Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A SLICE OF HEAVEN TOUR FEATURING THE OBERAMMERGAU PASSION PLAY




Photo: The Crucifixion Passion Play Oberammergau 2010

Hello friends...I'm finally trying to get back to my blog and I'm happy to have you checking out my lastest entry (I promise I won't wait so long to make another)...and hey, since it has been so long, HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

I'm pleased today to write and tell you all about one of CSA's tours this summer (the other is, of course, our annual European Summer Study Program in Salzburg, Austria). It is called A SLICE OF HEAVEN and will feature going to the world famous Oberammergau Passion Play! What is that? Well, I have video posted at the end of this entry which will inform you all about it. Now here is the information on the tour...I have a few spaces still available, so if you want them, CALL IMMEDIATELY TO MY OFFICE (1-800-443-8687). The play only takes place every 10 years...space is filling up fast and this is a once in a lifetime experience. Join me in Bavaria this summer!

A SLICE OF HEAVEN TOUR FEATURING THE OBERAMMERGAU PASSION PLAY


A delightful, spiritual, first-class tour planned to the last detail of Germany’s Bavaria & Austria's Salzkammergut Lake Region, focusing on getting closer to Nature, the Heavens and God. The history of the Oberammergau Passion Play begins in 1633. During the Thirty Years' War, after much suffering and also many deaths caused by plague, the surviving population of the small Bavarian village of Oberammergau vowed that they would perform the play of the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ every ten years, if they were spared from extinction. They kept their promise for the first time in 1634! As early as the middle of the 18th century, spectators came to Oberammergau attracted by the great power and mystique of the play. In 2010 Oberammergau, home to skilled wood carvers since the 12th century and known for beautiful scenes from the scriptures and fairy tales painted on the walls of its traditional buildings, will perform the play for the 41st time, maintaining the continuity of this unique world-famous event.CSA has escorted tours to see the Oberammergau Passion Play six times, in 1960, '70, '80, '84 (the 350th year anniversary), '90, 2000AND will go again in 2010 to this beautiful land at the foot of the Alps, the cross roads between East, West, North and South, which offer traditional Hospitality, Peaceful Ambiance & an Enchanting, spiritual way of life. Come join us....

July 20-29, 2010.

The A SLICE OF HEAVEN TOUR includes...

  • Roundtrip International Airfare via Lufthansa German Airlines in/out Boston, MA or Newark, NJ
  • Ground Transfers via private Mercedes Benz five-star motorcoach (equipped with A/C, WC, and beverage service) and area-wide city bus passes in Oberammergau & Salzburg
  • First Class Hotel Accommodations for 8 nights & European Buffet Breakfasts (2 in downtown Oberammergau, in the Hotel Alte Post with its frescoed facade or the chalet-style Parkhotel Sonnenhof; and 6 in the splendid Hotel Untersberg = all delightful 4 Star Superior hotels featuring Satellite-TV, mini-bar & other special in-room amenities).
  • Delicious Meals: 4 lunches, 5 dinners, daily full breakfast buffets / featuring full-course, local renown cuisine that reflects the culture (also selected meals on flights)
  • Comprehensive Sightseeing City Walking Tours of Munich, Oberammergau, Innsbruck, and Salzburg
  • Day Excursion Tours & Entrance Fees to attractions as mentioned in the itinerary: Oberammergau Museum, Neuschwanstein Castle, Swarovski Crystal Works, Kehlsteinhaus, Dokumentation Museum, Königsee Boat Ride, Hallstadt Bone Chapel, Maria Gern and Maria Plain Pilgrimage Churches and the Salzkammergut Region
  • Ticket to Oberammergau Passion Play 2010 in Category 1 Seating & Official Passion Play 2010 Program Book
  • Concert in Salzburg's Schloss Mirabell Palace
  • Austrian Folk Dance & Music Program
  • Invitation to the CSA Summer Study Program’s Finale Performance Program (music & entertainment)
  • CSA Escort, Bill Schneberger throughout tour.
  • All Tourist US & German & Austrian Departure and VATtaxes, all custom fees, all tips and service charges at hotels (except for individually requested personal services, such as room service, mini-bar usage, laundry, etc.)
  • All road/Autobahn/bridge service charges, taxes & tolls and all border crossing fees.
  • Portage of 1 suitcase per person in/out of all hotels.
  • Automatic $100,000 Flight Insurance Coverage.
  • Travel Documents, CSA Luggage Tags, and Informative Pre-Departure & Return CSA News Letters.

NOT INCLUDED: Passport fees, Visa fees (there are no Visa requirements for passengers traveling on a U.S. or Canadian Passport), Accident, baggage & trip cancellation/interruption insurance and/or insurance of any kind (highly recommended – travel insurance forms sent in advance of departure, costs range from $164+ depending on age of participant), Connecting flights/transportation to/from gateway city (arranged on request), 4 lunches & 3 dinners, beverages during meals (standard beverages always included for all breakfasts), items of a personal nature (such as but not limited to room service, valet costs, use of in-room mini-bar contents, telephone, fax, internet, laundry charges, beverages, fees), single room supplements, room upgrades, rooms other than noted, etc.). Although very rare, the price of the tour does not cover any cost or expense associated with your return home, should you leave the tour for any reason, including, but not limited to illness or as a result of official action by the government of any country visited.

