The New York Botanical Garden

The New York Botanical Garden is an iconic living museum, a major educational institution, and a renowned plant research and conservation organization. Founded in 1891 and now a National Historic Landmark, it is one of the greatest botanical gardens in the world and the largest in any city in the United States. It is distinguished by the beauty of its diverse landscape and extensive collections and gardens supporting over one million living plants. In the heart of the Bronx, it is truly an oasis.

Opening To Life and Magic

Dale Chihuly is an American artist who has mastered the translucent and transparent qualities of ice, water, glass and neon, to create works of art that transform the everyday experience. He is globally renowned for his ambitious site specific installations in public spaces as well as exhibitions presented in museums and gardens worldwide. From April 22nd through October 29th, CHIHULY, an exhibition at the NYBG spotlights this artist’s bold innovations. The Garden’s dramatic vistas become living canvases for work created specifically for NYBG and it showcases signature organic shapes and brilliant colors.

Sapphire Star

The Garden is also a major educational institution, teaching more than 300,000 people annually – among them, school children, teachers, and Bronx families – about plant science, ecology and healthful eating through its hands-on, curriculum based programing. Inspired by the works in the CHIHULY exhibit, children in grades K-12 from all over New York, New Jersey and Connecticut entered poems into the NYBG Poetry Contest that was developed in partnership with Poetry Society of America. The winning poems are displayed alongside Chihuly’s sculptures.

Sparkle Rock


The spikes sparkle in the way of the sun
The spikes sparkle on the logs
The logs are in the way of the water
The water is calm
The rocks might wobble
Ducks come in and quack
Let’s all shout – water!

Author: Ryan Corey, 1st grade, Setauket Elementary School

Float Boat

Beautiful Coexistence

Blue Herons

Sol del Citron

This past Tuesday, the sun was far behind clouds, the rain did some misting and some pouring…but light has so many moods and textures that it presents to a photographer. On this day, the colors were deep and rich. The exhibit is infused with a magical energy, showcasing the dynamic and poetic interplay of art, light, form and reflection. After sunset, the atmosphere takes on a heightened drama and luminous quality of Chihuly’s colors and forms when it is lit under the evening sky. There is also an evening jazz summer concert series. For the first time, Grand Hyatt New York, Metro North, and the New York Botanical Garden are partnering to provide visitors with a seamless trip to the Garden. This exclusive package offers a discounted rate if you use the code NYBG at the time of booking at the Grand Hyatt, admission to the Garden, shopping and dining discounts at NYBG and round trip tickets on Metro North. The end of summer is drawing near but walking through a beautiful garden in any type of weather, during any season enlivens the senses and calms the soul. AHHHHHHHHHHH!

Mystical Magical Colors

Dancing Interplay

The Kayan Tribe of Myanmar

When I think about photographing the Kayaw, Kayan and Kayah tribes of Myanmar, an hour glass comes to mind. The constantly flowing sand reminding me of the passage of time and once gone, it cannot be regained. Setting out on the second day, in each village we visited we were taken right to the elders and usually the elder women. These are the ones embracing traditions of the past while the Western world starts to slowly enter in with new ways of life. It was obvious that those who accompanied us into the village were so proud of them. The women were in their 80’s and older so it was a true honor to be able spend time with, laugh with, learn from and photograph these wise women whose hearts are rooted in the past and whose eyes look out on the future.

Clement’s Auntie

Clement, our guide extraordinaire, took us to visit his Auntie in the village of Hwa Ri Ka Ku. Her lineage is that of the Kayan tribe. As soon as we pulled up, Daw Mu Nan came right out to greet us. Clement’s huge hug enveloped this tiny woman and I was so happy I had the video running. I was able to capture her giggling with us and later when Clement started to sing, he coaxed her into dancing. I love family reunions!!! To me this moment was priceless! I focused on taking still portrait photographs to hopefully capture a bit of her spirit as she looked out and took everything in and then video to capture her explanation of wearing the brass coils, her heritage and her enjoyment of rice wine! (video to come later). The sands of time are passing and every time I hold my camera up to my eye, I realize the importance of the calling and how very fortunate I am!

Clement’s Auntie, Kayan Tribe

Clement’s Auntie

We then went to the Daw Klainlin village. The women here do not wear the brass but wear shells, beads and coins. They also wear threads made from cotton with a type of liquor around their knees.

Woman At Work

This woman is a member of the Kayan Kagan tribe. We were able to photograph her after working all day and then she transformed herself into the traditional dress. I love seeing her different expressions! The adornments only compliment the beauty within!

