Back From the Brink

More Egypt Every Wednesday

TRAVEL HERE:  YOUR LOCAL TRAVELER RETURNS

Jane!  Where Have You Been?

I know!  You’ve been wondering what happened to me.  Well, as always, that’s a long story, but I’m digging out from under it.  By now you’ve probably figured out my recent trip to Egypt is filling up my Wednesday posts – and that’s going to continue for a while.  What a rich experience it was!  A third world country from the balcony of five star hotels!  I’m blogging as fast as I can, but I’m already writing posts for September and I’m only two days into the trip!

Back at home, Travel Here disappeared some time in August with only a few exceptions since.  I didn’t quit having Dallas adventures.  I just didn’t have time to tell you about them.  Travel Bug Tales?  October was the last time the younger me had a chance to share her travel tid-bits.  (Hangs head in shame.) I’m guessing it will be a week or two before I’m able to kickstart my Friday blogs, but they’ll be back.

Fun at GHM

Unintentionally Immersive Global Experience

The truth is it took me almost a year to figure out that I can’t do everything.  I took a part-time volunteer position at Global Heart Ministries.  I should have known better, because I don’t do NO well.  I thought I might be able to blog a little bit for them and maybe help out with their volunteers.

Well, I did that and their newsletter and e-news and video shoots and special events and brochures and database – get the picture?  Truth is I overdid for them.  It’s a wonderful ministry and they desperately need all the help they can get, but after approaching a serious case of almost insanity, I had to realize I couldn’t single-handedly meet all their needs.  I had to take a deep breath and just say…well, I didn’t exactly say no.

I couldn’t go cold turkey on Central Asians after I fell in love with them.  I’m still blogging for GHM.  A video shoot and an Azerbaijani concert are just weeks away.  I’m trying to wrap my mind around Apple technology to take over some social media tasks, but I had to hand them back the rest, so I could have a life.  Maybe someone out there is looking for a volunteer opportunity.  I’ve got just the thing and you can start immediately!

To help me take a giant step backwards, I’m only scheduled in the GHM office for staff meetings and very specific assignments.  That means I’m sitting here at my desk in Heath a whole lot more and that makes me a whole lot happier.

Memorial Day Thoughts

So today is Memorial Day, honoring those who were killed protecting our country.  I’ve noticed folks are very deliberate  this year, about pointing out the killed-in-the-line-of-duty thing.  I’m glad.  Things have gotten very imprecise with all this political correctness, inclusiveness and entitlement stuff.  We need to be reminded of the sacrifices which have been made for us, allowing us to become so persnickety.

I hope you have a very special day and that you do take a moment to remember how privileged we are here in America.  The world is having one tragedy after another – some initiated by man and others by nature.  We’re not being very nice to each other, either.  It’s a rare day when one of my “friends” on social media doesn’t insult or irritate me with their political breast-beating.  While it would be nice if America did become great again, I’d be satisfied if we were just a little more tactful and sensitive towards one another.

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Happy at Heathrow

Lunch at Huxley’s

TRAVEL THERE: A DEFINITELY DELIGHTFUL LAYOVER

No matter how pleasant an Atlantic-crossing flight may be, I need a break when it’s over.  Hanging out in an airport may not be the most fun I can have, but it can be some fun – and this time it was.  It had been a while since I’d been to Heathrow and I have nothing but nice things to say about it.

Welcome to Heathrow

Our bags were checked through to Cairo, which was a blessing, but we had to change terminals.  That’s never fun.  At Heathrow that means you take a bus to the first terminal, follow the purple signs forever, take another bus to the other terminal and get delivered to a skillfully-organized dime-dropping opportunity.

After our brisk walk following the purple signs, I was ready for lunch.  We arrived in the departure lounge and were a bit overwhelmed.  This place is a shopper’s paradise and they have some pretty good food, too.  After checking out the possibilities at the terminal map, we made our way to a place that sounded sort of pub-ish.