A SLICE OF HEAVEN TOUR ITINERARY

  • Day 1 - Tuesday - July 20 Our Tour departures are from Boston's Logan & Newark’s Liberty International Airports, where we board the comfortable and convenient Lufthansa direct flights to Munich, Germany. Meals are served during flights. Beverages, Music and Movies are provided for our enjoyment. D/B
  • Day 2 - Wednesday - July 21 Welcome to Bavaria! After our morning arrival, we board our private motorcoach along with our CSA Escort, Bill Schneberger, to start our very own Slice of Heaven Tour. We travel nearby to downtown Munich for a leisurely city walking tour of the downtown area (schedule to depend on punctual arrival of flights) with a visit to the gothic Frauenkirche (Cathedral of our Blessed Lady): a major city landmark with its Twin Towers; then the old parish Church of St. Peter; and Marienplatz, the heart of the city, to see the neo-Gothic Rathaus with its world famous Carillon (Glockenspiel). We enjoy a traditional Munich lunch of Rostbratwurst with Sauerkraut and herbed-potatoes in the Ratskeller (concealed in the basement of the Rathaus, a true Bavarian Beer-Cellar restaurant complete with beamed, vaulted & frescoed ceilings, medieval lanterns and Fräulein waitresses in costume!). Time after lunch to visit the Viktualeinmarkt, then we ride through the beautiful Bavarian countryside to the festival town of Oberammergau. En route we make a stop at the Benedictine Monastery Ettal, founded in 1330 by Emperor Ludwig the Bavarian. Upon arrival we make our hotel check-in then enjoy relaxed dinner in hotel and overnight. Sweet dreams! B/L/D
  • Day 3 - Thursday - July 22 After a good nights rest and delightful breakfast, we enjoy a walking tour of the picturesque and quaint Oberammergau with a local guide, make stops at the Museum and several famous wood-carving shops; with plenty of opportunities for shopping and photos in this amazing village. Every inch of this place oozes Charm and History. Return to hotel for lunch, then spend the afternoon and evening in the magnificent Passion Play Theater viewing the spectacularly moving Passion Play production depicting the life and death of Jesus Christ. During the two hour intermission our dinner is served at the hotel. Return to hotel for overnight. B/L/D
  • Day 4 - Friday - July 23 We begin our magical day by traveling nearby to the 700-year-old town of Fussen, situated at the southern end of the Romanic Road; set before the impressive backdrop of the Alps and the Zugspitze (Germany’s highest mountain). We enjoy an almost Royal horse-drawn Carriage Ride up to King Ludwig II’s Neuschwanstein to take a guided tour and an intimate look at this Fairy-Tale Fantasy castle. Next we meander on via the scenic, snow-capped mountain road en route to Innsbruck, Austria for a city walking tour with time provided for lunch and shopping on our own. Once on our way to Salzburg we make a stop in Wattens at the Swarovski Crystal Works to tour the international showroom, museum, gardens and factory shop and see the world through Crystal Eyes, a fascinating experience. Arrive in the evening at Salzburg’s perfectly located Hotel Untersberg, nestled at the very foot of Austria’s magnificent Untersberg (mountain). Hotel check-in, dinner in the hotel’s locally celebrated restaurant, overnight. B/D
  • Day 5 - Saturday - July 24 After some peaceful rest and perhaps a morning glimpse of seeing the neighboring cable car climb up into the clouds, we go into the simply wonderful downtown Salzburg, where our comprehensive walking tour includes: the Dom Cathedral (774 AD), 13th century St. Peter’s Church and Cemetery, & the world famous pedestrian shopping street – the Getridegasse – with Mozart’s Birthhouse, the Residence Square and grandiose fountain, the Festspielehaus (International Festival Hall) and uber-manicured Mirabell Gardens. Afternoon free for touring and sightseeing on own, return to hotel to dress for our delicious Feinschmecher (gourmet) ‘Dinner & Concert’ in Schloß Mirabell (the Mirabell Palace, a Baroque masterpiece built under the reign of Prince Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau in 1606). The Salzburger Schlosskonzerte, held in the most resplendent of concert halls, the Marmorsaal (Marble Hall), belongs to one of the world’s largest concert series. Needless to say, the hills are alive with the sound of music. Private bus transport return to hotel, overnight. B/D
  • Day 6 - Sunday - July 25 This calm and serene Sunday morning we go into the city to attend Church. You may remain in one Church for an entire service or 'church hop' with your tour escort, providing an opportunity to see and hear several incredible Masses... in the Dom Cathedral, opulent St. Peter's and the stately, ecclesiastical Franziskanerkirche… truly a Glorious Morning. Afternoon free; touring and sightseeing on own (tour the Hohensalzburg Fortress, Schloß Hellbrunn, Residence State rooms; enjoy a performance at the Marionnetten Theater or the 5 o'clock concert at St. Peter's; rent a bike for the afternoon; tour the Stiegl Beer Brewery; visit the Haydn/Baroque/Modern Art or Toy museums or just spend the day in the city strolling along the Salzach river and roaming the city.) We are Salzburg specialists at CSA! Ask and Ye Shall Receive recommendations aplenty on what to See & Do!! Return on own to hotel, overnight. B
  • Day 7 - Monday - July 26 We take an exhilarating excursion to Berchtesgaden and Königsee, Germany today. First we drive (via private motor-coach) a stunning route through lush Alpine meadows, craggy mountain peaks, and green forests into the charming town of Berchtesgaden to visit the educational Dokumentation Obersalzberg, a museum and gallery which offers a thorough examination of the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Then we take private buses up the Kehlstein (mountain) enjoying truly spectacular panoramic views to the Kehlsteinhaus (Hitler’s holiday retreat, The Eagle’s Nest). Next we venture through a tunnel lined with panels of natural rock, continuing on to ride Hitler’s grandiose brass-plated elevator up into the nest! Upon our descent, we progress once again up into the mountains as far as the roads will permit, to behold the discrete & divine pilgrimage church, Maria Gern, which offers a wealth of breathtaking scenery. Every glance around the hills will make you want to yodel! Next, our lunch stop just minutes away is at the marvelous mountain guest house, Gasthof Duerrlehen, where we feast on the local delicacy, Baurenschmauß (Farmer’s Delight), fresh local sauerkraut, home made Semmelknödel (bread dumpling), Kochwurst, smoked pork loin & roasted pork shank, followed by Hausgebacht Topfenstrudel (homemade sweet cottage cheese strudel) for dessert. Perhaps wash it all down with locally brewed Wheat beer…or Farmer’s Schnapps to experience true Gemütlichkeit!? After this sumptuous meal, we continue our journey to the crystal-clear glacial Lake Königssee (King’s Lake) dwarfed by Mount Watzmann and situated in the heart of the Berchtesgaden National Park. There we take a tranquil electric motor boat ride on the shimmering emerald-green waters to the architectural jewel, St. Barthololomä (patron saint of alpine herdsmen & milkmaids), a Catholic pilgrimage chapel on the Hirschau peninsula dating back to the 12th century which features two Onion domes, a red domed roof and beautiful stucco-work. Neighboring the chapel stands the former hunting lodge of Berchtesgaden's Prince-Provosts and Bavaria's Kings. This haven of peace and quiet is truly Heaven on earth. Return in evening, dinner on own, overnight. B/L
    • Day 8 - Tuesday - July 27 Our adventure leads us today to the breathtaking Salzkammergut region (Estate of the Salt Chamber) stretching from Salzburg to the Dachstein, a magical world of fresh air, unspoilt nature, evergreen forests, deep lakes and landscapes full of joie de vivre! Our first stop is at the hilltop shrine Maria Plain pilgrimage church, home to a miraculous image of the Virgin Mary which was crowned in 1751 (for which Mozart composed his Coronation Mass Krönungsmesse). Then on to nearby Mondsee (Moon Lake), a small picturesque village on the northern tip of a crescent-shaped lake, to promenade along the picturesque market square lined with colorful buildings to the parish of Pfarrkirche St. Michael, formerly a monastery church of Benedictine monks (also the wedding church used for the filming The Sound of Music). Next, to the ancient town St. Wolfgang along one of Austria’s most romantic lakes, Wolfgangsee to see the famous polyptych by Michael Pacher; the intricate and masterfully carved altarpiece in the Pfarrkirche St. Wolfgang…a site to behold. We enjoy lunch by the lake at the Gasthof Pension Falkenstein, where the Hödlmoser Familie will prepare a menu full of culinary delights from the region: Frittatensuppe (crepe soup), Mostbratel (beef filet cooked in cider casserole), gemischter Salat (mixed salad) and Upper Austria’s specialty dessert, Hausgemachter Linzertorte (yum!). After lunch we continue to one of Austria’s World Cultural Heritage sites, Hallstatt, squeezed into a narrow tract of land between the cliffs and alluring Lake Hallstättersee. This quaint town is considered to be Salzkammergut’s “Cradle of Civilization” and captures the hearts of all who see it! Here we stroll the compressed passageways lined with charming shops and cafes. Our purpose here is to visit the “Beinhaus” (bone house), part of the Catholic parish church since 1720 and created because cremation was not allowed in former days. We see in person why this town is truly a World Heritage site. A day well spent in this treasury of heavenly life. Return in early evening, dinner on own, overnight. B/L

