Mission Statement

This blog journals my quest of art, whether it is a piece of work that is inherent in nature or one created by artists known or unknown or that I created myself. During this search, I have come to appreciate the magnificence and generosity of God who in his infinite wisdom surrounded us with exquisiteness everyday...everywhere and inspired our human spirit to create beauty that feeds our bodies and souls. Come join me on my journey to find art through my travels and my own creative endeavors. Maraming salamat.

All rights to all posts and contents on this blog, including photos and artwork are reserved by jojo sabalvaro tan.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

On the Road Again - The Roundabouts 2300 Miles See the USA Road Trip Part 2

French Quarter Street Scene - New Orleans, LA  2015
from travel watercolor sketch journal
by jojo sabalvaro tan
A ubiquitous scene, musicians performing on the streets of New Orleans. One gets so immersed in the vibe of the city, one can almost forget Hurricane Katrina never happened.

 The Original Roundabouts is a group consisting of my husband and I and my Prep school pal Dennis. We have journeyed together to see the Devil's Tower in Wyoming, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, saddled the Mekong River to Angkor Wat, explored the Romantic road of Germany, drank beer in Belgium and followed the ancient pilgrims route to Mount St. Michel in France. Most of the time, we have a fourth person with us. This time it is Dennis' wife, Lulu. It is her first road trip.

 New Orleans, Louisiana, the next stop on The Roundabouts road trip is about a 6 hour, 400 mile drive from Memphis, so we left Memphis right after lunch in order to be in New Orleans before dark.This time, we went on US 55 which took us almost through the full length of Mississippi, with a glimpse of its capital, Jackson, to get to Louisiana. In Mississippi, one can't help notice the giant southern magnolias blossoms, its state flower. Louisiana also designated the magnolia as its state flower. They are gorgeous. Another reason to visit the Southeastern United States in the spring.

Magnolia Grandiflora 2015
From he watercolor travel sketchbook journal
by jojo sabalvaro tan
The southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) is a medium size hardwood tree that grows in the southest USA (also called evergreen magnolia, bull-bay, big-laurel, little gem or large-flower magnolia). The large, fragrant white flowers and leathery evergreen leaves make the magnolia tree popular around the world as an ornamental. (From www.statesymbolsusa.org)

We made several stops in Mississippi to find a souvenir magnet which Dennis started collecting when we began our road trips and has since collected from every place he visited. The gracious Mississippi tourist information lady agreed that magnets seem to be scarce and have had lots of people inquiring about where to find them. It amused me that we were not the only folks stopping at a state Tourist Information Center who are asking about magnets instead of directions, maps, points of interest or history. To appease us, she gave all of us lapel pins with a map of Mississippi and suggested that we stop at one of the truck stops, especially one called Loves. That was a good lead. Although their selection was limited, at least they had some.

When the Saints Go Marching in New Orleans

US55 turned into US 10 which we followed into New Orleans CBD (Central Business District). It was amazing that most of the road we travelled into New Orleans were built over swamp lands. This is our first road trip to New Orleans.  I have been here several times but always arriving on an airplane. Somehow arriving by car is more exciting. It is like following the arc of a rainbow and finding a pot of gold. After all the miles of flat vistas, we see New Orleans sky-scape colored golden by the sunset against the backdrop of the mighty Mississippi.

Our hotel, The Lafayette, is located next to Lafayette Square. It is a small boutique hotel designed in the Parisian style. It is clean, well furnished and felt luxurious. The staff is very helpful and friendly. We broke another one of our road trip rules when we picked this hotel since it is not one of the hotels you find in every city, it is not cheap but it was very close and convenient to all the places we wanted to see in New Orleans plus it had secure parking, enabling us to leave our big suitcases in the car and only take what we needed for the two nights we were in New Orleans. It also had a well-known and popular restaurant, Desi Vega's Steakhouse. Unfortunately, we did not get a chance to eat there.

The Lafayette Hotel New Orleans

Lafayette Square
A homeless man's bedroom.
As in many large cities, homelessness is a problem in New Orleans. Many shelters are available but many still choose public areas as sleeping areas. in 2012, New Orleans started a 10 year program to eliminate homelessness.
We decided to dine at the French Quarter but on our way there, we ended up walking in the opposite direction so we double backed to our hotel and just ate at Cibugnu,  a nice Italian restaurant in front of the hotel. We had a pizza and some arugula salad which were pretty good. We asked our waiter to suggest a place for breakfast and he was all praise for a place called Ruby Slippers. So the next morning that's where we had breakfast. It was really delicious and some of the dishes are uniquely New Orleanais. We said we would return the next day.

