Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Welcome to St. Thomas. Bathrooms are on the left. Free rum shots are on the right.

Hello from sunny St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. I wish. 

St. Thomas

My husband and I spent last week there, but, against our better judgement, we returned home to reality (aka Wisconsin) on Saturday. Sniff.

I would go back in a heartbeat, but since that's not going to happen anytime soon, I thought I would take a virtual trip back and invite you, dear readers, along with me.

Our trip started here:

Virgin Islands

Actually, it started in the Charlotte Amalie airport, but since I didn't take any pictures there, this one will have to do -- and it's surprisingly apt, because when your plane lands in St. Thomas, you debark on the tarmac (which, I think we can all agree, is the absolute best place to debark when arriving at a warm-weather destination), then walk into the airport where you are greeted by smiling people telling you, "Welcome to St. Thomas. Bathrooms are on the left. Free rum shots are on the right."

Charlotte Amalie

We spent our first couple days in St. Thomas at The Galleon House, an old B&B that sits on Government Hill in Charlotte Amalie, overlooking the red roofs in the historic downtown. This was the view from our balcony, looking to the left, and below is the view looking to the right.

Charlotte Amalie

Not a bad view either way. We loved The Galleon House. It's a historic building and while it's been modernized, it definitely shows its age in a few spots, so it's not for everybody. It was perfect for us, though. It's in the heart of Charlotte Amalie, surrounded by other beautiful old buildings, lots of shops and restaurants and just a stone's throw away from the water's edge.

St. Thomas, Virgin Islands

They served breakfast every morning on the patio, which is lovely -- especially if you're a Midwesterner who hasn't been able to sit outside on a warm, sunlit patio in six months.

Charlotte Amalie

If you're thinking about booking a stay, though, beware of the stairs.

Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas

I counted 129 of them from the downtown to our room. To be fair, only 81 of them were inside The Galleon House complex. But that's still a lot, especially when you're dropped off at the curb by a cab at 9 p.m. after a long day of traveling and you're lugging a heavy suitcase along with you. The whole complex reminded me a little of Hogwarts, because of all of the twisty, twiny paths and turning staircases. It definitely earns five stars in the charm department.

St. Thomas

Downtown Charlotte Amalie, meanwhile, was a bit reminiscent of Diagon Alley. Lots of narrow streets and narrower alleyways with stores right on top of each other. This photo was taken on Sunday, when all of the jewelry stores were closed. The rest of the week, the place was hopping.

Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas

St. Thomas was owned by Denmark for many years, until being bought by the United States in 1917, and you can definitely see the Danish influence. All of the streets have Danish names. ("Kronprindsens Gade" means "Crownprince Street.")

Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas

It was a lot of fun to poke around the downtown. I could have spent days rambling around taking pictures of the colorful old buildings, the cobblestone streets and the historic architecture.

St. Thomas

This is Fort Christian, which was built in the 1670s and is the oldest structure in the Virgin Islands. It operated as a museum in recent times, but has been closed since 2005 due to a stalled renovation.

St. Thomas

There are lots of random chickens wandering through Charlotte Amalie. These guys were in Franklin D. Roosevelt Park.

St. Thomas, Virgin Islands

After roaming around the downtown on foot for a few hours on our first full day in St. Thomas, we hopped on an open-air bus operated by Franko and Brenda's Fun Tours. Franko was a great tour guide, and Brenda was a great bus driver. I think she had the harder job, because, holy wah, driving around St. Thomas is not for the meek.

Virgin Islands

Roads -- especially those heading up the cliff -- are narrow and winding, and shoulders are non-existent. There are lots of steep dropoffs, lots of guardrails, lots of hidden driveways and lots of horns honking.

Virgin Islands

It's worth the perilous drive to get to the top, though. Once you're there, the views are incredible.

Home of the World Famous Banana Daiquiri

As are the banana daiquiris.

Charlotte Amalie to Cruz Bay

On Day 2 of our vacation, we took a ferry to nearby St. John for a daytrip.

St. John, Virgin Islands

Upon getting off the ferry, you walk up to what looks like a lemonade stand -- except instead of kids selling lemonade, adults are giving away free rum shots. (Are you noticing a pattern?)

