Thursday, November 24, 2022

Let us give thanks for health, happiness, travel, family, food, nature

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers relax on a Thanksgiving Day in southern Spain.



Cookie and Keller tried something new last
Thanksgiving, when they took to a dune buggy on 
the sands near Cabo San Lucas, giving thanks for travel.
Cactus ATV Tours offers a fun time on the sand.








Last Thanksgiving, we were in the Canary
Islands for a Thanksgiving fruit drink here.


A favorite Thanksgiving meal for us on the road is lamb
skewers and a Greek salad, this one in Santorini.
WE GIVE THANKS this week for our family and friends, for decent health, and being double-vaxxed and triple-boosted.  We are traveling the world again after a rough run with the virus.
As we look around the table -- counting empty chairs -- we realize how fleeting and precious life is. We vow to make the most of each day, to embrace the world with kindness and compassion, to help others when we can, to be gentle with ourselves.
For sometimes, we're our own harshest critics.

WE VOW TO appreciate and share our many blessings -- which we often take for granted.  Warm clothing as winter approaches, beautiful stores in which to shop, the means to buy whatever we want.  We're grateful for the pleasure of concerts and theater.  The fun of cooking a meal together, or enjoying a dinner out. These are joys and advantages we don't take lightly. The delight in art,  the pleasure in sharing a meal are two of humanity's most basic and rewarding rituals.

SO ENJOY the shopping, preparation and serving of the meal -- whether in your own home, or with friends and family. Do something new to spread the thanks this holiday. Consider that sharing our bounty of food can be an important part of the holiday. Volunteer to help feed the homeless.  Or if you have a single neighbor or friend who might be spending the day alone, make a plate for him or her or invite the person over. You'll be amazed at how much it means. When you make dinner, consider incorporating a favorite family recipe handed down to you.  That ties the meal in with the memories.

HERE, BY special request, is my dear creative Gran Nystul's famous Turkey Wiggle recipe:

Gran's Thanksgiving turkey
  was chosen to be large enough
for her tasty "Turkey Wiggle."
2 lbs (4 cups) leftover turkey meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 c turkey or chicken stock
1 l/2 c uncooked white, brown or wild rice or 3 cups uncooked noodles
1 can (14 oz) chopped tomatoes or three fresh ones, diced
2 medium chopped onions (optional two cloves of diced garlic) 
1 green or red pepper, chopped
1 c green olives and 1 c black olives, chopped
¼ c pimentos, chopped
8 oz mushrooms, sliced and sautéed in butter or olive oil (if using canned, drain juice but save to moisten casserole)
16 oz package frozen peas, mixed veggies, peas or corn 
1 can of mushroom soup or cup or so of leftover turkey gravy
Gran Nystul's Weekend Turkey Wiggle delights
with its flavor -- and awakens sweet memories.

(Gran improvised; use what you have. That's the beauty of "wiggle.") 
PREHEAT oven to 350 degrees. Combine ingredients in large saucepan, bring to brief boil. Transfer to buttered casserole, cover with foil,  bake 30-35 minutes until liquid is absorbed but casserole is still moist. Top with croutons or crumbled leftover stuffing. Sprinkle with grated or shaker cheese-- gouda, gruyere, parmesan, sharp cheddar are fine. Delicious with a spoonful of chutney, salsa or cranberry relish.
BTW, historians tell us the turkey feast probably did not derive from the Pilgrims who may or may not have eaten the bird for their "Thanksgiving." They probably ate venison, and they'd have used their fingers. Gran would not have approved of that!

"Big Fish" at Coronado Playhouse is a delightful love story
beautifully sung, with a touching lesson about a tale-telling
 dad with a huge heart. Above Amanda Blair, Michael Harrison.

BEST BET: Southern California theater is alive and well and recovering from several years of pandemic and postponed shows. On the peninsula across a spectacular bridge from San Diego, Coronado Playhouse is producing "Big Fish," featuring a stable of fine actors, two leading actors with gorgeous singing voices and a spirited ensemble. A small live band adds class. Great holiday story with heart, and fine family entertainment. 
Tickets or more info:;
619 435-4856

Casa Mila -- La Pedrera -- is a monumental, magical place
with inspiration from Gaudi's visit to Mount Monserrat.

