you know you’ve found a gem.
Hand-scrawled notes guide the bibliophile aright.
One of Key West Island Bookstore’s specialities: local authors.
Special section on Florida.
Special section on nearby Cuba.
Considering my current work on a Prohibition era novel, this purchase was a hard one to pass up.
One of those bookish nooks perfect for whiling away an afternoon.
The toughest part about going book shopping: narrowing down your choices.
Gorgeous vintage type-writer.
Although this one didn’t make it home with me, I’ll be adding it to my to-read list.
The final selection for purchase by me and husband.
Love the book cover art.
What would any Key West bookstore be without a tribute to former island resident, Ernest Hemingway.
Hydrophile that I am, I loved this curation of ocean-themed books.
Book-themed candles! Love this genius idea!
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
You may have noticed my blog has been quiet of late. Part of this is a result of busy months at work. But the last few weeks of silence have been for the best of reasons.
I find coming home to the U.S. after living overseas is like a big gulp of oxygen after holding your breath underwater. It’s not that Suriname is such a dreadful place to live. It just feels so good to be home.
This particular trip back was a whirlwind: a day in Houston, a weekend jaunt to the Midwest, down to Key West to meet my family on their vacation, a few more days in various Texas locales, then a week in my hometown on the Texas Gulf Coast (and surfing!).
With all that travel time, I wasn’t going to be caught without a book in my hand.
So one night in Key West, while my dad and twin brothers were being awesome and doing a night dive around an old shipwreck (their tales of octopus, shark, and fish sightings have made me determined to finally get my scuba certification), I was cheerily getting my nerd on at a local bookstore. Continue reading “All Key-ed Up”
Here for purchase: all the colors of the rainbow.
A view of the site of our frivolity: the Palmentuin (or, Dutch for Palm Garden).
The Phagwa necessities: colored powder, water, squirt guns, and Heineken.
A view skyward, at the beautiful day we had for Phagwa.
I may have told the husband he looked like he’d been performing surgery on a Care Bear.
I’m an Oompa Loompa and he’s a grape–a match made in Heaven.
This Phagwa brought to you by Heineken. (About 2 seconds after this photo, my beer was turned leprechaun-green by a well-aimed shot of Phagwa powder.)
Proof we’re not the only multi-colored weirdos.
Exhibit A: Evidence that we did not skimp on the powder.
A successful sneak attack resulted in a rather rosey back.
When riding this ride, don’t forget your safety googles….
Because you’re going to need them if you want this chic reverse raccoon-eyes look!
My purse may never be the same.
A different type of “tan” line.
Hard to believe this T used to be pale blue….
A week later and some of this pink ink is still hangin’ ’round.
Being in the Foreign Service has meant living in and traveling to lots of unique spots. I’ve had the immense privilege of enjoying many adventures. Among these, some stand out as particularly cool: visiting an ice festival near China’s border with Siberia, holding a baby tiger, and tromping around the Great Wall definitely make top tier
Last Monday saw a new addition to that list: celebrating Holi Phagwa, Suriname-style. It might not have been quite so adventurous or once-in-a-life-timey as scaling ancient Chinese fortifications, but it was just so fun. Because what adult doesn’t enjoy an excuse to fling colored powder on friends and strangers alike, sans repercussions? Continue reading “Holi Phagwa 2017: Hilarity & Hues”
This gorgeous, peculiar thing is the pod that holds all that cacao goodness.
Chocolate tea & a chocolate cupcake. Hard for me to be a happier girl.
Those purple beans (aka nibs) are the fresh, natal version of what becomes chocolate.
Cacao tree flower–from which the pods apparently grow.
Our work table. Let the cacao-powder producing fun begin!
Cacao nibs, empty husks, and chocolate powder (post-nib-grinding accomplished via mortar & pestle).
Spices to adorn our cacao powder (from the spoon and moving clock-wise): cinnamon, ginger, anise, cayenne, cloves, nutmeg.
Our chocolate bar tasting score card–just like a wine tasting!
Half a cacao pod, looking kind of like a mangled space-ship. The flesh around the nibs is actually pretty tasty–a flavor akin to lychee.
Because what would a Dutch/Surinamese-run business be without a pair of wooden shoes?
Our baby cacao trees! (Note the nibs on the stem of the nearer plant.)
Our tree to bar chocolate treats.
Chocolate-crafting in action.
I may have mentioned this before, but my writer-self tends to make me a bit of a homebody. Left to my own devices, I burrow anti-socially into whatever authorial project I’m currently engaged with, avoiding distraction (i.e. people) at all costs. Upon taking a quiz to determine which of the six types of writers I am, I scored as 100% weird recluse (with only a 33% dash of Ray of Sunshine to cut the Yikes!). That kind of says it all, I think.
But these last few years, I’ve made an effort to try to prioritize people, experiences, and adventure, as well as my writing. So I’m always grateful when friends who are cooler than I am come up with un-pass-up-able activity ideas.
A few weeks ago, this meant a visit to Tan Bun Skrati, a chocolate-making operation run by Rutger (Dutch) and Ellen (Dutch-Surinamese), a husband-and-wife duo. Built upon traditional cacao-processing techniques bequeathed to Ellen via her Surinamese mother and grandmother, Tan Bun Skrati offers workshops as well as various cacao-oid products (teas, chocolate bars, wine, vinegar, etc.). This operation is run out of their home, a quaint dwelling set behind high flowering shrubs and heavily-leaved trees–so well hidden, we passed it twice before realizing where it was. Continue reading “Cocoa & Craftsmanship”
As mentioned in last week’s photo-gallery based post, I recently had the blessing of vacationing on the beautiful arid island of Aruba. The trip was made all the better by the company: my husband, my best friend, and her fiancé.
For my readers contemplating their own Caribbean getaway, I wanted to offer reflections on what made our Aruba trip a successful escape: Continue reading “All About Aruba: 5 Hints for Making the Most of Your Trip”