April Squares: Bright and Whimsical

These whimsical animals were part of a sculpture garden next to an elegant restaurant in Antigua, Guatemala, and I think they are perfect for Becky’s April Bright Squares.

Antigua was part of an optional tour during our 2017 cruise through the Panama Canal. We crossed from east to west, and made several stops along the western coastal ports of Central America.

After touring the historic center, our tour bus took us on a narrow winding road up a hill, past the rich part of town. At the very top of the hill was a cultural center, Santo Domingo del Cerro, and restaurant called The Golden Fork.  This is where we had lunch and afterward had some free time to shop at craft vendors or wander the grounds which contained interesting artwork by local artists, including various colorful animal sculptures – a rabbit, monkeys, snails, crocodiles, horses, and merry-go-round horses. 

CFFC: Bridges

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week has the topic of Bridges.

One of my early photos in high school, when I was learning how to take and develop photos. This is a bridge on my high school campus.
Amsterdam, taken from a boat tour
Pegasus Bridge in Normandy, France
This bridge in Cologne, Germany had a fence covered with padlocks, which represent love relationships.
That same bridge in Cologne, Germany, at sunset
Bridge and kayakers in Bamberg, Germany
International bridge at Panama Canal
On the Chicago river, this low red bridge is in the district of Chinatown.
Another bridge on the Chicago River
Devil’s Elbow Bridge, in Missouri
On the St. Lawrence River near Quebec

Going Out in a Blaze of Sunsets

It’s the last day of Becky’s January Square with the topic of ____light, and I am ending my participation with refracted light, such as the light that makes sunsets so colorful!

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2-7 sunrise-Ngorongoro (2)2-11 sunset over Serengeti (2)

Illinois (Mississippi River)
Illinois – Arlington Heights
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Mont St.-Michel, France
20190618_214852 Twlight - Mont-St-Michel, refracted light
Egypt (on the Nile)
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On the Caribbean Sea
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Hunt for Joy Challenge: Say Cheese

Cee Neuner has a new weekly challenge entitled On The Hunt For Joy. This is the second week and the theme is Say Cheese. She says,

“find some photos of you smiling and feeling joyful, or find some photos that brings a smile to your face or brings you joy.  Tip from Ingrid Fetell Lee [who is the inspiration for this challenge]: ‘Studies show that our expressions can influence our emotions. So when you’re feeling down, try faking it ‘till you feel it by smiling, doing laughter yoga exercises, or looking at a photo of yourself taken at a particularly joyful time.'”

I selected photos that represent happy times in my life. The first is me having a fun moment with my son when he was a little boy, circa winter 1988.Jayme & Katharine Villa-Alvarez
A wedding photo taken when I married the man I love, Dale, in November 1995.
Katy & Dale wedding picture - 11-19-95
Playing around with the photo software on my computer in my classroom at Anne Sullivan School. This was one of the happiest years during my teaching career, 2009-2010.
Me from PhotoBooth
Here are some happy times traveling.

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Me with fish band sculpture, Laclede, St. Louis, MO (2016) – I include this because of the interesting & humorous sculpture.


You may recognize this as my profile picture on WP. I’m smiling because we were in Monterey, CA (2015), one of my favorite areas in the U.S.


Relaxing on deck with a margarita during our cruise to the Panama Canal (2017).

1-29 enjoying a snack at Rijksmuseum

Relaxing with hot drinks and pastries after a few hours looking at art, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (2018).

Finally, one of my “shared” birthday celebrations – my brother-in-law and I have birthdays nine days apart, and he is 10 years older than I am.  (They spelled my name wrong at the bakery – it’s Katy, not Caty! 😦 )
Elmer & me - joint birthday celebration


Under a Bridge

Jenn at Traveling at Wits End has a weekly photo challenge. This week’s challenge is to “photograph under a bridge.”

From a cruise ship on the St. Lawrence River, Quebec Province, Canada


SONY DSCFrom a cruise ship, Panama Canal
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KODAK Digital Still CameraWhile cruising on an electric boat on the Chicago River20160626_160307

I end with an appropriate song, one of my favorites, from my favorite music duo, Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water.

CB&WPC: Hickory Dickory Dock…

…the mouse ran up the clock!  The theme for Cee’s B&W photo challenge this week is words ending in -ock.  These are “-ocks” from my travel over the last two years.


