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Sweet breeze, impromptu jam session

March 17, 2015

White sand beaches. Lush palms. Water dancing in the warm currents. And splashing around in the pool with our new friends from Minnesota. The day couldn’t have been more perfect.

Except for this evenings spontaneous delights. Livy wouldn’t nap until she conked out at 5pm. There’s no waking the beast now for my evening stroll I had planned. So I grabbed myself a rum a sprite and sent the husband out to grab a pizza from Angelos. I made my way out to my rocking chair on the deck only to hear the neighbors below strumming the guitar and serenading the complex.

Oh…Bavaro…your sweet evening breezes and smiling faces are a pure delight after a harsh Chicago winter. Looking forward to what this week has in store for us.


Ada Colorina & Focus on the Arts – Part 2

April 30, 2013
Students still hard at work

Students still hard at work

It was Wednesday.  The dedication was scheduled for 6pm and there was no way in hell we were going to have 2 benches done.  Fortunately, our first bench was almost complete and the second one was on its way.  We had enough to show but that didn’t take away from the stress of the day.   As the school’s Focus program was in full effect on Wed, we didn’t have any student participation…but we did have live music to keep our spirits high and heels tapping.

Actually, I was blown away with the talent the high school brought in.  The whole point of Focus is for students to engage in a 4 day program that celebrates every aspect of the arts.   Students get a rare opportunity to see performers and take workshops with professionals in all areas of the arts.  They can take an acting class with the casting director of a renowned theatre company, hear the personal stories of musicians that worked their way up and support themselves fully by writing and producing their own music or dance with members of a world-class dance company.  Hey, I even saw students get up in front of their peers and jam out their own raps with the guest musicians playing in the background. And let’s not forget the opportunity to paint with one of Puerto Vallarta’s real treasures…Ms. Ada Colorina.

These kids were super talented and it was inspiring to see them toss caution to the side and just jump into their passion.  The school hosts writing workshops, arts classes in every imaginable medium and experts in architecture, film and a myriad of arts careers.  I was seriously jealous.  I grew up just a few towns away and we never had anything like this when I was in high school.  Of course, that was quite some time ago (cough, cough).

I wanted you to see some pics of the benches as we completed them. Enjoy!

The final detail work could have gone on for days.  I often do artists know when a work is complete?

The final detail work could have gone on for days. I often wonder…how do artists know when a work is complete?

The Final Bench celebrating the Sister Cities of Puerto Vallarta and honoring Jim Rosenbaum, distinguished member of the Sister Cities board.  What a special way to honor a great man.

The Final Bench celebrating the Sister Cities of Puerto Vallarta and  Highland Park.  Both of the benches honor the memory of  Jim Rosenbaum, distinguished member of the Sister Cities board. What a special way to honor a great man.  I wish I had a chance to meet him.

The second bench showcased the activities of Focus on the Arts at Highland Park High School.  Both benches will be place on the grounds of the school.

The second bench showcased the activities of Focus on the Arts at Highland Park High School. Both benches will be place on the grounds of the school.


I know the hours that went into these works of art as I was there by Ada’s side along with my counterpart Ms. Wendy from the Sister Cities board.  Ada could have spent another 2 days working on these…but they were as done as they were going to get and we all needed a break.  I was so honored to be her apprentice this week.  I love to paint myself but I’m no Ada Colorina.  But who knows what the future may bring…maybe someday with more training from my network of Travel Gal artists, I too can be a celebrated artist like Ada.  😉

For more information on the Focus program, please visit:



Ada Colorina and Focus on the Arts – Highland Park, IL

April 26, 2013
Preparing for a week of bench creation at Highland Park High School

Preparing for a week of bench creation at Highland Park High School

It all started that Friday morning with a visit to Highland Park High School.  Well, actually that’s a lie.  It started last October when we first met with Highland Park’s Sister Cities and the board of HPHS’s Focus on the Arts program.  That meeting was the first time we spoke about having Ada work with the students to design and paint benches honoring a member of the Sister Cities board who had passed the year before.  Walking out of this meeting, we knew it was only a matter of time before Ada would return to Chicago to work with the students.

After months of planning the day was set…Ada was to arrive on April 4th.  The day after she arrived, we attended a meeting with Blake, an art teacher at the high school, to see what the benches looked like.

Blake (art teacher) and the raw benches eagerly awaiting Ada's touch

Blake (art teacher) and the raw benches eagerly awaiting Ada’s touch

Whoa!  We had our work cut out for us.  The benches were completely raw and in need of a good sanding, some patch work to smooth out the rough spots and a coat or 10 of primer.  I guess this wouldn’t have been too bad if we had more time.  But we were slated to start production on Monday and needed to get them as done as possible by Wed. night for a dedication.