My Post Fish & Chips Grin

Hungry at Huxley’s

One nice thing about Heathrow was their choice of restaurants.  You weren’t stuck with your usual food court choices.  I was craving authentic fish and chips, so we made our way to Huxley’s, described on the Heathrow website this way: 

“With its handsome dark-wood chequerboard floor and leather banquette seating, Huxleys could pass for a new-wave gastropub, but the menu has no such pretensions. Expect simple compilations of the best ingredients: slow cooked pork belly, old English pork sausages and 21 day aged steak. Thick-cut sandwiches, pie and mash, all-day breakfasts, beer battered fish and chips and sticky toffee pudding continue the British theme. “

I had to look no further than front and center on the menu to figure out what I wanted and Huxley’s did not disappoint.  The British Classic was everything my taste buds had been craving – and the minted peas?  Marvelous!  Bill had some sort of sandwich and a beer.  I wanted a beer, but I opted for a diet soda instead.  I was still trying to watch my weight at that point and I was busting the calorie budget with my beer-battered fish.

As we waited for our food to be served we observed what others were having and admired something called an Eton Mess as it was delivered to another table.  Fresh strawberries, crushed meringue, whipped cream and ice cream.  What was there not to like?  We toyed with the idea of finishing our meal with the same, but there was no room in the tummy after I inhaled all the gorgeous fish and chips.

Let’s Go Shopping

To me, the star of the shopping mall was Harrod’s.  Not only is it a British classic, the space it occupied was spectacular.  I saw at least six things that I wanted to come home with me before I even entered the shop.

Bill was attracted to the duty-free shopping.  That’s where he discovered that I had been right about the Jack Black Scotch.  We could have bought it for a great price at the airport and not had to sacrifice pounds in our luggage.

There was another little shop that represented another brand now associated with all things British.  I’m not a Hogwart fan, but I had to take this picture for Hannah Beth.  We were able to enjoy both floors of the Heathrow Terminal 5 shopping opportunity before they posted our gate on the departure monitors, but we managed to keep the credit cards in our pockets.

I caught up on my travel journal – it’s always quite detailed in the beginning, but by the end of the trip I’m not such a faithful diarist.  I wandered around a bit, trying to take advantage of this chance to stretch my legs.  I also made my pre-boarding potty stop.  That’s when I found this guy biding me farewell and  I couldn’t resist capturing him for you.

Our flight was called and we boarded.  Come back next week for our exciting arrival in Cairo!

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Grateful for the Yawn Factor

Picture from aa.com

TRAVEL THERE: BLISSFULLY BORING FLIGHTS

I’m of the opinion that travel is more interesting if there are problems.  “Everything was perfect,” might make for a great vacation, but you could bore your friends to death with that kind of travelogue.  Lost luggage, crazy GPS instructions and rude hotel clerks make better copy.  Hopefully, I won’t put you to sleep today, but our travel to Egypt was without incident.  That all changed once we got to Cairo, but that’s for later.

I Flew on American and I Liked It

This may not be a newsworthy item for you, but it was for me.  I’ve sort of hated American for a long time.  For years, every travel horror story I lived through began with, “I was on an American flight…”  I carried that anti-American chip on my shoulder for a long time, but in recent years I noticed that other airlines were doing their part to be as awful as I thought American was.

Most recently that was Lufthansa.  I’d always counted them on my favorites list, but then I flew them to Frankfurt.  The plane rattled so much I thought it was made out of Tinker-Toys.  Bill claims the flight wasn’t that bad, but if I hadn’t been sitting next to him, I would think he must have been on another plane.  Bottom line, I could no longer say my worst flights were American.

My other problem with American had to do with Love Field and the Wright Amendment.  As a Dallasite, I love Southwest Airlines and Love Field.  The Wright Amendment tied the hands and feet of both, in favor of DFW, and I didn’t like it.  I also loved Legend Air, which was a Love Field underdog that I maintain was run out of business by American.  I’m always for the underdog.  I go out of my way to avoid Walmart.  I won’t buy anything on Amazon.  I hate most chain restaurants, too.

This American flight snuck up on me.  (Yes, I know snuck isn’t really a word, but I like it better than sneaked.)  I wasn’t the one to make the reservations and I thought we were flying British Airways.  It wasn’t until a few days before the flight, when I was researching baggage allowances, that I realized my British Airways flight was going to be on American.  By then it was too late to do anything about it and I knew Bill was tired of hearing American Airlines Hysteria.  I just lived with the revelation.

