The John Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh, PA


To the general populace the word Heinz brings to mind ketchup. But to people from Pittsburgh the Heinz 57 brand is just one of the many claims to fame hailing from Western Pennsylvania. Now an international company with product lines reaching way beyond ketchup, it was founded in a little farm house back in 1869 in nearby Sharpsburg by Henry John Heinz.

While visiting Pittsburgh, The Senator John Heinz History Center was a favorite stop. It is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution and is the largest history museum in the state. Senator Heinz III, (1938-1991) was a great philanthropist and the museum is a wonderful legacy.

Growing up in the Pittsburgh area, I knew of the things that came from this area, but it wasn’t until this visit that I had a keen appreciation for all ethnic and innovative discoveries for which Pittsburgh is now renown.

The center has 6 floors full of exhibits that tell the story of Western Pennsylvania scanning 250 years. Just to name a few is a display of Jonas Salk discovering the Polio vaccine, the first heart transplant, the invention of the Big Mac, Isaly’s, Kennywood Park, a Heinz chronicle, tracing steamboat travel in the area, coal, steel, a whole floor on Sports – the Steelers and the Pirates, to just name a few.


I really felt a sense of pride that I had not experienced growing up there when I just took it all for granted.  Western Pennsylvanians have accomplished much through the years.  One just has to stoll through the halls of this history center to really appreciate the vast scope of their accomplishments and contributions to the world.

St. Augustine Lighthouse


On my last trip up to St. Augustine over Thanksgiving, we decided to take a tour of the St. Augustine Lighthouse. After all the food we ate, it seemed like a good idea as there were 219 steps. EXTREME AEROBICS!!! Yep, there they were spiraling ever upward. Did I tell you that I have a fear of heights?  And the higher we went, the narrower the space. Oh, and did I tell you that I am claustrophobic? I know – lethal combination for what we endeavored to do. ( More about this later!) But we passed it all the time and there it stood high above the trees just beckoning. So it was after all a must see.


Just a little background on the historic lighthouse. It is actually the third one to be built in St. Augustine. If you would like to get more facts on the first two and to get more of the details of this lighthouse click here. Now this lighthouse, located at 81 Lighthouse Avenue off Anastasia Blvd (A1A), was built of bricks on a concrete base and construction lasted from 1871 to 1874. Initially, the keeper hauled a bucket of lamp fuel which was stored in the small room off to the right of the stairs near the entrance. The actual bucket was on display on one of the landings an it was really heavy – empty. I can hardly imaging toting it up those narrow, winding stairs with fuel. In 1909 lamp oil was replaced with kerosene and finally in 1936 it changed over to electric. The duties were eventually turned over to the US Coast Guard, replacing the keeper and it was fully automated in 1955.


In addition to the lighthouse itself there is also a lovely brick home that housed the keepers and their families. It is now set up as a museum with many artifacts of the time, photos, uniforms and general home decor typical of what would have been in use by the keeper and his family. Everyone had duties to perform- some related specifically to the lighthouse and some more of a housekeeping nature. The office of the keeper was actually at the entrance to the lighthouse, directly across from the fuel storage room. Here the keeper was required to keep careful records or logs, some of which are on display in the front hallway of the home/museum.  For those who like to visit lighthouses and collect related nicknacks, there is a large store set up in the house as well.


One of the main reasons that folks would climb 219 stairs would be the view. Fortunately, along the way up and facing in all directions were a good many windows. Lucky for me and all other faint- hearted climbers. Digressing to my particular visit, I imagine I was quite the site going up those stairs. First I had to have Roberto in front of me and Jenn right behind me. (Never mind that Jenn had some height issues of her own.) Then there I was clinging to the handrails with both hands, literally blocking off the two way stairs. Heart pounding and deep breathing all the way, I made it to within the last 5 or so steps that led to the outside landing at the top. Jenn, Roberto, Jenn’s dad and step mother insured me that is was quite a site and that on a “clear day you could see forever”. Yada yada yada. While I really do enjoy the idea of lighthouses, and think they are historic and lovely to look at from afar, :) , I am still glad for the experience as far as I got. I loved the museum and reading all about it and I even felt pretty good about going up as far as I did, just to prove to myself that I could. I wish I could have gone the last step and braved the outside at the top. Maybe next time………………..



