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PMfront

Entrance to Pere Marquette Lodge

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The Lodge’s restaurant has lovely stained-glass window panels, including this one of an eagle

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Part of the park, with view down to the Illinois River

We began our eagle-watching weekend on Friday night at the Lodge in Pere Marquette State Park, an ideal place to use as a base. Open all year. Reservations: call 618-786-2331, or www.PMLodge.net .Their slogan is “Come and stay, the natural way”. Pere Marquette Lodge and Conference Center, a few miles north of Grafton on Highway 100—the Great River Road—is on the edge of the state park by the same name. The 8000-acre park is set in the rolling bluffs and woods overlooking the scenic Illinois River.

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A picture of Pere Marquette in the Pere Marquette Visitor Center

Pere Marquette State Park was founded in 1932 under the name “Piasa Bluffs State Park’ (named for the legendary Piasa Bird, see later). The original purchase of 2,605 acres was made for $25,000, through a combination of local donations and state matching funds. By popular appeal, the name was changed to Pere Marquette State Park, reflecting Father Marquette’s connection with the early history of the area. Today the park encompasses 8,050 acres.

Father Jacques Marquette (the French Jesuit missionary-priest who came to North America to share his faith with the native people), with explorer-cartographer Louis Joliet, was the first European to enter what is now Illinois in 1673, where they met members of the Illini tribe. They were paddling down the Mississippi River on an expedition commissioned by the Governor of New France, trying to find a passage to the Pacific Ocean. When the local people told them that this river emptied in the Gulf of Mexico, they turned back and went along the Illinois River, stopping at a point near what is now the state park. A large dolomite stone cross commemorates this landing close to the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers.

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Painting of Marquette and Joliet’s trip along the river

Marquette’s journal gives the first written description of the land that is now Illinois. Excerpt found at the Pere Marquette Visitor Center: “We have seen nothing like this river [the Illinois]…for the fertility of the land, its prairies, woods, wild cattle, elk, deer, wildcats, bustards, swans, ducks, parrots, and even beaver: its many small lakes and rivers. That on which we sail is wide, deep and still.”

But, the history of the park is much older than this. Throughout the hills, ravines, woods, and prairies of the fertile area along the Illinois River, Native American people hunted game, gathered food, and later made houses. Archeologists describe 6 Native American cultures from this region and have found fragments of pottery, spear points and planting tools. About 150 burial mounds are distributed throughout the park, most still unexcavated.

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piasa2A fascinating legend still survives from these early days. Early people painted 2 huge pictures on one of the bluffs of a creature called Piasa—part bird, with the face of a man, scales like a fish, horns like a deer and a long black tail. Marquette and Joliet saw these and were initially afraid. What was this creature and what was its significance? Supposedly it preyed on local Indian tribes, until it was killed by Illini Chieftain Owatoga, whose village was near Elsah. The original Bluff Picture was painted so Indians, passing on the river, could shoot poisoned arrows at the “Bird”, in memory of their deliverance. A modern painted Piasa Bird is maintained to this day on the bluffs about 20 miles south of the park close to Alton.

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The Lodge is a huge, sprawling structure

PMsignThe Lodge was originally built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) from 1933-1939, supposedly over a Native American village site. It opened for business in 1940 and was dedicated in 1941. The cost of construction was $352,912.00. Timbers of Douglas fir and western cedar from Oregon were used, along with limestone from the Grafton Quarry.

Recent expansions and renovations blend in with the native stone and rustic timbers of the original. The massive lodge building has 50 guest rooms, an indoor pool, game room, a restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the Mary Michelle Winery/bar, and gift shop.