A Brand Spanking New 777

So we got to the airport, parked our car, rode the shuttle to the terminal and checked our luggage curbside.  It was easy.  It was a late-night flight, so the airport was pretty boring.  We had a nice chat with a lady in the L’Occitane En Provence store.  In fact, she sensed my concern and we actually prayed together.  Finally it was time to board.

Let me tell you, our plane was so new I think it just rolled off the assembly line.  Nothing rattled.  Everything was pristine.  There were bells and whistles I hadn’t even thought to wish for – and we were in economy.  Even the food was decent.  I watched a couple of movies.  I was even able to sleep!

So, American Airlines, I know you weren’t losing any sleep over my grudge against you, but I want you to know it’s over now.  I can easily say my best flight ever was on American.  Singapore Air still holds my best-food-on-an-airline award, but the shepherd’s pie on American’s return flight was pretty decent.  (BTW Sing Air, I liked your old paint job better.  This new one is boring.)

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The Packing Predictament

Evening clothes take up a lot of your suitcase

TRAVEL THERE: GETTING IT ALL IN THE LUGGAGE

One of the worst things about this trip was packing for it.  Along with everything else you need for a 16-day trip in a third world country, we needed room for formal wear and lots of gifts.  I needed conservative arm- & leg-covering outfits for the cities and resort wear for beaches.  I got everything in the bags pretty early on the day before we left, but my husband didn’t join me for the weighing ritual until evening.  The lights stayed on pretty late that night.

The Midnight Hysteria

If you have a luggage scale then you know the weighing ritual.  You put everything you need in the bags, strap on the scale and then weigh.  It takes awhile for the scale to register the weight, so I need my husband to hold up the bags while we wait for the scale to do its thing.   Then you know how much you have to take out of the suitcase. We hate this, but as you know, it has to be done.

I started out with one bag weighing right at 50 pounds, but the other bag was more than 10 pounds over.  The first step was to cram even more into the carry-on bags, which were already full of the gifts.  On our last trip to Egypt, our luggage had gotten lost and we’d arrived without any gifts – bad form for Egyptians and I wasn’t going to repeat that mistake.  If nothing else got there, I was going to have the appropriate gifts and because my husband believes presentation is everything, we had gift bags, tissue and ribbon for each one.

What Could We Live Without

To me the greatest weight offender was the three gift-bottles of scotch.  I wasn’t only worried about the weight.  I envisioned suitcases full of scotch-soaked clothing waiting for us on the conveyor belt in Cairo.  I had suggested we pick these gifts up in the duty-free shops of the airport before we ever bought them, but Bill was having none of it.

The main problem with the scotch was that the bottles had to go in the checked luggage, which was already heavy with toiletry bags. I have to admit that my husband, who packs light anyway, was very generous about giving up items I thought were vital for him, like that second pair of jeans, but I resented those bottles of scotch every time I had to remove another item from the suitcase.

There were tears before we were through, but we got it done.  Does anyone besides me remember when you got TWO checked bags per person – even in economy?  The airlines may have downsized their allowances, but my needs have not been reduced.

The Final Verdict

The packing experts brag about cramming everything they need for a month-long trip into a carry-on, but while that method sounds like a good idea to some, I have to remember I’m married to a guy who thinks presentation is everything.  You would not want to travel with me if I had to keep juggling the same two yoga pants and three t-shirts around day after day.  I sort my pictures by what I’m wearing!

There’s one more thing I have to tell you.  I was right about the scotch.  Hubby had been convinced the duty-free shops wouldn’t have the right brand and if they did, the prices would be prohibitive.  Wrong on both counts.  They had exactly what he wanted and the price was good.  So, if you need liquor gifts at your final international destination, go with the duty-free option.  And come back next week for the next step in our jouney.

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And She’s Back

In the Fairmont Heliopolis

TRAVEL THERE: AN EXTRAORDINARY EGYPTIAN ADVENTURE

I just got back from Egypt and I want you to visit this amazing country.  You’re not going to believe some of the exciting adventures I had while I was there.  I hope that as you read my blog in the coming months, you’ll start planning your own trip in your head.  As much as I want you to go, I have always been totally honest with you – sharing the good and the bad.  So it is only fair that I start this series by warning you that Egypt is not an easy country to visit.  You have to overlook a lot to see what is valuable, but there is great value.  In the coming weeks I will rave about spectacular hotels and jaw-dropping sites, but I have to start here, with the not-so-pleasant reality of Egypt today.

