Farmers Markets: Not all Peaches are Created Equal

farmers marketsEvery week, from April through early December, I visit the farmers market at Pepper Place. To me this is like a pilgrimage to a place where strawberries, peaches, cauliflower, lettuces, and flowers are competing for my attention.

Not everything is peachy though and it is sad to note that prices throughout farmers markets in America are anything but economical. Why is it that we have to pay more for healthy food?

Farmers markets connect consumers to local food growers

We all agree that nothing is better than getting fresh produce from vendors at local farmers markets. I want to be able to get the fresh produce, preferably organically grown vegetables and fruits, but, like so many other enthusiast, I cannot afford the price tag.

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 8.16.32 PMFarmers are able sell their produce directly to the public, bypassing a lot of middlemen and customers are willing to pay a little more. How much more though are customers willing to pay? Affordability is an important aspect for every shopper. We should be able to get a better deal on fresh, high quality produce as farmers are cutting out middlemen like wholesalers, allowing them to retain every dollar they receive from customers.

So why is it that prices at farmers markets are more expensive than those we see at grocery stores? While I have no conclusive answer to the question I believe that it is all about the quality. I do think that prices are higher at farmers markets but it is important to keep in mind that the produce you find at farmers markets is very fresh. They last longer than those you can buy in a grocery store. The quality difference is huge. Produce bought at farmers markets do not go bad as quickly as store-bought items. Last but not least, freshness and quality contribute to better tasting fruits and vegetables.

Ideally I will have my own garden one day. In the meantime it’s all about the home-grown, and I can’t get that in the stores.

Forty-Nine Less Rainbows in the Sky — Love is all we need

If equal affection cannot be, let the more loving one be me. ~W.H. Auden

LoveIt is with a heavy heart that I am writing this post today. This weekend has brought tragic news to my home away from home. First came the sad news of the killing of the Voice singer Christina Grimmie, and next I wake up to the horrific shooting at the Pulse nightclub.

Words cannot describe how I feel. My feelings however, are nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to what the families and friends of the victims go through. The people of Orlando have my deepest sympathy as their city is hurting. I have family and friends in the LGTB community. An attack on them is an attack on those I love. It is sadly not the first time the community is hurting. It has to stop!

And give me a break, a call for more arms is as irresponsible as what some of our elected official are putting out today. How is it possible that Dan Patrick, Lieut Gov of Texas, tweets Galatins 6.7 ? (Don’t be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows). The tweet was deleted later but that does not mean anything. Words hurt. Words kill.

I really prefer to focus on the good, on the helpers. A big thank you to all who answered the call for blood donations, to those who bring water, food and sunscreen to the donors in line. To the law enforcement teams who have seen such unspeakable horror. To everybody who goes out of their way to give back to the community. May love, light and hope shine upon all of us.

Love and peace for all of humanity should be a major concern to us. A concern as important as our daily bread and water. A concern that is not based on nationality or religion. It is doable but we need to want it. I want it. I am not an idealist, I know it is not easy, but I also know that I do not want to live in a world where we kill each other.

I started the post with a quote and I want to end with one. “Life is best when you build bridges between people, not walls’ ~Muhammad Ali “

My beautiful family

A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold. ~Ogden Nash

familyMy family is small, special, loving, beautifully diverse, and at times, like all families, under the weather.

I have a loving son and a caring, soon to be, daughter-in-law. But I also have a grand dog. Yes, you are reading this right. The cat person has fallen in love with a dog. And an amazing dog he is. He is the cutest mixture between a dachshund and a beagle, and his name is Gambit.

Gambit loves to eat, as a matter of fact he pretty much loves to eat everything, but nothing prepared me to watch him savor a bowl of broccoli when he visited with his mom and dad this month.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 8.31.05 PMIt was wonderful to have my family here in Birmingham, it meant to world to me. And even though Idan arrived on crutches and Laura had a nasty cold, we managed to visit some of my favorite places including Pepper Place Market. Gambit enjoyed all of the attention he got wherever we went. He felt right at home at the farmers market, and acted like the connoisseur he is, daring to be picky about the treats that were so generously offered.

As always time flew and soon it was time to say goodbye. British novelist Jane Howard said “Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” I sure know I do. Howard also knew that we all need to learn, maybe most importantly of all, to cherish the company of those who can make us laugh, who can forgive us our shortcomings, who can restore us and evoke in us a feeling of purpose in the face of absurdity.”