Virgin Islands

We took another open-air bus tour around St. John because we sure didn't want to drive on the island -- and not because we overindulged on the rum. Like on St. Thomas, the roads here are steep and narrow, winding around the cliffside. Plus, they drive on the left side of the road, something I never got used to during the week we were here. Even crossing the street is weird. Instead of looking left, right, left, like I was trained to do back in kindergarten, I had to try to reprogram my brain to look right, left, right.

St. John

The one place we wanted to go to on St. John was the Annaberg Sugar Plantation ruins, and it's definitely worth the trip. The ruins are hauntingly beautiful and incredibly sad. The plantation was started in the 1780s and operated well into the 1800s, with slaves planting and harvesting sugar cane that was terraced into the hillside and then processing sugar, rum and molasses on site.

Annaberg Sugar Plantation

Ruins of the slave quarters, the factory and a windmill (pictured above) and horsemill still remain. The site operates as a national park today.

St. John

There were also cotton and tobacco plantations on St. John back in the day, and you still see rogue cotton trees sprouting up here and there.

Cruz Bay

There are also lots of scenic overlooks and postcard-worthy views all around St. John.

St. Thomas, Virgin Islands

On our third day in paradise, we were back on St. Thomas, but we moved up the coast to a resort on Bolongo Bay.

Bolongo Bay Beach Resort

The staff greeted us at the door -- at approximately 10:30 a.m. -- with complimentary rum punches.

Bolongo Bay Beach Resort

Those of you who know me in real life know I am not much of a drinker. I am what we here in Wisconsin refer to as a "lightweight." Two drinks make me happy. Three make me sleepy. Any more than that, and I'm in trouble.

Bolongo Bay

I was definitely in trouble on Day 3.

Bolongp Bay Beach Resort

This is what they call a "Mudslide" in the Virgin Islands. I called it "lunch." It is a chocolate shake with alcohol. Mmmm.

St. Thomas

Anyhoo, from what I remember of it, Day 3 was a fun day. Day 4, not so much. Woke up with a killer hangover and laid low most of the day, until my husband dragged me out on a sunset cruise at 4:30 p.m. He's a big meanie sometimes.

Sunset Cruise

Our resort had a 53-foot catamaran (Heavenly Days) docked on site. I'd never been on a sailboat before, and the cruise was lovely. I even managed to choke down the obligatory rum punch that they hand you when you board. (But then I drank Coke for the rest of the cruise.)

Coral World Ocean Park

Day 5 might have been my favorite day of the entire trip. My husband wanted to go to Coral World Ocean Park. I've never been much of an aquarium person. (I prefer four-legged fluffy animals to slimy marine creatures. Plus, putting any kind of wildlife in captivity bothers me.) But in the spirit of vacation, I agreed to go -- and I loved it.

Coral World Ocean Park

This is the Underwater Observatory at the park. You walk in that little igloo-shaped structure and go down a winding staircase until you get to the bottom, where there are windows on every side looking out onto a coral reef. It's like scuba diving without getting wet. We were there when a diver was feeding the fish. It was utterly captivating to watch the fish swarm around and eat. (And I enjoyed the irony of the humans being the ones inside the tank, while the fish just went about their day outside.)

Coral World Ocean Park

The animals that are in captivity at Coral World are mostly rescues or part of a "headstart program" and will be released back into the sea when they're ready, like the stingrays that we fed. Or at least my husband fed. I was too big of a wimp. You're supposed to hold a piece of food against the side of the tank, and the stingrays are trained to come up to your hand and suction the piece of food right out of it. I couldn't do it. I dropped the food when the stingray got about 6 inches away.

Bolongo Bay St. Thomas

We celebrated our last full day of vacation by going out on the Heavenly Days again, this time to "Swim With the Turtles."

St. Thomas Virgin Islands

Just to be clear, this photo is from Coral World yet. We didn't actually swim with this guy. But I didn't have an underwater camera to take pictures of the ones we did swim with, so this will have to suffice. The sea turtles here are enormous. They're about 3-feet long and can weigh hundreds of pounds.

Bolongo Bay

On the Swim With the Turtles tour, the boat goes out to a quiet cove where the turtles are known to congregate and the water is incredibly clear. Then they hand out snorkeling gear and let you off the boat to paddle around. The turtles mostly hang out on the bottom of the sea but they're air breathers, so every so often they have to surface. You can see them when they're on the bottom, and when they start to rise, you have to get out of their way, because they're not going to look out for you.

