GARRY AT THE CANAL – BLACK & WHITE SUNDAY

BLACK & WHITE SUNDAY: AFTER AND BEFORE


I’m always a little dubious about landscapes in black and white. Sometimes, they are great, but a lot of the time, they are a bit dull. I think this one worked pretty well. Lots of clouds piling up in the sky made the a big difference between the two pictures.

The canal in sepia. Garry with a camera and clouds.
Blue skies behind white puffy cloud. Different in color.

I can’t make up my mind. What do you think?

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SAVORING – VICTORIAN HOMES

We all think we would want to live in a house like any of these Victorian mansions. I know several people who “took one on.” They bought them planning to restore them. They savored delicious images of refinished wooden paneling. Ceiling beams with miniature gargoyles and carved balustrades in the hall.

Gleaming wood floors and a kitchen big enough to run a restaurant … and probably a dining room that matches. All of them eventually gave up the dream. They tried. They labored. But is was too much house and they moved on.

One couple finished it. It was magnificent. THEN they went bankrupt.

The third … I’m not sure what happened. I believe she got about half way through the process … and gave up.

These are wonderful homes. Big rooms with light from huge windows. Airy, high ceilings, hand carvings and stunning wood interiors. With that come roofs which are a nightmare to repair. Wiring gone to rot or so primitive, you couldn’t run a modern kitchen without setting the house on fire.

Huge rooms and high ceiling make the homes impossible to heat. Everything that makes the house beautiful also makes a problem for any modern homeowner. Most particularly,  the sheer size and lack of insulation in these houses … and the lack of modern infrastructure makes them a constant challenge.

These are huge houses, designed to house large families with lots of children and probably two or three generations of earlier generations, from babies to great granddad. And maybe the odd cousin, too. Did I mention that they don’t have closets, either?

Classic Victorian “Painted Lady”

In the real world, we get to a point in which we recognize we don’t need a 3-story house with 8 bedrooms (and often, just one bathroom). We’d be fine with a single story house, two bedrooms with one and a half baths. And hefty closets. Luxury? How about a small fireplace and a fenced yard for the dogs?

In my middle years, I yearned for large and open. With tall windows. Oh, those windows!

For a brief time, I owned a one-fifth of a Victorian. It was a one-bedroom flat on the first floor of the big house. By the time I bought my piece, it was five apartments — four in the main house and a bigger one on what would have been the attic level. My piece was not huge by square footage, but it was felt bigger than it was … and it was elegant. Twelve-foot ceilings and the floors were elm. It cost me almost a thousand dollars just to have simple cotton curtains made for all the windows. Not fancy drapes, mind you. Just enough to cover those 7-foot tall windows.

My apartment was on the first floor and it was not out in the country. You really needed window coverings. I lived there less than a year and then, Garry and I got married. The apartment only had one small bathroom — no room for a second. Garry and I can share many things, but NOT a single bathroom. NO closets. I mean zero. Apparently people didn’t own stuff, or more to the point, everything the owned was on display.

Victorian houses were incredibly cluttered. You had to be a ballet dancer to not knock over the pottery.

We tried to buy the other (empty) apartment across the hall, but the condo association got flustered by the unconventionality of the concept. We gave up and moved elsewhere. I rented it out for a couple of years, then I too went bankrupt.

No one wanted the apartment, so the bank canceled the mortgage and but I kept the place. I gave it to my son who lived in it with his wife and kid and finally, he gave it to an ailing friend who has completely redone it. It’s gorgeous, just the way I’d have done it if I’d had the money.

Many of these glorious painted ladies have been broken into pieces for condos. At least that keeps them in one piece because otherwise, they wind up knocked down to make room for sensible housing.

These are houses to dream about and for which we yearn. If you are wealthy, you can fix them up and live there, but you need some pretty big money to make them livable and it takes years to bring them up to reasonably modern living standards. At this point, I can’t imagine dealing with so much room. For the rest of us, Victorian homes are places to admire, and photograph. Otherwise, they are the highest maintenance houses ever built with far too many stairways and an awful lot of glass.

When the moments of yearning come to me, I watch “Meet Me In St. Louis.” That makes me feel much better and I can sing along, too.

WHERE WOULD YOU TRAVEL? – RICH PASCHALL

When Your Destination Is Not A Place, Rich Paschall


Where would you go if you could travel anywhere at all?  Where would your sense of adventure lead you?  Would it be around the world or around town?  Perhaps it would have to be domestic.  You could go to St. Louis and see the Gateway Arch and the mighty Mississippi River.  You could go up river to Hannibal, Missouri and see Mark Twain’s home.  From there you could head east to Springfield, Illinois and see Abe Lincoln’s wonderfully preserved home, maintained by the National Park Service.

Gateway arch

You might have one of the great wonders of North America in mind.  So you could head north of Buffalo, New York to Niagara Falls and ride the Maid of the Mist right up to the Falls, or you could climb down the cliff to a point where the water falls between you and the land.  On your way home you can stop in the Anchor Bar, home of Buffalo Chicken Wings.  Yes, that’s the place that started what is now a full-blown food craze.

If this does not suit your taste, perhaps you would run up to the northwest corner of Illinois and stop in Galena, the “town that history forgot.”  You can walk through the mid 1800’s.  You can stop at the spot of speeches by Abraham Lincoln (1856) and Stephen A. Douglas (1858), or visit the home of President U.S. Grant.  At this time of year, you could travel down to the Mississippi River, just west of Galena and, with any luck at all, see the proud American Eagle.  The very site of the bald eagle, waiting to come down from the cliffs to fish, will make the trip worth it.  Although you may have to go further inland to the Great Plains during summer to see them.

