Cultural Life turns two!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Cultural Life! Public domain image - Happy Birthday In Sand by Petr Kratochvil

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Cultural Life!
Public domain image – Happy Birthday In Sand by Petr Kratochvil

My WordPress blogging journey began two years ago today. I have enjoyed every minute of blogging so far and I am glad to be a member of the WordPress blogging community. In the past year, a lot has happened in my blogging life: my number of followers has grown significantly from a mere 60 this time last year to 619 (and counting!) at the time of writing this post. And I was Freshly Pressed in February! That was a wonderful experience and getting a personal email from the editor of WordPress made me feel very honored.

To mark my second blog anniversary, here are a few highlights from the past two years of Cultural Life:

Reasons why I want to move to Maine – this post, with wonderful Maine photos courtesy of Karen at Back Road Journal, is one of my most popular posts. It seems that a lot of people Google “reasons to move to Maine”!

Saying Goodbye – This is my Freshly Pressed post, about the emotions I felt when saying goodbye to my mother before she was wheeled into an operating room for lifesaving surgery.

Valencia Orange Cake – a delicious recipe with no flour, making it perfect for gluten-free diets. The cake is simply amazing, especially when served with cream.

Photo Challenge day 1: Resolution – I took this photo on the first day of this year; it’s a pretty view from outside my home.

Thoughts on reading The Hunger Games – when I first read The Hunger Games in November and December 2011, I became hooked on the series. When I was going through a stressful time last year, I re-read the series a couple of times. I find that I take inspiration from Katniss’s grit and determination.

Thank you to my readers for supporting my blog and here’s to the next two years – and more! – of Cultural Life.

Advertisements

Weekly writing challenge: my dream trip

Writing challenge: You’ve got three months, an unlimited budget, and a severe case of wanderlust. Where would you go?

This writing challenge from The Daily Post at WordPress.com sent my imagination into dizzying whirls of euphoric bliss. One of my big dreams is to travel with plenty of time to spare and a sizable (preferably unlimited) budget. Why not dream big?

“Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry” – Jack Kerouac

Month 1

Taxicabs On 5th Avenue by Julie Gentry

Taxicabs On 5th Avenue by Julie Gentry

I would begin by spending two weeks in New York City, reveling in the bustling metropolis, seeing the sights and picking up a few bags of shopping along the way. My budget is unlimited, remember. But I am traveling partly via public transportation so I need to keep my luggage load light. This factor restricts me from an overly extravagant shopping spree. When it is time to leave NYC, instead of hiring a car, I hop on an Amtrak train at Penn Station.

I might take the Acela Express to Boston or I might prefer to take the Empire Service for a scenic tour through New York State. Either way, I would eventually arrive in Boston. The city is historic, beautiful and full to the brim with places to see and people to talk to about its fascinating past and the pivotal role it played in U.S. history. I visit the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum, join a guided tour at Harvard Yard and follow the Freedom Trail: a 2.5 mile tour of Boston around some of its most historic places. It begins at Boston Common and ends at Bunker Hill Monument.

Downtown Boston by Bill Walker

Downtown Boston by Bill Walker

After seeing the sights of Boston I get on the train and travel to Amherst, MA.

In Amherst, I plan to see the birthplace of Emily Dickinson and enjoy other sites of interest. I might check out a movie at the Amherst Cinema Arts Center, which shows a lot of indie films, before hiring a car and driving up to Portland, Maine on I-95.

On the way to Portland I spend two or three days exploring the Kennebunks (Kennebunk and Kennebunkport). Kennebunk and its sister are only 30 miles south of Portland and the two small towns are situated along a rocky coast. St. Anthony’s Franciscan Monastery is a peaceful place to visit, with a calm atmosphere and lovely gardens to wander around. Strolling along Kennebunk beach is simply glorious and I dip into the waves for a swim, admiring the expansiveness of the Maine sky and the vivid colors of the sunset.

I spend a week in Portland itself where I have a lot of fun exploring the quirky side of the city. The little arty coffee shops are ideal for lingering over a delicious brunch, chatting with the locals and hanging out with a good book and a cup of coffee.

Month 2

When the second month of my travels begins, I leave Portland and drive up the beautiful Maine coast.

I stop off at various towns along the way, staying in Bath and Camden for a few days. Visiting Bath gives me a fascinating history lesson into Maine’s Colonial past: the industry of wooden ship builders was a thriving way of life in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Visiting Maine Maritime Museum is a great way to find out more.

I enjoy the beaches of lovely Penobscot Bay and sample some of Maine’s finest seafood. Then I get back in the car and drive to the quiet, unspoiled Blue Hill Peninsula. I stay in the tiny town of Blue Hill and every day, come rain or shine, begins with a walk along the beach. I explore to my heart’s content, chatting to the locals and absorbing every bit of Maine life that I can.