    • Day 9 - Wednesday - July 28 This morning, attend CSA 2010 Summer Study Program's student performance Concert in the nearby Grödiger Hauptschule or enjoy this last day on your own, exploring the enticing and numerous offerings abound! This evening, we celebrate with a Farewell party complete with traditional Austrian food, music and folk dancing in the popular Ceremonial Hall of the enchanting Gasthof Schorn, owned and operated by the Familie Ziegler since 1880. Return to hotel (across the street), overnight. B/D
    • Day 10 - Thursday - July 29 After an early morning breakfast, we board our motorcoach (alas!) and travel to the Munich International Airport for our return to USA, where we arrive stateside on the same day with lifelong memories of our own personal Slice of Heaven.Danke schön und Auf Wiedersehen! God Bless and Enjoy Your Slice!
    • A SLICE OF HEAVEN TOUR ESCORT:. William ‘Bill’ Schneberger, Art History Professor at Bergen Community College and recently retired Fine Arts/Art History teacher at Northern Valley Regional High School, has taught Fine Arts and Art History for over twenty years at both the high school and college levels. Bill holds B.A. and M.A. degrees and studied in a doctoral program at Columbia University. He is a Fulbright scholar (Belgium/Netherlands), a Bard Fellowship Recipient and has studied in Italy as a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar. Bill is also a recipient of the R.I.S.D. Honors Program for Excellence in Art Education Award, the Baltimore Institute College of Art Teaching Award, the New Jersey Governor's Teaching Award, and has been named ‘Northern Valley Teacher of the Year’ and ‘Bergen County Teacher of the Year Award.’ He has also been honored at the White House as Advisor to the Northern Valley Academic Decathlon Team. Bill has a passion for travel and foreign study and has many years of leadership experience in European travel. Bill has been a Staff Member of CSA’s European Summer Study Program in Salzburg, Austria and associated with CSA since 1991. Bill’s affable nature, commitment to learning and zest for life virtually ensures all participants of a quality travel experience filled with enjoyment & lasting memories.

      TOUR COST:

      $4995 per person adult/double
      $4795 per person child (11 years or under on 7/20/10 with accompanied adult)
      $500 Single Room Supplement (limited & offered on a 1st request/receive basis)
      $200 Optional Flight Deviation Fee (depart earlier or stay longer, call CSA for details).
      [$500 per person deposit due with all reservations - Payment in full due 5/1/10]

      RESERVATIONS:

      To reserve space on this tour, complete the reservation form & mail it to the address indicated with a $500 deposit to “CSA Tours”. Deposits and payments can be paid by check, money order or credit card (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover). Since the tour is limited in size, interested persons should apply as soon as possible to begin processing and confirm availability.Reservations are accepted as long as vacancies remain.For immediate reservations via credit card, call 1-800-443-8687.The deadline for accepting reservations is March 26, 2010.All reservations will be acknowledged in writing.

    video

    Wednesday, March 18, 2009

    WHAT IS THE BASIC IDEA OF THIS BLOG ANYWAY?

    So, I've sort of started semi-promoting SONYASHPERE on Facebook...and therefore thinking perhaps I need to return to the basic idea of it and stop posting photos of adorable baby animals just in case people (other than Wanda) actually start reading it!!!