Red Slipper

Signature dish of Egg Cochon
Slow-cooked apple braised pork debris sitting on homemade buttermilk biscuit topped with poached eggs, finished with hollandaise

After breakfast, we booked a city tour and steamboat cruise for 9am so we can squeeze both tours on the same day. We opted to do the steamboat cruise on the Mississippi river first. Although, today hordes of tourist are onboard, it still evoked the time when the characters like Brett Maverick, the roguish endearing gambler on the TV show Maverick added spice as these riverboats plied the Mississippi. While on the boat, I felt the need to belt out the song, Ol Man River from Edna Ferber's best selling novel, turned into a Broadway musical, Showboat. Luckily, there was a Dixie band playing on the boat and I was saved from embarrassment

Waiting to board the Natchez, the last authentic steamboat operating on the Mississippi River. This particular boat was built in 1975 and evokes the time of antebellum mansions, the Civil War and the Gay Nineties.
 According to www.steamboatnatchez.com, "The NATCHEZ resembles the old sternwheelers VIRGINIA and HUDSON in her profile and layout. Her powerful steam engines were built for U.S. Steel Corporation’s sternwheeler CLAIRTON in 1925. Her genuine copper and steel steam whistle is a treasured antique. Her copper bell, smelted from 250 silver dollars to produce a purer tone, once graced the S.S. J.D. AYRES. Her 32 note steam calliope was custom crafted and modeled after the music makers of the Gilded Age."

The boarding area for the Natchez

Tugboat on the Mississippi River 2015
From the Watercolor Travel Sketch Journal
by jojo sabalvaro tan

Views of the New Orleans from the river. In the foreground are tugboats waiting to guide large ships and barges on the Mississippi.

From the boat, we went on our bus tour of New Orleans. The tour took us to see the beautiful and well preserved old mansions at the Garden District on St. Charles St., the New Orleans City Park where we stopped at the Morning Call for the New Orleans' tradition of coffee and beignets and at the St. Louis Cemetery # 1, where Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau is buried as well as other points of interests in the city. Unfortunately, we could not take in most of the sites in detail due to heavy rain. Inspite of that, we enjoyed the tour immensely since our guide was very informative and funny. Of course, we did not need the rain to be reminded of Hurricane Katrina, a natural disaster in 2005, whose damage to the city and its residents is immeasurable. Katrina will always be attached to the history of New Orleans. Its effect can still be felt today.
Some of the street art you see at the New Orleans CBD

Mercifully, the rain stopped after our tour is over and we were able to roam the French Quarter. We were planning to hangout at Bourbon Street but once we got there, we felt that it was too noisy with music blaring and folks with drinks in hand having too much fun. I hate to admit it, but it must be old age on our part. 

Bourbon Street sign on the pavement

So, we decided to walk on the quieter streets parallel to Bourbon St. and visited the art galleries, antique shops, boutiques and souvenir shops. We gawked at the intricate wrought iron work of the railings on the buildings which is a very typical feature in New Orleans architecture and many southern states.
Street scene against the backdrop of buildings with wraparound balconies with wrought iron railings.

Wrought Iron railings decorated with festive and colorful festoons, flowers and beads, a typical sight on Mardi Gras, where all buildings along this street will be similarly decorated for the parade and celebration of Fat Tuesday.
We also tried to visit the St. Louis Cathedral  but it was closed for a private event. We had planned on having beignets at the nearby Café du Monde but we were still full from the ones we had at Morning Call. So we sat around people watching at the Parisian-style garden encircling the statue of Andrew Jackson for whom the square was named. Actually, we were kept entertained by a group of students who were also on the steamboat. It was fun to watch the interaction of these teens ad preteens. We were reminded of our own educational tours when we were in high school. Those were some of the most sweet and fond memories of our high school days.  
St. Louis Cathedral in the backdrop
The statue of Andrew Jackson at Jackson Square

New Orleans  or La Nouvelle-Orleans was founded in 1718 and was named for Philippe d'Orleans, Duke of Orleans. It was once part of the Kingdom of France and then Spain and again France until Napoleon sold Louisiana to the United States in 1803. Today, it is a major city and port. In 2018, New Orleans will be celebrating 300 years since its founding. Since its inception, New Orleans has been an amalgam and fusion since American Indians, Africans and European settlers were encouraged to share their culture and intermingle. Today, such interaction continues making New Orleans culture, food and music unique and distinctive in the United States. One thing I noticed in New Orleans is, unlike many cities, the skyline is not dotted with cranes building towering skyscrapers, to me a sign of progress. Probably, all the building efforts are being spent on restoration in the wake of the aftermath of Katrina.  Maybe if we get to come back for the 300th anniversary, it will be a different story..