NEXT STORIES UP: We're off to Las Vegas for holiday shows, then on to Barcelona. Put these two contrasting and engaging cities on your bucket list. We love Sin City, and Spain's most lively town. Vegas is the brainchild of Bugsy Seigel and Antoni Gaudi was the architectural genius who left his mark on Barcelona. So come to the Vegas Strip then Gaudi's
showy Casa Mila and Casa Batllo. We feature the Vegas Bugsy couldn't have imagined and the Barcelona Gaudi created. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live. Catch us weekly for a fresh spin on entertainment, travel, the arts & more.
Get yourself in the holiday spirit at
"Rouge," an exciting new show in Las
 Vegas, with flashy lights, sexy dancers,
gorgeous bodies, festive costumes.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Bonepile Bling! Artful treasures, unique jewelry emerge from junked vehicles

Artist Celeste Barnett makes jewelry of discarded car parts that are not suitable for restoration.
Here in her shop and studio, she eyes raw materials which will become sculpture and jewelry. 


Here is an artful sampling of the metal
creations made in a country shop.


A COUNTRY GIRL with ambition and a flair for design is turning trash into treasure.
Each day, she's on the look-out for a discarded and useless piece of "old whatever" that could be transformed into art.
Celeste Barnett grew up a self-proclaimed tomboy, following her welder dad, Terry Durden, into his Livingston, Montana, shop to watch and learn.
"He's a very creative guy, a real talent," says Barnett with pride. "He taught me how to do everything he'd learned -- I loved to watch him work."
Barnett asked her dad questions about the art of welding, learning to use his tools. "He made it look so interesting.  It was fascinating. I was hooked."
That fascination has held from those long ago days, when Barnett preferred her dad's workshop to the kitchen. Inside the house, her only sister was more at home with her mom in a  traditional domestic backdrop.
"But because I was the oldest of the two girls -- no boys -- it seemed more natural for me to be out in the shop with my dad."
In her shop, cutting, grinding and polishing
from auto parts that can't be salvaged has
become a career for Celeste Barnett.
FAST FORWARD a few decades, to college in Powell, Wyo., and MSU in Bozeman, a happy marriage and the birth of two much loved children, fourth generation Park County kids, Raelynne, 21, and William, 14. She's a nanny in Belgrade and he's a budding bareback rider who has already established a rodeo career.
"Small businesses can be a way to support dreams," she says, noting that her artwork's proceeds go to William's rodeo career and tour and travel expenses.
The family moved to Stillwater County in 2006 after her father-in-law was killed in an auto accident and they wanted to help and support his family.
SHE CREDITS her husband of 17 years, Coleman Barnett, with playing a major role in encouraging her art career after years in marketing and graphic design. Barnett is convinced her time illustrating brochures, book jackets and other artistic endeavors paved the way for the metal art that she finds so fulfilling today. She also believes the pandemic and 2019 prepared the family for belt tightening. "By the time 2020 hit, I needed a break," she says. A shop fire, her daughter's departure for college, plus turning 40 had blocked Barnett creatively.  "Even tequila and dark chocolate couldn't help me!" 

Bracelets, necklaces, earrings and more
can be found in Barnett's country workshop.

She took a time out and during this period of reflection, Barnett's husband's job at Stillwater Mining Company kept the family going. "I took a step back and realized I could create something I really wanted. Bonepile Bling was born."

Earrings are light and showy, and
recycled from an abandoned car.
PART OF the inspiration was Coleman's ongoing 1964 Chevy restoration project.  He has an eye for collectable cars and trucks, finding discarded vehicles to help him restore the Chevy.  His "leftovers" provided the initial materials for his wife's budding career in metal working.
"He'd picked up a parts truck for the Chevy and after he'd stripped all he needed, he planned to haul it off for scrap. Before we let it go, I salvaged a few pieces with that beautiful patina."
She didn't have a specific project in mind, but she saw potential.  
On their way to being jewelry, the process
first involves cutting and salvaging pieces.
Her artful eye found a future for those eye-catching discards. Using skills honed in her dad's shop, she creates graceful bracelets, flashy western style earrings, and other adornments. A new career has emerged.   