If none of these northern stops are what you desire, then perhaps you could fly to Orlando, Florida, take in amusement sites then drive to Tampa, Clearwater, Sarasota, down to Miami and onto the Keys.  A stop in the Everglades means you can see alligators up close, REAL close.  The Gulf Coast and the Atlantic Coast can be a playground.

Seeing a rainbow over Germany from France
Seeing a rainbow over Germany from France

If Europe is your adventure you can fly to Frankfurt and go on to Stuttgart for museums and festivals.  You can visit Strasbourg, France or cross the Rhine into Allemand (Germany).  You can visit the magnificent ancient Notre Dame Cathédrale de Strasbourg or ancient castles of Alsace.  There are vineyards and wine festivals and if you like, you can visit the Statue of Liberty in Colmar, France.  It is in the middle of a busy traffic circle so you have to run fast and dodge the cars if you want to get over to it.

If Germany or France are not on your list, how about London?  It is one of the great international cities.  In 1777, author Samuel Johnson, writer of an early English Dictionary, stated words that are still true, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”  A few days or even a few weeks are not enough for the sights of London.

Approaching St. Paul’s Cathedral, London

Why do I bring up all these travel ideas?  It is because I am thinking of a recent journey.  Some of my friends may say, “Did you go there again?”  I traveled to the northeast of France.  It is the eighth year in a row my trip ended up there.  In 2010 we made a trip to Stuttgart for an Oktoberfest type celebration, then on to France.  In the  summer of 2013 I went with some friends to Paris, and then on to Strasbourg.  In 2012 I met my friend in Baden-Baden, Germany so we could fly together to London for the Summer Olympics, then we went back to France.  Last year I made it all the way to Selestat, France on my own.  This year my friend met me in Strasbourg and we traveled on from there.  These annual trips were all at different times of year.  Some years my friend came to Chicago as well.

Good wine and good friends, the best destination

For all of these travels we had some specific ideas in mind, but each time we did much of the trip spontaneously.  When I reflect on these journeys, I realize there was no destination.  I could have been going anywhere.  We dreamed and we went, but it didn’t matter where.  The ultimate destination was never a place.  It was a friend.  Yes, we visited new places and familiar locations.  There are always new adventures, that’s for sure, but it doesn’t matter where we go.  We enjoy our trips, large and small, because we are doing them together.  Every stop is fun, every place is exciting, everywhere is new, even if we have been there before.  It is because I am with a great friend.

We have been together on all the adventures I have mentioned above.  Of course, we often set off to see great sites or experience great things, but they were made special by the fact that we shared these adventures.  So I will probably fly to Frankfurt again some day and take the bus on to Strasbourg.   The final destination is friendship, the best destination of all.

THE BEST TRIP EVER – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Our all time favorite vacation is renting a canal boat and spending a week or two driving it through the English countryside. England has a network of canals that run throughout the country, from London up to Wales, with many circular routes or ‘rings’ in the center of the country.

The canal boats are not like any boat you’ve ever seen. They’re called narrow boats. They are basically long and thin steel barges, about 7 ½ feet wide and ranging from 45-65 feet long. They are like houseboats and can sleep anywhere from two to eight people. There is always a living/eating area, often with comfy chairs and a wood burning stove. There is a kitchen and bathroom in addition to at least one bedroom. They are amazingly roomy and comfortable.

The outside of the boats are painted in distinctive bright colors with classic patterns on them. They are beautiful and each boat is unique. The style is country craft meets gypsy. Lots of stylized floral motifs.

All the boats also have a small outside deck area where you sit or stand and steer the boat – from the back. The boat can only go about five miles per hour and you steer it with a single tiller. When another canal boat is coming in the other direction, you may only have six inches or so of space between the two boats. At first driving the boat is daunting and intimidating. But after a while, it becomes second nature and it’s no big deal.

Locks are something unique to canals. They are part of the allure and the culture of the canals. To get up and down the numerous hills and valleys, you go through locks. These are sluices that raise or lower the water level to the water level on the other side of the lock. In England, they are all manual and the boaters have to work the locks themselves. I don’t have the space here to go into lock technology. But it takes time and requires physical labor by the lock person, while the navigator drives the boat into and out of the lock compartments.

Locks add to the charm of the canal experience, except in the pouring rain or in 95 degree heat. We have experienced both.

The canals and the scenery alongside them are beautiful. You can drive through scenic farmland, dotted with cows and sheep. You can also go through heavily forested areas, suburbs with gorgeous canal side houses, or even swampland. There are also industrial towns along some of the routes. The canals were originally built in the eighteenth century for industries, like the famous English china factories such as Wedgewood. The canals were for the transportation of supplies and marketable goods back and forth around the country.

Canal boating is a very self-contained and independent type of holiday. If you see a pub that appeals to you, you stop for a beer or a meal. And there are lots of picturesque pubs along all the canals. When you get to a town, you walk to the stores and shop for food or just putter around. When you’re ready to stop for the night, you pick a spot, pull over and hammer down stakes to hold the boat in place.

You get totally caught up in the peaceful, slow-paced world of the canals. You get friendly with other boaters camped near you or going through the locks with you. Many English boaters live on the canals for months at a time, often with their cats and/or dogs. That sounds idyllic to me!

I’ve been on three canal trips. One was with another couple and four young children and two were just with my husband, Tom. It’s one of the only vacations I want to go back to again and again. To reduce stress, when I think of a peaceful, happy place, I transport myself to a canal boat in the English countryside.