Does Ada look nervous?

Does Ada look nervous?

Armed with her sketch book, some stencils and a brush or two, Ada paused for a quick laugh.  Laughter certainly carried us through the week.  That’s part of what I love about Ada…she always has a smile on her face, even in those completely overwhelming times.  We jumped right in and started patching up the indentations left from the screws, rough patches of wood and other oddities.

Finally, a student came to join the creative process!

Finally, a student came to join the creative process!

We must have been working for 3 hours before any students came to join the project.  I was kind of shocked as I figured we’d be working with the students the entire time.  I was counting on that actually as my plan was to blog on-site each day.  But no.  I barely had time to snap a photo or two much less take the time to write about the experience.  It was all hands on deck.  Sophia, our first student shown in the picture above, came for about 30 minutes and shared her vision for the benches.  As the benches were to highlight the Sister Cities of Puerto Vallarta and Highland Park, she thought we could have one element that tied the two cities together.  Spreading out from that one common element, we would incorporate each city’s most prominent features.

Collaboration at its finest

Ada and Sophia co-creating

Ada immediately grabbed her pencil and started to sketch out this idea.  Within minutes, they agreed that the one uniting feature would be the water.  One side…Banderas Bay…and the other Lake Michigan.

First the sky was filled in

First the sky was filled in

Then...more details added

Sophia was our only student on Day 1…but she her ideas were instrumental to the design of the first bench.  Thanks girl!  Day 2 was completely different.  Students scurried in an out with the sound of each bell.  I’ve included a series of photos below showcasing their involvement and how the benches progressed throughout the day.  Incredible!

Students enter the scene

Students enter the scene

Dive right in....

Dive right in….

busy, busy, busy...

busy, busy, busy…

Even the special needs class jumped into the awesome!

Even the special needs class jumped into the action…so awesome!

Un oh!!!   When the paintbrush hits the hair, you know it's getting serious :)

Un oh!!! When the pencil hits the hair, you know it’s getting serious 🙂

Color palates and one amazing bench almost completed

Color palates and one amazing bench almost completed

We must have had about 80 kids help out on Day 2 of the project.  Their energy and spirit of collaboration made they day fly by.   I’ll be posting more on this project and Ada’s visit to Chicago in a bit.

Celebrating Failure

April 5, 2013

We don’t celebrate failure enough. Without it, some of the greatest inventions and innovations would cease to exist. I guess we were all raised to focus on what we accomplish instead of appreciating the value of what we learn along the way. Thoughts of failure have taken up temporary residence in my brain lately. It started when I had to postpone my very first cultural immersion trip to Grand Cayman. I’m sure it was just as disappointing to my artist friends on the island as it was to me. But we are moving forward…gathering up what we learned and adapting to what needs to happen next. Now with all this new information processing in my head, I figured I’d go out there and look for some inspiration on the topic of failure. And boy oh boy did I find some. So much so that I figured I’d share it with you too. Here are some interesting thoughts on failure from some of the most incredible minds and talents of our time.

  • Albert Einstein said “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” He didn’t speak until he was 4-years-old and did not read until he was 7. His parents thought he was “sub-normal,” and one of his teachers described him as “mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift forever in foolish dreams.” He was expelled from school and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School.  Hmmm…somehow this “sub-normal, mentally slow” man managed to learn to read and write…and even do a bit of math.  😉
  • Thomas Edison’s teachers said he was “too stupid to learn anything.” He was fired from his first two jobs for being “non-productive.” As an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
  • “Failing is one of the greatest arts in the world. One fails toward success.” ~ Charles Kettering
  • “Failure provides the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently.” ~ Henry Ford
  • “The fastest way to succeed is to double your failure rate.” ~ Thomas Watson Sr.
  • Van Gogh sold only one painting during his life.  And this to the sister of one of his friends for 400 francs (approximately $50). This didn’t stop him from completing over 800 paintings.
  • Decca Records turned down a recording contract with the Beatles with the unprophetic evaluation, “We don’t like their sound. Groups of guitars are on their way out.” After Decca rejected the Beatles, Columbia records followed suit.  Doh!
  • In 1954, Jimmy Denny, manager of the Grand Ole Opry, fired Elvis Presley after one performance. He told Presley, “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.”
  • Beethoven handled the violin awkwardly and preferred playing his own compositions instead of improving his technique. His teacher called him “hopeless as a composer.” This hopeless music man somehow managed to write five of his greatest symphonies while completely deaf.  Now who’s the hopeless one?
  • Louis Pasteur was only a mediocre pupil in undergraduate studies and ranked 15th out of 22 students in chemistry. In 1872, Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, wrote that “Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.”

