Saturday, December 31, 2016

Backward and Forward

We come to the end of the year 2016 and prepare with trepidation to begin 2017.

2016 was a horrendous year.  The political campaign seemed interminable and was the most bizarre and inane I have ever seen in my lifetime.  And when it was all over we were faced with the nightmarish reality that the most despicable and dangerous person to ever be a candidate for a major U.S. political party is about to enter the White House.  I truly fear for my country.  I hope that we will survive the next four years.  Even though he will control the House and the Senate, perhaps the fact that he comes to the Presidency with abysmal approval ratings will serve as a check upon his attempts to carry out his proposed agendas.

On a personal level, in spite of the cloud hanging over our heads, it was a good year.  My health (knock on wood) is good, and I continued to do what I enjoy the most... to travel.  During 2016 I took four trips outside of the country.  I began the year by taking my friend Frank to Mérida.  Over the years I have taken nine friends and family members to the capital of Yucatán.  All of them thoroughly enjoyed Mérida, and Frank was no exception.  After hearing my stories about my Mexican travels, he had no fear of going to a country that is so often portrayed as a "dangerous" place in the media here.  His mother, however, was quite fearful.  When Frank returned home and showed her the pictures from the trip, she had to admit that she never realized that Mexico was so nice. 

In April and November I took two trips to Mexico City to visit my friend Alejandro, and we took several excursion outside of the city.

The most memorable adventure of the year was my trip to Switzerland and Norway to visit cousins.  It is difficult to say which country is more beautiful.  They are both spectacular.

The Swiss Alps

A Norwegian fjord

The hospitality and warmth shown to me by my cousins made the trip much more special and elevated it far beyond the typical tourist experience.  I would have to rank it as one of the best trips of my life.

Looking forward to 2017 there may be some major changes in my life.  In my previous post I wrote about the trip I will take in January, and that I will be apartment hunting in Mexico City.  During the Presidential campaign I told people that if Trump were to win, I would move to Mexico.  I never really believed that the unthinkable would happen.  Now you might think, because of all the travel that I do, that I am an adventurous person who would have no trouble pulling up stakes.  But I have lived in the same house since I was three years old, and the thought of clearing out my house and selling it is terrifying.  Thus, I am planning on becoming a "semi-ex-pat" dividing my time between Ohio and Mexico.  I know Mexico very well and feel comfortable there, but I am sure that there will be many adjustments to be made as I set out on a new style of life.  Only time will tell what is in store for me in the new year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Getting Ready for Another Trip

After spending Christmas with family in Columbus, it is now time to get ready for another trip to Mexico.  I will leave on January 4th for Mérida, Yucatán. 

Accompanying me will be my cousin Gail and her husband Wes.  Although they have traveled extensively, this will be their first trip to Mexico.  They will spend four days with me in Mérida.  I have played "tour guide" there numerous times (I have chronicled several of those trips in this blog), but I never tire of introducing friends to this beautiful city.  Everyone that I have taken to the Yucatán has fallen in love with the place, and I hope that Gail and Wes will too.

According to the weather forecast, they will definitely escape the Ohio winter and experience tropical weather.  The high temperature will be hovering around 90 degrees while they are there.   

After they return home, I will spend a few extra days in Mérida, and then I will fly to Mexico City.

I will spend three weeks there and stay at the same vacation rental where I have stayed on several previous trips.  This visit to Mexico City will be rather different from others however.  I will spend much of my time apartment hunting.  It is my plan to become a "semi-ex-pat", and spend half the year in Mexico City.  We will see if I can find a place that I like at a good price.

Time for me to get back to packing my bags.  Hasta pronto.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Ensalada Rusa

I am invited for supper at my cousin's house tomorrow evening.  Tonight I prepared a dish to take with me... "ensalada rusa".  Although the name means "Russian salad", it is Spain's version of potato salad, and it is a popular "tapa".  I always thought that it got its name because it is made with potatoes (a staple in Russia).  However I did some research and discovered that the original salad, (called Olivier Salad after the chef who invented it) was the signature dish of an elegant restaurant in czarist Moscow.  It contained many expensive ingredients such as caviar, grouse, veal tongue, smoked duck and crayfish.  The recipe was a heavily guarded secret until one of Chef Olivier's assistants stole it.  The recipe was published and spread throughout the world, usually in a much simplified form.

The "ensalada rusa" of Spain has no exotic ingredients.  (Thank goodness.  I have no desire to eat caviar, even if it's mixed in a salad!)  A few years ago I found a recipe on the internet, and it tastes like what I have eaten in Spain.  Actually it's better than in some Spanish restaurants, since some places overdo the mayonnaise.

Here's the recipe I use...

2 lbs. potatoes
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
3 five oz. cans of tuna packed in spring water
1/4 cup chopped hard boiled eggs
1 1/2 cups of mayonnaise
1/2 tsp white pepper
salt to taste

Boil the potatoes with the skins on in salted water until fully cooked.  Cool to room temperature, remove the skins.

Blanch the carrots, peas and red pepper until al dente.  Refrigerate immediately.

Drain the tuna.  Place on a clean towel and wring out excess water.

Place the potatoes in a large bowl and mash with a fork until all large chunks are gone.  Add the tuna, vegetables, eggs, mayonnaise and white pepper.  Gently combine the ingredients with a large spoon.  Salt to taste.  Refrigerate.