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The Great Hall

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Kids love this game too

The focal point is a an enormous hall with vaulted ceiling called the Great Room Lobby, decorated with 4 very attractive hanging fabric collages/tapestries of a woods pattern—leaves, branches, creatures—and a mammoth stone fireplace (50 feet high and said to weigh 700 tons) with cheerful dancing flames (very welcome in the frigid cold). Couches, tables and chairs in original 1930s style are grouped around for visitors’ use and a large wooden floor chess board and chess set is well used, especially by kids. Many tables have other games on them too. Picture windows all along one side open to the Brussels Terrace, which gives a great view onto the Illinois River,

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Breakfast in the restaurant 

especially at sunrise and sunset. This is also a favored venue for weddings—and we watched one the Saturday evening we were there. The lodge also offers 22 stone guest cabin rooms, in 7 cabins, a short walk from the main building.

The Lodge overlooks the Illinois River and is just a short walk from the Pere Marquette Visitor Center, which has a lot of useful information about the park’s fauna and flora, the history of the area, and bald eagles.

A wonderful weekend.

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“See that eagle high in that tree?”

Much of this information is set out at the Pere Marquette Visitor Center

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FUN FACTS ABOUT BALD EAGLES

—The term “bald” refers to the old English word “balde” meaning ‘white’, rather than ‘without feathers’. Adult birds (4-5 years old) have a distinctive white head and tail, and dark brown bodies.

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—Young birds vary in color from solid dark brown to mottled brown and white plumage.

—Adult beaks and eyes are bright yellow. The hooked beaks are used for tearing flesh.

—Eyesight is very keen, up to 5 times better than human vision. They can see a rabbit about two miles away, for example. They have both monocular and binocular vision.

—eagles are one of the largest birds of prey in the world; they are 3 to 3.5 feet tall, with a 6.5 to 8-foot wingspan.

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—Eagles mate for life and usually go back to the same nest, which they keep adding to. Some nests end up around 10ft wide, weighing hundreds of pounds.

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Part of a nest in the Pere Marquette Visitor Center

—Females weigh up to 15lbs, males 8.5-9lbs.

—They eat fish mainly, but sometimes also eat ducks and geese. They can also be scavengers on dead or injured wildlife, such as ducks or deer, especially in winter. They also pirate food from other eagles or other birds.

—Their powerful 2-inch talons are used to take prey.

—They lay 1-3 eggs, which take 35 days to hatch. In 75 days the eaglet is almost full grown and ready to fly.

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—The main predator is the raccoon, which takes eagle eggs.

—Eagles fly 20-40 mph in normal flight, but can reach speeds of 100 mph while diving. They can fly up to 300 miles per day when migrating!!

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—The average age is about 15 years, but they can live up to 30 years in the wild, and to 50 years in captivity.

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During the Bald Eagle Days festival in Alton, Illinois, you can even pat a costumed eagle!

 

 

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Liberty, a rescue bald eagle, on show at Alton Visitor Center

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The Illinois River was mostly frozen over in early January 2018

WINTERING BALD EAGLES ON THE MISSISSIPPI and ILLINOIS RIVERS

A privilege and a thrill to watch the US national bird

Don’t forget your binoculars!

Eager to see an eagle? Well, you can watch our national bird, the Bald Eagle, soaring on six-foot wings, diving down at 100 mph to snatch a fish from the water’s surface, or perching on a tree branch. And Midwest residents don’t have to travel to Alaska (or Florida) to do that. Bald eagle sightings have increased along the Mississippi River this winter, on locks and dams in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri.

Just one hour north of St Louis is a great spot to see large numbers of these magnificent birds in winter, which we recently did in spite of the extreme cold.

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P2040054.JPGAround Alton and Grafton, Illinois, is an area bounded by two rivers, the Illinois River and the Mississippi, with a third, the Missouri River, a few miles south. (In the native language of the then-local Illini tribe, ‘grafton’ means “gathering of waters’). State Parks and Wildlife Management Areas, Federal lands, and Nature Conservancy areas along these rivers recognize the importance of this area. Cliffs, bluffs, woods, wetlands, bottomlands and prairies provide a paradise for a wide variety of flora and fauna. This area is on the N-S bird migratory flyway, so it’s frequented by many migrating birds at different times of the year.