Laughing With Us

“Oh You Are So Bad!”

The Kayaw Tribe of Myanmar

Kayaw Tribe in the Mountains

It was definitely a two dramamine day! We left the beautiful comfort of the Loikow Lodge and ran into the arms of misting rain, a very sturdy van and Clement, our brilliant guide. The goal for the day: photograph the Kayaw tribe in the very remote village of Ya A Pra. It was approximately a 2 – 3 hour drive, with hair pin turn after hair pin turn high up into the mountains. I think I got in an entire rosary on the way up since looking down was not good for my heart!

Dress of the Kayaw Tribe of Myanmar

It wasn’t until approximately 2012 that foreigners were finally able to gain access to some of the ethnic groups of Myanmar, previously closed off by the military regime. Still, few outsiders have made their way here. Needless to say that we were the only moving vehicle for most of the trip. On a very muddy road (path) feeling isolated looking out on a washed gray color blanketing the landscape, we all suddenly became attentive to a beautiful burst of bright pink as we came around a corner. Pulled over to the side of the road was a motorcycle driver with a Kayaw woman as his passenger. The driver had his pink plastic rain cover but not his passenger and the skies were threatening a downpour. Clement came to the rescue and we all got out, made our translated introductions and welcomed her into the van. I was so taken with the alchemy of beauty, brightness, ruggedness and guts that radiated from our new guest…my kind of woman! She was as quick to show us her machete as her jewelry!

Traditional Dress

Beautifully dressed, Kayaw women have elongated earlobes with metal cylinders and adorning beads. Metal coils decorate both the neck and the legs and are worn in life and into death. Old Indian and British silver coins hang from the neck behind large silver and aluminum half discs. In the Kayaw culture, these represent the beauty of the shining moon. They were and are usually given by a groom to his bride to tell her, “You are as beautiful as the shiny moon.” Mothers also pass these down to daughters to tell them, “You are my beauty, as beautiful as the shiny moon.” It is a fascinating study that diverse cultures throughout the world have associated the moon with the feminine. Carl Jung’s collective unconsciousness is alive and well.

Adornments

When we finally arrived at Ya A Pra, sad to say, there were only 3 people around. The others were all off in the fields tending to rice, millet, beans, corn, pumpkin, cucumber and mustard even though it was pouring rain. With limited time to now photograph and get back down the mountain before darkness enveloped the road, we stayed with the 3 rather than going into the fields. Even though I pride myself on exercising regularly, my appreciation goes out to the three men I was so fortunate enough to be with for all their supportive words and arms as we slogged our way straight up a muddy mountain side…the zen mantra was one step at a time! At the top, we were rewarded with a man sitting weaving baskets in his hut. I was so grateful for his gracious welcome and total acceptance of us. Strangers walked in on his world unannounced and he promptly gave us shelter from the storm. It was humbling and quite the lesson on hospitality. There was very little in his hut except for a basic cooking area. Weaving was his creative contribution to his community. Life was simple, basic and connected. Clement explained to us that one of the customs of the Kayaw people is to make coffins for each person while they are alive. Death was prepared for and accepted. When we took our leave from this gentlemen we looked up to see a mother taking care of her baby. Three people we met on this day…the beautiful strong woman, a gentle man weaving away through the day and a mother loving her child…the people, the archetypes that transcend time and my world is so much richer for it!

Basket Weaver

Mother and Child

Also, my sincere thanks go out to Swe Yi, the co-owner of the Loikaw Lodge. With her husband, Jens, they not only created such a beautiful and environmentally friendly Lodge, but they are experts on the many Burmese tribes in the area. Swe Yi was so kind to help me find out the answer to the meaning behind the silver half moon jewelry. Jens is the author of “Marked For Life” which is a fascinating in depth look at the Chin Women and their facial tattoos.

Sri Lanka Veddas

Travel affords me so many amazing opportunities. Living in Philadelphia, there is probably very little chance that I will ever be able to meet a man with long flowing jet black hair, wearing nothing but a loin cloth, living in the midst of a dense jungle and moving silently through the trees with a bow and arrow and ax slung over one shoulder.

Vedda Man of Sri Lanka

The trip to Dabana, took us from modern roads, walking through a dense, verdant jungle squatting aside low hanging branches and insects to finally come upon a clearing and a dirt path calling us further into exploration. We had traveled back in time to see the few remaining aboriginal settlers of Sri Lanka, an island off the coast of India.