Bolongo Bay Beach Resort

I had tried snorkeling in Hawaii about five years ago, and I didn't really enjoy it. The first time I dipped my head under the water there, I came nose to nose with a big, ugly brown slimy fish, and it freaked me out. I decided if that's what was under the water, I didn't want to see it. But here, wow, the water was crystal clear, the fish were bright and colorful and the turtles were just amazing.

St. Thomas

Sadly, that brings me to the end of this travelogue. We met so many people on this trip who told us this was their second (or third or fourth or fifth) time in the Virgin Islands. I am firm believer in vacationing somewhere new every year, because the world is a big place and I want to keep exploring. But I'd definitely make an exception in this case.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Returning to an Alternate Universe

After a week of vacation -- during which time I read/saw/heard very little news -- I sat down at my computer this morning to catch up on what's been happening in the world. 

As I was reading a story about Saturday's elections on vice.com, I noticed the writer was referring to Donald Trump as "Donald Drumpf" -- but with no quotes around the name and no explanation why. Weird. I assumed either the site got hacked or a rogue Trump-hating (soon-to-be-ex-) employee had gone into the content management system and changed the name.

A few minutes later, I was on the New York Times website — and a story there also referred to Trump as “Drumpf”— again no quotes, no explanation. WTF??? 

I went on cnn.com. Drumpf references there too. NBC, CBS, vox, Washington Post. Drumpf, Drumpf, Drumpf, Drumpf.

At this point, I was pretty sure that either (A) Karl Rove had taken over the entire internet or (B) I had returned from vacation to some kind of Parallel Universe where everything was EXACTLY the same -- except for Donald Trump’s name.

Hoping to get to the bottom of the mystery, I Googled “Donald Drumpf” and discovered what the rest of the world knew a week ago: that Jon Oliver had done a segment on Trump in which he pointed out that the family’s original name was Drumpf. But it still didn’t explain why all of these normally credible websites were changing his name back to the original German form.

So I watched the “Last Week Tonight” segment. About 20 minutes in, Oliver announced he had created a website — donaldjdrumpf.com — where you could download a Chrome extension that would automatically change all references of “Trump” to “Drumpf” in the browser.

Finally, a light went on. My son was home from college last weekend, and he knows my top-secret computer passwords. Or at least he used to.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

A Stenciled Santa

I love stenciling.  It takes time and patience but absolutely no special skills. Anybody can do it. And you can make almost anything. Say, for instance, you wanted a dish towel with a retro black-and-white Santa image printed on it. You probably wouldn't find one in a store, but you could stencil one. 

vintage Santa graphic

You'd just have to download an image you liked from The Graphics Fairy.

vintage Santa graphic
And if you didn't like that the finger on his left hand was pointing at nothing, you could redraw that hand to have a mitten on it.

vintage Santa graphic on parchment paper
Then you'd want to print out the image on computer paper and trace it onto parchment paper. (Or if you were smart, you would cut the parchment paper down to size and feed that into your printer so the image printed directly onto the parchment paper.)

parchment paper stencil
The hardest part of the whole project would be figuring out what to cut away from the image (the parts that you wanted to paint black) and what to keep (the parts that you wanted to remain white).

cut out parchment paper stencil
 You'd have to cut the silhouette out with a sharp craft knife.

parchment paper stencil
Then you'd want to go back in and carefully cut away all of the inside pieces. (All of the pieces on the left side above are waste. The pieces on the right side are the stencil.)

iron stencil onto flour sack dishtowel
You'd have to iron your stencil onto a towel. (Parchment paper will stick to fabric when it's ironed.)

textile medium and acrylic paint
You'd want to mix a little textile medium in with some acrylic paint to prevent the paint from cracking after it dries.

pounce paint onto stencil
 You'd want to pounce the paint onto your stencil.

peel stencil off fabric
 Then you'd get to the fun/nerve-racking part: peeling away the stencil to reveal the final image.

remove stencil
 If you did it right, you would end up with nice crisp lines of black paint on all the edges.

vintage Santa stenciled on dish towel
And Santa would be smiling at you.

Then you'd want to run a hot iron over the back of the towel to heat set the paint, and you'd be done.

black and white Santa on dishtowel

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