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P2050074.JPGFor most people, the most famous visitor is the bald eagle, which is attracted here by large bodies of water with adequate food supplies and large land areas with minimal human disturbance. This is the second largest wintering ground for eagles flying from their nesting places in the Great Lakes States and Canada (the largest is in N. California and S. Oregon) and the chances of seeing eagles improve as the number of bald eagles continues to increase as a result of improving numbers. As our guide joked, “This is the eagles’ Florida”.

The bald eagle was on the Endangered Species List: Their numbers were down to as few as 417 nesting pairs in the 1960s, because of loss of habitat and widespread use of harmful pesticides, especially DDT. Banning DDT and increased habitat protection under federal law have led to a significant increase in the number of nesting bald eagles, so in 1995 the eagle’s status was downgraded from ‘endangered’ to ‘threatened’.

It is thought that this area supports an estimated winter population of 2500-3000 eagles, and the birds are spotted daily. The wintering eagles use large trees on the river banks for daytime perches, as food is readily available in the open water, especially near dams (they enjoy the fish that are confused/thrown up by the locks and ferries), but they prefer large trees in the nearby sheltered valleys and ravines for night roosts.

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Woodlands in Pere Marquette State Park

mapThe 15-mile scenic Great River Road between Alton and Pere Marquette State Park is very accessible to eagle-watching enthusiasts. Here the road runs along the base of limestone bluffs that rise almost 200 feet above the Mississippi River. Early French explorers (such as Pere Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet) called these ramparts “broken castles” and the scenery alone makes the drive worthwhile.

In winter, many Eagle Events are planned (such as Bald Eagle Days from Pere Marquette State Park Visitors Center: reservations required) or you can plan eagle-viewing yourself with the aid of a pamphlet, “The Eagle Watchers Guide”, which you can pick up at the Alton Visitors Center, Pere Marquette Visitor Center, or the National Great Rivers Museum. Or more information at www.visitalton.com 

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Like wolves and lions, eagles have captured people’s imaginations over the centuries. The Native American Indians revered the eagle as a messenger of the gods and, as your eye is drawn ever upward to admire its graceful soaring, you can understand why, and realize that actually legend is not a match for the reality (eagles have been tracked flying as high as 30,000 feet and because they fly so high is why the Indians thought they were delivering messages to the gods). Benjamin Franklin wanted the wild turkey as the national bird, but the eagle was chosen in 1782 because it’s a true American species (the only other endemic eagle in North America is the golden eagle) As we watch this magnificent bird, we’re very glad the turkey wasn’t chosen!

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Pere Marquette Visitor Center

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Liberty, a rescue eagle is 26 years old and very comfortable with crowds of people

Start at the Visitors’ Center in Pere Marquette State Park, a few miles beyond Grafton on Highway 100, the Great River Road (You can also begin at the Alton Visitor Center, which doesn’t have as many displays but did have a live rescue eagle on display this January). They have good displays on the flora and fauna and natural history of this area and lots of information on eagles, including an informative movie. (See Fun Facts about Bald Eagles in the next article). The Center offers its own Bald Eagle Days program on some days in the season, which you need to sign up for when there, or call 618-786-3323. We took part in this one Sunday, and it was excellent. A State Park interpreter leads the program, driving some people around in a van while others follow in their own vehicles.

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We also saw trumpeter swans

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Our guide, Scott, sets up a ‘scope and points out eagles and their nests

frozenriver3But, to do a viewing trip yourself, drive north from Pere Marquette about 8 miles on 100 to Fuller Lake Wildlife Management Area. Stop and look around at the trees along both sides of the river, and you may see eagles resting on the branches. Turn and retrace your steps past the park, keeping your eagle eyes open! You may see other cars stopped, which probably means they’ve spotted something, and if there’s a place to pull off the road, you can do the same. Just before Grafton is the free Brussels ferry over the Illinois River. It’s fun to drive your car onto the ferry and cross over to the Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge, where you may see bald eagles, pelicans, white geese or trumpeter swans. Cross back (the ferry runs 24/7, every 10-15 minutes so long as the river is not ice-bound) and drive along the Mississippi, watching out for the birds, past Alton to the National Great Rivers Museum at the site of Melvin Price Locks and Dam. You can often see eagles in flight and feeding around this massive structure, or resting in the trees along the river. This January, for the first time in our experience, we saw that the Illinois River was mostly frozen over. Quite amazing to see that!