Harbor View, Maine by Junior Libby

Harbor View, Maine by Junior Libby

My eyes are filled with beauty and I hike the forest trails, cheeks rosy from vigorous exercise and legs aching at the end of a long day in the open air. From Blue Hill, I head to Bar Harbor which will be my base camp for a week as I explore Acadia National Park and take a trip to Bass Harbor.

Bass Harbor Lighthouse by Junior Libby

Bass Harbor Lighthouse by Junior Libby

Then I backtrack to Boston, where I return my rental car and get on a plane at Logan International.

Month 3

My plane arrives in Nashville, TN.

I am so excited when I get off the plane that I almost begin singing a country music anthem under my breath.

On Stage by Junior Libby

On Stage by Junior Libby

I love country music and spending a whole week immersed in the Music City is heaven. By sheer coincidence, Dolly Parton is performing a gig in the middle of my week in Nashville. It is sold out but I exercise the power of my unlimited budget and manage to get myself a ticket. The week goes past too quickly and it won’t be long before I have to get on the road again. I have fun visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame and shopping at the numerous vintage shops in Nashville. I spend my nights dancing to great music!

I drive from Tennessee to Louisiana.

It is an approx. eight hour drive so I am tired by the time I arrive in New Orleans and I head straight to bed. But the next day I am ready to take on the city! New Orleans is a vibrant, atmospheric city and I spend a few days enjoying the music, the food and the culture. The soul of the city is enthralling and the beat of the music makes your foot tap and your heart feel good. Laissez les bons temps rouler – let the good times roll!

Alas, my three months of ‘wanderlusting’ across the States are nearly up and I speed up my leisurely pace a bit so I can fit in the other places I want to visit before I have to return to normal, everyday life. I fly from New Orleans to Denver.

In Colorado I stay at a ranch and go horseback riding in the beautiful Rockies.

Spectacular! Colorado by Roberta Dulay

Spectacular! Colorado by Roberta Dulay

Horseback by Charles Rondeau

Horseback by Charles Rondeau

I finish my trip by flying from Denver to Seattle where I spend a few days in the city.

Seattle Skyline by Julie Gentry

Seattle Skyline by Julie Gentry

Downtown Seattle’s Pike Place Market is great fun to explore and I could easily spend a whole day meandering around there. I love a good book and a whole morning flies by when I visit the Elliott Bay Book Co.. Over 150,000 titles – oh yes, bliss! I also love a good latte and a trip to Seattle wouldn’t be complete without paying homage to the original Starbucks, along with one of my new literary purchases so I can drink coffee, people-watch and read too. While in Seattle, I head to The Space Needle: one of Seattle’s most exciting attractions. I enjoy the novelty of dining at SkyCity restaurant, which moves 360 degrees!

Space Needle by Julie Gentry

Space Needle by Julie Gentry

After Seattle, I drive into rural Washington state, making sure my suitcase contains plenty of wet weather clothing! The Olympic peninsula is wildly beautiful and I love my time exploring the untamed, spectacular Olympia National Park.

When my three months come to end, I reluctantly have to conclude my trip. On the way, I have seen some spectacular places, eaten some amazing food, met some fascinating people and, to use a cliché, I have quite simply had the time of my life. My hunger for seeing the world has only increased and I would do this trip twice over if I could.

Blog on Fire award

Thank you to Lisa at La vie éclectique for nominating my blog for the Blog on Fire award. Knowing that people read and appreciate my blog makes me happy and very flattered. Thank you, Lisa! 🙂

As with all blogging awards there are a few requirements to follow for the Blog on Fire award:

1. Thank the person who gave you the award and link to them in your acceptance post.

2. List a number of things about yourself.

3. Link to the same amount of blogs as the number of things you divulge in step 2.

I’ve chosen to pass the award to three of my favorite blogs and so I’ll divulge three things about myself.

1. I’ve recently become interested in dystopian fiction. I blame The Hunger Games for getting me started on that one! But I don’t like dystopia which is very fantasy-like: I like my novels to have plenty of human drama in them too.

2. I sometimes dream about opening a café with an indie bookstore attached to it in a little town in Maine.

3. I miss riding horses a lot. I used to own a horse and one of my ambitions is to own one again, when the time is right.

Two Horses by Charles Rondeau

I’ve nominated:

Lulu’s Musings — I found Lulu’s blog when I was surfing different blogs for stories of life in Maine (my spiritual home). And it’s full of lovely stories and photos.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch… — when I’m not dreaming about living in Maine, I’m riding horses, chasing stray cows and exploring the North Dakota prairies (also in my dreams!) Jessie Veeder’s blog is brimming with wonderful, atmospheric photos and prose. Take a look!