Apartment Buildings

Then and Now

This was my second trip to Egypt.  The first was in 1996 when terrorism was an occasional, rather than a daily, thing and the only terror incident associated with Egypt was an attack on a busload of tourists in 1990.  The world has changed a lot since then.  Days before I was scheduled to leave for this trip, bombs went off in two different Coptic Churches.  It didn’t stop us from going, but it did give us pause.  It shouldn’t stop you from going either, but you need to know what you’re getting into.

The imminent threat of violence was the most obvious difference between this trip and the one we enjoyed twenty years ago.  Security was a pervasive presence, everywhere we went – whether we were visiting a museum, an airport or a church.  Every time we entered our hotel we had to put all our belongings through a scanner and ourselves through a metal detector.  I was glad for the security, but saddened by the need for it.

It was the same thing pretty much everywhere we went and you just got tired of it.  Take a romantic walk on the beach and come back to the hotel for a thorough search.  By the time you prove you have a right to be there and you don’t have any WMD’s, the romance has dissipated.  This adds to the stress of travel and distracts from your ability to really relax.

One evening we accompanied a niece and her husband to a hotel where they stayed on their honeymoon.  They wanted to take a walk down memory lane.  Our taxi went through one inspection at the gate to the property and we were put through a thorough search at the front door.  Then as we headed out to the pool to look around, we were stopped because we were not actually guests at the hotel.  We had to go to the front desk, explain ourselves, show them our room keys to a sister property in town and give them a passport to hold before we were allowed into the pool area.  By the time we actually made it down there, we had more thoughts about the intrusion of security than we did Maggie and Shady’s honeymoon.

Forget Lowe’s or Home Depot, Shop for Home Improvements Streetside

Related Changes

The threat of terrorism has devastated the country.  Tourism has been at the center of Egypt’s economy for a very long time, but  they have nothing to take its place and little with which to woo the tourists who actually show up.  Yes, they have some of the most splendid sights in the world, like The Pyramids, Luxor Temple, The Valley of the Kings and such, but the hassle associated with visiting them is challenging.

I thought Egypt was the dirtiest place I had ever visited the last time I went.  Well, now it is beyond dirty.  It’s down right filthy and much of it has been abandoned.  Whole blocks of Cairo and Alexandria’s city centers are just empty graffiti-covered buildings, surrounded by piles of trash.  Everywhere we went, unfinished new construction showed signs of being abandoned years ago, when their hope of an Arab Spring turned into a nightmare.  Don’t plan on wearing the same clothes over and over.  A day of touring will render you and everything you are wearing disgusting.  You either need to pack more or plan on a budget for laundry.

An Egyptian Family on a Motorcycle

And Then There’s the People

Egyptians, as a whole, are wonderful.  They are happy people who want to get to know you and they love pleasing you.  They want you to love their country the way they do, but right now they are a little embarrassed – as if you caught them between working in the yard and getting a shower.  They’ll point you towards the freshly planted flowers, hoping you won’t notice how dirty and sweaty they are.

However, they are also frustrated and tired.  At almost every hotel we observed someone having a meltdown in the lobby and it was usually an Egyptian guest.  Life is hard.  The economy is impossible.  Traffic is horrendous.  Everything is harder to do than it should be and after a ten minute walk your white shirt just isn’t white anymore.  Still, given the chance, most of them will bend over backwards to accommodate you and try to create a smile.

At the same time, we noticed there is also a trend that distances the female population from visitors.  There was a greater number of women completely covered from head to toe.  During our last visit, most women dressed very conservatively and the majority covered their heads, often with a bright colorful scarf.  Many would be sharply dressed, while sporting a more conservative hijab.  There were some who wore the more old-fashioned gallabeya  and hijab, but only a rare woman was covered and veiled in black.

This time gallabeyas and hijabs were the norm.  Young women wore leggings or jeans with a tunic, but the hijabs were everywhere and they were not brightly colored scarves, but solid blocks of neutral colors.  However, women covered from head to toe in black were no longer rare and I noticed most of them also wore black gloves.  They were moving shadows with just a sliver of their eyes showing – distant, aloof, unapproachable.

