Nice find, Ponce de Leon

Approaching San Juan, Puerto Rico by sea, it doesn’t look very welcoming.

Miles of stone walls and the Castillo San Cristobal fortress protected Spain’s critical settlement from frequent attacks, invaders who were after the gold, silver and other treasures from the New World.

Today, San Juan is an exuberant blend of colorful Latin culture. It was the very first time our ship had ported in this gorgeous city, and we loved every minute of exploring what is now a very approachable city.

Lucky us, our port side of the ship gave us a perfect view of arriving.

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A dolphin and her baby even escorted us into the port!

First stop? Birthplace of the Pina Colada, of course.

Then on to some sites–and sights–in our Latin whites!

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Doesn’t our Caroline look thrilled at another historical site?

Lots of cats in Old Town … probably not a rodent problem there, either, huh?

Knock, knock

It’s not just a gate; for centuries, this doorway, La Puerta de San Juan, served to keep invaders out of the city. And when Spainards arrived, they walked straight up this roadway to the Cathedral to, like good Catholic boys, thank God for a safe voyage.

Plaza de la Rogativa

Amazing views, both panoramically around the sea and up close in the plaza.

The bronze sculpture, “The Procession,” tells the legend of a Catholic Bishop and his companions during a British invasion on San Juan in 1797. The Bishop and his friends made a procession in faith holding crosses, torches and chanting. The British thought they were Spanish Army reinforcements and gave up on the attack. “Faith does move mountains,” huh?

What do J. Lo and Ponce de Leon have in common?

Jennifer Lopez married Marc Anthony here. Ponce de Leon’s tomb is here. It’s graceful Catedral de San Juan Bautist or Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist. It’s also the second-oldest Cathedral in the Americas. Juan Ponce de Leon’s body is encased in a marble tomb here, but it wasn’t his original burial place. He was originally entombed in theIglesia de San José where his family worshiped. After 350 years in his original resting place, his body was moved to the Catedral de San Juan in 1912 to commemorate the 400-year anniversary of evangelization. Nice resting place, Juan.

Seaside resting spot

Only Puerto Rico can make a cemetery extraordinary! Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis is elegant and beautifully perched on the Atlantic, radiating tranquility and rich history. The oceanfront location symbolizes the journey over to the afterlife, reflecting the Spainards’ superstitions and fear of death.

UNESCO says yes

A UNESCO site, Castillo San Cristóbal is a magnificent fortification. We visited on a Sunday, walking from the cemetery to the huge fort while people had picnics set out and were flying kites. So appreciate the Latin focus on family and fun!

The color of San Juan

…is anything but old. Strolling along cobblestone streets while the teenagers worked on their Spanish verbal skills with vendors, we soaked in the radiance of this marvelous Caribbean city.

We’re grateful you sailed into San Juan, Sir de Leon. And thankful for the vibrant history lessons and colorful day in today’s bright city! Thanks for making us feel so welcome.

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Hi again, Haiti

The only “repeat” stop from our last cruise was this lovely private island, Labadee, in Haiti. Such a country of contrasts: gorgeous mountains, beaches, people and culture. Yet such a heartbreakingly troubled history–and present–laden with turmoil and hurt. With all this in mind, we appreciated our day in Haiti.

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Good morning, land! The very tip of Haiti.

 

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Early morning view of Haiti from our deck balcony.

Walking ashore, where it’s hard to decide which view from the walkway is more gorgeous.

The first beach you encounter has big oceanside waves, yet also ankle-eating rocks and coral. So it was our mermaid Caroline’s favorite playground! Julia and I were happier on the shore at this beach.

Haiti in the sand

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Hi, Cara. Could you come in now? You’re making me a little nervous… my lifeguarding skills are a tad rusty.

 

The next two beaches are sandy and absolutely perfect for a beach day. Just the thing for this Midwestern American family. It was a day that brought us all peace.