ONE OF her most interesting commissions was for a client who wanted jewelry fashioned from a car belonging to her late, beloved father. She sent pieces from the vehicle to Barnett who created a fanciful necklace, bracelet and earrings to the woman's appreciation and delight. The finished products came from an arduous process of cutting, cleaning, bending, grinding and welding. Patience and vision are implicit in Barnett's creative process of "junkyard salvation."   

This beautiful bracelet could have
emerged from a hood or old door.

Other autos beyond use and turned into jewelry include a 1957 Bel Air, 1959 Seneca,1977 Dodge Adventurer, and 1968 Ford Fairlane.  All inspire the growing custom made collection. Prices range around $40 and $45 and Barnett welcomes ideas for individual creations.


Barnette designed her logo.
and a wide-ranging client list from Iowa to Minnesota, the Rockies and west coast help fund her son's rodeo endeavors and keep Barnett feeling productive. "I truly enjoy spending time in the shop, junkyard browsing, and marketing a product that’s all mine," she says. She admits, though, that "it’s much more scary to be emotionally invested in my own project than trying my best to help get someone else's idea off the ground." 

Dani Diaz and Ramon Villa are part
of an energetic cast at Scripps Ranch.

 More info or to order:

BEST BET: San Diego's Scripps Ranch Theatre's "Extreme Home Makeover" is a thought-provoking work. An energetic four-person cast -- including two emerging young actors -- finds forum for their talent in this story of loss, grief and determination. It centers around a recently widowed Tejano woman, her two bright teen-agers and her cynical mother-in-law. The dream of making it big on the TV show from which the play's title comes is the theme, but there is a huge subtext. Each family member is struggling with the father's death, and Marco and Lupe as the kids are dealing with their mother's depression and anxiety. A clever work and one which will leave you moved and reflective.

As Thanksgiving approaches, Christene "Cookie" Meyers
 and Bruce Keller give thanks for their blessings, chief
among them the ability to see the world. Next up! 

UP NEXT: Giving thanks! So much to be thankful for as we bounce back from COVID ("crawl back" might be more accurate.) Even with the past few year's challenges -- family tragedy, the virus, the war in Ukraine, the failing  economy, political rifts, natural disasters of floods and hurricanes -- we celebrate being alive and relatively healthy and able to fly and travel again. We'll take to the airways and give thanks for being alive. Count your own blessings with us, and remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, nature, the arts, family and more:

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Amsterdam's canals offer relaxing time with beauty, intriguing history

In Amsterdam, your canal tour boat will slow down so that you can actually see seven bridges
lined up.  Bruce Keller took this photo at just the right moment, on a recent, beautiful clear day.



Amsterdam tourists and locals alike enjoy an outing
on the city's famous canals, here on a mostly sunny day.



Amsterdam's buildings range from historic and
quaint to contemporary, such as Bimhuis, a music
and concert venue with a docket featuring jazz.

AMSTERDAM'S CANALS are as much a part of its culture as its famous tulips, cheeses, smoke houses, clogs and red light district.

These intricate passages may even trump all those other familiar components of Dutch culture.

To visit Amsterdam and not take a canal ride is unthinkable.

So get yourself down to the water, for an afternoon canal cruise, then perhaps a dinner cruise to enjoy the city's lovely lights. One cannot have too many canal rides. It's just not possible. And if the weather's right -- warm but not too sunny -- there's no better eye candy in Europe then along Amsterdam's picturesque canals.
THE BUSTLING capital of the Netherlands has more than 100 kilometers of grachten or canals within the city. These are part of an intricate network of 90 islands and 1,500 bridges. The three main canals were dug in the 17th century during the Dutch Golden Age.  They form concentric belts around the city, known as the Grachtengordel. We enjoyed the views alongside the main canals, which number more than 1,550 monumental edifices. Among these is the city's Bimhuis, a striking dark box-like music venue which features jazz and a wide-ranging docket of folk music and  classical cello and string quartet concerts -- with much in between those art forms.
Cookie and Keller on the
canals of Amsterdam.