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So much ice!

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Casey, a red-shouldered hawk

On the opposite side of the river (drive over the big bridge at Alton and turn left) is the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary (aka the Audubon Center), one of the best locations for eagle viewing. They (in conjunction with the Alton Visitor Center) were hosting the Alton-Audubon Eagle Ice Festival the day were were there, with fun activities for kids and a live red-shouldered hawk on display. It was also fascinating to see an artist carving an ice sculpture of an eagle from a huge block of ice at the Alton Visitor Center and to see some other finished ice sculptures there and at the Audubon Center. The weather was so cold that the sculptures didn’t melt even a little bit out in the weak sunshine!

 

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SStrmmarketPere Marquette Lodge in Pere Marquette State Park has rooms in the Lodge or cabins in the grounds. For reservations call 618-786-2331or visit www.PMLodge.net . I’ll write more about Pere Marquette, the PM State Park and PM Lodge in a later post.

Other lodging options are listed at www.VisitAlton.com . Many restaurants in Grafton and Alton provide tasty lunch breaks. We really liked State Street Market in Alton.

NOTE: An alternative site in Illinois for eagle viewing is Starved Rock State Park on the upper Illinois River, much closer to Chicago.

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PennAve

racestGood news for book lovers—and I know there are a lot of us out there.

A fairly recent phenomenon, called Little Free Libraries. It’s a wonderful idea in these times, when almost everyone is fixated on a screen of some kind, and some young people don’t even read real paper books any more.

Over the last few years I’ve seen a number of these little libraries pop up in our town and sometimes stop to see what kind of books are in them. They come in all shapes and sizes, limited only by the imagination and resources of the owner I guess. A friend regularly takes books and adds books to one of these little libraries near her home, although I’ve never actually done so.

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The Little Free Library in Sister Bay, Wisconsin

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Inside the Little Free Library in Sister Bay

We were in Sister Bay, Door Country, Wisconsin, a few weekends ago and on the farm we were visiting there was a large (by small library standards) little library. It’s housed in a wooden hut that used to be an old farm hut. We peeked inside—very cozy with bookshelves and a chair. This got me interested in the concept of these libraries so I wanted to find out more.

As Wikipedia tells us, Little Free Library is a nonprofit organization that aims to inspire a love of reading, to build community, and to spark creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world. There are more than 50,000 registered Little Free Libraries around the world, in all 50 USA states and 70 countries, although most are in the USA. Through Little Free Libraries, millions of books are exchanged each year, greatly increasing access to books for readers of all ages and backgrounds. The Little Free Library nonprofit is based in Hudson, Wisconsin, USA.

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Part of the Idea Garden at the University of Illinois

childrenscloseThe first Little Free Library was built in 2009 by Todd Bol in Hudson, Wisconsin. He placed a wooden container that looked like a one-room schoolhouse on a post on his lawn and filled it with books as a tribute to his mother, who was a book lover and school teacher. Bol shared his idea with his partner, Rick Brooks, and the idea spread rapidly, soon becoming a “global sensation“. Little Free Library was officially incorporated on May 16, 2012, and the Internal Revenue Service recognized Little Free Library as a nonprofit in the same year.

Long may this continue as a global sensation!

 

 

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bannerIt’s Chicago’s Year of Public Art, so let’s get out and experience some of this creative art.

I was always aware that Chicago has a great tradition of making public art available to all, and its collection of public art is one of the defining characteristics of the city, but this special year gives another dimension to this.

2017 has been designated Year of Public Art Chicago, with a new 50×50 Neighborhood Arts Project. Managed by DCASE (Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events), the 50×50 initiative will provide up to $1 million for new public arts projects.