    What is the basic idea of this blog?
    Well, at first, it was to post the day-to-day activities of CSA's European Summer Study Program so that the participant's friends & family back home in the good ole' USA could see what we were up to, where we were, check out adventures along with us, and feel like there were there with us. I did fairly well with it, although I have to admit that towards the end of the summer I just posted photos and stopped writing details...I just didn't have enough time in the day to keep the blog going full scale (and besides, I was in Europe, free time was better spent out and about, not in some smoke filled Internet cafe!). Later, when the group returned to the States, I wanted to keep my readers informed about myself, my life and my work going-ons...but again, it's not easy keeping a blog every day. I found that my main problem is knowing what to write about, and my second problem is finding the time to write! So, I have decided to keep it simple, without going the Twitter route...I mean I just don't think there is an audience out there needing and anxiously waiting to know my activities on an hourly up-to-date basis...and if there is, well, in the famous words of the dear and darling (not!) Sarah Palin, "Thanks, but no thanks." So, it's decided, I'm going to write about and/or post photos of things that are happening or have happened to me that YOU, my readers, may find interesting because I do or did! Don't like it? Find another blog...there are thousands upon thousands out there!

    So, on my mind right now...well, over the weekend I went to my best friend, Sherri's daughter Kaitlynn's ice skating competition. Katilynn got interested in taking skating lessons after Sherri took Kaitlynn and her younger brother, Shane, to a skating rink a year or so ago, for an afternoon of fun. Kaitlynn took to it and asked if she could take lessons. She just loves it...and she is quite good. Now, as for the whole ice skating competition set up? It was of course new to me...I've never been to a skating competition, my exposure to skating overall was limited to watching the winter Olympics on television, shoveling off and skating on ice covered ponds in the Pocono Mountains as a child (a great family event with wonderful memories....all four of us Lenz girls had our very own pairs of beautiful, bright, white skates and I thought I was a Princess when I wore them!) and the occasional pay-to-skate-type rink excursion...last one I went to was maybe 10 years ago when all my nieces and nephews were young children and we went to the Oglebay resort in West Virginia for a family gathering (it was great fun then too...oh what a time we had!!!).
    So, the entire set up for this competition was impressive, it was held in the Robert Morris College's Clearview Arena in Moon Township skating facility (along the Ohio River), the building that we we were in has two rinks in it and both had students competing on them at all times. The lobby area, of course, has a massive food concession stand...a racket that any youth sporting event is bound to have, and why not? People are there for hours...and everyone knows that good Pittsburghers are always going to need to be near nacho chips covered with fluorescent orange cheese-goop in order to make it through the day! Vending machines were also well at hand, M&M's, Skittles and Snickers were quite plentiful. Of course the skating related concessions were set up too....who knew there were so many things to buy? I had an idea because Monique's kids and my nephews and niece are involved in sports...so I am well aware that things like uniforms, the 'cool' shoes, the knee pads, the 'this' and the 'that' will all need to be purchased in order to be a player (and the players will of course all be selling crappy, cheaply made junk items to raise funds...things that I will of course buy and pile up in my basement for future use or more likely future donation-give-a-ways!) But I had no idea of the range of skate related concessions....from designer skate carry bags with wheels - not just any wheels, but wheels that light up when in motion...upgradable to a designer skate carry bags with lighted wheels and a built in seat (probably because the metal benches in skating rinks get really, really COLD)....from not just $350+ skating costumes and the variety of tights (over the skate, under the skate, in the skate) that go with them but to the many types of hair ornaments, hair pieces, hair attachments, hair bows, hair combs, and ribbons!!! It was fascinating!

    It's a world of skating.....a world I don't know and a world Sherri (and her pocketbook, I'm sure) are getting to know very well. How can she not, Kaitlynn is adorable and her only daughter. Kaitlynn's Grandparents and Aunt were there too...I am sure they can't resist buying h
    er anything she may want or need! The program guide was too involved to even glance through, Sherri tried to explain the various levels, their meanings and descriptions....I ended up just watching the show - that was good for me! The little ones did routines in outfits with props (made by their mothers), we watched one dressed up as a chimney sweep skating to the song "Chim Chim Cheree" (by Dick Van Dyke) from Mary Poppins (yes, I sang along!)...so creative and adorable! The older more advanced routines must be skated to songs with no lyrics, there are evidently quite a few major rules, which makes sense. There was even one level of students that skated to NO MUSIC, it was sort of strange to watch, but again made sense, they were evaluated on their skills and techniques, not on how they kept to the music.

    I really enjoyed being there and learned so much and so did Nicole (my niece and spunky side-kick who joined me for the day)....we were very impressed with the whole thing! Kaitlynn won two gold metals and one silver! Wonderful! Afterward, we decided to go and have lunch...we thought we would just drive down the road and find some restaurant but just a few blocks away we realized that the Neville Island area only really has that huge skating complex....and dumpy old local dive bars...not exactly the place to go with two young girls (or alone for that matter) so we jumped on I-79 and headed to Robinson Town Center area...and found an Applebee's (funny, the last time I had been to one was with Sherri and her kids, years ago, when she lived on the other side of the city!)....Nicole had ribs, Kaitlynn had Mac & Cheese and Sherri and I split an assorted appetizer plate (not bad!)...and the four of us ordered two delicous fudge covered brownie desserts with ice cream (with four spoons!)...we laughed and told stories of the old days...great fun!

    I was also happy to keep the deal...by this I mean the "St. Patrick's Day Oath" that Sherri and I made to each other back in 1984! My parents were out of town and we had a party at my house (sorry Mom, I swear we behaved!)...we were seniors in high school, my sister Erica was "in charge" and didn't care what we did, so we had a party and we bought green food coloring so that anyone who wanted to enter the house had to let us squirt it on their tongues (and all over the inside of their mouths!!! it was a total mess!)...we had a great time that night and the next morning made an oath to each other that no matter where we were in the world when we got older that we would try and g
    et together for St. Patrick's Day! We haven't kept it every year...I lived in South Korea and Houston for most of the 90's and she was busy raising three kids, but in recent years, now that we live closer to each other, we are doing pretty good with it. It wasn't actually the 17th of March on Saturday, but it was close enough...and we were together, that's what friendship is all about!!!