WE FIND the canals so interesting that we took several boat trips during our recent four-day return.  Not only are canal rides relaxing and informative, but being on the water really slows one down. And there's so much to see on the canals of Amsterdam.
Bruce Keller enjoys the sun and views passing
in a boat under one of the city's 1,500 bridges.

Lively city's highlights, click here

On land, we'd tried to see the city's famous "Seven Bridges," which a guide told us could be viewed from one vantage point.  This is true, but that viewing "window" is on water -- not land.  That's why tour boats all slow down there.  Keller was able to capture all seven bridges lined up (see top main photo). A wondrous sight and we were lucky to finally get the shot on a clear, sunny day. On other attempts, the weather was cloudy and it was difficult to see the expanse to the further bridges. We returned for an evening cruise to see the bridges illuminated. That is truly a magical, romantic sight.   
WE ALWAYS enjoy tour commentary. Here we learned:
A canal ride points out sights and offers
an opportunity to relax and enjoy sunshine.

city was founded around 1250 with the building of the "Aeme Stelle Redamme." That's Medieval Dutch for "Dam in a Watery Area," an understatement.

Remembering John, Yoko's visit

The Dam is still the city's heart. But today this former barrier between the River Amstel and the “Southern Sea” is one of the few places in the center of town that you cannot sail a boat to. The last part of the river leading to the dam fell victim to land-traffic in 1922. The street that replaced it called "Damrak," meaning “Last section of the river, leading to the Dam.” Today, a subway line is being built in the old riverbed.
Amsterdam's canals are home to tour boats and house boats.

TO NAVIGATE this beautiful city efficiently and economically, we recommend the "iamsterdam city card" which saved us more than 75 euros at a variety of attractions and on the city's fine public transport system. We didn't begin to touch the range of 70-plus museums, but did enjoy Rembrandt's house, the world class Maritime Museum and Anne Frank family's tiny upstairs apartment where two families bravely hid from the Nazis until they were outed just before the end of World War II. The world famous Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum along with the Frank house which its young Jewish diarist made famous are "must see" stops.
DURING THE Middle Ages, Amsterdam's canals served two purposes.  They were essential to water management, but they were also used for defense. Imposing moats were build inside the walls but eventually lost that function.  Their new purpose was to transport merchandise. The warehouses along the old moats stored huge quantities of trading good.  The enterprising Dutch learned how to move them through those moat-canals to a harbor of ships that sailed all over the world.
Young and old ride bikes in Amsterdam where
that popular transport is a way of life.

Besides seven lined up bridges, Amsterdam's famous
"Seven Sisters" are striking "leaning" buildings on the Amstel.

OUR GUIDES also noted the city's famous coffee shops and smoke houses, with their offerings of cannabis products and pastries. He nodded to many historic buildings and the city's Red Light District.

Something for everyone in Amsterdam 

Canal tours also ground you in the city's neighborhoods, suggesting stopping off points for every taste.  So we returned on foot to explore that famous Red Light District, and shop for the country's fine cheeses and pastries.  Cannabis is legal in Amsterdam, but must be purchased from a certified shop.  We passed this time, but on previous trips sampled wares in cookie form.

THE AMSTERDAM city card offers admission to many attractive locales in the region, including lively Zaanse Schans, with its charming traditional houses and windmills in an open-air museum village setting. We also visited a famous historical maritime museum, Zuiderzee, the Frans Hals Museum and hope to next time visit "New Land," the newest province of the country with fashion outlets.  
Amsterdam is a wonderful city to "cruise" through with the canals bringing an intimate look at life on the water. More information on a canal cruise or to purchase the fine city card:


From left, Omri Schein, Brian Mackey, Angela Chatelain
Avila and John Wells III. Michael Louis Cusimano
rounds out the talented five-person "Baskerville" cast.
BEST BET: Prepare to laugh long and loudly at Lamb's Players Theatre when you book tickets for "Baskerville," just across the bridge from San Diego in Coronado. The fast-paced, 90-minute comedy puts a fresh, funny spin on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” Five gifted actors have riotous fun playing 39 characters in this affectionate parody of the intricate plot lines and eccentric characters that mark the Sherlock Holmes oeuvre. It's an inventive, engaging romp for lovers of theater and fans of those engaging Sherlock stories. The quintet of versatile, veteran actors has as much fun as the audience. For tickets: 619 437-6000
The run extends through Nov. 20.

