aunt rita’s baked beans


I read recently about “Blue Zones” — places of the world where people live remarkably longer and better. It’s all quite fascinating.  The highlands of Sardinia, Italy; a Greek island, Ikaria; Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and Loma Linda, California, all boast healthy elderly populations that stand out among all others in the world.

I’m intrigued by distinctions among the Blue Zones. For example, Sardinia harbors the most long-lived male population on the planet and Okinawa the oldest females. Elders in Ikaria not only live longer but suffer dramatically less with Alzheimer’s disease. Costa Rica spends a small fraction on health care by comparison to U.S. yet Nicoya residents are 2.5 times more likely to reach a healthy age 90. Loma Linda boasts the most highly concentrated population of Seventh Day Adventists in the world, known for keeping a strict Sabbath and biblical diet.
Continue reading aunt rita’s baked beans

another day in havana

We boarded a tour bus at the outset of our second day in Havana. Group 5. Independents. Our half-day itinerary included two primary points of interest: the José Fuster project and a choice between two museums. It was a cloudy and gray morning; a bit “wintry” for Havana, our guide noted. Not to us!

We first made our way to Fusterlandia, driving near to the coast. The guide remarked upon many properties along the way, former social clubs for the rich and famous that were nationalized after the Revolution, open to the public ever since, forevermore. Some, if I understood her correctly, serve as recreational camps for children.

Without exception these facilities looked like tired throwbacks to the 1950s. Also without exception, she extolled the state for the transformation of these properties: power to the people! We passed a circus in the vicinity; it looked deserted and as if it, too, had seen better days. The one exception on our journey was a Russian-owned hotel, gleaming and bustling with business.

There were workers on the shoreline, battling the wind, picking up trash. Maybe it was the season but it was noticeably less clean and tidy in the countryside than in any of the cities we visited.

The José Fuster project is a phenomenal example of visual art for the common good as the entire neighborhood of Jaimanitas, several miles outside of Havana, has been transformed. Fuster’s story is as fascinating as his art is captivating. I was immediately reminded of Antoni Gaudi’s work in Barcelona, equally beautiful and inspiring.

Fuster’s neighbors are an active part of the experience. Many open their homes, selling handcrafts in small shops. Neighborhood residents were milling about as the tour group descended.  Just another day in the life, apparently.

Unfortunately, an elderly member of our group was bitten on the arm by a small stray dog yipping and nipping about. It broke the skin in two ugly gashes. Another group member provided some iodine. The affected lady seemed much less concerned than I would have been, confident in tetanus shot protection.

From Fusterlandia we drove back to Old Havana. It was nice to have an the option between museums of the Revolution or the fine arts. The Hubs had no preference but I was full to the brim of the national heroes.

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes holds an expansive collection for an impressive foray into hundreds of years of Cuban expression. It was  a welcome reprieve from group 5, most of whom chose the alternative. Our brains were quite saturated at this point, between daily tours on shore and seminars on ship, so we strolled quite casually from the top to the bottom.

It was mid-afternoon when we finished; just enough time to visit the small cafe in the museum for a Bucanero and quick snack. Here we experienced first-hand the cheap but dismal quality of food in a state-run establishment. We shared a bland small plate and left much of it on the plate. The brew, however, hit the spot!

Group 5 friends returned to the bus with rave reviews about the Revolution museum, located just across the street: win-win.

~ René Morley

Complete Cuba Series: Countdown to Cuba | Crash Course Cuba | Santiago de Cuba | One day in Havana  | Another Day in Havana | Costumes, Cathedrals & Old Cars | Cienfuegos | Sailing with Celestyal | Lessons in Cuba

simple things

We walked the trail last weekend, early on a cloudy-gray Saturday. A few inches of fresh snow lay undisturbed except for animal tracks. Lots of deer, rabbit, perhaps fox, and several other small prints I couldn’t identify. There wasn’t another soul in sight. Just me and my sister.