Finger, Fork & Knife — I enjoy browsing food blogs for inspiration and recipes and I was delighted to discover Kate’s wonderful blog. Scrumptious recipes and photos….check it out!

My to-list for 2012 has decreased…..by one item

There are a number of things that I want to achieve in 2012, such as visiting the beautiful state of Maine. Whether I will do all of them this year remains to be seen. But last Friday night, I checked off one of the items from the list: I went salsa dancing for the first time.

Salsa dancing — image source Salsa dancing tumblr. No copyright infringement intended and all rights remain with their owners.

Salsa is amazing. 3+ hours of almost non-stop dancing to fast Latino music is a fantastic workout. My hips and the muscles in my legs were still slightly achy two days after the class! The teacher is from Colombia and has a wonderful sense of rhythm. She told me salsa dancing is easier for girls because if the girl makes a mistake, it’s the guy’s fault! A good dancer will know how to lead so that his partner can follow without errors.

I already knew the origins of salsa dancing were in South America but I was motivated to find out more details about how the dance originated and which South American country it comes from. According to the Wikipedia page for salsa dance, there are now many different styles of salsa dance, including Cuban style, New York style and LA style. The primary origin is the Cuban Son dancing of the 1940s. When I read this on Wikipedia, I went in search (via the ever-helpful Google) to find out about Cuban Son dancing. This is what I found: www.justsalsa.com – the webpage explains the history of the dance and that many African elements are present. It’s interesting to realize salsa dancing and music has so many diverse influences, even though I think it’s often considered a solely Latin American dance.

One of the salsa songs I danced to:

Have you ever danced salsa? Are you a current salsa dancer? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. 🙂

Reasons why I want to move to Maine…

Maybe the title of this post should really be ‘reasons why I want to visit Maine’. It is a state which I have never visited, but it has caught my imagination and I have a dream of living in Maine…. Oh yes, The Pine Tree State is where my mind wanders when I should be doing other things, like paperwork and chores.

The natural beauty and scenery of Maine is spectacular. The landscape varies, from mountains to rocky cliffs to wilderness to beaches. And Maine hosts 281 miles of the Appalachian trail. The northern terminus of the trail is Katahdin: the highest mountain in the state of Maine. The mountain was named by the Penobscot Indians and its name means ‘The Greatest Mountain’.

There are thirty-two state parks in Maine and one of these is Acadia National Park:

Acadia Park, Maine (public domain image)

Public domain image: A Look Through The Trees by Shari Weinsheimer.

Maine is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and water is a prominent feature in the landscape of the state — shipbuilding was an important part of the state’s economy in centuries past. There are many pretty harbours scattered around the coast as well as the iconic lighthouses which a lot of people associate with Maine.

Camden Harbor, Maine (image copyright Back Road Journal)

Photo © Karen at Back Road Journal.

I love the traditional white clapboard houses with windows looking out on the ocean.

Old clapboard house (public domain image)

Public domain image: Old House by David Wagner

And the beautiful lakes:

Long Lake, Maine – image copyright Back Road Journal

Photo © Karen at Back Road Journal.

Maine is also home to lots of wildlife and native species. Moose is the state animal:

A female moose (public domain image)

Public domain image: Female Moose by Charles Rondeau.

As well as moose, Maine is the residence of much cuter animals:

Chipmunk (image copyright Back Road Journal)

Photo © Karen at Back Road Journal.

And the state bird is the pretty songbird, the Black-capped Chickadee.

Maine’s state bird: Black-capped Chickadee (public domain image)

Public domain image from: Black-Capped Chickadee by John Witherspoon.

Chipmunks and chickadees, black bear, beaver, coyotes, lynx, seals, puffins, whitetail deer, moose… Maine is filled with nature and beauty.

The state is diverse and that appeals to me. There are quaint little towns which have a quintessentially New England flavor and then there are state parks which are rugged, wild and perfect for hiking.

“In Maine
we are glad to be part of a land
that remains so beautiful under its green skin
of woods and open fields, that is glitteringly
bordered by thousands of miles
of breaking waves, and that is lovely,
too, with an unbroken tradition
of concerns, with the kind, enduring grace
of its neighborliness.”

(Excerpt from Neighborliness by Kate Barnes. Source: Poets of Maine).

It is a very special place and I long to visit. In the mean time, I will dream.

With thanks to Karen from the wonderful blog, Back Road Journal, for giving me permission to use her photographs of Maine in this post.