Monthly Archives: July 2016




Spain is life! Spain is Beautiful! Spain is Everything!

I spent 13 glorious days is Espana! Every time I visit a new city, it becomes my favorite. Madrid is everything I imagined — sophisticated, vibrant and cultured. I was blessed to experience multiple facets of this great city.

Madrid was also not everything I expected. My imagination has not evolved enough to hold all that this beautiful city and country has to offer. Although I only scratched the surface of Spain (I’ve also been to Barcelona and Mallorca in the past), Madrid convinced me that I must return several more times to fall in love with other cities there. So in advance, I want to thank Seville, Bilbao, Granada and Toledo! I look forward to meeting you.

While in Madrid, I visited the venerable Prado, where I saw the work of the Spanish Master Francisco Goya (his Black Paintings were something to behold), and I visited The Reina Sofia. There I saw the work of Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso’s Guernica! It’s one thing to see these works in a book, but to view them in living color is nothing less than amazing.

What is Spain without Flamenco, along with a tasty selection of Tapas? At Torres Bermejas, we were entertained by seven Flamenco artists. The costumes were phenomenal, and the art form, itself, will have you mesmerized. Flamenco is both sexy and powerful.

What would a visit to Spain be without seeing some of the places that famed American writer Ernest Hemingway frequented?

The bodega Sofrino de Botin is one such place! Acclaimed as the oldest restaurant in the world (in 2025, it will be 300 years old), Botin is mentioned in Hemingway’s Classic
“The Sun Also Rises.” It was his favorite restaurant in Madrid, and who could blame him. The Roast Suckling Pig and Roast Lamb are their signature dishes and will make you salute the chef. Their Sangria was classic, as well.

When you visit Botin, ask to see and/or be seated near The Hemingway Table.

What was most memorable? My favorite experience in Madrid had to be the Paella class I took with four other people visiting from Australia, Poland and Arizona. I have always wanted to take a cooking class abroad, and I got to fulfill that dream. We also prepared a Spanish Omelet and a Cod and Orange Salad. We had a blast! Our instructor was truly phenomenal.

My second week in Spain was spent in The Salamancan village of La Alberca! Stayed tuned for a blog post about my volunteer experience with The Diverbo Program.

The people of Spain are Diamonds, and if you really need a crash course in living well, just emulate them!

Enjoy my photos!

For or more photos from Spain and other travels, please visit




EXCITING NEWS — Our Washington, D.C. correspondent Yvonne D. Hawkins brings us a new DMV excursion — The Underground Railroad Trail in Sandy Spring, MD!

It’s amazing how frequently hidden treasures can sit in plain sight. I heard about a piece of the Underground Railroad that runs through Maryland’s Montgomery County from a Facebook post that had gone viral among folks in the Washington D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area.

The Montgomery County Department of Parks maintains the site and sponsors an Underground Railroad Experience Trail Hike. The department also sponsors field trips and programs for schools, but I’d bet many folks in this area don’t know about the place exists. Maybe that’s because the trail is in the small community of Sandy Springs, which sits on the outskirts of the DMV. Turns out, though, you easily could spend two days exploring this tiny hideaway. Sandy Spring was settled by Quakers, who were early abolitionists. And the area became a refuge for freedom-seeking slaves and home to a community of freed slaves. Today, there’s the Sandy Spring Slave Museum to see. Tours are by appointment.


Photo:  The spring that gives Sandy Spring, MD its name

Families also can hang out at The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring, complete with zip lining, climbing labyrinth and climbing forest park that feature the area’s wooded landscape. And the Underground Railroad trail is among several features at the Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park in Sandy Spring. Plus, the trail is part of the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program. After learning about the trail on Facebook, I decided to walk it as something different for Sunday worship. I planned to meet a friend there. Oh, but I overslept and missed our rendezvous time. To bide time, my friend explored the sites historic stone barn, which features exhibits about the Underground Railroad, before she jumped on the trail alone. Judging from her response to the exhibits, I’ll check them out the next time I visit the area. Because there definitely will be a next time.

After I arrived, though, I met up with my friend about 1/4 way along the trail as she was returning. I walked back with her, but after she left, I decided to start over. I wanted to complete the entire experience. And the time I spent alone on the trail was deeply moving and spiritual. At one point, I stopped at a bench, close to the end of the two-mile stretch, to take a break. A wonderful spot there marks the underground spring that gives Sandy Spring its name. I sat there feeling grateful about my decision to finish the trail. Because it sank in that I was at the same place where my ancestors determined to secure their own freedom and stay on this same trail no matter what.