Next Stop: Florida

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Quarter Century Needlepoint Project

Peonies Needlepoint 13" x 13"
 by jojo sabalvaro tan
Completed May 2015
I was spring cleaning my studio and found this embroidery kit that I had put aside. I decided there and then that I would complete it before I start on any other project. It actually, did not take too long. I think the procrastination bug can make you believe that something is so difficult and time consuming when it really isn't. Finally, I stitched the last stitch to complete this needlepoint project I started more than 25 years ago.

I bought the needlepoint kit shortly after we purchased our current house and I had pictured myself sitting by the fireplace on a chaise lounge happily stitching away listening to my music on CDs or watching movies on my VCR and maybe chatting away with friends on the speaker of my cordless phone while drinking coffee brewed in my Mr. Coffee. Well, this needlepoint project and I went through some big changes through the years, we went from music on CDs to IPods, to watching movies on  DVDs and now Blu-rays or streaming through sites like Netflix on a flat screen TV, and I now keep in touch with friends on Facebook with my IPhone and IPads and drink coffee made on my Nespresso machine with coffee pods. So, my little project lived through a lot of changes but I think she came out of it intact and still beautiful. I wish I could say the same about me.

Needlepoint is an old art. It dates back to the Pharaohs. The technique requires stitching on a stiff open weave canvas using wool, silk, cotton or a combination of fibers. This project is closer to petit point in which the canvas is finer and of a higher thread count, meaning it needs more stitches per square inch.

The kit was from Candamar Designs and the design, I believe, is machine-printed on the canvas. Many needlepoint projects have hand painted designs. I used cotton embroidery floss instead of the normal wool yarn or crewel yarn. Gold thread was also used for accent. For the main part of the design, I used a continental tent stitch, a diagonal stitch that crosses the horizontal and vertical thread of the canvas. For the background, I did a quadruple-sized cross stitch which covered 4 squares.
"Continentalstitch-fixed" by Stefkar modified from a work by Velvet-Glove - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Continentalstitch.png. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Continentalstitch-fixed.png#/media/File:Continentalstitch-fixed.png
I'm so happy to have finally finished this UFO (Unfinished Object). It feels really good. Oops, I spoke too fast, I still have to make it into a pillow or frame it or even a stool cover, but I am determined to get that done sooner than later. There are many, many more UFOs lurching about our house. Some I have completely forgotten about. Let's see, where should I begin......

Detail of needlepoint project.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

On the Road Again - The Roundabouts 2300 Miles See the USA Road Trip Part 1


Road Trip USA 2015 Map
From watercolor travel sketchbook journal
by jojo sabalvaro-tan
When my high school classmate, Dennis, told us he and his wife Lulu were coming for a visit, we naturally planned on a road trip. Dennis, my husband and I are part of the core group we have tagged The Roundabouts, a small group who have been taking road trips since 2006. Our first trip took us to S. Dakota and Wyoming and then in years that followed Southeast Asia, Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany.

We all wanted to go to Yellowstone National Park and maybe extend the trip as far as Nevada and California. All of us retirees, we now have the luxury of time and indulge on our wanderlust. Unfortunately, our timing was off. During the planning stage, we found out that on the days we plan to be there, the roads at the park are still closed due to snow. So a complete change of plans was in order. We decided to drive south instead and targeted Orlando, Florida as our final destination. This is Lulu's first road trip and also her first visit to Chicago . So before leaving for this long road trip, we admired Chicago's architecture from a Wendella tour boat that sailed on the Chicago River through the locks and onto Lake Michigan. The weather was quite cold but at least we were spared from the rain and the famous Chicago skyline radiated majestically.
View of Chicago Skyline from Lake Michigan

Milwaukee Art Museum
Photo from Wikipedia
We also visited the Milwaukee Art Museum, a beautiful piece of architecture perfectly located on the shores of Lake Michigan, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. It is a tour the force of architecture highlighted by its roof top that opens up like a wings of a bird or sails on a ship  and one of the best examples of neofuturistic architecture defined by architect and historian Jean Louis Cohen as "a corollary to technology, being the structures built today byproducts of new materials to create previously impossible forms.”
The Roundabouts with a Chihuly Glass sculpture at the Milwaukee Art Museum

Now we are packed and ready to embark on our trip.