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Flower clock in the historic district of Curitiba, PR, Brazil, Nov. 2016



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Gatun Locks, Panama Canal (March 2017)



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Rocks at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico (April 2017)



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Newly united in wedlock:  Allie Lovejoy & Alex Wooden, Woodbury, MN  (May 20, 2017)



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Dale prepares to go fishing, dock at Blacks Cliff Resort, Lower Kaubashine Lake, WI (July 2017)



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The Holy Family overwhelmed by a huge flock of sheep! Nativity scene, Our Lord in the Attic Church, Amsterdam, the Netherlands (Jan. 2018)


And now, a rock hit from 2018: Guns ‘n Roses, Sweet Child of Mine. (Also in B&W!)














CFFC: Working Hard or Hardly Working?

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week is “Busy or People Working.”

Every year, the last weekend in April (this weekend!), our church has a huge rummage sale, our biggest fundraiser of the year. We always need a lot of volunteers.
STAS13-IMAG0363.jpgThe sale takes over nearly every room in the church. We have a clothing room (above), housewares (below – the biggest department), Housewares, always a busy, popular department.holiday, antiques, jewelry, toys, baked goods, books/CDs/DVDs, and outside there is a furniture tent and hot food (hamburgers, hot dogs, etc.).20160421_111420Our church also does mission work. One of our missions is feeding the poor and sheltering the homeless. Des Plaines has a local PADS shelter on Fridays at a nearby church, where homeless adults get a hot meal for dinner, breakfast, sack lunches, and a place to sleep for the night. Different churches sign up for the Fridays they prefer and get volunteers from their church to work the shifts and make or bring food.  Some people work in the kitchen, preparing for dinner…20150227_190349
and then serve the food to the guests.
In the summer, we have at least one church service outside, with special invited musicians and ice cream afterward! This is the Chicago Metropolitan Jazz Ensemble.20150705_095043.jpgEmergency workers are important in any community.  The American Red Cross collects supplies for people in disaster areas.IMAG0367-RedCrosshelpTeaching is a lot of work, even during special events when we look like we’re having fun (and sometimes we are)! Here’s a teacher holding up the flag of her alma mater during an annual College Day rally.
Sandy Rywelski holds up WIU flag next to her class.
The music teacher works hard – and so do the kids – with the different age groups to put on an annual show for the different grade levels. Here is the 1st-2nd grade music show.
20150415_134623.jpgA student helps out on the last day of school by cleaning the chalkboards.269
For children, school is their workplace and for very young children, play is their work; it’s how they learn. These kindergartners love building things with blocks.
And in December, everyone works hard on holiday projects. Here, a teacher’s assistant helps kindergartners make gingerbread houses.
Sometimes, people work to provide entertainment for others, either as volunteers or for tips, such as at a summer concert in the park.
While kids are getting their balloons, the band plays.
People with special talents perform for tourists for tips, such as this young man in Tallinn, Estonia.
Waiters in Japanese restaurants “perform” for diners, cooking their food right in front of them.
IMAG1924.jpgSome of the hardest working people work on cruise ships, in kitchens…20170324_103302or as stewards, such as this one trying to hold a tray of hot soup steady for the tourists on the windy deck of a ship in Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska.The steward holds on tight to the tray of soup.
Some athletes and actors make millions entertaining the public. They might even get a trophy, such as when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series in 2016!20161103_001137.jpg

Go Cubs Go! video





CFFC: S Colors

This week, Cee’s Fun Foto Alphabet Challenge is letter S, with the topic of colors starting with S. Here’s my gallery on the subject:

Sea Pearl

“Sea pearl” is the color name given to this 2017 Prius, my new car! The color was a major factor in my selection of this particular car at Schaumburg Toyota. 

Stainless Steel

Drinking fountain in women’s locker room, Prairie Lakes Center, Des Plaines


Silver snowflake holiday decoration at Prairie Lakes Center, Des Plaines




Salmon floor tiles, Prairie Lakes Center, Des Plaines




Las Bovedas shopping market, Cartagena, Colombia




This is the corner of walls in our dining room.  We had our whole downstairs painted last year. The color I picked for the dining room is called “Sand.”


Sky Blue & Scarlet

Bright flowers growing on a tree contrast with the blue sky, at San Diego Botanical Gardens in Balboa Park.


Scarlet & Slate20171108_121950



Todos Santos, Mexico: Home of the famous Hotel California

April 4, 2017

Since I had no interest in spending time in the tourist trap of Cabo San Lucas, we opted for an excursion to the small city of Todos Santos, about 50 miles up the coast from Cabo. Our guide, Memo, said that Todos Santos now is what Cabo was 30 years ago, and that in another few decades, Todos Santos will have become like Cabo San Lucas. I’m glad we’re seeing it now!