Artist and graphic designer Celeste Barnett
shows off one of her artful creations,
fashioned from an abandoned auto.

UP NEXT: An enterprising Montana woman has created an unusual business that grew from an interest in abandoned cars and other discarded items. "Bonepile Bling" is the creation of Celeste Barnett, who grew up in the Livingston, Montana, area and has followed her father's welding interest and her husband's passion for old cars. Her artful creations are made in her garage shop between  Absarokee and Fishtail, and include jewelry, ornaments, art pieces and a range of other inventive products. We visit her studio and share some of her work and ideas. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on art, music, theater, travel, nature, family and more:
Please share the links and stories with like minded friends, travelers and fellow arts minded people.    

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Emotional flamenco, fado speak to the soul in Spain and Portugal

Flamenco -- that showy, colorful dance of southern Spain --  is performed with rhythmic clapping
and instruments. Swirling scarves and lacy skirts and ruffles are part of this Barcelona performance. 


Fado in Porto is a revered tradition,
here at the Ideal Club de Fado, which is a
formal setting, more concert hall. than bar. 

MUSIC AND DANCE have long helped us understand and interpret culture. These art forms skirt across language barriers and head straight for the heart.

From the chants of the Buddhist monks to the native American's war dance, to the cantor's song to lead the congregation, music is a metaphor for what we stand for and believe in.
The roots of flamenco are mysterious -- not unlike the dance itself. But the beginning of the wildly rhythmic accompanied dance seems to be in the Roma migration from Rajasthan of northwest India to Spain. That was sometime between the 9th and 14th centuries.
 These migrants brought musical instruments --tambourines, bells, and wooden castanets -- to complement an extensive repertoire of songs and dances adapted through centuries to today's flamenco.

IN PORTUGAL, fado's history is a bit more recent, around 1820. It can be presented in a formal program or organized restaurant act.  It can also unfold in impromptu fashion, a gathering among friends at a tavern -- usually after a number of adult beverages. We've heard fado sung in restaurants and cafes, gardens, bullfights, streets and alleys. Officially, though, it features a singer

Flamenco is presented here, "Tablao Flamenco Cordobes,"
with spirited dancers, musicians and singers, who
also provide rhythmic clapping and chanting. 
-- male or female -- and two guitarists. One plays the rhythm and bass guitar and one plays the lyrical Portuguese guitar, also called fado guitar. It's a large, resonating instrument with 6 pairs of strings and a pear-shaped harmonic box. 
It was fun to see and hear so many very different fado shows -- a wild range -- from a formal setting in a guitar museum in Porto to a small, smoky club in Lisbon with only a few tables. We also heard fado at an outdoor restaurant where the singers moved from table to table.
WE TOOK in a total of five fado shows and concerts --  one nearly every other night -- during our two-week stay in Portugal. The venues ranged from that intimate cafe with lots of drinking, merriment and only a few tables, to the more dignified guitar museum venue in Porto with a glass of port daintily served  at intermission and the audience quietly respectful. In Malaga, we've experienced two wonderful flamenco shows at Tablao Flamenco Alegria Malaga. Flamenco Malaga is also inviting, a smaller venue in a restored mansion. Both offer changing repertoire and are worthy representations of this time honored artform. 
Flamenco in Malaga:
authentic, enchanting.

"Keller and Cookie" at fado
in A Baiuca, in Lisbon's
famous old Alfama.
In Lisbon we tried a fado show in A Baiuca, a lively tonic to jet lag. The house is small with only a few tables, and the lead singer is in her 80s.  It was a treat to watch her mingle with the crowd before the show, and during the breaks, as the musicians showed their instrumental stuff and gave her a break.  