Old Key West My Favorite Spring Retreat

IMG_3224It is always a real treat to be at Old Key West, Disney’s first time-share property. Modeled after the Caribbean-style residences and guesthouses of the Florida Keys the resort is the least Disney-esque of all Disney properties. To say that I love staying here is an understatement. I have been blessed to do so four times and yet I still get excited every time I get to go back.  I would love one day to stay here for an extended time and indulge myself in everything the resort has to offer.

IMG_7535Old Key West  has the roomiest accommodations in all of Walt Disney World. Each villa has a private balcony with views of the golf course, a pristine landscape, or the waterway. I stayed in a two-bedroom villa featuring a king-size bed in the master bedroom, two queen beds in the second bedroom and a queen-size sleeper sofa and foldout chair in the living room. It is perfect for a family of six and can accommodate up to nine guests. I love to have a full kitchen, especially for longer stays. Walt Disney World offers lots of great restaurants but there comes a time where I really enjoy having a meal with family and friends in a private setting.

Pool Time at Old Key West

Old Key WestOld Key West has four pools. The main pool also has  a hot tub, kiddie pool, a water play area, and most amazingly a free sauna inside the idyllic lighthouse. The other pools are smaller pools are located near buildings 19 and 20, buildings 39, 40 and 41, and another one near building 55. These pools are basic pools with plenty of towels and a hot tub. The bonus really is that they are ‘quiet pools’ where loud play and is discouraged. Runners will enjoy the resort as there are plenty of well marked routes for a nice run. Want to golf? Search no more as the golf course is right there on the premises of the resort and absolutely immaculate.

The resort has only one restaurant. Olivia’s is nice and offers casual dining. On the menu: seafood including conch dishes, slow-cooked prime rib, and Key Lime Tart. It is fine for a meal or two but nothing to write home about.IMG_3213

Disney Springs is only a boat ride away. Boats run every half hour and unless you are in a hurry they are really a good choice. I love sitting back and enjoying a ride down the Sassagoula River. Keep in mind that the last boat back from Disney Springs is no later than 11:30 p.m.

There is something special about returning to this quiet and beautiful resort after a long day in the parks. I love sitting on the balcony of my home away from home, unwind, sip a glass of wine, —and feel that I am on vacation.

IMG_3432I love the parks but I could see myself staying at Old Key West for a LONG time without ever leaving the resort. So I want to leave you tonight with my favorite view, taken from the balcony of my Old Key West Town House this March. I a mesmerized to see and here the signs, sure sign that spring is on the way.

Next month my son and future daughter-in-law will be visiting my new home here in Birmingham.  I can’t wait to finally share with them, my world, the one outside of Walt Disney World. And who can blame the young shooter f

he world that does not ask what denomination I am, and if I am or not lesbian, or at least by-sexaul.

A visit to Disney Springs would not be complete if not for a visit and review of Epcot’s International Flower Festival.

Spring Has Sprung in Birmingham

Spring in BirminghamGranted, we did not have a bad winter but that doesn’t prevent Alabamians, and transplants like me, to welcome spring. It is prime season for hiking and Birmingham has great trails at Ruffner Mountain and Red Mountain Park.

It is also a great time to visit Birmingham’s Zoo and the Botanical Gardens.

Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 10.31.28 PMDid you know that the Botanical Gardens is Alabama’s largest living museum with more than 12,000 different plants, 25 unique gardens and over 30 works of original outdoor sculpture spread over 67.5 acres? My favorite is the Japanese Gardens and I love sitting on a bench looking at the reflection of the bridge over the pond.

Another great spot to enjoy a quiet time with a good book is the sculpture garden of the Museum of Fine Arts and it is always great to celebrate the rebirth of nature in one of the many parks along Highland Avenue. If you like a little more action be sure to be on Highland Avenue for the Do Dah Day parade. It is a riot only outdone by the October Dachshund parade.

Another lovely place to celebrate spring is Juniper Springs

Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 10.27.19 PMFor me spring also meant a few days of absolute bliss at my favorite place: Juniper Springs. Located in the Ocala National Forest, it is one of the oldest recreation areas on the East Coast. It is a place that Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, the author of the Yearling, cherished. If you have not read her books, check them out. The Yearling won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1939. My favorite, however, is Cross Creek, published in 1942.

March is also the month when I get to go to Walt Disney World to do research for the next edition of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids. This year it will be a challenge as many new attractions are announced, yet not open.  But that is for another post.

 

 

The Importance of Memories

The last Autumn leaves slowly drift to the ground and the earth is preparing for the longest night of the year.  Memories of idyllic childhood days, and those of days not so long ago are flooding my mind. A treasure trove of moments, some sad, others filled with laughter and joy.