Our road trip rules are:
  1. Only drive in daylight. It became quickly apparent that our eyesight is no longer as good as it was and night driving is certainly, a strain. for some reason, the lights from cars begun to look like alien ships.
  2. Avoid toll roads, which treated us to country roads almost devoid of any traffic.
  3. Have frequent stretch and bathroom breaks. Age has really crept up on us, body aches are more prominent and often and our ability to hold basic bodily functions has diminished exponentially.
  4. Pack munchies and drinks to keep us refreshed
  5. Obtain keepsakes or souvenirs, in this case magnets and thimbles, from the states or cities we stopped at, which became such a challenge since these seemingly easily acquired items proved to be hard to find in some places but at the same time added some sense of excitement as we went on the hunt and afforded meeting with local folks.
  6. Be flexible and allow for schedule and route adjustments.
  7. Only swear at the GPS when we get lost, not at the human navigator or the backseat drivers.
  8. Stay at one of the known hotel chains that is close in proximity to our targeted sight, reasonably priced, and clean. To determine cleanliness, read the reviews and scrutinize the pictures and look for white sheets and updated décor. Free breakfast is a plus, as this can be a savings of at least $15 per person.
Having plotted our areas of interest and rest stops on the GPS, off we went on  US294 to US 57 through the farm lands of Southern Illinois, we then followed US24  into Kentucky and then the Julian M Carroll Purchase Parkway  for an overnight stay in Memphis, Tennessee. The following day, we drove straight down on US 55 to New Orleans where we are staying for two nights. From New Orleans, we went onto US10, skirting the gulf shores of Mississippi and Alabama until we reached Tallahassee and veered into Georgia Florida Parkway to get to Hernando, Florida where we spent the night at the house of my brother's sister-in-law. This was our longest driving time in terms of miles and time and therefore, breaking  one of our road trip rules. After lunch the next morning, we drove to our final destination, Kissimmee (Orlando), Florida where we would stay 4 nights. We did have some limitations in time for this trip since Dennis and Lulu had to catch a flight from Orlando at a certain date. All in all we would clock about 2300 miles. Luckily, gas prices averaged $2.39 which is almost at the pre-Obama prices.

Day 1: The thrill is certainly not gone in Memphis
Springtime is a great time to meander through the country roads of America, with the fields freshly plowed and prepared for planting, buttercups in full bloom carpeted the landscape in vibrant yellow and cows were grazing everywhere. A short while after we crossed the Illinois/Kentucky border, we came upon the small Kentucky town of Paducah. It was an unexpected treat and thrill for me to be there, America's quilt capital and a place all quilters, and I am one, should visit. We were there on the biggest event of the year for quilters, Quilt Week and there were quilters galore. On a  visit to humongous Hanover Fabrics Store while looking for magnets, we found the store packed with busloads of fabric shoppers and it was hard to fight the temptation of making my own purchase. My husband was very happy that I resisted since our trunk was already packed within a centimeter of available space.

Quilt Barn 2015
Paducah, KY
From watercolor travel sketchbook journal
by jojo sabalvaro tan
Driving in the vicinity of Paducah, it was a nice to spot some barns decorated with painted quilt block patterns. I think they should have a quilt block on every barn in America. It would make driving through the country side much more interesting, me thinks!


A few hours later, we arrived in Memphis, Tennessee and checked in at a hotel not far from Graceland, Elvis' home. We booked the hotel the day before from one of the many online sites since we calculated that Memphis was going to be one of our overnight stops.  After checking in and freshening up a bit, , we opted to have dinner downtown at the famous Beale Street, the Home of the Blues. We were going to tryout BB King's restaurant but the wait was long and we were already pretty famished. So we ended up at a barbeque joint called The Pig on Beale which is touted to have numerous awards for their barbecue. We ordered the Barbecue Pork dinner which I thought was pretty good but the service is a  little so-so and the condiment containers could use some clean-up.