So how about taking a moment to celebrate your latest failure? After all, it’s just the next step necessary to get you to where you want to go. If you’re going to fail, I say fail miserably, learn what you need to learn and get back up and keep moving. Onward my friends! Let’s make some magic happen.

A special thank you to all the artists that have supported Travel Gal along the way and keep believing in what we’re building together.  I love you all!  (Pascal Lagesse & Christyna Smith-Jauffret from  Mauritius, Ada Colorina from Puerto Vallarta, Gordon Solomon, Alta Solomon, Nasaria Suckoo Chollette and Randy Chollette from Grand Cayman, and J2 from New Orleans, Chicago and Little Rock – what can I say…she’s a traveling gal.)


One of my daily mandalas to help illustrate the ups and downs of building a business and following your dreams.

The Searcher – painting by Gordon Solomon, poetry by Alta Solomon

January 30, 2013
Another amazing work of art and words from Gordon and Alta Solomon

Another amazing work of art and words from Gordon and Alta Solomon

The Searcher

Beyond even what the wisest could fathom.

Where lays the destiny of one’s life?

In thoughts that echo through the hallways of the mind.

Deep & shallow.
The psyches undertow.
Like currents,
Turning the sediments of questioned existence residing on the floor of the minds ocean.

And where do they stop to rest in one so weary?

Smiles mold themselves accordingly.

Where are tears hidden?
How did you learn the lesson to make them hush?


Aromas of sadness,
Woven together like a spiders web.
Trying to keep them there,
Trapped in its snare.

Where can eyes find rest?
And lips smile with truth?
Where no harsh words shatter life.

But in the hush of the heart,
A door stands locked.
Yet to be opened,
So things can go in,
And things can go out.

August 2001

Nasaria’s Hertiage Tour Part 2: The National Museum and National Gallery – Grand Cayman

January 7, 2013

Nasaria’s Heritage Tour of the island will also include visits to The National Museum, where she used to be the Educational Coordinator,  and National Gallery, a new museum on the island that has featured work from all of our artists participating in the Travel Gal Adventure to Grand Cayman.  Take a look at Nasaria’s thoughts and very personal experiences on these stops…

Primary School Folk Singers performing at The National Museum

Primary School Folk Singers performing at The National Museum

Stop 3:  The National Museum: A relatively small building from the outside, actually houses much more than you would think on the inside. The tour begins with a very interesting Media experience that uses modern technology to tell the story of our humble beginnings and the history of the building in which the Museum is housed. When I first started working there, the Museum had been closed for years because of the devastation of Hurricane Ivan. I was very privileged to be able to provide footage, photos and scripts for the Museum’s introductory audiovisual experience, and to make three documentary films. One of the films, The Story of Long Celia”, is about an Enslaved African in Cayman’s History that dared to speak of freedom and was severely punished for it. The Museum Building was once courthouse, a post office, Cayman’s first Secondary School, a Church and a Dancehall. There is a Natural History Gallery, which shares the richness of our Flora and Fauna. One interesting tidbit: Cayman has a very large number of indigenous creatures just because of the small size of the islands. Basically, the Islands cannot produce and sustain the numbers of animals required by world regulations to get the animals off the endangered species list. The Cultural History Gallery shares the way we used to live, more about our judicial system and famous men and women in our history. You must come and hear a story told by Mr. Harvey, the Museum’s resident animatronics figure. There is also a Children’s gallery, The Old Gaol (Jail) and the Museum Shop where you can purchase many locally crafted gifts.

National Gallery in Grand Cayman

National Gallery in Grand Cayman

Stop 4:  The National Gallery: Just completed and opened this year, the National Gallery is a very modern interpretation of space in itself. The Grounds are just as inspiring with a sculpture Garden, Cafe and many cool areas in which to sit in the shade and enjoy the breeze. There is usually a very inspiring exhibition in the Main Gallery as well as an exhibition of their Permanent Collection. Alta, Gordon, Randy and Nasaria all have had showings at the Gallery and have a piece of their work in the Permanent Collections. You will be able to see paintings about our Seafaring History, the way we made a living in Cayman and modern interpretations of old ideas. If you look high enough, you might catch a glimpse of Nasaria’s art, walking the walls…

Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery

Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery

"Miss Lassie's House" by Maureen Anderson, from the collection at the National Gallery

“Miss Lassie’s House” by Maureen Anderson, from the collection at the National Gallery

March 23rd – March 30th are the dates for our Travel Gal Adventure to Grand Cayman.  Immersing yourself in  Caymanian culture through the personal experiences of some of the islands most premiere artists is a great way to spend your Spring break.  For more information on the packages and experience we’ve created, please visit

I hope to see you in March!