One of the last remaining Veddas of Sri Lanka

The Veddas as they are known, are reported to have come to Sri Lanka about 1600 BC and our visit was a rich and deeper cultural experience into this land of past and present. The clearing we were on opened to a few mud huts with thatched roofs which served as a type of a museum, providing a look into village life. Painted on the sides of two of the buildings were primitive stick people. One with a triangle seemed to symbolize a female and the other, just the plain form of a circle and lines for the males, a small letter m seemed to represent an animal. The origin of story telling for this group!

Hail to the Chief

Our guide took us further back on the path to meet the few remaining natives. In the 1970’s, the government census showed only 6,000 remaining Veddas left. As per the unspoken requirement, we were taken to first make the acquaintance of the chief, Uruwarige Wannila Aththo. Our shoes came off at the door and then the appropriate bowing to this older, gray haired man sitting crossed legged with only a loin cloth. It was a bit of a surreal experience because in the midst of this primitive existence, photographs of this leader meeting various dignitaries lined the walls. The chief sat down crossed legged and said nothing as we, confused and a bit hesitant to the protocol, took our seats on the perimeter inside the hut. We were very happy when 5 men in suits entered to break the awkward silence. The visit turned into a birthday party for one of the gentlemen complete with cake and candles, missing was the usual chorus of “Happy Birthday” though! The man who was the subject of the celebration told us that he held the chief in such high esteem as a wise sage and he wanted his blessing on this new year of life. We politely declined eating the cake being offered ( a good friend’s sage advice is to travel with the locals but eat with the tourists to avoid those pesty stomach issues).

Chief Must Accept Visitor
first

Birthday Blessing

We bowed our way out of the hut, leaving the greetings to the next set of visitors. Six native men in various degrees of dress escorted us out. Women were not permitted to be seen while outsiders were there so I have no idea the number of women who would be able to give birth to new baby Veddas, continuing this tribe.

Finding the Prey with a Bow and Arrow

Vedda Hunter Taking In Life

For thousands of years, the Veddas have been hunters and gathers. Their lifestyle has depended upon the natural world of the jungle, all that grows and all that moves there. A few years ago though, the government put into effect regulations against the hunting of certain animals. So this may be when survival and the modern world impeded upon this ancient way of life. Not knowing the language, we were somehow able to understand that in exchange for a bit of money, we would be treated to ritual dances, fire building and the skills involved in hunting with a bow and arrow. We were suddenly thrust back into the ways of the present and the influence of the “pay off”! However, as visitors observing these cultural rituals, we found it a validation to the calling of leaving the beaten path to discover the somewhat obscure. Making our way through a dense jungle brought us face to face with a tribe having a BC date of origin and a population that seems to be on the verge of extinction. Yes, we paid a small amount of money but our glimpse into the past was well worth it and who knows for how long this opportunity may exist for those who visit Sri Lanka.

Hunting Tools of the Vedda

Vedda Men

If you like this story, would you consider sharing this…spreading stories and connecting people across continents and cultures. Thanks and all the best! Francie

Sri Lanka Fishing Village at Negombo

Steadfast Eyes

Pico Iyer said, ” It’s almost as if travel is giving you the raw material, but stillness gives you the meaning of what you’ve experienced.” I find his words to be so true. Pouring over photographs, reliving experiences in my mind and formulating the many profound lessons that travel affords happens deeply in the stillness of return. In my last post, I wrote about the famous stilt fisherman of Sri Lanka. They are a beautiful study in balance and patience amidst a serene setting but life isn’t always about calmness with beautiful light. Life can be loud, chaotic and messy too. I find the fishermen of Sri Lanka a metaphor for life.

Fisherman Preparing For The Day

Negombo is the second largest open air fishing village and market in Sri Lanka. Before leaving, I researched and read a review on Trip Advisor: “Get a good pair of boots!” This proved to be invaluable because we were sloshing around smelly, let me repeat that…very smelly fish and their body parts strewn all over. A lot of sloshing through blood mixed with ocean water, seeing fish thrown across tables, salted, laid out in the sun to dry, dissecting and discarding were going on simultaneously with loud bargaining and negotiating on prices.

Work of the Hands

Slice and Dice

Baskets Filled With The Day’s Catch

Every part of this experience was both an attack on and an enlivening of all the senses. Needless to say, we were the only non Sri Lankan fisherpeople there but it was an experience that I would not have wanted to miss. It provided another glimpse into the everyday (all except Sunday) life of those whose existence depends upon the sea.