In the Cairo Museum we saw a young couple taking a selfie.  The woman was completely covered in black.  We wondered at the incongruity of hiding yourself and then taking a selfie.  The young man’s outfit was standard casual fare, but she was covered in plain black without even a bit of embroidery.  A lot of mixed messages there.

So I will tell you the story of our trip.  I’ll remind you of the difficulties from time to time, but I’ll leave it to you to remember that everything was dirty, inconvenient and noisy, whether I mention it or not.  Come back next week and we’ll hit the road.

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Egypt Here We Come

TRAVEL THERE: CAIRO, SHARM & ALEX

In less than a month we’ll be winging our way to Egypt for a family wedding.  While it’s primarily a family trip, you can rest assured that Museum Girl will be taking in the sights.  The itinerary is firming up and I thought I’d share a few highlights.

Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

As excited as I am about the rest of the trip, the reason we’re going is to participate in Bassem and Mariam’s wedding.  We’re all agog with excitement.  Bill and I will arrive in Cairo late in the evening on a Saturday night and be whisked away to the Fairmont in Heliopolis.  On Sunday afternoon we’ll attend a luncheon for all the families at an “oriental” restaurant.  When I wondered why we were having Chinese food, I learned Egyptians call Middle Eastern food “oriental.”  I learn something new every day.

Monday is the day of the wedding, and it is also a national holiday, so I’m told I will see the residents of Cairo enjoying themselves in parks and other areas of leisure.  I’ll spend the day getting all gussied up for the wedding.  Egyptians know how to party and they expect guests, especially the couple’s families, to get all decked out.  I’ll be wearing a long formal gown bedazzled with crystal beads.  For the church ceremony I’ll wear a sheer over-blouse cinched by a jeweled belt, which will cover the spaghetti-strapped straight bodice of the full-skirted gown. Pictures to follow.

Let the Sightseeing Begin

On the day after the wedding we’ll be transported to the elegant Mena House Hotel, in the shadows of the pyramids.  Some folks tried to convince me to hire a guide for sightseeing for the day, but 8:30 AM was entirely too early to start a day of touring, especially after partying late into the night in the ballroom of the gorgeous Fairmont.

So instead, we’ve arranged to be transported mid-day and ease into the sightseeing.  We’ll enjoy the gardens of the Mena House, walk around with our mouths agape at the splendid architecture of the place, dine around the pool and then watch the Sound & Lightshow at the Pyramids from our room’s balcony. Who knows, there might even be time for a dip in the pool.  Personally, I plan to have at least one picture of me taken in the pool with the Pyramids behind me.

Then we’ll do the Pyramids.  Since we’ve already done the Giza Plateau, I plan to go further afield and check out the Step Pyramid at Saqqara and the Red Pyramid at Dahshour.  I’m also interested in the Meidum Pyramid, but I’ve been told it is too far out – drat.  Instead we’ll go back to Giza and see the Solar Boat Museum, something that’s been added since our last visit.

A Family Reunion Extraordinaire

After our second night at Mena House, we’ll head to the airport and make the short hop to Sharm el Sheikh.  Some of the family lives in the beautiful city by the Red Sea and others will have gone there when we headed to Giza.  We’ll have a family reunion of sorts for about five days along one of the most spectacular beaches in the world.

The diving and snorkeling are supposed to be awesome, but I’m not much of a guppy.  You’ll find me at the  Marriott Naama Bay Resort pool with an exotic cocktail of my choice somewhere near the waterfall.  Yes, the beach is beautiful, but no way am I going to smear sunscreen all over and then sit in the sand all day.  Not this girl’s idea of a good time.  I’ve been promised activities like a star-gazing visit to the desert, some shopping opportunities and other attractions.

In the evening, look for me along the boardwalk.  It’s one of my favorite memories of our last journey to Egypt.  Every evening the tourists come out in all their sunburned glory to stroll along and enjoy the wide variety of entertainment available on every side. On our last visit the Macarena was all the rage.  I  wonder what earworm will bite me this time.

On to Alex!

We’ll fly back to Cairo and then have a driver take us to Alexandria where we’ll be in the center of the action at the Cecil Hotel.  This elegant old dame gives a nod to Alexandria’s heyday with plenty of modern updates.  What’s more, I’m supposed to be within walking distance of many of the sites I want to see – that is if I can ever cross the street.  I remember the traffic being deadly in Cairo and Alexandria is supposed to be more of the same.  Pedestrians don’t have the right of way and stoplights are merely suggestions.  I’ll be right across the street from the beach, but may never actually get to the sand!