As our feet sank into the sand, those early mornings of icy darkness as we all headed off to school and work — those sank away. As the waves lapped, those days of shoveling snow melted away. Under the Caribbean sun, the stress of tests and presentations and travel dissipated. Swimming, floating and playing in the salty waves, the chill of very late nights at hockey rinks washed away. In the wind of the palm trees, the tension blew away. And in the pages of new stories, the sting of that missed 27-yard field goal even faded. A bit.

We came out of the water refreshed, renewed. And hungry! With a steel drum band nearby, we enjoyed a yummy shore lunch. Caribbean jerk chicken, ribs, loads of fresh veggies and exotic fruits … and lemon coconut cookies. Love you, Haiti.

Thanks for starting our cruise port experiences off just perfectly yet again, Haiti.

Goodbye Haiti
Farewell, lovely land. We wish you the peace you so generously gave us.

Air. Water. Food. Just gettin’ our basic needs met, Cancun style.

Like our friends and colleagues and relatives, our family runs in every direction, often at warp speed. It’s crazy good fun filled with love and laughs. But it’s also nice to get away a bit. So this Spring Break, we headed to Moon Palace in Cancun.

We went with a great group of fellow Minnesotans. Total of 14 adults; 13 kids, I believe.

Some old friends, some new. All amazing!
Some old friends, some new. All amazing!

Air

Matt got the most air, parasailing over Beach Palace one afternoon (looked like the jet ski ride out and back in to shore was quite a rush too!)

m parasailing

m jet ski ride in

Water

Our Caroline is a mermaid. We all joined her, too. How could you not? Fifteen pools (most with swim-up bars; all with water polo, water zumba, water volleyball), miles of beach (albeit not real swimmable, so our day at Beach Palace’s turquoise waves was a treat).

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c and v at beach palace

 

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4 of us at swim up bar

me and g

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Swimming laps in the Olympic pool was more fun with a swim up bar at one end. Pina coladas after every lap!

 

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a moon 1

a moon 2

“Pets” at our favorite pools

The Alligator at the edge of the Los Tacos pool.
The Alligator at the edge of the Los Tacos pool.
Iguanas - up to seven outside one pool in the perfect mid-morning sun. Skittish, prehistoric little guys.
Iguanas – up to seven outside one pool in the perfect mid-morning sun. Skittish, prehistoric little guys.
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Another reason we also ordered the Fish Tacos at Los Tacos. Plus, they were delish!

 

Dozens of restaurants, and this was our fave. Poolside Los Tacos.
Dozens of restaurants, and this was our fave. Poolside Los Tacos.
Thanks for the fish tacos...
Thanks for the fish tacos…

Food

It’s a good day when your biggest decision is where to go to dinner that evening…

I think we tried ’em all. Seafood? (The first night, Julia ordered baby octopus with “I think I’ll like that.” As they served it, she saw it really was baby octopus, suction cups and all. “I can’t eat this,” she admitted. Lesson learned for our Midwestern girl!) Mexican? Italian? Room service (why order 30 chicken nuggets? Because you can.)? Steakhouse? Hibachi? Japanese? Brazilian steak house:

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Mayan coffee!

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Love those Mayans
Love those Mayans

Treats at every turn…

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dessert

crepes

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A few other surprises:

Coconut milk outside our front door

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“Fresh Catch” one afternoon

Apparently this only happens once a month (we got lucky!). Fresh grouper, octopus, shrimp, mussels, clams and more, caught then grilled up on the beach.

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Swing bar

We ventured here during the day; the teenagers hung out here after dinner and into the wee hours!
We ventured here during the day; the teenagers hung out here after dinner and into the wee hours! We heard tales. Probably not all of them, but enough!
Some crazy characters for our kids to hang with...
Some crazy characters for our kids to hang with… (Alas, no Captain Jack…)

Early morning beach walks

(just Greg and me) – note earlier info about teenagers at the swing bar!

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Love

Most of all, it was time for us, together, unplugged. That is really all we need.

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Look! She got out of the water (for a little while).

 

Late-nigh beach walk with my Jules was a treasure of a time.
Late-nigh beach walk with my Jules was a treasure of a time.

MCancun

fam last night

 

Our baby with a dolphin baby

Caroline was in her element.
She Swam with Delphinus (dolphins) at Xcarat in Cancun.