The Day’s Catch

Woman Turning Fish Every Two Hours

The reality was that yes it was loud, chaotic and messy. Livelihoods have to be forged from that and in the middle of that. To me, one story cannot be told without the other. These are not beautiful photographs. These are raw photographs. Some days we feel balanced and breathe in deeply. While on those other days, take some advice, get a good pair of boots for when things get knee deep, move with the experience and hope for a shower and a fresh start.

Returning Home


Preparing for the Next Day

Stilt Fishermen of Sri Lanka

The Morning’s Call

Alone With Nature

It would be a wonderful meeting of the minds if the famous stilt fishermen of Sri Lanka came together with yoga instructors! They could both share wise insights into the art of balance, patience and cultivating stillness. Along the south shore line of this island off the coast of India, between Unawatuna and Welligama are wooden crosses dotting out into the ocean. After World War II, people were in need and the spaces available to fish along the shore line became very crowded. The fishermen of Sri Lanka then created a solution that is unique to this country. They took a wooden cross bar called a petta and used twine to tie this to a vertical bar and anchored it into the ocean’s floor. During sunrise and into the early morning, they can be seen climbing onto the stands and practicing an amazing balancing act for hours, holding onto the pole with one hand and reaching out to fish with the other. They carry everything they need in their turbans and attach a plastic bag to the ritpanna (stilt) for the catch of the day, spotted herring or small mackerals. We were fortunate to spend three days with them, photographing with beautiful light enhancing the mood and the moment.

Balancing Act

Daily Work

These tanned Sri Lankan men sit attentive to the movements above and below the waves as the hours pass by. I could learn so much from them! Take little and be in the moment! Now I am off to practice my “Tree Pose”!

Morning Ritual

I want to express my sincere thanks to Prebuddha Jaysinghe of Sri Lanka Holidays for helping me organize our trip in every way. Prebudda answered every question quickly and thoroughly and offered so many suggestions with a photographic perspective in mind. Anyone wishing to go to Sri Lanka, you would have the very best if you contacted Prebudda at prebudda@srilankaholidays.net Also, make sure you ask for Ravi as your guide. We had great fun with him as he showed us the beautiful sites of his country! Just let them know Francie recommended them!

Chants, Lamentations and Veneration

From darkness into light…from monochrome into vibrant color… from winter into spring, an emerging opening and flow rather than a fighting. There is a gentle stirring of one’s spirit with words like hope, light and resurrection because they emerge from a dying. Intertwined within this are rituals and traditions which ground us, give meaning and create bonds of friendships and identity.

Good Friday Service

In the Greek Orthodox religion, the Easter season is one of the most profound and holiest times of the year so I decided to experience and get a glimpse into the rituals and symbolism of the Good Friday service. First, when I walked into the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Elkins Park, PA, the 6th oldest Greek Orthodox community in the US, established in 1901, I was struck by the hospitality and warmth of the women who welcomed me. I was a stranger and they wanted to make sure I felt comfortable, giving up a front row seat for me, explaining what would be happening. This hospitality was as beautiful as the gold Byzantine icons surrounding me. There was a sacred richness mixed with that Greek love for life and I was totally caught up in it! A key for me was when I couldn’t tell which child belonged to which mother…all the women there were their mothers, hugging, kissing and tugging on clothes and fixing hair. I need more Greek friends!

A Mother and Her Son

In the front of the church was a richly decorated and elaborately carved canopy called a Kouvouklion which represents the tomb of Jesus. The women had spent over 3 hours that morning decorating it with spring flowers of white, red and purple. The ceremony began with readings from the bible, ethereal chanting from the cantors and incense flowing freely to remind everyone that their prayers flow freely to God. Then, gathering around the image of Christ on the cross, the men reached up to take away the nails while young girls (representing the women at the feet of the cross) held the white cloth waiting to receive the wooden representation of Jesus in death. It was then taken behind one of the three doors separating the nave from the sanctuary and referred to as the Iconostosis. An elaborately decorated tapestry with the image of Christ prepared for burial, referred to as the Epitafio, was then brought out and carried around the church as all present bow in veneration.

It Is Done

Venerating the Body of Christ

Woman bowed in prayer

Prayer by the Kouvouklion

After it was placed on the Kouvouklion, people young and old then began to line up with gestures symbolizing a deep and abiding faith. The sign of the cross was made followed by bowing to kiss either the feet or hands of the icon. The priest stated the generally, one does not kiss the face of the icon. Once again, the sign of the cross was made and then many people got down on their hands and knees and crawled through the bottom of the Kouvouklion to symbolize their willingness to enter unto death with Christ.