Flight of Fancy


I stepped into the rainforest. Eager, anticipating what lie ahead. A shaft of sunlight found its way through the dense foliage and my eyes followed it to where it lighted – playing and dancing on the undergrowth beneath the trees and I followed it. Standing in the midst of green, surrounded and engulfed by it on all sides, I felt as a speck amongst the massive trees and plants. Standing there, adjusting to the seeming stillness, my eyes scanned my surroundings – looking and listening. This place, outwardly calm and quiet, was alive, and so, I sensed that I was not alone, yet not frightened by it. I heard quiet murmurings, felt slight movements of things yet unseen and, without feeling it a choice, was pulled along the path of discovery.


A whirring overhead, I looked up to see tiny birds flashing past from tree to tree, singing their song in their flight. There were turtles, sunning and splashing in the small pool of water up ahead and as I got closer and stepped onto the bridge I saw that there were fish, plentiful and golden, swimming along with the water’s flow. The rushing water lured me on till I came upon a larger pool tracing its source to a majestic waterfall. There, nestled among the trees and flanking the waterfall were orchids and other tropical flowers, a rainbow of color among the green. It was enchanting.


Knowing this was not all, I continued further still and came upon a banquet laid ready on a broad banana leaf – pineapple, mango, papaya. Who put it there and for whom? Pondering this thought, I clearly heard another, more recognizable sound. Man. Too far as yet, but knowing the deep timber of a man’s voice, I moved toward it and in the distance saw him – gesturing in conversation with someone. He was standing in front of what seemed to be a mesh box, the contents of which was causing some excitement. Just as I approached, his hand went to the latch and he lifted it to an explosion of color and movement as hundreds and hundreds of butterflies of every size and color were released. They flew with abandon in every direction – swirling, flitting, coming to rest all around me and gorging on the set out fruits.


Okay, it does sound somewhat like a contrived, formula paperback doesn’t it? But hey, it is after all my flight of fancy. :)


What is this place, this place that excites my imagination and feels my senses with nature’s delights!!


I wish I could tell you that it was in some remote, tropical mountain rainforest in the South Pacific. In reality I was a visitor at the Butterfly Rainforest in the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville’s University of Florida.


If you ever thought you would like to commune with nature and walk on the “wild side” in a Rainforest, and can’t quite yet trek to the real thing, why not do as I did and head up to the Butterfly Rainforest. It was actually very lovely. Yep, somewhat like I described above. But being a part of UF there is also an awesome educational component with the multiple labs in full view through large plate glass windows. These could be viewed as I meandered down the long hallway papered with pictures and mounted butterflies of every size an hue.


There is an admission fee which varies for children adults, and seniors but not more than to just go to the movies. I really recommend taking a look. As a matter of fact, the complex that houses this exhibit also boasts other natural history exhibits which are actually free and that I will definitely return to see. For more information, hours and directions click here to take a closer look.

Around Town Series – Appleton Museum of Art



For being a small town, Ocala has a rich, vibrant cultural tapestry. What a surprise I had when I first discovered the Appleton Museum of Art  just off East Silver Springs Boulevard.

As you approach the museum from the parking area, your sight follows the length of a long pool which leads to a bubbling fountain that becomes the focal point further drawing your eyes to the wall of glass that forms the gallery’s entrance. The openness of the space and light that pours in from the front make it quite a happy place to be and sets the mind to wondering what treasures lie ahead.


I have had the pleasure of visiting there 4 times and each time I felt enriched by the experience. The first time I went was to just look around. There was a featured exhibit of paintings that brought me there, but what I found were also sculptures and other exhibits of historical significance that delighted the senses and challenged the mind.


I have also visited on a Mother’s Day with my daughter Jenn for a High Tea in the solarium followed by our viewing an exquisite collection of Princess Diana’s gowns there for the benefit of Breast Cancer. And on another occasion a friend and I were entertained with Salsa music at the outdoor courtyard after dining on a themed dinner in the solarium. This was part of the always popular Appleton After Hours series. My last trip was to take my visiting cousin who has a background in art to show off the Appleton. After touring the galleries, we had hot chocolate at a quiet table for two in the front foyer that borders the Museum shop. Did you know that the Appleton boasts the one and only escalator in Ocala?