Autumn on Highland Avenue

Autumn on Highland Avenue

A great quote by Burton Homes talks about travel memories. Homes says: “The only things I own which are still worth what they have cost me are my travel memories…the mind-pictures of places which I have been hoarding like a happy miser.”

Memories

With Idan and Laura in Las Vegas

And travel memories I have plenty. They are among my happiest. 2015 has been no exception. New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Las Vegas, lots of Florida (read Disney and Universal Studios), and even a cruise with The Mouse.

Memories made in Birmingham

But not all memories are travel related. There were the memories made right here in Birmingham.

Memories

Mary Poppins with Theresa, Fran and Debra

Running my first hometown race, the Mercedes half marathon was a wonderful experience. Seeing my colleague Tanya, after she did the full marathon, dancing at race retreat, certainly something I won’t forget.

With Tanya and Zach after the race

With Tanya and Zach after the race

Welcoming friends from out of town, celebrating holidays together, and publishing yet another edition of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids.

Memories

Welcoming Wendy to Birmingham

Enjoying a meal, music, or a walk with a friend, that’s the stuff memories are made off.

Walking with Annette

Walking with Annette

I believe that it is important to hang on to every memory we possibly can, it is the glue that keeps families and friends smiling, it is who we are, and it is a portal to those who are no longer with us.

Memories

With Papa and my brothers in Belgium

Ibn Battuta said: “Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” May I add that it turns you into a memory maker.

California Dreaming

 

We joyed to meet and griev’d to part,
We sigh’d when night came on;
We went to rest with longing heart,
For the comming of the bright day dawn.

Oh, yes, with ever changing sports,
We whiled the hours away;
The skies were bright,
Our hearts were light,
In the merry, merry month of May

California DreamingIt is this Steven Foster song that comes to my mind when I think of May, my birth month, the month, one year ago, I came to Birmingham, Alabama. And while this month was filed with activities I love such as running races and visiting Disney parks nothing was as enjoyable as spending ten blissful days with my son back in Los Angeles.

Being able to get a glimpse of his life in North Hollywood was precious. It gave me an eye-opening perspective of the hard work it takes to make a living in the film industry.

I am so very proud of him and talented Laura. I loved watching Idan prepare for a commercial he was going to film and my eyes popped when Laura took me as an apprentice to the costume warehouse of Universal Studios to rent costumes for the next project she was working on.

And nothing, nothing could have make me happier than this very special photo shoot we had, a gift of equally talented Carissa Dorson. This black and white picture reminds me of what we are: Ohana and Ohana means family. Ours comes in a small size but just like in the movie Lilo & Stitch, (there has to be some Disney in this post after all) family means that nobody is left behind.

Idan and Laura are working on making their dreams come true and California Dreaming is my dream too. It is not my home and I doubt it ever will be but I do know that home is where the heart is and my heart is wherever they are.

The month of May was not always merry but I realize it simply can’t be. However, there were days, moments, when it was a merry merry month of May.

Back in New Orleans

New OrleansWhat a treat it was to be back in New Orleans. I love this city with it’s distinct French and Spanish Creole architecture. Who can resist the charm of the French Quarter where vining plants spill over the edges of balconies?

I love the multi-cultural atmosphere of the city, the complete mix of architecture from Greek revival, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco, to Renaissance Colonial, and Gothic. I love the street performers, the ghost and voodoo stories; the street cars, the parades and the people of New Orleans.

New Orleans, catastrophically affected by Hurricane Katrina, hurt by the recent recession and the BP oil spill is still struggling to recover. While the city welcomes back thousands of visitors yearly, many of the bayou inhabitants have yet to return as post-Katrina housing has become quite unaffordable.

New OrleansI was in town as part of a team competing in the Ironman 70.6 triathlon. What an amazing experience. I cannot begin to express how grateful I am to ALyce Weixler and her husband Andy Gunkler for having me as ‘their’ half marathon relay runner.  We had so much fun together and seeing the city through their eyes was wonderful.

Together we experienced the amazing cuisine of Nola that you really do not get anywhere else in the country. Jambalaya, Gumbo and Muffulettas are all traditional dishes and no visit would be complete without beignets from Cafe du Monde.

New OrleansThe cafe was established in 1862 in the New Orleans French Market and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It closes only on Christmas Day and on the day an occasional Hurricane passes too close to New Orleans. So make sure to visit. People watching on the terrace of Cafe du Monde is my favorite thing to do in New Orleans, rain or shine.

And then there is New Orleans Jazz

New OrleansOn arrival day we had a lovely drink at the bar of Brennan’s where a Jazz orchestra provided a festive welcome.