Man approaching the Kouvouklion

Entering into the death of Christ

Man Joining With Christ

Someone is Always There

Light in Darkness

These rituals become the pathway to enter into a mystery of God and visibly show a faith and belief. Even though there are many paths, an abiding commonality is that there is hope in the face of fear, that there is life in the face of death and that love holds us, heals us and carries us forth to ignite the world with kindness. I am so glad that I stepped into this new experience and am so grateful to all the women who so graciously gathered around me and made me feel at home and to Fontina Moller who first taught me the meaning of Opa, I held you in my heart as I walked through your church. Now on to Easter!

A Day of Bridges and Connections

Yesterday, I received a message from Facebook reminding me that on this day last year, I was walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. March 25th seems to be a day of bridging and making connections because yesterday I attended the Philadelphia Travel and Adventure Show and was able to cross worlds and cultures… Tibetan prayer flags, trains and planes, new friends from Morocco and becoming more acquainted with all that exists so close to home.

Russell Hannon

The celebrity travel speakers were Adam Richman, Rick Steves and Peter Greenberg, Russell Hannon and Angel Castellanos. “99 Ways to Cut Your Travel Costs – Without Skimping” was where I started off of course! Russell Hannon of breakthetravelbarrier.com suggested using the following on line resources: airfarewatchdog.com, farecompare.com, yapta.com to find less expensive fares. Airlines have started to set up bidding for upgrades now. Air Canada and Virgin Atlantic hold a bidding session at the gate using cell phones. Things are a changing!
Tingo.com for hotels and autoslash.com for car rentals will constantly search for better fares after you book and alert you when they find lower fares for the identical itinerary with an option to cancel your existing reservation and rebook at the lower fare at no extra charge. Hopper crunches historical data specific to a flight you want and show you the best price you can get now, whether it is likely to drop, when and by how much. One should try to avoid ATM fees and the Charles Schwab Investor Plus checking account is a no-fee account with a minimum 1 penny balance. The account includes unlimited free ATM cash withdrawls and reimburses you any ATM charges by third part backs. Gasbuddy.com is a GPS integrated app that shows all the nearby gas stations with prices by fuel grade and directions. I walked away from this talk with Russell’s book and started downloading new and helpful apps right then and there.

Johnny Jet spoke about how to travel like a movie star without movie star money. His website holds so many tips and tricks and he was so informative. He suggested taking bags of Hershey Kisses and giving them to those who check you in as well as the flight attendants. Don’t we all love getting surprises!? He suggested signing up for the following newsletters (besides his ): Pointsguy, Scott’s Cheap Flights.

Tour Gettysburg

After armed with so much useful information to feed my obsession for travel, I was off to travel the aisles of the convention center. Three local areas I must get to are the Hudson Valley Region of New York, Gettysburg and Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands

Exotic and Distant Lands


I have new best friends, Sharon and her husband, Ishmael who I spoke with at length for a possible photo tour through the exotic and amazing land of Morocco. (If interested, let me know!).

Travel for Impact is a unique and powerful new enterprise which arranges trips to Botswana that provide opportunities for the visitor to work side by side with locals on community initiatives and the women sell their art and crafts to further these initiatives. I am now the proud owner of a beautiful black and white beaded bracelet!

Botswana Travel

Going off to new lands to experience new adventures may sometimes be overwhelming. Tours By Locals.com has 1977 hand vetted guides in over 158 countries to help you customize your experience with 24/7 customer support.

As a plug for an excellent travel agent who can also set up the experience you are looking for, may I suggest to those who live in and around Philadelphia, Debbie Ryan of Springhouse Travel. She can provide a full service travel and leisure experience and is totally dedicated to providing excellent customer service!

If you are looking for a very unique experience in Europe may I also suggest, Untours.com .Untours pioneered apartment-based independent travel and has provided unique cultural vacation packages since 1975. They support the work and mission of the Untours Foundation, which funds green projects that fight poverty around the world.Use their vast knowledge base to design your own trip or allow one of their expert Culturists to give you a hand.

Throughout the day, there were presentations on classical Indian Dance, South Pacific Island dance, Bahamas and Botswana movement and music. From information, to new discoveries and immersion into global beats, the Philadelphia Travel and Adventure Show had it all.

South Pacific Beauty

Manimekalai Thiyagarajan

Now I am off to see Rick Steves at the Keswick Theatre. The Montgomery County Libraries are the sponsors and Rick’s topic is: “Broadening Your Global Perspective Through Travel” … a topic I totally embrace!

A Montage of Myanmar

A Montage Through Myanmar from Frances Schwabenland on Vimeo.