    After lunch we went our separate ways...Nicole and I headed for Cranberry to do a bit of shopping...first stop Michael's the craft store, because I wanted to find some nice Spring type faux flowers for the office and well, because I love to walk around and check everything out in that store! We had so much fun, trying on stuff, touching everything, being a bit silly, it was great! Next stop, Costco, I needed water and a few things, they were closing and we just got inside the doors! We ran down the aisles, grabbed our goods and were out! It was a great day...and the weather grew warmer throughout...SPRING IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER!!! Can't wait to start wearing open-toed shoes!



    Wednesday, March 4, 2009

    MORE BABY ANIMALS

    Well, Wanda (my sister) said that she is going to go searching for more baby animal photos...and so i just had to beat her to the punch....I'm starting off with "ADORABLE" see the baby Yorkie (not LuLu, by the way) photo above....and working DOWN to this next sweet little pup....

    Continuing on down to this sweet, but I'm sure not so sweet baby skunk.....
    OK...you THINK I've hit bottom with this baby bird...but wait.....
    THIS is a baby porcupine...is it cute or horrible? YOU decide!!!
    Sorry, it's a busy day in the office...no time to blog more!!!

    Tuesday, March 3, 2009

    THE DINGMAN BOYS

    I just wanted to share some photos of my sister Susan's (and her husband Steve's) boys..my nephews, Mathias and Alex Dingman. They are from Columbia, South Carolina, so I unfortunately did not get to see them growing up as often as I would have liked...and now they are all grown up! I actually still imagine them as younger boys...something I think all Aunts probably do with their nieces and nephews. I can still see Mathias in the yard playing catch, age about 4, and hearing his little voice call out "I like that, that's wonderful!"...always smiling and ready to try new things. Mathias is the oldest, he went to the Kirov Ballet School in Washington D.C. (from age 12 until is graduation)..and now he dances for the Birmingham Ballet Company.

    Mathias girlfriend, Laura-Jane, is also a dancer. They make a beautiful couple.

    I can still imagine Alex as a young boy...he was so adorable...it was hard not to just constantly grab and hug him...he still is that way to me now, but of course he is a young man and it's totally un-cool to have Auntie Sonya hugging and squeezing him all the time!! Alex is an adventurer, I can see him climbing mountains and going on exotic travels in a few years...he has the world ahead of him!

    Here he is with his girlfriend, Erika. ..another beautiful couple!
    The Dingman boys are all grown up...but they will always be my little sweeties!

    Friday, February 27, 2009

    BABY ANIMALS

    A BABY AARDVARK


    A BABY PANDA

    OK, I know, I obviously love animals....and of course BABY animals are even better...but check out these two...have you ever seen such sweeties?!?! Would you even have been able to tell what animal the baby panda was??? Just had to share them with you.

    Tuesday, February 24, 2009

    HEDGEHOGS!!

    Could this be my new office assistant??


    Yes...this is a little baby HEDGEHOG on an apple!

    So, a new craze is to have a hedgehog as a pet! I wouldn't have thought of it, they are more to me like a wild garden animal (something you see digging around under bushes)...they very popular in Austria as little knick-knack statues and to be seen depicted on aprons and on kitchen things...considered good-luck! But hedgehogs as pets?!?! Well, of course... just go to Hedgies.com and you can learn all about them...where to get them, how to raise them, what to feed them, how to care for them...everything!!! Now...why would someone want a hedgehog as a pet? Just look how adorable they are!

    I WANT A HEDGEHOG!!
    Okay, please understand that as much as I do want one, I will NOT be getting one....LuLu would NOT feel good about it at all...she would NOT share the love!!


    THIS ONE IS TOO ADORABLE...look at that little tongue!!!


    HERE IS A WHOLE BUNCH OF THEM...so sweet!


    HERE IS AN ALBINO ONE...so pretty!

    Have a great day!

    Thursday, February 19, 2009

    WINTER WORK DAYS AT THE ROCK

    I love to travel...see what's out there in the world.......and my small town of Slippery Rock (The Rock) is a great place to come home to. It's cute, cozy and quaint, safe, quiet and really a bit of a lazy town (especially during the summers when the college is out of session). Most people know each other...I can walk down the street and say "Hello" to people..and I know their names (and they all know mine)!! It's small town America in a good way...good because it is a college town, so we do have many different types of people, international students, foreign visitors, speakers and performers that come to town, as well as the locals here. We have two Chinese restaurants (thank goodness!) and we have a micro-brewery! Everyone offers something, some things are new, some things are old, some things you want to be exposed to, others maybe not so much, but all in all it's harmless and again, it's safe.

    Our office is located in one of the original buildings of Slippery Rock. It's red brick and has a typical (for this area) barn stone foundation. It was built in the late 1800's. It used to be the town hardware store...it was owned and named after the owner, Mr. Gibson...and interestingly enough the Gibsons owned and worked in this building and owned and lived in the house that I live in now! So it's been many, many, many years that a person has made tracks back and forth to/from 140 South Main Street to/from 211 Franklin Street.

    Well, Vipin and I own our office building as well the building next door (which has an apartment upstairs and The Hair Studio salon on the street level...this building was in the 1800's the local bank and in its basement is still the original old bank vault). In our building we have two apartments on the 2
    nd floor (with SRU student tenants), we rent the main street level office to ReMax Realty, and our offices are in the lower level. The entrance to our office is in the back left corner just under a bright blue awning (which has my business names Airport Orbit and The Cultural Studies Academy on it). Here are summer and winter photos....as you can see...winter work days require lots of snow shoveling...we are in Western Pennsylvania after all!
    On the other side of our office building is a small pedestrian alley way...this used to be used for the coal carts back in the 1800's...now it is used to go from the town's public parking lot to/from Main Street (and directly across the street from our office is the local brewery, North Country Brewing Company...so it's an alley that is used as a walk-thru all the time!). The building on the other side of the alley way has two apartments upstairs and the local jewelry store, Taggart's Jewelry. Barb Trouterman is the owner and operator, like me, she took over her family's business...this town is full of good, honest, hard working business WOMEN!! And most of us go out in the winter and shovel our own walks every morning! GIRL POWER!!!
    Our town has grown quite a bit over the years...I am very proud of it and of how far it has come. Here is look (summer and winter) from just outside my office door...you can see the town parking lot and our gazebo off to the right (I'm so glad we have one)...and ALL THE SNOW!!! It's been a hard, cold, icy winter!! I'm quite ready for Spring and beautiful flowers!! It's just around the corner.......