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Our first view of Cabo San Lucas


It’s already been “discovered” in that there are about 70 art galleries and shopping areas in this town of 14,000 people, it is the location of Hotel California, made famous by the Eagles, and that most of the people I saw in town (besides those from our ship) spoke English. It’s the one place that doesn’t usually trade in U.S. dollars, but some vendors carry a few small U.S. bills and credit cards are accepted everywhere.

The bus ride to Todos Santos took about an hour. Memo told us a lot of information about the town and the region. Because Dale and I were sitting in front (for once!), it was easier to ask him questions.

I noticed a very cactus very much like the saguaro dotting the desert landscape outside. I couldn’t decide whether they were or were not saguaros. I didn’t think saguaros grew this far south, even though technically Baja California Sur is part of the Sonoran Desert. Memo said these cacti were in fact NOT saguaros. They belong to one of six species of cardón cacti, which grow so many arms that they can weigh up to five tons! I could see birds’ nest holes in them and wonder if they occupy a similar role in the ecosystem as saguaros do. In appearance, they are slightly thinner than saguaros, have many more arms and some have little protrusions sticking out near their tops.

Doing an online search for the cardón cactus, I learned that its technical name is Pachycereus pringlei, also known as Mexican giant cardon or elephant cactus. It grows in northwestern Mexico in the states of Baja California, Baja California Sur, and Sonora. (Text and pictures source)

The cardón cactus can live up to 300 years and weigh up to 25 tons. It grows many more arms in its lifetime than the saguaro. The protrusions I saw at the top were apparently the beginning of its blooms.

I’d seen a lot of Mexico during my life, but had never been to Baja California before. So I asked Memo  whether it is feasible for Americans to retire here. Mexico has open borders and accepts anyone who wants to live here as long as they come in peace, he said. It used to be that foreigners could not own land outright in Mexico, but now they can. if you are looking for a nice 3-bedroom, 2 bath house away from the beach, in this area you can find one for $45-75,000. On the beach, however, you need to add another zero to that figure! The main problem here is that things cost more due to the peninsula’s relative isolation. That also goes for traveling – driving would require going all the way north to the border, then going south to see other parts of Mexico, or flying. (There may be car ferries over the Sea of Cortés; I just don’t know.) Cabo San Lucas has an international airport with direct flights to many cities in the U.S. and Canada, and of course, within Mexico. I think if we were truly going to retire in Mexico, we’d choose a more accessible area “on the mainland.” (Although I do love the desert!) Even so, Dale picked up a real estate brochure we found in Todos Santos.

Our bus’s first stop in Todos Santos was at a cultural center. KODAK Digital Still CameraIt used to be a school – first it was a normal (teacher training) school, then it became an elementary school. Today some specialty classes, like art or music, are taught here, mostly to children. The classrooms still being used are on the left as you enter. To the right are exhibits with old photographs and other artifacts (bones, adobe bricks, an old clock, etc.) that relate to the history of this area.

The exhibit of photographs included one of Mr. Wong, the architect of the Hotel California and another of “La Chacana.”  Mr. Wong, a Chinese immigrant, changed his name to Don Antonio Tabasco, but everyone in town knew him as “El Chino.” He designed and was the owner of the hotel, and hoped to pass it on to his children. He had no sons and his daughters had no interest in maintaining it, so it was sold. More interesting information can be read on this web site.

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Mural on a wall inside the entrance of the cultural center. Another similar one is on the other side.


The significance of “La Chacana” is also linked to the Hotel California, made famous by the Eagles’ song of that name. Although the Eagles vehemently deny that the legend is true, it’s an interesting story nevertheless.

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Inside the cultural center

The tale says that the Eagles, on a trip to Mexico, met a woman nicknamed “La Chacana”  (the trickster) because she was the only person to openly curse at the governor of the state of Oaxaca, where she lived. Anyway, this woman knew all about hallucinogenic mushrooms and she took the Eagles on a psychedelic trip with these mushrooms, which, combined with drinking a lot of mezcal (a much stronger version of tequila),  made them sick and badly hung over. They were due to fly back to the U.S. for a gig in Las Vegas, but they had headaches and were in bad shape after this “tripping.” One of their guides suggested they go a sleepy little town in Baja called Todos Santos, where there was a nice, comfortable hotel called the Hotel California where they could rest for a few days. So they flew to Cabo and got a ride to Todos Santos, where they checked into the hotel.
When they opened their luggage, however, one of the band members had a bottle of mezcal and another had a bag of “magic” mushrooms! So they went on another psychedelic trip enhanced by strong alcohol and soon were sick again! I don’t know if they made it to Las Vegas, but the story goes that while they were stoned, they began to compose the song that would become The Hotel California. Again, the Eagles have always denied this ever happened but Memo tried to lend credence to it by telling us we could ask any of the 80- to 90-year-olds who live here who remember this incident, and all will confirm it really happened. We may never know for sure, but the hotel and the town are happy to use the Eagles story to promote tourism to Todos Santos!