While walking through fields, traveling the streets and boating down lakes and rivers, I fell into the easy harmony of the day. Myanmar is a feast for the senses. I was alive to all that was around me. The light and the beauty became a part of me while photographing and in Myanmar, both are exquisite. Temples, markets, traditional crafts passed down from generation to generation are the sites to become immersed in. Everywhere I wandered, I was welcomed into homes and hearts. There is nothing better than laughing right out loud with a person who was a total stranger the day before. Shared memories gratefully tucked away that continually stoke that flame of wanderlust!

A School in Myanmar Bringing People From Around the World Together

As travel photographers, we try to capture the spirit of a place and usually end up falling in love with that spirit. Total strangers invite us in, share their lives and the beauty of their culture with us. They honor us and hopefully, our images will in turn honor our hosts. David Heath, a very gifted artist and photographer, allowed his spirit to merge with that of Myanmar. Its people, stories and culture, strength and landscape wove its enchantment into David’s heart and brought him back over 16 times. As the UK Daily Mail related, “Immersing himself into the rhythm and culture of villages that had never before been visited by a Westerner, the intrepid explorer managed to create a breathtaking photo series which acts as a tribute to the land clinging to its traditional ways, whilst aiming to embrace the new modern world.”

This photo series became a beautiful, leather bound book entitled, “Burma, An Enchanted Spirit,” The book notably includes a handwritten endorsement by renowned 1991 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi, Chairperson of the National League for Democracy: “Truly an enchanting book – the pictures reflect the beauty and diversity of Burma faithfully.” A percentage of sales from each book sold are used to fund the building and development of schools in the city of Yangon. The Inwa School is the first of these. The Inwa School of Performing Arts is a new cultural high school in Mandalay that prepares young artists to perform Myanmar classical dance and music to professional standards. It provides continuity for excellence in classical arts and extends their reach to world audiences. The school connects master teachers with students in their teens who aspire to careers onstage. The Inwa School operates The Mintha Theater, where students and professional artists present spectacular dance repertoires nightly in central Mandalay. The Mintha Theater is a social enterprise that maintains quality and authenticity of the arts in a contemporary setting while preparing students for live stage careers. Proceeds from the theater benefit the school.

Inwa School, Mintha Theater, Myanmar from Frances Schwabenland on Vimeo.

The goals of the school are the following:
To provide opportunities for talented low-income students to train as arts professionals in the authentic traditions.
To create employment opportunities for teachers able to provide the rigorous training required for high caliber arts performance.
To develop an intensive course of study in Myanmar performance, dance, singing, music, and storytelling from classical sources.

Being able to travel to the Inwa School with David was definitely another highlight of my trip to Myanmar. As a teacher, I loved getting to know the very talented students and teachers and as a photographer, I loved the opportunity to witness their daily practice session. In one afternoon, I saw that beautiful continuity of cultural traditions across generations. While I was filming, I asked one student what the school meant to her and immediately tears welled up in her eyes as she related, “The school is most important in my life.”
“I want to become a dancer for myself and my parents and dance to well known works.”
“I want to be happy with the arts and my appearance.” In order to honor her privacy as she so openly shared from the depths of her heart, I did not include her name or that video footage but wanted to share in words one of the most powerful experiences for me. The Inwa School, its dedicated teachers and students are truly a part of a unique, beautiful transformation which is exactly education’s highest calling.

Women’s March On Washington

On Friday, we heard the words, “American carnage ends now”. I am not sure if that means that our new president has decided to pay the bill for the environmental cleanup for an abandoned 6 acre warehouse/factory in South Carolina that he owns but yesterday, all I saw everywhere I looked was truly what I think makes “America Great”! Around the world, from Antarctica to Greece, there were 673 Women’s Marches. As ABC news reported: “The marches spanned all 50 U.S. states, several U.S. territories and at least 60 countries across all seven continents”. One woman in Hawaii, being so upset after the election, decided to do something to make a positive difference and send another message to the world. Teresa Shook made mention of a hypothetical march on FB and by morning had some 10,000 responses. “When they go low, we go high!” The power of social media! In Washington alone, it was estimated that a half million people were in attendance. They just kept coming and coming!