Garnish with cherry tomatoes.

And here is my finished product...


Saturday, December 17, 2016

What Are the Russians Up To?

I tend to be rather obsessive about checking the statistics on my blog.  Every day I check to see how many page views I have received, from which countries those visitors come, and, of course, whether or not I have received any comments.

Back in July of this year I had a huge jump in the number of page views from Russia.  This occurred just after I had written a couple entries excoriating Trump and the news had come out about the hacking of the emails of the Democratic Party by the Russians.  It made me rather suspicious... OK, a bit paranoid... about what was going on with my blog.

Now it has come out that the Russian government was indeed trying to influence our election.  And guess what?  Even though I have not written anything political on my blog for over a month, the Russians are back.  This month I have received 1461 page views from Russia... more than from the United States.  It's not that my blog is wildly popular with the Russian public.  These page views are not from legitimate visitors.  Several times a day there will be a sudden spurt of views (usually 21 all at once)... and the map on my statistics page shows Russia as the source. 

I have no clue what is going on, or why some Russian is so interested in my blog.  I just went in and changed the password to my blog account.  It will be interesting to see if the Russian visits suddenly stop.

Friday, December 16, 2016

A Holiday Concert

On Thursday evening I went with some friends to one of the ten annual Christmas concerts given by the Cleveland Orchestra. 

Severance Hall, the home of our orchestra, was beautifully decorated for the holidays.

The stage was full with the orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, and the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Chorus Chamber Ensemble.


The two hour concert included many traditional and modern Christmas songs.  Santa Claus made an appearance and narrated  "Twas the Night Before Christmas" with orchestral accompaniment.  The program concluded with a sing-along of familiar carols.  There were then two encores... "Silent Night" (what Christmas concert would be complete without it?) and a rousing rendition of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas".

It was a wonderful event that would have warmed the heart of even Ebenezer Scrooge!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Seven Years of Ornaments

In my last post I wrote about the Christmas ornaments which I made to take to friends in Chicago.  I do this every year, and it was getting to the point where I could not remember what designs which I had done for them.

My friends go all out decorating their apartment each Christmas, and they have such a huge collection that every year the décor is a little different.  This year they pulled out all the ornaments that I had made.  They didn't put them on the tree but incorporated them into other holiday displays.

I have made ornaments for the past seven years.  I took a photo of one of the decorations from each of those seven sets.

Two of the years I took clear glass decorations, squirted different colors of paint inside and swirled it around until it created a nice pattern.

I asked my friend if he was getting tired of receiving ornaments each year.  He said, "No!  One of these days we will have enough to decorate the entire tree with just your hand-painted designs."

Now that I have taken these pictures, I have an inventory of what I have done, and I will be able to come up with different ornaments in future years.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Box of Decorations

This weekend I will fly to Chicago to attend the annual Christmas party of friends of mine there.  I always make a half dozen Christmas tree decorations as a gift for them.  I have done this for several years, and it is getting difficult to remember just what designs I have done for them.  So, this year I did something different.  I bought some white paint pens, and entirely covered six dark blue bulbs with intricate curlicue patterns.

Last night I finished the last one, and here they are...

A little game that they can play is to try to find my initials on each bulb.  It is visible on one of the balls in this photo.  Can you find it?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Holiday Brunch

I have written several times here how I made contact a couple years ago with my cousin Gail... a cousin that I didn't know that I had.  It was all because of this blog. Gail stumbled upon it when she was searching the internet for pictures of our ancestral town in Switzerland.  We share the same great-great grandparents, making us third cousins.  And she lives less than ten minutes away from my house!  Best of all, she and her husband Wes are very nice people, and I am so happy to count them as part of my family!

We see each other on a regular basis.  In fact, in a few weeks, they are going with me to Mérida, Mexico, where I will be their tour guide.

Today Gail and Wes held their annual Christmas brunch.  I was invited last year, but unfortunately I was out of town that weekend.  This year I was able to attend, and I had a lovely time.

Here are the three of us...

The food was great.  Between the food that Gail prepared and the dishes that the guests brought we had quite a scrumptious feast.  I prepared a "tortilla española" and a batch of my cherry fudge. 

Even better was the company and the conversation.  Among Wes and Gail's friends there were several retired school teachers, and all of them have traveled extensively.  So we had plenty to talk about.

Gail and Wes have traveled a great deal, and their beautiful Christmas tree is decorated with dolls and flags from all the countries that they have visited.

Next Christmas they will be able to add a doll and flag from Mexico!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Holiday Greetings

Regular readers of my blog know that each year I do painting which I use for my annual homemade Christmas card.  My painting was finished and the cards printed before I left on my November trip to Mexico.  While I was in Mexico, I made out all the cards, and I sent them off around Thanksgiving after I returned home. 

This year I did a painting based on a photo from my trip to Norway this summer.  The photo is of one of the beautiful fjords of Norway, the Fjaerland Fjord.

I had to use a bit of guesswork as to how the scene would appear in wintertime.  I didn't know how much of the steep, rocky mountains are covered in snow.  However, I did know from talking to a Norwegian that the deep fjords do not freeze in the winter.

Here is the finished product...

Best wishes to all of my readers for a very happy holiday season!

Feliz Navidad