My wish list for Alexandria is long and includes a visit to a Coptic monastery on the way back to Cairo.  Once back to Cairo, we’ll visit Old Cairo and seeing the famous churches there, something I never got to during our other visit.  I think we’ll spend our final nights at the Fairmont.  We have to be to the airport bright and early for our return.  Then it’s back to the grindstone!

That’s it so far for Egypt.  Keep dropping by.  I’m not sure what I’ll be up to in the weeks to come, but I promise not to disappear.

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What’s Doing at the Dallas Museum of Arts?

Cats & Cocktails at the DMA

TRAVEL HERE: ARTFUL DELIGHTS AT THE DMA

So I’ve been in the process of catching up on my adventures.  We’ve been to Gruene TX for a girl’s road trip, Birmingham AL for business and Fort Worth for Monet.  All this leaves me with yet another confession.  If you missed the Devine Felines at the DMA, mea culpa.  If you miss Mexico 1900-1950, then that’s going to be your fault.

A Busy Autumn Break

My autumn disappeared in a haze of responsibility.  Global Heart Ministries had a tea, a video shoot and a fundraiser.  I also went on that trip I haven’t been able to tell you about.  So they kept me pretty busy.  I sort of disappeared out of my life until the October 22 fundraiser happened.  After all that, I was just about ready for a life and I took on a project that I could do completely at home.  I needed a break.

That’s when the invitation to the opening of the Art and Nature exhibition came along.    Bill and I put the event on our calendar and zipped downtown to take a gander.  We spent a perfectly lovely evening at the museum.  The art focused on the Middle Ages and as such pretty much everything in the exhibit was related to the Catholic faith.  There were reliquaries, crosiers , crucifixes, stained glass, etc. etc. etc.  The workmanship was exquisite and we thoroughly loved the whole thing.

Perhaps our favorite thing was the Scavenger Hunt.  Yep – a scavenger hunt.  Now many museums and such offer scavenger hunts, but they are usually for kids and they’re offered in black and white on a piece of copy paper.  Nope, that wasn’t it at all.  Instead on beautiful slick paper in the richest colors possible, we were challenged to identify 14 various images, each of which were only a small part of a larger work.  Not only was it a lot of fun, but it inspired us to take a long, deep look at things we might have just glanced at and then walked away.

After the Scavenger Hunt we checked out the offerings at the refreshment table, but didn’t see much to our liking, so we headed home.  Here’s the good news.  It will be at the museum until the 19th of this month, so please hurry in to see it.

Shaken | Stirred | Styled

A Pleasant Sunday

But the exhibit about the Middle Ages wasn’t all that was happening at the DMA, so we made another visit.  Confession!  I know it had to happen after the opening of Art & Nature, but if I was forced to testify as to when, I would be in trouble.  We walked back through Art & Nature and then strolled down to Shaken| Stirred |Styled.  This is a small exhibition in a side gallery that would be easy to miss, so if you go between now and November 12th, please be sure to ask someone where it is.

The entire exhibit is a collection of bar ware from the 19th century and it’s cool – really cool.  There are punch bowls and martini glasses, but perhaps the most fun is cocktail shakers from the Prohibition Era.  

We also took a look at Divine Felines, which is now closed.  The collection of Egyptian cat mummies and other feline related items was interesting, but not compelling to us, so I don’t feel quite so bad about allowing you to miss it.

Since our goal was to kill the afternoon, we also strolled through the South American and American galleries, enjoying old favorites.  Since this is where Bill and I met, all the art seems like friends of the family.  Truly a wonderful way to spend an afternoon in Dallas.

Don’t Miss Mexico

One final note before I go.  A new exhibition just started at the museum, Mexico 1900-1950: Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Jose Clemente Orozco and the Avant-Garde.  I am really sorry to report that once again Global Heart Ministries has interfered with my love of art.  Last week I had to miss the exhibition’s opening party to help with the video shoot we were filming.  I love GHM, but it’s tough when I have to make decisions like that.  The good thing is that the exhibit just opened and it will be here through July.  Even with my crazy schedule I should be able to make it.

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