Memo also told us there was a “shrine” to Frida Kahlo in the back room of the exhibits. I looked but could only find two paintings, one a portrait of her that she clearly did not paint (on the left), and another which she might have painted (on the right) – it was done in her style, at least, one of her self-portraits.

A woman from our tour group who helped me find it didn’t know about her, asking how to pronounce her name and if she was from this area, so I explained that she was from the area around Mexico City and that she was in a bus accident as a teenager which kept her bedridden for months, covered in a torso cast. That was when she started to paint, I said – to amuse herself, she began drawing on her cast. From then on, she always had back pain and couldn’t walk well so she was highly focused on the physical aspects of her body, which was reflected in many of her self-portraits. I didn’t mention her marriage to Diego Rivera nor her “friendship” with Leon Trotsky, because Memo had already told the group these things. He said that the people of this town were somewhat obsessed with Frida Kahlo, which to me made sense. Todos Santos is an art colony with 70 art galleries, and Mexican artists were likely to exalt one of their most famous painters, and one who was highly unconventional as well.

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We walked from the cultural center to the church, a distance of three blocks. On the way, Memo showed us the gallery of a friend of his, who had made some beautiful pottery, on display outside. He said we could later go back and he’d show us how he makes the pots – which I’m sorry to say I forgot all about later. Memo said that the bus would pick us up at noon at the Hotel California, which was also where we were having “lunch” at 10:30 a.m.!


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The church had a mission attached to it and there were signs giving information about it. Memo also gathered the group in the Zócalo in front of the church to explain about it, a speech of which I heard very little because I was wandering around looking for photo opps. I did take pictures of the signs to refer to later.

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This church was the foundation of an early Jesuit mission, Santa Rosa de Todos Santos.


We went into the church briefly before heading to the hotel for our lunch. I took one or two shots inside and also of the carved wooden doors opening up onto the plaza.

The hotel was very colorful and had interesting décor. I took several very nice views, by this time mostly with my cellphone camera because my regular camera was not cooperating.

We were able to use the bathrooms here, supposedly better than other public facilities. However, I found the toilet paper roll in my stall on the floor, and it had gotten wet with…??! I had to be strategic about using it, making sure to use the dry part! I left the roll on the back of the toilet.

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The food we were served was a sort of combo plate, including portions of various types of typical Mexican food. There was a rolled up flower tortilla with some meat inside – I added beans, rice and guacamole from my plate to it to make a tasty taco. There was a bean enchilada which was hard to cut with a fork, since we were not given knives. There was also a tamale, which I had to explain to the Canadians, who had never seen one. We were also served water or soda as requested, so I then had a cold bottle of water to use until we got back on the bus. The food was quite good – I always like excursions that include a meal, so you get a chance to taste the local cuisine instead of eating the usual food on the ship.

After eating, it was about 11:00 and Memo gave us an hour of free time to shop and explore galleries. It would have been better, I think, to cut that time in half and get back to Cabo earlier where we would have the option of doing whatever in town or returning immediately to the ship. However, this gave us plenty of time to look around this pretty little town and take more pictures!

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In the end, I was very glad we visited Todos Santos. I loved exploring this colorful, creative town in the desert of Baja California!

Later, my sister Mary and brother-in-law told us about their quest to buy guayaberas (typical Mexican men’s shirts) in Cabo San Lucas. While my two sisters strolled around the touristy shops in Cabo, where Mary bought a couple of medium-quality guayaberas at rip-off prices, her husband – who speaks fluent Spanish and is a good walker – took off into the more “native” part of town, climbing hills and talking to people, and returned with a beautiful, finely made guayabera for half the price Mary paid!



Picturesque rocks off shore from Cabo San Lucas


This was our last stop before our port of disembarkation, San Diego. The Mexican “ambassadors” who had educated us about Mexico and entertained us on the ship got off at Cabo San Lucas. Our final day on the cruise was at sea, during which we did a 5K walk around the promenade deck, called “On Deck for a Cause” – a fundraising tradition at Holland America which takes place on all their cruises.  For a $20 registration fee, you receive a t-shirt and plastic bracelet, and the knowledge that every donation goes to international organizations doing cancer research in pursuit of a cure.

In San Diego, we said good-bye to my sisters and brother-in-law, who went home, while we stayed two extra days in San Diego.  (I’d love for you to check out my first post about San Diego,  Fun and Flowers in Balboa Park!)