Beale Street 2015
From the watercolor sketchbook journal
by jojo sabalvaro tan

Beale St. was filled with music emanating from the bars and restaurants lining the street. It was also very colorful with all the brightly multicolored neon signs above every store or restaurant front. .  Rabble-rousers abound carrying their beer glasses from one bar to another. The police was a welcome presence. Looking at Beale St. today, you would not know that back in the 60s and 70s it once was in a derelict state with almost all of the store fronts boarded up.

On a surreal note, as I was putting on the finishing touches on the BB King Bar sign on the sketch, it was announced that BB King passed away. What a spooky coincidence. Rest in Peace, BB King.
Here is a  video from You Tube of BB King "The Thrill is Gone", one of the best examples of the Blues - click on link below picture.

BB King's The Thrill is Gone
Photo from Wikipedia
BB King (1925-2015)  an American Hall of Fame blues singer, song writer and guitarist. He is also a National Medal of Arts awardee.

Day 2: All Shook Up in Graceland

We are not huge Elvis fans but we do appreciate his talent and his contributions to the musicworld. And he is no doubt handsome. So off we went to visit his mansion. After we purchased the tickets for the platinum tour ($36 for seniors) ,  we were each handed an IPad for our interactive tour as we boarded a shuttle bus that took us to Graceland Mansion. We passed through the famous gates decorated with musical notes and as the bus meandered through the green lawn filled with large oak trees we got a glimpse of the white house Elvis called home.

We entered into the front door and the interactive tour of  Elvis' home brought us from room to room. The décor was the very definition of eclectic. It was like time travelling to the 60s and 70s.
Living Room

We were also reminded that at his peak, Elvis gave up his career to serve in the US Army and after that how charitable he had been to many causes and individuals.

Elvis' Army Uniform
It was amazing to see how many awards Elvis received and how many records he sold based on the number of Gold, Platinum and Diamond records that were on display.
Elvis' costumes, awards and platinum, gold records
I felt Elvis' presence the most in the music room which is claimed to be the last place he sang before he died.
Music Room
Elvis , his parents and twin brother are all buried on the estate. 

The estate is well maintained and I believe provides much needed employment to people in Memphis. We lunched on the premises  at Elvis Presley's Chrome Grille which features some of Elvis' beloved food. We had the meatloaf which is said to be his favorite.

Graceland Stables 2015
From the Watercolor Travel Sketchbook
by jojo sabalvaro tan

Here are some of Elvis' Greatest Hits - click on link below the picture

Photo from Wikipedia
Elvis Presley's Top Ten Greatest Hits from WatchMojo on You Tube

Elvis Presley Biography (From www.graceland.com)

The incredible Elvis Presley life story began when Elvis Aaron Presley was born to Vernon and Gladys Presley in a two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi, on January 8, 1935. His twin brother, Jessie Garon, was stillborn, leaving Elvis to grow up as an only child. He and his parents moved to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1948, and Elvis graduated from Humes High School there in 1953.

Elvis’ musical influences were the pop and country music of the time, the gospel music he heard in church and at the all-night gospel sings he frequently attended, and the black R&B he absorbed on historic Beale Street as a Memphis teenager.

In 1954, Elvis began his singing career with the legendary Sun Records label in Memphis. In late 1955, his recording contract was sold to RCA Victor. By 1956, he was an international sensation. With a sound and style that uniquely combined his diverse musical influences and blurred and challenged the social and racial barriers of the time, he ushered in a whole new era of American music and popular culture.

Here are a few Elvis Presley facts: he starred in 33 successful films, made history with his television appearances and specials, and knew great acclaim through his many, often record-breaking, live concert performances on tour and in Las Vegas. Globally, he has sold over one billion records, more than any other artist. His American sales have earned him gold, platinum or multi-platinum awards. Among his many achievements were 14 Grammy nominations (3 wins) from the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award which he received at age 36, and his being named One of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation for 1970 by the United States Jaycees. Without any of the special privileges, his celebrity status might have afforded him, Elvis honorably served his country in the U.S. Army.

His talent, good looks, sensuality, charisma, and good humor endeared him to millions, as did the humility and human kindness he demonstrated throughout his life. Known the world over by his first name, he is regarded as one of the most important figures of twentieth century popular culture. Elvis died at his Memphis home, Graceland, on August 16, 1977. He was 42.
Next stop New Orleans