In addition to the art, the Appleton offers a wide array of services, ranging from special family events and exhibits, trips and tours to other notable museums and venues, volunteer opportunities, and even space for private parties or events.


We are lucky to have such a notable place in Ocala.



My friend Margaret has for some time been telling me about this museum in Miami that used to be someone’s home that was a must see. So we finally decided to take a weekend and head to South Florida to check it out. Stopping on the way in Aventura, we met up with Margaret’s daughter Cindy who volunteered to take us the rest of the way and was our unofficial guide for the day. The three of us had a great time poking around the vast gardens. Good thing we all had cell phones as we often saw things of interest that pulled us off in different directions!! We had a great time and saw and learned an awful lot that day.

 It is called VIZCAYA. Vizcaya has a rich and interesting history. We took the guided tour through the main house. Our guide said Vizcaya is a Spanish word that means “an elevated place”.

 Back in the early 1900’s there was a group of very wealthy industrialists from the north who discovered the wonders of building lavish winter homes in Florida. James Deering was one among this group. He made his fortune as an agricultural industrialist. He had done extensive traveling in Europe and was enthralled by the oppulence of style and design of many of the European estates. Liking the subtropical climate of South Florida, John decided to recreate his own estate in Florida, modifying it with local materials found mostly in the ocean. We were given a tour of most of the estates rooms some of which included the living room, the banquet room, the tea room, the music chamber which housed a pipe organ and library on the first floor and on the second floor were numerous bedrooms, sitting rooms, bathrooms, a breakfast room with a view overlooking the gardens and a huge kitchen – all lavishly decorated with 16th-19th century collections of furnishings, sconces, fireplaces, and art.  The attention he paid to detail was beyond anything I have seen.  And still with all of this he even included a plethera of modern conveniences.  There was refrigeration, central heating, a telephone booth with an electric switchboard, dumb waiters connecting the upstairs kitchen to the large downstairs butlers pantry complete with a push button communication system so he or his guests could talk to the kitchen, elevators, a system for fire control and a central vacuuming system.

 The two story main house was build of a shell like material around a central open air courtyard which in time he covered with glass to form more of an atrium. Originally the front and rear loggias were open air and afforded cross breezes throughout. Later large glass doors were added to keep out the storms coming in off the water. Still, this courtyard was the center of the home and it was here that the many guests were wined and dined. The home was filled with wonderful art, furniture, statuary, and tapistries collected from estates, palaces and churches throughout Europe.


Photo: Courtesy of Margaret Chifari

Beyond the main house and scattered on 180 acres he created an area to look like a northern Italian village complete with machine, paint and carpentry shops, stables, a dairy, a greenhouse , and quarters for his staff.


The front of the house facing the ocean was often buffeted by winds and water. Finding a solution to this problem, Deering had a stone replica of a ship built to resemble the gondolas of Venice. It is vast in size and it was to this that visitors coming by sea could dock and enter the estate. Our guide told us that he had canopies set up on the “deck” where visitors could take refreshment and rest while waiting for the small boat rides that would take them across the moat like area between it and the residence. Note in the picture the poles like you would find in Venice on the canal and the decorative carvings on the stone ship of which you can see the right side of it.


Outside the mansion are acres of gardens, walkways, fountains, statuary and exotic foliage and flowers. There is even a large swimming pool at the side of the house which his guests could access off the side of one of the terraces or from steps coming from the lower level of the house.


Originally there were 180 acres which now have been greatly reduced and the village is gone. The guide said that a recreation of this area is in the works. It took three architects to design and supervise the building, the garden and artistic supervision and three years to build from 1914-1916. John Deering used this winter home until his death in 1925.


In 1926 a hurricane destroyed much of Miami and damaged the house and formal gardens. They have been restored as they were while Deering lived there.  Today, Vizcaya is a National Historic Landmark and Museum.  Besides being able to tour Vizcaya, groups can host special events and weddings on the grounds or terraces.  It also boasts visits from Pope John Paul II, Queen Elizabeth II, Presidents Reagan and Clinton and a summit of 34 leaders of the Western Hemisphere.  The beautiful home also has been the setting for photo shoots.


It took us four and a half hours to get there and it was worth every minute.

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