To best describe Jazz in New Orleans I will borrow a phrase I read in the New Orleans Official Guide: “Jazz, of course, is not an invention. It’s alive. It grows, it dies, it changes, it stays the same. Jazz is to American music what the Mississippi is to America, and just as many rivers feed into the Mississippi, music (and musicians) from many cultures came together in the creation of Jazz. And they came together in perhaps the only place in the world where it could have happened, a place where multi-culturalism was, and is, embedded in the fabric of everyday life: New Orleans.”

Jazz was of course not born in one day, one place nor was only one particular person responsible for it. Jazz is when a variety of influences come together to create something special. In New Orleans they call that gumbo. And I agree that nobody makes gumbo like they make it in New Orleans.

I can’t wait to visit again!

 

 

 

 

Spring Has Sprung in Birmingham

“Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!” — Sitting Bull

ZachNothing could be more true and I am embracing the results of their love. I cannot express the degree of gratitude I have to be able to welcome spring and further down the road, summer.

First we welcomed Zachary to the family. What more can one ask for? It is amazing how littlest feet can make the biggest footprints in our hearts.

As I learned to cope with running outdoors during winter here in Birmingham I realized that the joy was in the act of running and in the journey, not in the destination. So I run all over this city and if I ever get a car I think I will not get lost as I know every part of Birmingham by now.  Running has become the road to self-awareness. Being able to rely on myself and see how far I can push myself is pretty amazing.

Mercedes HalfI cannot imagine a time when I won’t be able to be outdoors and run. Encouraged by my colleague Tanya I did sign up for the Birmingham Mercedes Half. I loved it!  The race was fun and the post-race activities so much better than any RunDisney event.

Winter in Birmingham was very different from anything I ever experienced in 25 years in New York. An inch of snow is likely to shut down the city and Birmingham’s kids had a lot of ‘snow days’ even though I never saw more than an inch or two.

IHeidit was wonderful to welcome friends to the city. Heidi Hoover and I had a blast at the Ringo Starr concert. Who would have thought that Ringo and his All Star Band would play Birmingham? At age 74 he was still going strong and his drumming simply fabulous. With only two Beatles left on this planet we felt blessed to just be there. Stan and Sandra Phillips-Posner, the authors of “Drive I-95” made Birmingham a stop and so did Dan Benjoseph with his lovely daughter Marija.

In early March I was fortunate to have a few days at Juniper Springs. It was so good to be back at this peaceful place. Juniper Springs is as close to nature I probably ever get and I cannot convey how healing nature’s powers are. It was ‘what the doctor prescribed’ for my winter blues. And while the bugs ate me alive I can’t wait to go back. Juniper

Next came the annual research trip to Walt Disney World with two events for Unofficial Guide authors at the Osceola Library in Celebration and miles of walking in the theme parks.

I am grateful for my new job, my home on Highland Avenue and the kindness extended to me here in Birmingham but after nearly a year here in Alabama I also know that my heart is still set on one day being able to live in Florida. It does not have to be Orlando. I am not a fool, I know that there is a big difference between Disney and a real live but I also know that every time I land and see a palm tree I feel — at home.

Spring in BirminghamCelebrating Spring

In the meantime I am celebrating spring, spring here in Birmingham. I am amazed to see the flowers blossom so early. The amount of pollen blanketing everything here is quite something — thanks God I am not allergic.

In another week the popular Pepper Street Farmer’s Market will open again and I will be there bright eyes and bushy tail.

Spring is all about renewal, the mystery and the creative power of nature and the music of Igor Stravingsky “The Rite of Spring” comes to my mind. Spring is love, spring is hope, spring is happiness.

 

 

 

Snow Days

Snow Days or what you need to know about Birmingham and Snow

Snow DaysMost schools and many businesses in the Birmingham area close as soon as the weather forecast predicts snow. Courthouses, libraries and many shops are closed and buses won’t run either. Since snow or freezing rain is rare all roads are instantly considered dangerous due to the weather and the citizen of Birmingham and the surrounding counties are asked to stay off the roads.

We really do not have snowplows but the garbage collecting trucks are fitted with a plow that helps clearing our streets and highways. Alabama Power is working 24/7 to restore power to homes that go without electricity quite often as soon as a winter storm hits the area.

After living through 25 years of New York City winters it was quite amusing to see the effect so little snow can have on the entire State.  However, the amusement stopped when I suddenly found myself in the dark due to freezing rain on power lines and realizing that if I wished to go to work I would have to walk.  All considered it was only a minor inconvenience that latest two days. It left me wondering what would happen if we really would get a considerable amount of snow. The answer is simple: we all would stay at home and wait till it is over.

“Do you want to build a snowman?”