    Keep Warm!!!

    Wednesday, January 28, 2009

    WEEKEND IN COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA

    Fiber Artist, Susan Lenz

    Columbia, South Carolina
    January 9th was the opening of my sister and artist Susan Lenz' art show. It was in her hometown of Columbia, South Carolina, held in her studio's gallery space (Gallery 80808 Vista Studios) located in the heart of the fantastic and completely revitalized Vista District of Columbia (walkable, lovely, artsy, modern, boutique-y, stylish, simply grand...totally my type of place). There are 13 artists that have their studios in this building and the gallery is in the middle (Stephen Chesley and Sharon Licata's art work is particularly interesting to me...and the artists themselves are delightful people). It's a wonderful space.
    Susan has had her art shows there before, but this particular show, CYBER FYBER is one that has been in the works for over a year. I'm not going to write all about the show itself because you can check out her Blog for all the incredible details, including feature story news articles on it, photos, videos, and her personal perspectives and comments about it (NOTE: I shot the video footage on the night of the opening that she uploaded onto her blog.. it was fun to do!). Needless to say, for this show and it's opening reception my Mom and I had to be there!

    Pittsburgh Airport
    Mom and I flew down, Pittsburgh to Charlotte and then drove to Columbia on Friday the 9th. Of course we took shuttle with Airport Orbit from Slippery Rock to the Pittsburgh International Airport. (What can I say, the drivers are great, the vans are clean and hey, I get a good deal!) As for our flights, we went via USAir. I can report that the Pittsburgh International Airport is a pleasure..it is always clean and quite spacious, easy to get around in, well marked with directions, has a shopping mall area (always a plus for me!), and the employees are relatively kind (7 out of 10). As you know, I have traveled quite a bit, it is my profession and my passion. It is sad to me to accept the fact that traveling, (well the physical part of getting from one place to another) has become such a downer, in most cases is no longer and adventure, and is more so, just a pain. Don't get me wrong..I still love to travel and no matter what types of hassles I must endure to do it, I'm still going to travel. But, security issues are time consuming and make everyone nervous, flight delays are usually imminent, and the stress of the entire flying/airport situation just keeps getting worse... it's sad, and I really believe that it does not have to be this way!!

    I remember back in 1999 and of all the great dreams I had for travel as a whole and how I imagined it would be in the new millennium...for me, professionally and personally I had such great hopes for fantastic future journeys (well, I still do, but they now involve and consider in much more time for completion). Of course, I never factored in 9-11 or that travel would be how it is now, I always imagined it would just become easier and allow more types of people to get up, get out and go! Let's face it, that just isn't how it is these days. I find that many people are too frightened to think of going anywhere, or just don't want to deal with it...again, it's sad. But for me, I'm going, there is too much out there that I have yet to experience, too many people I have yet to meet, too many delicious exotic foods I have yet to taste, too many bodies of water I have yet to dip my toes into, too many...well, you get it. So, no matter where or how, I AM GOING TO GO, and so I always try to make it somewhat interesting and fun...even if I'm just going to the grocery store..it's what I do, it's how I like to look at things, it's the approach in life take. I like to try and discover new things, even if it is just some new type of automatic toilet flushing system in the airport's public restroom or maybe some funky multi-functional travel-baby-carseat-stroller-crib thing that I will never have use for but am amazed that it has been invented. I want and strive to be the person that looks at things through rose-colored glasses (even though I've had Lasik and can see just perfectly, thankyouverymuch!). Every day is and can have new adventures....if you make it happen!
    Now, going through security takes time (and you need to have lots of patience)...your boarding card and photo identification have to be out and in your hand - ready to present to the security personnel, before you can even proceed into the actual security screening area. Your coat must be taken off and put in a special plastic bin (it's winter, so of course everyone in Pittsburgh was wearing one), your shoes must be taken off and put into a special plastic bin (I wore boots, of course, never easy, but they are so awesome!), if you have a cellphone (and who doesn't these days) it must be taken out of your luggage or purse and put in a special plastic bin, and then all the special plastic bins must be scooted over...next to your carry-on luggage and pushed on through the screening system's machine scanner.

    Now something about me.... extra time is always required for me beca
    use I seem to be always be targeted when I go through security and because I always I wear a gorgeous gold bracelet on my right wrist. It was a gift to me from Vipin after we had been going out for about 6 months, it is lovely, it is gold, it has flowers and little spirals on it (I am totally into spirals) and it took lots of soap to get it on (it is rather small), so I wear it all the time...I never take it off and probably can't (it's been on my wrist for over 20 years). With this, I have the hazard of always setting off the alarms when I go through the security system's walk-through scanner. I am accustomed to announcing before I even walk through the metal detector that "I will beep." and of course, I always do. I am used to it. The man always calls out "Female Assist"...and I have to stand over to the side on the special mat with the two indicated foot mark placements. This is for the personal radar detecting hand wand check and full body pat-down. The security woman must, by law, announce what she is going to do, where she is going to touch or feel or pat down prior to her doing it (and I am sure the men, when they do it to the male travelers have to announce it too). There are certain positions I have to put my body in - hands straight out to my sides, feet apart, then one foot out in front, then the other, etc. It's a routine, I know it, whatever, I'm used to it. I actually tell them now "I know the routine and my rights, do what you have to do" - it saves a few minutes and they don't have to keep telling me every little step they are going to take. I never feel unsafe during this process, this is a good thing, it is always done very professionally (even though it is quite odd to be patted down in front of hundreds of travelers..what can you do?).