Nasaria’s Caymanian Heritage Tour

January 5, 2013
Meet Nasaria...artist, poet, Caymanian..and an all-round amazing woman.  Wait til you meet her!

Meet Nasaria…artist, poet, Caymanian..and an all-round amazing woman. Wait til’ you meet her!

As part of the Travel Gal Adventure to Grand Cayman, I’ve coordinated a day to immerse ourselves in some of the more intriguing sites.  Luckily, we have Nasaria Suckoo Chollette guiding us on this mini-adventure.  I met Nasaria on the beach in Bodden Town when I was visiting the island.  Her spunky disposition immediately caught my attention.  When I found out she was also the educational coordinator at the National Museum…I couldn’t get it out of my head that she should be our tour guide.  You can imagine how lucky I felt when that actually became a reality.  Nasaria handpicked the sites we’ll be visiting.  She sent me over some notes on each location so over the next few days, I’m going to share those with you.  Here goes….

1st Stop – Josie’s Senior Centre:

This small local Museum of sorts, offers over three hundred traditional fine crafts for you to see and touch. There is a lace wedding dress over 100 years old, Yo-Yo Patterned Quilts that are evidence of our rich African History, Cayman Made Furniture, Thatch Crafts and an Outside Kitchen. Older Caymanians used to build a little Kitchen outside of the home because the home was made entirely of wood and could easily catch on fire. This was if there was a fire in the Kitchen, they could avoid losing their home as well. The Outside Kitchen is where Traditional Desserts like Cassava Cake and Macaroni Pudding were made and left on the Windowsill to cool.

Caymanian Knitting Fish Net Hammocks

Caymanian Knitting Fish Net Hammocks

2nd Stop – Pedro St. James:

This restored Great House is the seat of Democracy in the Cayman Islands. It is in Bodden Town, Cayman’s first Capital, and this is where the very first Laws were made. Pedro St. James sits on a majestic cliff overlooking the sea and is the home to Cayman’s very last Donkey. The tour begins with a short but very entertaining documentary film about the beginnings of settlement and population in the Cayman Island. It tells of the history of European settlement and Enslaved Africans. I am actually in the film.  Let’s see if you can recognize me.

Pedro St. James Castle

Pedro St. James Castle

That’s all for now.  My next post on Nasaria’s Tour will feature the National Museum and National Gallery.  Come back to see more.

And hey…if you don’t have travel plans yet this March 23rd – 31st…join us on the island.  You can learn more at

Countdown to Cayman…or not

January 4, 2013

The final countdown has arrived.  I have 10 days left to confirm whether or not my first Travel Gal Adventure will happen this March.  My dream to share cultures through the lives of artists around the world will certainly not die if this trip doesn’t happen.  But, making this trip is the next step for me.  So even if March doesn’t happen, we will be traveling to Grand Cayman to meet and work with Gordon & Alta Solomon and Randy Chollette and Nasaria Suckoo Chollette.  And I hope you’ll join in.

10 days…will our adventure in March to Grand Cayman happen?

Can you picture yourself here...relaxing and soaking up the Caymanian culture?

Can you picture yourself here…relaxing and soaking up the Caymanian culture?

If you haven’t seen the packages, please take a look at my website

Let’s go learn together and create an experience unlike any other.  Below you will see works by Gordon, Randy and Nasaria.  The spirit that shines through their work is open for you to discover.

Children of The Day - Gordon Solomon

Children of The Day – Gordon Solomon

"Therefore The Sage" - by Randy Chollette

“Therefore The Sage” – by Randy Chollette

Long Celia by Nasaria Suckoo Chollette

Long Celia by Nasaria Suckoo Chollette

This is a cultural immersion experience.  Yes, they will teach you their crafts.  But more importantly, they will share a piece of themselves with you as they share their personal journeys of what it’s like to be Caymanian.

Let’s do this thing.  Message me if you’re interested.  Let’s figure out how to make this work for you.

And….Happy New Year to you all!