As we approached a wetland I noticed an array of flat, wide tracks. Instinctively I knew, “That’s beaver.” My sister nudged me, “Do you see him?” Sure enough, he (or she) was perched on top of the lodge, chewing on a thin branch. A smaller beaver swam nearby. We’ve had an unseasonably warm stretch so there was plenty of open water. They’d been busy , these beavers! There were lots of tracks into the woods surrounding the pond on either side of the trail. We watched them for several moments, fascinated by their behaviors. Eventually the small one caught on to us and THWACK! Her tail hit the water in a splash of alarm and they were gone.

Monster flakes were falling from the sky by the time we rounded the last bend. We closed the loop on our own tracks laid at the beginning of our journey, still just the two of us in a white world silenced by the snow. I felt refreshed by an hour in the crisp cold air, walking and talking with my sister. It’s often the simplest of things that restore us.

~ René Morley



open house, open hearts


On the first Saturday of December we hosted an open house with Santa. It was one of those stars -have-aligned sort of opportunities. First Christmas in our new home. So many people to thank and so many reasons to be thankful. Young grandchildren and great-nieces and wee friends from children’s church experiencing the magical wonder and holy awe of Christmas. New friends in the community. Lots of good reasons to plan a Christmas party.

Most importantly, this will be the first Christmas since our beloved Betty passed over. She loved the Christmas season more than anyone I’ve known. Christmas a la Betty was a sight to behold. She trimmed the tree, the house, the yard, until every nook and cranny was graced by Christmas spirit. She spent an entire year preparing, purchasing gifts well in advance and baking sweets and treats for weeks leading up to the big day.

By the time I entered the scene the family was so large that gifts were exchanged in family groupings over the course of a week leading up to Christmas. Even then, she always exceeded expectations with beautifully wrapped packages spilling into the dining room from under the front room tree. On Christmas Eve, the entire brood gathered at the farm before church services. Santa made an appearance to the delight of the children as adults battled over Betty’s famous dill pickles in a gift exchange. Christmas was a celebration of family as well faith.

On the days leading up to our open house, it was almost as if my mother-in-law was shadowing each step. She felt very near as I was baking spiral hams and dozens of rolls, trimming with lights and baubles and scents of the season, wrapping packages to fill the gap under the mammoth tree that the Hubs, a.k.a. Clark Griswold, couldn’t resist — he carries her Christmas torch. I knew she would be pleased with our preparations for sixty guests. My sisters-in-law and others showed up with helpful contributions just as I knew they would because they also know family matters. Betty’s example and joyful celebrations of family life and Christmas will serve us well in to the future.

In one important way, as the song below so beautifully illustrates, this is her first Christmas. Listen in… and if that doesn’t boost your Christmas spirit, then spend some time with my Christmas playlist!

And it was just (February) past 
She said goodbye, and breathed her last 
And the great-grandchildren miss her so 
But if she could she would let them know … 
This is my first Christmas 

First time to hear the angels sing 
Glory, hallelujah to the risen king 
And a holy night is what this is 
‘Cause this is my first Christmas 
This is my first Christmas




I’m pleased to report the open house with Santa a grand success and a ton of fun. The house was buzzing with conversation among family, friends, and neighbors. Twenty children leaned in one by one, wide-eyed and eager to bend Santa’s ear — except for our three grandgirls, who each preferred to keep their distance! Santa gifted each child with a Little Golden Book retelling the first Christmas story.

I crouched low on the carpet, observing each of the children up close in their moment of joy on Santa’s lap. They were just precious. One of the most memorable was in 3 year-old Henry’s Santa exchange. It was a very short conversation. “I want a bounce house” (trampoline), Henry proclaimed. I prompted him to continue on his sister’s behalf, just as he’d practiced, so Santa would know Anna Bea would like “something that squeaks.” Alas, he’d changed his mind about sharing this detail. “No, GiGi,” he said. “She’s fine. Beasy don’t need nothing.” Well, huh. I sure hope Santa doesn’t forget her!

Long into the eventing we ate, drank and were merry in the making of memories and start of a new Christmas tradition.


Merry Christmas!

~ René Morley