    So once through security (my Mom waited patiently for me j
    ust on the other side) we went on to the underground tram (it was almost ready to go....but we ran for it and made it!), which goes back and forth from the Arrivals to the Departures sides of the airport,.... then we went up two steep escalating staircases (between them is a huge dinosaur skeleton, it used to be in the Carnegie Museum, and I always look forward to looking at it as I ride up the escalator) and walked on to our wing (B) and down to our gate. Now, once the ticket counter personnel were ready to have us board the plane they began to call out pre-boarders (those that might require extra assistance, those traveling with children, the elderly, etc.), then the first class and special card holders/VIPs etc., and finally the commoners...but only within order of their boarding number....which naturally my boarding category was last, and therefore there was no space (none) left in the overhead compartments for our carry-on bags, so Mom and I had to shove our bags under the seats in front of us (not as easy as it sounds)...which gave me little leg space (squish squish re-adjust position every five minutes, etc.) - but whatever (I don't feel like going on about my views on airplane seating space allotment), fortunately it is a short flight and such are the joys of air travel in these times....at least I got to enjoy leafing through the Sky Mall Catalog (always interesting, although I have no idea why anyone would buy half the stuff advertised in them!!).

    So we arrived in Charlotte. The Charlotte airport has way too many Starbucks in it, otherwise it is clean and nice and easy to get around in! That's all I'm saying. We went down to the Baggage Claim area and to the Thrifty car rental counter...it took just a few minutes to get the paperwork done, we got the keys to the car and walked outside the door, across the street and the Thrifty service van was sitting right there (great!). The car rental parking lots are just a few minutes drive away from the airport, the service driver stopped right in fro
    nt of our rental, took our luggage, put everything in the trunk, opened the door to our rental and even started it up for us! (I was impressed with that...I have rented plenty of cars in my days but never had such service, it was quite a treat!) The drive to Columbia was quick and easy, but our rental car, a Chrysler 300 was soooo stinky of cigarettes, it really put a damper on the drive (non smokers, like me, are very fortunate these days due to the new laws and rules, we can actually avoid being around smoke in most cases, so when we are actually around smoke, in those infrequent but unfortunate circumstances, I think the smoke seems to be twice as noticeable, horrific and disgusting!)...luckily we were in the SOUTH and the weather was warm enough for us to roll down the back windows AND go without coats!! Such a relief from our morning...cold, snow, cold, snow, cold!! Otherwise the drive was rather uneventful.

    We stopped at a Chili's for lunch (I'm only mentioning this because I hate to admit it but I have never actually been to a Chili's before and I really liked it, I'm not sure what I thought it would be, but I was pleased - a good place for a fairly decent meal...don't get me wrong, I'm still all for my exotic foods, noodle houses and special secret delish eateries, but when you are on the road, you may not always know where those types of places are.) The menu wasn't bad, and they had a great variety of things...we just had appetizers because we didn't want to fill up too much, but it was nice, and the coffee was good too. I have to say that they were featuring these things called Sweet Shots, that are these cute little layered desserts with flavors like Key Lime Pie, Red Velvet Cake, Cinnamon Roll, etc. and they are in little shot glasses...adorable! I want to try and make them myself at home! I can't imagine that it would be difficult or too time consuming and they must be double-delish.
    So...we arrived at The Mouse House, Susan's and her husband Steve's home and also place of business. Years ago they bought this beautiful plantation-style type home in the downtown historical district of Columbia (which, by the way, is the State capital). The house has tall white columns and a large front porch - very southern (with a somewhat Tara-type feel). They put their business, The Mouse House, a professional framing shop, on the first floor (street level) and their home (complete with kitchen) on the second floor. They have their special Christmas Tree in their living room...but it is special, and I guess it really is not nor does not have to be an actual "Christmas" tree...because the tree is a work of art in itself...made of wrought iron, it was commissioned by Sue and Steve (along with their dining room chairs) from a quite talented wrought iron furniture maker that they know. The tree does come apart but why.... it holds the most amazing works of art on every limb...not all are Christmas ornaments, many are works of art that are small and hang-able...and so this lovely tree stands in their living room full of bright colors, sparkles and charms...it is magical. The upstairs, where they live, has framed things (paintings, etchings, drawings, pastels, maps, photographs, shadow boxes, and more!) on every wall, floor to ceiling....even in the bathrooms! It's lovely.

    For many years The Mouse House was a very busy shop...with 10 employees coming and going, framing and working, but now, Susan and Steve officially closed their doors to framing and only actually do framing for their VIP clients and professional artists (which is still a very busy business), while Susan works as a full-time artist. They put many years in to get to this point, and after spending the weekend with them, being at Susan's show, and seeing how much everyone loves and respects her art work (and her, and her framing abilities), I know that they certainly can feel that all that hard work has paid off...they are where they want to be. ..they've reached their goal. Steve holds opening hours for and handles the day-to-day going ons of the shop while Susan goes to her studio..it works, and it's great. When Mom and I arrived, Steve was there waiting for us...along with Shadow (their adorable and loving Persian cat...who I dressed up in pearls).
    We had some time to freshen up, and then we went to the studio...I was anxious to get there, see Susan and see the show! We drove past the Governor's Mansion (just a few blocks from The Mouse House) and then on down past the park.....and into the Vista district.....

    to the studio....Susan was ready and the set up was fantastic (again, visit her Blog for all the scoop)....