All my best-


The Travel Gal

Got Culture: Honolulu Museum of Art and the Shangri’la

January 2, 2013

Got Culture: Honolulu Museum of Art and the Shangri’la

Hawaii is a place of natural beauty and tropical wonder. From the Waimea Canyon to Waikiki Beach, the sightseeing attracts many visitors to this volcanic island in the South Pacific. However, there’s more to this island than beautiful beaches, surf shops, clubs, and coconut trees. It’s only natural that a place so vibrant and cultural would attract artists of all kinds.

Varying up vacation activities in Hawaii requires an attention to the local galleries that really show off the diverse cultures and attitudes found on the island. Two places that bring an authentic and cultural spin to the southeastern shores of Oahu are the Honolulu home of Doris Duke, an Islamic artist, and the Honolulu Museum of Art, a historic visual arts facility in the heart of the Big Island.

Honolulu Museum of Art: The Honolulu Museum of Art was founded in 1927 and is the largest facility and gallery in Hawaii with over 50,000 pieces across 5,000 years. Located right off Lunalili Highway next to Puu Ulakaa State Park and the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, the museum is a center for films, cultural programs, art lectures, and workshops.

Find paintings like Henri Matisse's "Annelies, White Tulips, and Anemones" at the museum

Find paintings like Henri Matisse’s “Annelies, White Tulips, and Anemones” at the museum

"Hawaiian Mother and Child" by Charles W. Bartle

“Hawaiian Mother and Child” by Charles W. Bartle

Among the collection, you can find pieces from local Hawaiian artists, Asian, European, and American artists, as well as various textiles. The collections here span a variety of cultures across many time periods, even from ancient times. While tours offer learning experiences, many visitors come to the Honolulu Museum of Art for the Shangri’la tour, a two and a half hour event that travels through the historic home of Doris Duke.

Doris Duke’s Shangri’la: The Shangri’la was built in 1937 right on the beaches of Diamond Head. Doris Duke’s distinctive and eclectic collection of Islamic art can be found here. The Shangri’la is a center for Islamic art and culture in Honolulu, offering support for other artists by providing an inside look at Doris Duke’s personal art, archives, heirlooms, and unique furnishings. There’s more than just art to be found inside of this magnificent historic home. Literature, music, and dance resources are also profoundly displayed and made available to the public.

A snapshot of the Muslim decor at Shangri'la

A snapshot of the Muslim decor at Shangri’la

Public tours take visitors through each part of the Shangri’la home, including the Mihrab room and library, Syrian room, Mughal Garden, dining room, and Lanai. The dining area is especially fantastic as a beautiful view of the playhouse, pool, beach, and pavilion are revealed. If you want to see a bit of Doris Duke’s Shangri’la, just head online where you can find a virtual tour that takes you through intimate areas of the house. The public tour lasts for two and a half hours, departing from the Honolulu Museum of Art to the Shangri’la on the coast.

The art collection at Shangri’la shows off the beauty and culture of Islamic artists with multiple artifacts and pieces from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, including collections from Mughal, Safavid, Qajar and Ottoman dynasties. Duke also made a point of collecting items that were from lesser-known artists, allowing for a varied collection that spans furniture, trinkets, artistic prints and historical pieces. As she was an avid collector who sought interesting over prestige, the collection provides an intimate look into what she loved the most and allows others to appreciate a wide variety of Islamic art.

While visiting Oahu, experiencing authentic Hawaiian culture and the artistic history should be a priority. Sure, where you rest your head at night will be an important part of your experience, but it’s places like Shangri’la and the Honolulu Museum of art that is going to capture your heart and enhance your stay on this beautiful island.

A New Contributor to Travel Gal: Kendra Thornton

January 1, 2013

I’m excited to announce that Kendra Thornton, travel expert, will now be contributing to the Travel Gal blog.  You can read a bit more about Kendra below.  Keep a look out…she’ll have some interesting information on art and culture in Hawaii coming soon!!!

About Kendra

Kendra ThorntonKendra Thornton has been packing her bags and traveling the world since she visited the Bahamas at 3 months old. Kendra grew up in the travel industry with parents who own Royal Travel & Tours, the largest travel agency chain in north central Illinois. The family business afforded her the opportunity to travel the world and experience first-hand the evolution of the industry over the past 30 years. Kendra also appears regularly as a travel expert on ABC, CBS, NBC and CW affiliates across the country to share travel trends, tips and deals with millions of viewers every year. She’s been quoted frequently on travel trends and issues in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, and appeared regularly on the ABC, CBS and CW networks and affiliate stations across the country to discuss travel.

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