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

happy birthday anna bea

On the last Saturday of October we celebrated Anna Beatrice, the cherub who turned one year old mid-week. Her party was the bookend on an amazing first year. Anna Bea’s family and extended family, including cousins/second-cousins, aunts/uncles, grandparents and greats all gathered to celebrate this sweet-as-honey girly-girl. The cousins donned costume in dress rehearsal for a big night of trick-or-treating just ahead.


I cannot imagine our family without Anna Beasy. She always offers a bright smile, her beautiful blue eyes twinkling. She quickly settled in with brother Henry, mama, daddy and black cat, Bear Grylls in their new home — along with GiGi and Pops. We were one big happy family for several months. In April, our new house was livable and we parted in peace! Whew

That was eight months after launching a grand adventure in multigenerational habitation, selling / purchasing one home and building another (a.k.a the big dig); mama on maternity leave or working (either way with little sleep), GiGi working from home office, daddy on shift work and Pops working the farm … plus a newborn baby girl and a rambunctious two-year old boy. And a cat. That cat! Mixed, shaken or stirred, it could have been a recipe for conflict but instead it was pretty sweet. Whew! We did it. They did it!

Anna was blessed to meet her Great-Grandma Betty when she was only a few days old, a mere 87 years between them. G’ma nestled wee Anna under wing, true to form as grandmother hen. Anna didn’t have long with G’ma, to our great sadness, but she has been blessed by loving attention from the greatest generation, as Great-Grandma Alice and Great-Great-Aunt Beatrice so much enjoy her company.

img_3915I’m thankful Every. Single. Day. that all of our sweet grands live within a few miles. Anna Bea and her brother Henry are only a short walk across our yard, through a hole in the cedar split-rail (extracted from an ancient fence in our woodlot) lined with clumps of white birch and lilacs (birches transplanted from the back forty and lilacs from the Walker estate many years ago), and past the (brand new) shed where Anna’s daddy and brother build honey bee hives.

Yesterday I was sitting on my back porch, working on children’s church craft projects when a movement caught my eye. Near the periphery of our property, wee Anna was toddling around, bundled up for fall. Her daddy stood nearby, swooped in and scooped her up, put her down, and stepped back to watch as she turned again toward the rail fence. It was a beautiful fall day; I didn’t think much about it at the time. Later, her mama explained the scene: as soon as daddy set her down, Anna Bea made a beeline for GiGi and Pop’s house! At one year old, she already knows how we love her so and apparently also where to find us. Quite amazing, eh?

Life is sweet. Sweeter. Sweetness complete. Happy birthday, Anna Bea!

~ René Morley

deep and wide


I love fall. It is a sentiment shared with nearly every North Country neighbor. You wouldn’t likely live here otherwise, knowing what is ahead!

Who doesn’t love breathing deeply of crisp air scented with sun-warmed apple, or looking long at forest and hedgerow ablaze in autumnal display? Paper birch, sugar maple, red maple, black cherry, black walnut, white oak, poplar and other hardwoods burn brightly interspersed with cooling conifers: white spruce, Norway spruce, blue spruce, balsam fir, scotch pine, red pine, white pine, and white cedar. No wonder the woods smell so good!

Nights are cool for sleeping. Days are bright, perfect temps by noon, and oh, so inviting. It’s a wonder I get anything at all done inside. Except that this is also an especially intense time of year at work, headlong into our busy season.

This month and next, my bandwidth is running thin, calendar clogged with compulsory appointments and meetings including some at a distance. I can hear our home calling for a thorough cleaning, which I continue to ignore. I missed my exercise class again. And again. Even as I was preparing a welcome meal for neighbors, an activity I thoroughly enjoy, I felt myself running low, lower. Kaput!

I truly thought I was out of steam but no, I rallied for the grands. It’s highly unusual to see them all in the same week, even in a weekend, much less on the same day. Yet for some reason, as the day unfolded, there they were, by one or two or three. It was the best kind of day, largely spontaneous and unplanned. An entire day pushing swings, pulling wagons, assembling puzzles, serving snacks, preparing meals, singing songs, reading books, building block towers, setting up train tracks, kissing and hugging, snuggling and comforting. In other words, full on GiGi. It doesn’t get any better. 

Then I awoke aching midway through the night, fumbling for ibuprofen. Ohhhh. I did not see that coming. On Monday morning, I was just plain tired but determined to start the week off right, prioritizing ‘quiet time’ before launching my workday. Which led me to a familiar passage in Ephesians. Still, somehow, if was fresh and new. Just like God’s daily mercies, eh?

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father,  the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21)

Oh! How wide, how long, how high, how deep his love! How unlimited his resources;  he never fails to bolster and support me. I close my eyes and breathe slowly, willing my roots deep, deeper, into this infinitely abundant place of love. Pressing in, my heart fills. My soul lifts. My spirit sings in gladness.

Meditating on this passage is like a drawing deep breath in autumn: rejuvenating, reinvigorating, refreshing! May God increase our understanding of his great love for us. I’m making Pauls’ prayer my prayer for October. How about you?

~ René Morley


adirondack potato soup

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Have you ever heard of Adirondack red potatoes? Me, neither! Last week I received a few, passed along from my sister who’d visited my uncle who lives on the periphery of the Adirondack Park. Potatoes are just one of the cool things about this region.

The Adirondacks are gentle mountain range with 46 peaks reaching 4,000 feet or higher. The Park encompasses small towns and farmland, forest flush with timber, graceful foothills leading to what seems an endless array of small mountains rounded off by the ages. There are 6 million acres, both privately and publicly owned, harboring a gazillion rivers, streams, ponds and lakes rich with wildlife. Here’s a glimpse.

The Adk Park is the largest publicly protected area in the contiguous United States, greater in size than Yellowstone, Everglades, Glacier, and Grand Canyon National Park combined! ( Scattered amidst “forever wild” public lands are charming small towns and villages. The most famous of these is the lovely Lake Placid, NY, home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. In a word, awesome.

But, I digress. Back to the potatoes. Standing on the precipice of autumn, the potatoes spoke to me of soup. This is one of the Hubs’ favorite comfort foods and mine, too. The spuds cooked up to a pearly-pink, with delectable flavor and perfect texture. Hungry? My potato soup recipe is simple.

Part 1. Dice a large onion and fry with several half-slices of bacon in a large soup pot. While bacon and onion are cooking, peel (or not) and dice potatoes. When onion is soft and translucent, remove bacon and drain off bacon fat. Separate any additional fat from bacon and return bacon to pot. Add raw potatoes to onion and bacon. Add chicken broth to cover. Simmer until potatoes are soft.

Part 2. In separate sauce pan, prepare a simple white sauce. There are lots of recipes available online, for example this Betty Crocker version. I have a slap-dash method with 2-3 tablespoons butter, 1/3 cup flour, fresh ground pepper, and a brisk whisk while   adding in a cup of milk (give or take) at a slow simmer.

For the potato soup, I add to the white sauce 4 ounces of cheese and continue heating until melted. I’m not fussy about the cheese and use whatever I have on hand. If it is a softer cheese, like muenster, I also add some parmesan to give it some bite.

Part 3. Add white sauce to soup mixture. Stir gently. Enjoy at once or keep warm in crock pot until dinner.

Even better than making Adirondack potato soup, I hope you will learn more about the park  and plan your visit!

~ René Morley