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The best part was the baby dolphin who wouldn’t leave Cara’s side:

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As the mom and friends did their interactions, the baby tried every trick she knew to get attention (aka fish). We tried to find out the baby’s name, but there wasn’t much English spoken at the park. So we just call her Baby.

Thanks for letting your Baby play with our Baby, Mama Dolphin.

More great playtime shots:

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Dolphin “water skiing:”

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Splash party!

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Jump for joy!

 

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Happy Halloween! Our 10th Annual Bash

Our Dad/Grandpa, a retired longtime teacher, loves to party. Each year, we get together at his home to celebrate Halloween! This year was especially awesome, with some clever costumes, creative pumpkin carvings, beautiful day … and a full theatre presentation of “The Greedy Goblin” by the grandkids! Some highlights…

The teenagers.
The teenagers.

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A little football.
The bone hunting game is always a hit!
The bone hunting game is always a hit!

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Standing Ovation for our theatre stars!

Happy Halloween, all. Make it safe, sweet and full of laughs.

Girls in the City: Introducing Our Daughter to NYC

Our eldest Julia had one 16th birthday gift request: A trip to New York City.

Oh, alright then. (It’s her parents’ absolute very favorite city in the world, and we have been to many cities on most continents.) So mom Elizabeth introduced her to this amazing city! We also met some other inspiring women along the way…

Girls who can do ANYTHING.

Our cab driver from the airport to our hotel was a lovely young woman who drove fast, smart, honked when necessary, and enlightened us on what Julia ought to see while in town. We had a lot of great airplane and cab rides!

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cab ride

Women who history remembers (history rarely remembers well-behaved women!).

At St. Patrick’s Cathedral, my favorite Manhattan church:

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On TV and in-person.

We stopped by the Today Show, visited with the very smart, friendly Peter Alexander and Erica Hill. Family and friends back home said they saw us on TV. Jules realized getting up early has rewards.

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today show

with erica

julia and peter a

In killer shows.

We took in two Broadway shows, both led by ladies. Chicago and Wicked. Both are beautiful musicals. Chicago more simple and traditional but with lots of familiar music, fabulous dancing and wry humor. Wicked just over-the-top!

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wicked

The real women of Trump Plaza.

Inside this golden tribute to capitalism is tucked Niketown. It was one of our many shopping stops, and under these batons, to symbolize the Olympic Women’s Relay Team’s amazing win, our girl of summer Jules found some rocking new tennis to keep leading the race!

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Women of Wall Street.

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Obligatory Bull Market shot.

Several women are amongst those who have had ticker tape parades in their honors.

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The most amazing lady we met.

One of the Park Rangers at the Statue of Liberty really made Julia smile. Referring to the long entry lines, the female Ranger said, “Well, she is a very popular lady.” What a charming way to describe this incredible monument! We planned ahead (FAR ahead) and scored tickets to climb all the way into this lovely lady’s crown. Very cool.

It was a tad chilly on our ferry ride out to the very popular lady.
It was a tad chilly on our ferry ride out to the very popular lady.

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Here's where we're climbing!
Here’s where we’re climbing!

 

At the pedestal!
At the pedestal!
Up the spiral staircase to the crown!
Up the spiral staircase to the crown!
In Lady Liberty's crown. Most beautiful accessory.
In Lady Liberty’s crown. Most beautiful accessory.
What a view, huh?
What a view, huh?
Looking up to her torch. It was a very special moment, talking about how all those immigrants must have felt when they first glimpsed her torch, welcoming them to America. +chills+
Looking up to her torch. It was a very special moment, talking about how all those immigrants must have felt when they first glimpsed her torch, welcoming them to America. +chills+
Down the spiral steps...
Down the spiral steps…

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Ah, what a memorable girls weekend in NYC with our amazing young Julia. Thanks for showing her your best, women of Manhattan.

An illuminating experience at Glensheen

If you could have lived in another era, when would it be? Me, I’d be in Boston, 1770s. Second place: Minnesota, early 1900s. So of course I savor Glensheen Mansion: every brick, window pane, light fixture and step (including the blood-stained ones!). Clara Congdon, the first lady of the home, fascinates me.