The bus we took from Philadelphia had only 2 empty seats. We then went to the metro where a stop along the line had to be closed due to the great number of people, and this was only 8 in the morning. The energy of birthing something positive and unifying was palpable. There was a very calm, respectful excitement as people moved to their destination. When we left the Metro, we were greeted by an 90 year old woman in a wheel chair who was cheering us on! (I want what she is having!). Then as we walked into the march area, there was a teenage boy sitting up on a hill, silently holding a sign, letting us know he loved us. Some signs people held up were definitely negative, but I have to say that they were in the minority. Most signs were uplifting and inspirational…signs with the words: peace, dignity, respect, human rights. Ideas calling forth actions. “Keep building walls and we will keep building bridges.” Signs with quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Women and men, children of every race and creed walking together in the strength of peace and unity. There were so many heartfelt moments I carried home with me…watching members of the National Guard high fiving everyone and thanking all who walked by them. At the end of the march, we began the two mile walk back to the bus, people came out of their homes to offer total strangers walking by water and food. A Christian church had just let out and the pastor was standing in the street inviting people in to use the bathroom and have something to drink. We started the day off being greeted with kindness and ended the day, embraced by generosity and caring.

Mean words, calling people names, disrespecting women’s bodies, putting up walls to separate from the world, these to me seem like the divisive paths to carnage. It is amazing the difference a day can make!

Early Morning, Ready to Begin

Women and Men Beginning The March

Silent but Powerful Message

Messages with Meaning

Justice for All

One Word Says So Much.

High Five and Thanks

Respect and Dignity

Young Girls and Women Alike

The Masses

A Few In The Crowd!

South Carolina Is In The House

The Message Summed Up

A Half A Million Strong

Buddhist Monks in Myanmar

Myanmar has recently broken free from an intensely repressive military regime. While there are many growing pains, there is much hope. As with many countries struggling with issues regarding refugees and immigrants, there are some who profess strong opposition to inclusion, holding tightly to the concept of borders and singularity rather than seeing us all as interconnected and occupying only one planet. There exists in Myanmar a longstanding anti-Rohingya and anti-Muslim sentiment. Prashanth Parameswaran stated in “The Diplomat” that, “there’s a real challenge here that’s symptomatic of a country in which the question of national identity has always been fraught, complex and unresolved.” Almost 90% of the population in Myanmar is Buddhist, most practicing Theravada Buddhism. Their practice follows the Noble Eightfold Path: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right concentration and right mindfulness. Amidst all the complexities, the Buddhist monks that I saw, were a gentle and quiet reminder to simply be mindful of what I say and what I do and to ask myself if my words and actions are healing and uplifting. I am not sure if I believe in karma, but I thought that even if I start out with only two out of eight, it is nice way to live life!

Lofty Thoughts and Dreams

Lofty Thoughts and Dreams

Sitting In The Heart of Greatness

Sitting In The Heart of Greatness

Lost in Prayer

Lost in Prayer

Eyes That Capture A Heart

Eyes That Capture A Heart

Monks Walking and Talking Together

Friends Together

Monks Enjoying Favorite Drinks

Monks Enjoying Favorite Drinks

Tired Buddhist Monk

Oh So Tired

Daily Life

Daily Chores

Viewing the results of an earthquake.

Buddhist Monks Keeping Watch

Buddhist Monks Keeping Watch

Philadelphia Has Another Number One!

We arrived at 4:45 pm thinking that would be just fine. It was a gray day with the type of cold that goes right through you and takes up residence. Of course, no one would be standing outside in line! Oh so wrong! There were 6 people in line ahead of us and they arrived before 4:30. I guess when an eatery receives the anointing of “The Best Pizza in the United States” – yes, the entire United States, from Bon Appetit , bad weather doesn’t stop pizza aficionados. My curiosity and craving had to be vanquished. With the best that close to me, how could my friends and I resist?!

Now Pizzeria Beddia has some unique qualities…it is only open Wednesday thru Saturday from 5:30 until 10:30 or until Joe sells out of his 40 pizzas each day. Customers line up in close quarters at this tiny corner mecca and can choose from 3 variations…plain ($20.), seasonal($25.) and spicy ($25.)! Each person may only buy 2 at one time in order to be considerate of all the stragglers standing out in the cold who didn’t plan ahead! By the time we made it to the number one spot (5:45), we were told to come back an hour later. At 5:30, Joe, the chef extraordinaire, began to make and bake each pie individually so wait we must. The good news is that Fishtown, that part of Philadelphia named in the 18th century to honor the German-American fisherman who made their living from the shad of the Delaware River, has gone through a resurgence of “cool”! Philadelphia Magazine provided a must see guide to explore during the wait. A rum distillery right on site with French Press, Chemex and Yama Silverton coffeemakers are just some of what makes La Colombe a fascinating space to be in. It was one of those places that when we were leaving, we had already started to talk about coming back!

