Diane Sawyer Newsletter/Blog #16 March-April 2014

Diane Sawyer Portrait

Hello to all my loyal newsletter readers and welcome to my new readers, including several from the Dali Museum and local art galleries, here in St. Pete. I hope that all of you enjoy this March-April 2014 edition.

Fondly,

Diane Sawyer

 

Writing News

 Montauk Mystery Montauk Steps Tomoka Mystery Cinderella Murders Montauk Cave

The hardcover, paperback and e-book editions are available on Amazon and other on-line sites. Happy Reading!

New News: Not all of the people who read my books live in the United States. I am pleased to announce that there are now many readers in the UK, Australia, and Canada. Joining very recently are mystery fans in Mexico, Brazil, China, and Japan. In case you’re wondering, my novels haven’t been translated so everyone is reading them in English. As a former language teacher, I’m impressed.

 This and That

Let’s take a look at some interesting things we say about the weather in March, April, May, and June. We’re all familiar with “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.” But J. Fletcher, author of the play “Wife for a Month,” written in the mid-1600s has this to say: “I would choose March, for I would come in like a lion.”… “But you’d go out like a lamb when you went to a hanging.”

Here’s some practical advice:

A dry March and a wet May?

Fill barns and bays with corn and hay.

 

For a touch of whimsy: If April showers bring May flowers, then what do May flowers bring? Answer: June bugs. Another answer: Pilgrims!

Here’s an interesting way to help predict the weather:

As it rains in March so it rains in June.

In 1557, hoping to encourage patience, Thomas Tusser wrote:

Sweet April showers

Do spring May flowers

Let’s not forget the first four lines of Chaucer’s prologue to “The Canterbury Tales”…

When April with his flowers sweet with fruit

The drought of March has pierced unto the root

And bathed each vein with liquor that has power

To generate therein and sire the flower

And finally here’s something to ponder regarding March weather’s lions and lambs (and its possible carry-over to human traits):

Lions are usually considered the king of beasts because they are predators and they reign at the top of the food chain. What can we say about lambs? Meek and mild, they follow the herd and are an easy prey for predators.

Travel

 In my last newsletter, I shared with you a look at Guatemala’s archaeological wonders, including the temples, pyramids, ball courts, stone animal figures, and residences. This time, I’d like to describe the villages and populated areas our group visited and the rural highlands we drove through. For many of us the highlight was seeing the Guatemalan people going about their daily life planting, harvesting, caring for animals, cooking, praying in church, fishing, transporting goods to and from the market, walking to school, carving mahogany animals, creating colorful glass-beaded birds, and weaving fabric.

One Sunday we explored the town of Chichicastenango, known for its unbelievably huge and colorful marketplace with 4,000 stalls featuring every imaginable product grown or handmade in Guatemala. In addition to the market there were restaurants with waiters dressed in their regional finest and the Church of Santo Tomás with its beautiful exterior and interior that drew crowds onto the steep steps. From there we drove to our hotel overlooking Lake Atitlán, famous for its beauty and three volcanoes all in a row.

From our hotel balconies the volcanoes appeared so close together that they seemed to touch; and they appeared so near to us that they could have been rising up from the shore, a short distance away. Twelve villages dot the shoreline of the lake, each with its own distinctive legends (Leyendas Populares).

In the morning we took a launch across the lake to the village of Santiago Atitlán, known particularly for its woven fabrics, but also for wood carvings and jewelry. We climbed the steep cobblestone streets that led from the lake up the hillside and through the village. We stopped every few feet to shop, or simply enjoy the ambience, or see a demonstration of weaving or beading. We were amazed at the demonstration by a local woman who made the intriguing regional-style hat from a long strip of fabric that, using both hands, she continually wound around and around the base of her hat while it was on her head.

Earlier I mentioned the folk legends of this area. The particular legend of this village, Santiago Atitlán, centers on “Maximón,” who is also known as Saint Simón, a folk saint, who is said to appear in the dreams of believers. A few details: Dressed in colorful clothing and adorned with garlands of flowers, the effigy of Maximón is a mixture of the Mayan god Mam and influences from Spanish Catholicism. He is a bully who must not be angered, rather than a god. His effigy and altar attract worshippers of his cult during Holy Week. They bring him flowers, cigars, spirits, and other gifts. When the effigy’s clothing is washed, the water is saved and distributed as holy water. During the Carnival rituals, Maximón has replaced Judas.

Many in our travel group as well as visitors from around the world love the beautiful town of Antigua, a Spanish colonial gem, not far from Guatemala City, that we visited near the end of our trip. Many of the people of Antigua wear modern clothing and speak Spanish, not a Mayan dialect. Many commute daily by bus from their “bedroom communities” to downtown Antigua, about twenty minutes away. As we approached the city, our guide Estuardo told us that “Antigua’s beauty is behind its doors.” We soon saw what he meant as we passed through a bedroom community. The buildings are flush with the sidewalk and the sidewalk touches the cobblestone street. From our bus, we could only glimpse the beauty inside when a resident happened to open a door…and then shut it all too soon.