    PHOTOS: Susan, Steve & I, the Gallery


    PHOTOS: Steve/Sue/Mom by the food table (beautiful), The Gallery, Alex & Erica

    Mom, Cousin Jamie, Steve, Sue & I

    The opening reception was great fun...and perfect in every way. The art was well received, the show was well attended, the food and drink stations were amazing...the night was right. I met so many interesting people (and enjoyed hearing those sweet Southern accents!!). I also got to see my nephew Alex and his girl friend Erica and my cousin (actually my cousin's daughter), Jamie (who is in her second year at the University of South Carolina) and her boy friend Craig (a sweet guy)......it was a wonderful and very enjoyable evening. When we finally saw the last visitor to the door, locked up, cleaned up and got back to The Mouse House we were all exhausted. There was plenty of food leftovers from the reception so we changed into our Pjs and had a little feast..and then went to bed. I slept like a log!

    The next morning Susan had arranged for a workshop & demo in the gallery. The arrangement was through Creative Sewing, and basically was a day for visitors to enjoy learning and using various types of sewing machines and embellishing machines, see and participate in hands-on demonstrations, show work they have done and see the works of others. Steve bought boxes and boxes of donuts, there was coffee and most of the people that came made a full morning or afternoon of it. I was very interested in the embellishers, which I actually have to admit I never knew about prior to this event!
    They look like sewing machines, but when you look further you realize that there are 9 needles, none of which you are to thread. Instead, you place yarn, cotton, faux flowers, or material on top of your base material, press the foot pedal to make the needles go up and down, and the two things fuse together. It is called an embellishing machine because you are to literally embellishing things with it....attaching materials together without sewing. It's really cool! I had fun trying it out...and was also very amazed with the other sewing machines. I'm not much of a seamstress (much to Susan's friends and fans surprise), I'm actually horrible at it. My Mom let me take private sewing classes when I was in high school (I think because my Grandma Lenz had passed away before she could teach me about sewing and needlework, like she had done with my older sisters) and I made a sun dress, which turned out hideous (I never wore it!) and my sewing teacher (the sweet little local sewing lady, Mrs. Datt) called my Mom and basically told her that I was done. No biggie, I know how to buy dresses! So needless to say, my only real experience with sewing was on my Mother's machine, a nice Singer with a basic design. Well, at this demonstration I saw machines so elaborate that you can actually hook a laptop computer up to them! You don't really even have to sew...just thread them up (they hold many colors!), install the material, press a button, and go have a cup of coffee! It was amazing. One of the machines was so expensive they actually had a man there just to guard it for the day!

    We had a wonderful afternoon but were were literaly on our feet the entire day...my Mom's feet were killing her and we were both exhausted so in the early afternoon we stepped out and went across the street to a sports bar to have a drink and sit down for a few minutes. I forgot how good sweet tea is in the South...so refreshing! The bar was a nice place and there was some kind of youth gymnastics tournament going on nearby because we saw lots of little girls wearing darling costumes and ribbons in their hair. It was too adorable. When Susan's workshop was over, we helped her pack up her studio and the gallery and went back to The Mouse House to change our clothes for dinner.
    First we went to Jamie's apartment, she lives in The Lofts, which used to be an old cotton mill, but was converted into modern loft style apartments. It's an amazing building and Jamie's apartment is fantastic...with a huge window in the main room (kitchen/living room), well furnished, very girly and nice. I don't remember living like that when I was in college! I had Grandma Lenz' old couch (which was well over 15 years old and plaid!), Grandma Baker's old lamps, hand-me-down furniture from everyone, lots of thrift store stuff for decorations, one pot, one pan, a hodgepodge collection of glasses and kitchen things...don't get me wrong, I had what I needed and got along fine, but well, college kids these days are much better off...everything matches, most things are new!!! I was quite impressed!
    Anyway... Jamie gave us the grand tour of her gorgeous home, and we loved it (they have a pool, a gym, many lounge areas, couches all over the common areas, a billiards area, everything), and then we went on through the Sorority and Fraternity Rows of USC (another impressive place...the entire area used to be where old delapitated warehouses and mills stood...they were all torn down to erect these huge dorm-style houses) to the Liberty Tap Room and Grill for a delicious dinner. It was a great night...my Mom told stories about her and Larry (my Uncle Larry, Jamie's Grandpa) when they were young kids and also when they were first married (fun and even some sad stories about them before they had children)...we had a grand time. The Liberty Tap Room and Grill is a wonderful place with fantastic food (I had a salmon steak, of course, if there is ever a chance for a good salmon steak I am usually go to take it... and it was fantastic)...but by the time we left it was a totally packed house and very loud...too loud...too many people....a popular place, but I would not want to have stayed there any longer. (Although I did enjoy watching the 'crazy table' full of Red Hat Society Women...they were a hoot!) We drove Jamie home and then went back to The Mouse House. Mom went to bed soon after, I stayed up and watched the movie, The River Wild with Sue and Steve. Sue was still very UP from the entire weekend's events. I had never seen the movie before (it's an older one, but it was good, with Meryl Streep in a film you can't really go wrong)....Sue and Steve had seen it several times. It was fun just hanging out watching TV with them.

    The next morning we had breakfast and lounged around and read the Sunday paper....something I enjoy doing every Sunday morning, but it is particularly interesting when you I have the opportunity to read another city's Sunday paper....new things, different placements of articles, interesting reads. I will say that their comics section is way better than ours in Pittsburgh...they get so many...and ones I had not seen in a long time. It was a lazy morning and fun...then we got ready to go, said Good-bye to Steve and Shadow and took Susan to her gallery...said Good-bye to her and drove back to the Charlotte airport.

    Overall, a totally fab weekend...so glad I made the trip!

    QUICK FOLLOW-UPS:
    • I got a discount from Thrifty because the car smelled of smoke...they were really nice about it too!
    • When it was time for us to board the plane for the return flight they actually pre-boarded anyone with Steeler colors on or anyone wearing Steeler shirts or clothing! They got to board even prior to the First-Class passengers! It was great....of course I wasn't wearing black and gold, but whatever....we did get to board sooner than we did on the flight down and we actually were able to store our carry-on bags in the overhead compartments!!
    • Mom went and bought me an embellishing machine! It's too cool, although I have yet to create an actual piece on it, more so just practicing....I set the machine up on my desk in the office and Nicole has already made several pieces...