The time 6:45! Three large pizza boxes were right there for us but since there was no place to sit, nothing sold to drink, our taste test had to wait. I think they call this, delayed gratification! Anyway, at a little after 7 pm, I finally was able to enjoy the absolute best pizza in the United States! Now to be fair, there are still a few states I have yet to visit and I know I am a born and raised biased Philly girl,so I can’t say with total certainty that it is pizza supreme, but this alchemy of dough, sauce, spices and cheese was definitely worth the price and the wait! I will be back, but in the spring with more than just the IPhone camera!

The Master Chef

The Master Chef

Eat, Drink and Be Merry!

Eat, Drink and Be Merry!

Rum At Its Finest

Rum At Its Finest

2016 The Year of the Fire Monkey

The Chinese New Year celebration began on February 8th. Philadelphia’s Chinatown put on a grand street parade today which included a performance by the very colorful lion dancers. The lion symbolizes courage, stability and superiority. The loud noise of the firecrackers going off and a mirror on the head of the lion frightens away the evil spirits. The Lion goes in search of the lettuce hung above doors. It “eats” the lettuce and a rolling crescendo from the drums, cymbals and gongs is heard as the lion spits back the leaves. This symbolizes a fresh start and a blessing upon the business. The movements of the tail of the lion is meant to sweep away the bad fortune from the year before. Hidden within the lettuce is a red envelope containing money from the shop owner thanking the lion for the blessing of luck and prosperity in the New Year. Oranges are also given and seen as a symbol of luck. There is usually an actor dressed as a fan bearer with a huge smile to remind us to approach the future with good humor and flexibility.

2016 is designated as the year of the Fire Monkey. Chinese Zodiac.com covers all the interesting facts related to personality, health, career, relationships and compatibility with other signs.

The Monkey is mischievous, lively and energetic…can you see me smiling?!!!

Happy New Year!

"In Wait"

“In Wait”

Happy New Year!

Smiling Fan Bearer!

New Meaning for Hip Hop

New Meaning for Hip Hop

Reaching Out for a Bit of Luck

Reaching Out for a Bit of Luck

Firecracker Explosions

Firecracker Explosions

Of course what would a visit to Chinatown be without eating?!
The Nan Zhow Hand Drawn Noodle House Inc. located at 1022 Race Street in Chinatown is by far one of my favorite restaurants. If you visit their web site, be sure to read the interesting history of the pulled noodles and check out their vast menu. Ending our visit with the wonderful staff, the delicious noodles topped with peanut sauce and a large take out bag was a perfect finishing touch for this day celebrating vitality and fun! The first of many!

Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House Inc.

Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House Inc.

Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House

Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House

Iceland’s Magnificent Waterfalls

Some of the synonyms for “Magnificence” are splendor, grandeur, beauty and greatness. I would add many more but one definitely being breath taking after standing by two of the largest waterfalls located along the South Coast of Iceland. The Seljandsfoss Waterfall (seen in the Amazing Race 6) drops approximately 200 feet and it has a well developed loop trail that allows for up close and personal views from behind the falls. The Huffington Post Travel just posted beautiful photographs of the Falls during the spring if you would like to get that perspective. I however, was there when a late night snowfall blanketed all in site and the temperature dropped so many degrees below zero. (I stopped counting – when it is below zero, it is all relative!). The winds and freezing temperatures quickly turned the path behind the falls to ice. Since I didn’t yet have my strap crampons with me to ensure that my cameras and I would remain upright, I was only able to capture the views from the front of this powerful work of nature.

Skogafoss (SKOH-ga-foss) Waterfall is also located in the south of Iceland. There is a hiking trail enabling visitors to climb alongside the cliffs to get a stunning view from the very top of the falls and the Atlantic Ocean as well. The thundering water cascades 200 feet down and has a width of 82 feet across. This was one of the sites used for the film. “Thor:The Dark World” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”.

The freezing water hitting my face…the thundering sound of falling water, every sense heightened while feeling so very small against this backdrop of sheer wonder and magnificence.

Iceland's Wonders

Iceland’s Wonders

Cascading Waters of Iceland

Cascading Waters of Iceland

Iceland's Glory

Iceland’s Glory

Skogafoss Waterfall, Iceland

Skogafoss Waterfall, Iceland

Slippery Slope

Slippery Slope

Just as light shapes, water follows suit. The icing created unique, constantly changing abstract designs.

Iceland's Natural Wonders

Iceland’s Natural Wonders

Iceland's Stunning Waterfalls

Iceland’s Stunning Waterfalls

Iceland's Waterfalls

Iceland’s Waterfalls