However, once we got off the bus near downtown Antigua, we truly saw the beauty Estuardo had mentioned. We entered many of the large colonial homes that had been converted to hotels and shops. We could wander through at our leisure and enjoy the grandeur of hand-hewn wooden beams, gardens, fountains, stucco walls, and wrought-iron gates. Restaurants and shops were everywhere with their doors wide open and their beauty on display. The exteriors were beautiful too. Strict codes permit only certain colors in order to avoid sharp visual contrasts, and only one-story new construction is allowed. A long white government building with a row of dramatic arches dominated the central square. It dated back to when the Spanish ruled the area, a time when only people born in Spain were allowed to enter the building.

Antigua is home to twenty-eight churches dating back to the colonial days. Estuardo told us that people often said there was a church on every corner. When we stepped inside the first church, La Merced, an amazing sight greeted us. The statues, there were many and several were close enough to touch, wore velvet robes decorated with delicate glass beads that sparkled in the subdued light. The statues of La Merced are known for their tender faces and sweet expressions and it’s a well-deserved reputation. The statues seem life-like, approachable, and appealing. As we left the church we heard the familiar sound of flute music which seemed to float through the air on gentle breezes everywhere in Antigua.

Antigua is a UNESCO site and preservation is vital. We saw an area where UNESCO is working as a result of an earthquake (7.3) that, in the brief span of three minutes, toppled large sections of a church and scattered them. We walked among the large chunks of fallen columns, arches, and other architectural remnants, many protected from the weather by make-shift aluminum roofing. With help from computers, UNESCO workers hope to restore the church to its original glory with all the pillars and details in the proper place and order.

In sharp contrast to the beauty and charm of Antigua, are industrial-entrepreneurial areas along the highways near the border. We passed by a six-mile stretch where shops buzzed with the sounds of machinery and old American school buses lined the street. The seats had been removed and stacked on top of the bus, leaving room inside for used washing machines, other appliances, and even small cars. The workmen, wearing jeans and T-shirts, repair and then sell the re-conditioned products. Other shops dealt in engines, car windows, batteries, radiators, and hubcaps. There were car-washing places, brick-making places, and trucks—big trucks and small trucks and every size in-between—everywhere!

How different that area was from the northern highlands, where quiet reigned supreme and the natural beauty of the country prevailed. Estuardo, a very intelligent and often philosophical man, mentioned that to call Guatemala a poor country is somewhat judgmental and doesn’t tell the whole story. The soil is rich enough that the people can grow their own food and the lakes are healthy enough to provide them with fish. However, depending on the season and unpredictable weather conditions, many areas suffer from an inadequate water supply. The local government is helping by delivering water and providing large reservoir tanks to store it. The tanks are placed in the family’s yard or on the roof of their home.

Some of the farmers have tried using fertilizer to maximize their crop production, but the spill-off went down to the lakes and produced an algae crust, causing the fish to die. The government insisted that no chemicals be used and suggested instead compost and animal “deposits.” However, pesticides are still in use. The banana crop suffered a black blight, but that problem was resolved by wrapping plastic bags around the bananas on the trees. Lending a futuristic other-worldly look to the terrain, the bags are visible from the narrow roads and close enough to touch. Apparently a greenhouse effect occurred and the bananas turned out larger and prettier.

On a very positive note, in the hotels where we stayed we met many kind-hearted individuals, missionary groups, and outreach groups from the United States and other countries that have come to help the people of Guatemala. Many return every year, bringing needed supplies and comfort. One couple in our group brought Frisbees and other fun items to an elementary school and many of us went along and played with the children. That was an unexpected and unforgettable part of our trip. Earthquakes have taken their toll, leaving many shattered families and countless orphans. The individuals and groups of people we met are working with them. Several had even moved to Guatemala to teach. While driving through the highlands we saw first-hand the work of technical missions that are helping the people with fish farming and irrigation techniques, to name two projects. There isn’t space enough to really do justice to the spirit of volunteerism that we found thriving in Guatemala.

The impression I would like to leave you with is that Guatemala is a destination that offers memories to last a lifetime and much to think about.

 

Cooking Delights

Apricot Chicken

This recipe is one of the oldest in my collection and definitely fits the “Fast and easy” category. It’s a

6-ingredient recipe that cooks can choose when they are pressed for time…and are willing to give up natural ingredients and settle for prepared products.

Ingredients:

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 tsp each garlic powder and pepper

8 ounces apricot jam (or jelly)

6 ounces Russian dressing

1 package dry onion soup

 

Preparation:

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Season the chicken with pepper and garlic powder and place in a large pan or casserole dish suitable for the oven.

Mix together the Russian dressing, soup mix, and apricot jam. Pour the mix over the chicken and bake for one hour. (Depending on your oven, you may wish to tent loosely with foil after 30 minutes if the sauce sticks.)

Serve with rice, vegetable, and tossed salad.

An alternative (and fancy) method is to butterfly the chicken breasts and sauté in a skillet coated with olive oil and heated. You may need to do this in batches, 2 minutes per side. Then continue with recipe above and possibly reduce cooking time by 10 minutes. To be REALLY fancy, pour several tablespoons of water into the skillet after you finish sautéing the chicken, scrape up all the pieces of chicken that stuck to the pan, and add the liquid to the mix that you are going to pour over the chicken.

Bon appétit!

Fondly,

Diane

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