Chicago has a long and rich history of public art, so why now? This initiative was

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The Picasso in Daley Plaza

inspired by Chicago’s 50 wards and the 50th anniversary of 2 of Chicago’s most famous seminal public art works: The Picasso in Daley Plaza, and The Wall of Respect, which once stood at 43rd Street and Langley Avenue on Chicago’s South Side.

DCASE manages the Chicago Public Art Collection, which includes 500+ works exhibited in over 150 municipal facilities around the city, such as police stations, libraries and CTA station. DCASE also administers the City’s Percent-for-Art Ordinance, which was established in 1978 and stipulates that 1.33% of the cost of constructing or renovating public buildings will be used for public art.

What an amazing concept. Go Chicago!

perilsThere will be many special exhibits and tours, but I was only in Chicago for 3 days this April, so could only track down a few of these special art works at this time.

Turns out that many of these famous public art works have an interesting story and history, starting with the Picasso. To co-incide with this Year of Public Art, the Chicago Cultural Center has a small exhibit called The Fame and Perils of Chicago’s Public Art. The introductory board tells us that, “Planning and creating public art can be a risky venture. Depending on how or what you count, the placement of art in Chicago’s public spaces has a 200-year long history. Sometimes the art is loved. Sometimes it is hated. To further complicate matters, times change—and so do the tastes of people.”

So…to start with Picasso’s “Untitled”.

frontcloserUntitled” by Pablo Picasso, on the Richard J Daley Civic Center Plaza, 50 W. Washington Street. In 1967 Pablo Picasso’s monumental sculpture was unveiled in Chicago’s Civic Center (now called the Richard J. Daley CivicCenter).

In 1963, imagining a work for the new Chicago Civic Plaza, architect William Hartmann of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill turned to Pablo Picasso. Using an introduction from English artist Roland Penrose, Hartmann contacted Picasso describing a “site for the most important piece of sculpture in the United States.” Picasso accepted and worked on plans for the largest work of his career, mostly with his vision of an abstract female figure, which he gave as a gift to the city.

This abstract design was not originally popular when the monument was erected in

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Newspaper picture with Banks superimposed

1967. In fact, as I learned from the small exhibit in the Chicago Cultural Center, many Chicagoans thought it was a giant portrait of the artist’s Afghan hound. An alderman from the City Council proposed replacing the Picasso with a giant statue of Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks, and a local paper ran a story with a photo of Banks superimposed on that of the Picasso.

At the time of the opening of the Picasso, Mayor Richard J. Daley insightfully dedicated it with these words, “what is strange to us today will be familiar tomorrow.” That has proved true, and 50 years later it’s an iconic part of the city’s landscape, and much loved by locals and visitors. So much so, that Northwestern grad and vocal art advocate, Patricia Stratton, has written a book dedicated to the sculpture called “The Chicago Picasso: A Point of Departure”.

sideI find this work of Picasso’s very interesting: I can definitely see the Afghan hound in there, but also a female figure. What do you think?

Picasso’s work was Chicago’s first major pubic art work in the modern style, rather than historical effigies and memorials that had been traditional before. It inspired much private and public investment in art for the city center, including Marc Chagall’s mosaic “The Four Seasons” in 1974, which then inspired his “America Windows”. Other commissions included monuments by Joan Miro (1963), Jean Dubuffet (1969) and Alexander Calder (1974), among many others. And so a tradition was born.

 

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Small weeping cherry tree by the car park

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Japan House

Sakura…cherry blossoms…weeping cherry trees. These signal spring in Japan, and here in Urbana, central Illinois, they are also a beautiful herald of spring.

We are very lucky here on our campus at the University of Illinois, as we have a Japan House, a cultural center run by the University to promote understanding of Japan, its culture and history. It’s a lovely traditional-style Japanese building, with a small enclosed garden to one side, complete with gurgling stream, stone lanterns and a quiet place to sit and meditate. The other side of the Japan House has a serene raked-stone garden and the whole overlooks a pond (complete with turtles and geese), encircled by a walkway, much loved by local residents.