During our family camping trip to the North Shore, Cara and I had the opportunity to visit again, this time with sis-in-law Amy and niece Allie, who hadn’t been there before. I saw it through her fresh eyes.

Sorry, Clara Congdon, I left my dress, corsets and bonnet back at the campsite. But I LOVE your home!
Sorry, Clara Congdon, I left my dress, corsets and bonnet back at the campsite. I’ve heard you were very particular about ladies always wearing the latest formal attire. But I LOVE your home!

As Allie said as we waited for our tour to begin: “I like history. And murder.” I had started reading, “Will to Murder,” the most recent book about the 1977 murders at Glensheen on the drive up north, so our Cara had some sneak peeks at specific spots in the Mansion for Allie. And the book made me think of the mansion in new ways with its attention to details. We were ready!

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Every inch of this amazing place is worth a photo. Most of all, it all feels so…. real. Because it is. The Christmas cactus in the breakfast room was Clara Congdon’s and still grows today! Chester Congdon’s top hat is still on its shelf in his closet!

Illuminating

Yet as always at historical spots, it is the lamps and lights that most intrigue me. They illuminate what life was like …

Chester's desk lamp. I can just see him here, poring over his law books.
Chester’s desk lamp. I can just see him here, poring over his law books.

 

Clara's "Paris by day, Paris by night" lamp in the living room, which has tiny dots to illuminate that lovely city at night.
Clara’s “Paris by day, Paris by night” lamp in the living room, which has tiny dots to illuminate that lovely city at night.
Lights in the ceilings even, Clara?! Cool.
Lights in the ceilings even, Clara?! Cool.

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Upstairs…

Yes, those blood stains are still on the window seat/landing area on the main steps to the second floor. No, I did not take a picture. That seemed unseemly. We all saw the dark marks, even though the tour guides won’t talk about the murders…until after the tour, and then only in answer to questions. Fair enough.

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Elisabeth's childhood room, overlooking Lake Superior and so beautifully feminine, serene and lovely. Just as I imagine her.
Elisabeth’s childhood room, overlooking Lake Superior and so beautifully feminine, serene and lovely. Just as I imagine her.
Elisabeth's Blooming Lamp; the "petals" fan out with the heat of the lamp. Lovely!
Elisabeth’s Blooming Lamp; the “petals” fan out with the heat of the lamp. Lovely!

More beautiful light fixtures in the bedrooms upstairs:

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Shadows on these lights

Inside the bedroom where Elisabeth was when she was murdered, the lights are hauntingly beautiful.

Notice the light on the wall, unlit...below it is lit from within.
Notice the light on the wall, unlit…below it is lit from within.

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Ah, the things this poor pendant lamp has seen…

 On to brighter rooms!

My favorite Glensheen room is still the Breakfast room. Clara designed the entire home with her classy ingenuity, and it’s most evident here. The oak motif in the windows and fixtures. The incredible tiles and color scheme.

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The fountain in the breakfast room, which brings water from the on-premis creek to this very room, and watered Clara's plants. It must work, her Christmas Cactus is still thriving in this very room!
The fountain in the breakfast room, which brings water from the on-premis creek to this very room, and watered Clara’s plants. It must work, her Christmas Cactus is still thriving in this very room!

The dining room also has her clever touch, with the button under the table to discreetly summon the butler during dinner. And the massive chandelier, which maids had to hand-polish (tedious, but so dramatically pretty in this room). Love you, Clara!

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The distinctive billiards room, with lights on a pulley system that could be raised to improve the illumination of a certain shot on the table. Some say it was Chester’s idea. I know it was Clara: the longer she could keep the men entertained downstairs, the more time she had for finer arts (she was a gifted painter herself!) and entertaining the ladies upstairs.

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Thanks for another visit to your home, Clara. You inspire me to live with serene grace, class and to shed illumination whenever I can.

The living room, where I love to picture Clara.
The living room, where I love to picture Clara.