THE PORTUGUESE love their fado, as Spaniards adore flamenco. Presenting fado shows in their purest form is a specialty of the beautiful Casa da Guitarra.  The museum displays dozens of beautifully restored guitars which focuses on the plucked string instrument so connected to fado but offers much more than guitars.

This fado singer is past 80 and
still entertaining at A Baiuca.

This unique museum developed an acoustically perfect place to hear the art form in its pure, traditional sense. 

Deep in Lisbon's Al Fama, its oldest area, a fado club
is indoors with a larger venue in the outdoor plaza.

Before the concert, we admired various traditional guitars like the viola braguesa or the viola campaniça -- learning that viola means guitar in Portuguese. The acoustic and classical guitars, mandolins and acoustic bass guitars are all exquisite instruments built in Portugal. 

A Severa fado show has been around since 1955,
and is one of the best known in Lisbon.
THEN IT was show time as a singer delivered a dozen heartfelt songs -- eyes closed, shawl tightly held.
Flamenco in Barcelona is the Spanish expression of emotion
 and soul. Here, a rousing show at popular Flamenco Cordobes.

The two art forms -- fado and flamenco -- are time honored and youngsters are taught reverence for them at an early age.

Many young flamenco dancers begin as students of their moms, aunties, even  grandmothers.

Fado in Portugal reflects the culture's belief in destiny and a deep sense of fate. In Spain, flamenco speaks to the human condition, too. But in flamenco, singing is secondary to the dance with its astonishing tapping and clicking. The singing -- as in fado -- has a sometimes tormented sound -- poignant but sad.  Said our singer friend, "Flamenco can be a song of love -- for a partner or mother, -- it can also express pain and heartbreak."

FARM WORKERS tired of toiling, rejected lovers, lonely travelers missing their homeland -- all have flamenco and fado interpretations. 
 Flamenco Cordobes is perhaps Barcelona's most famous flamenco venue and we've made several pilgrimages over the years of visiting this famous city.
It is located deep down and slightly off  "La Rambla," or Las Ramblas, that famous tree-lined pedestrian street winding nearly a mile through town. We like Cordobes because it offers delightful authentic food, then spirited flamenco and world class dancers and singers. Says our friend, "There's a magic to flamenco because it comes from deep emotion."
In flamenco, the phrase is "el duende," meaning mystery, excitement, magic.
IN FLAMENCO, each story comes to life in song, guitar and dance. As with fado, all this is usually accompanied by copious wine and sometimes tears, but always applause, shouts and whistles. 
When visiting all three cities this piece highlights -- Lisbon, Porto and Barcelona -- we recommend the invaluable city cards, which save time and money on venues and transportation and give entertainment options.
 More information or to book fado in Porto and Lisbon, and flamenco in Malaga or Barcelona: 

A top-notch cast with sharp direction: "Into the Breeches"
 is a hit at the lively North Coast Repertory Theatre.
BEST BET: Southern California theater lovers are laughing themselves silly at "Into the Breeches!" at North Coast Repertory Theatre. A crack cast, lively pace and touching story coalesce in this romp set in WWII New England. With the men at war, woman take over a struggling theater to keep it afloat while the fellas are "over there." Gender-bending wisdom and humor --  smoothly directed -- make this play both timely and timeless. The varied Rep season showcases classics, new work, comedy and musicals -- "Pippin" to "The Cherry Orchard." For tickets, call 858 481-1055. Or: The run is through Nov. 13.


Amsterdam's canals are legendary, and form the heart of
this picturesque Dutch city. We spent four days on these
aters, here the "Seven Sisters" on the Amstel River.
UP NEXT: Amsterdam beckons. We move north in Europe, setting off on the canals which we recently explored for four sunny early autumn days. The famous canals of Amsterdam are a lifeline for commerce, tourism and socializing. We look at them and their amazing construction, and catch native Dutch folks and tourists out on a sunny fall day. Come along, enjoy the water.  Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, nature, the arts, family and more:
AND PLEASE, share the links.