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Start of the ‘tunnel’

A number of cherry trees are scattered around our university campus, but the most striking of them all are at the Japan House. There is one weeping cherry tree, a gorgeous tree with thickly clustered pink blossoms, right next to the building, and a couple of others near the small parking lot.

But, because of a generous donation by Dr Genshitsu Sen, we also have the Sen Cherry Tree Alee, the walkways approaching the Japan House. It was planted with cherry trees on both sides in 2008 and now the trees have grown big enough that it’s like walking through a tunnel. In Spring, we feel as though we are passing under a lacy white and delicate pink net, the blossoms on the cherry trees are so thiick. With the stone pagoda lanterns and the raked pebble garden in front of the wooden building, we can almost believe that we are in Japan.

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The plaque tells us that Dr Sen was a 15th-generation Grand Master Urasenke Tradition of Tea

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cherrylanternAs in Japan, it’s a ritual to go and view the cherry blossoms, to walk under them and be blessed if petals fall on you. Rod and I went last Sunday, as it’s close to our house and we can easily just walk there. It was a cool but sunny afternoon, and there were hundredss of others there, doing the same thing; ambling, ooh-ing and ahh-ing, taking photos, posing under the trees or amidst the drooping flower-laden branches. It’s a very special walk, and the collective feeling of happiness is palpable. Just to remind us of how wonderful Nature is, and how a walk in Nature (even in a somehwat urban environment) can really revitalize us.

(Thanks to Rod for the photos)cherrysky

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flamingo

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In December

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In fall

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From our hotel room

Timeless and graceful…A beautiful piece of art that stands out from its surroundings

In Chicago we usually stay at the Club Quarters Hotel on Adams Street, which we did again last weekend. The view from our hotel room was across to the Federal Plaza, with its intriguing red outdoor sculpture. We’ve taken photos of this many times before, at different times of the year, but this time, with the lighting and the snow, we saw it from a new angle and I decided to research it a bit more.

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Zoom from hotel room

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Reflection in Post Office windows

Chicago is a city famous for public art and for us this is one of the classics. Others (among many) are the Picasso (1967) in the Daley Plaza, with jungle-gym-like characteristics; Monument with Standing Beast, which is open to multiple interpretations, by Jean Dubuffet (1964) in front of the Thompson Center; and Cloud Gate, aka as The Bean, in Millennium Park.

This red sculpture is called Flamingo, and it does evoke a flamingo-like bird if you look closely. The artist is American Alexander Calder, and the sculpture was unveiled in October 1974 in the Federal Plaza in front of the kluczynski Federal Building, one of three Bauhaus-style federal buildings designed by Mies van der Rohe. A model of Flamingo was unveiled at the Art Institute in April 1973, where it still resides.

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Model in Art Institute

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Looking through Post Office

It’s a painted-steel stabile (as opposed to a mobile), 53 feet tall, painted vermilion (now called “Calder red”), the bright color contrasting very nicely with the steel and glass office buildings around it. These modern rectangular buildings surround the square, so this abstract arching form is also a nice counter point, form-wise.

However, Flamingo is constructed from similar materials and shares certain design principles with the architecture, so it’s successfully integrated within the plaza. It’s an example of the constructivist movement, popular in Russia in the early 20th century. This refers to large sculptures that are made of smaller pieces joined together.

The sculpture is monumental but the open design allows viewers to walk underneath and around it, so we can experience it on a human scale too.

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Market day

mrket2On Tuesdays, in the season, there’s a farmers market on the square, which makes the Flamingo seem even more interesting.

A small-scale replica (one-tenth the original size) was installed in 1975 in the Loop post office right on the plaza. Calder created it specifically for the visually-impaired, as it is meant to be touched, and it is the same bright color.

Alexander Calder (1898-1976) has created many sculptures for open spaces throughout the world. He is probably most famous as the originator of mobile sculptures or kinetic art, a type of moving sculpture made with delicately balanced or suspended shapes that move in response to touch or air currents. In contrast, Calder’s monumental stationary sculptures are called stabiles. He also produced wire figures, which are like drawings made in space. He was a prolific artist who worked with many art forms, large and small.

 

 

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