Photo:  The meditational spot sits near an Underground spring that goes through the Quaker community of Sandy Spring, MD

The trail’s last marker lies just a stretch beyond the spring. It ends at a white ash tree that’s been at that spot for nearly 300 years. Today, the tree is surrounded by a newly fangled housing subdivision. I actually missed the tree the first time I walked by. Though I had a trail map—and the trial is well marked and super easy to follow—I decided to double-check with strangers along the way to make sure I was heading toward the tree. One man walking with his dog in the opposite direction told me, “Yep, just keep going. It’s about 100 yards that way.” Still, I missed it. The tree blended so beautifully with these new, big houses, I thought surely he didn’t mean that tree.

Instead, I saw a tall, barren white tree in the distance. So I kept walking. Until I ended up in someone’s back yard. And I knew that wasn’t where I wanted to be. With nothing left to do but to turn around and go back, I decided to pay closer attention this time. I didn’t really know what a white ash tree looks like. So truthfully I didn’t know what I was looking for. But I decided to stop assuming that the most beautiful thing I’ve seen on the whole trail couldn’t be it. And this time, I noticed the teeny, tiny spur shooting off the main path. And I took it. And it led me to the marker that let me know, yes, I had arrived.


Photo:  A White Ash Tree marks the end of this section of The Underground Railroad in Sandy Spring, MD


Yvonne D. Hawkins is a former newspaper journalist, certified spirituality and life coach, and Baptist minister. She currently lives in Northern Virginia and enjoys exploring the Washington DC-Virginia-Maryland area. But being a former Chicago and Evanston, Ill, resident, she also misses Lake Michigan. And the Taste of Chicago. Her newest blog is



New Blog Post!

Once again, our Washington, D.C. correspondent Yvonne Hawkins is giving us a glimpse and the inside track on events, activities and excursions offered in the DMV (Washington, Maryland and Virginia)!


Photo:  The White House Rose Garden sits outside The Oval Office

Here’s a heads up for you: Get to Washington D.C. for the Fall White House Garden Tour, if you can. Though I’m not sure when the date will be released. Check for updates. But tickets are free and available first come, first served on the day of the event. And a pro tip: If you can’t nab advance tickets, just show up toward the end of the event anyhow.


Photo:  the Oval Office in The White House’s West Wing

Everyone gets in then. The experience just might change your life. At least it did mine. I went to this year’s spring tour, and I now have a richer perspective of my connection to the seat of power. True story. Every time I see President Obama on TV make an announcement in the Rose Garden or see him emerge from Marine Force One, I get another “I get it now” click in my brain. The tour through the White House gardens, which sit on the South Lawn, changed my understanding of what makes our nation work—or rather, who makes our nation work.


Photo:  South Portico Ground Level Entry of The White House

But the shift didn’t have anything do with the White House’s flowers, which are gorgeous, of course. Or the White House’s flowering trees, planted by different presidents and their wives over various administrations. Though, those obviously are stunning, too.

Even the hit the tour:

Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden (officially named the White House Kitchen Garden) – isn’t what did it. Instead, the aha was an accumulation of barely perceptible familiarities. They emerged singularly and slowly until culminating with the recognition that MO’s vegetable garden is, well, just a vegetable garden. I couldn’t really understand why I took a picture of it. It probably was a group-think thing. As others oohed and ahhhed, I kept thinking that the heads of lettuce there look just like every other heads of lettuce I’ve ever seen. Same goes for the collard greens and fresh herbs. Actually, same goes for many features of the South Lawn.


Photo:   Moss Veggie Garden at The White House

Although, the water fountain and view of the Washington Monument are exceptional. And, yes, the presidential seal sits on the back porch. Still, the magnolia trees are just magnolia trees. You can get one at Home Depot for less than $100.

Before the tour, the White House seemed merely a symbol of the seat of presidential power. And as a symbol, it didn’t really seem real. You know, like the grocery store is real. I guess the White House is as real as the grocery store to folks used to determining the fate of the free world. I’m just more familiar the grocery store. And with struggling to make my bed, grab some breakfast and get out the door in time to battle morning traffic. I know about balancing bills and budgets. And about trying to do simple things to have a beautiful, refreshing space in the backyard. Turns out, the folks who live at the White House do, too. That’s the click that happened. The White House is a just house. Like mine. Just bigger.


Photo:  Malia and Sasha’s Playhouse Outside The Oval Office

A family lives there. Children there must make up their beds in the mornings. The current dad of the house has a home office. It’s oval. The mom has a home office, too. Their backyard is where the family hangs out. The dad sometimes invites his friends to play basketball. Sometimes, he temporarily parks his helicopter on the back lawn when he comes home from work. But that’s just so he can be closer to the back door. Makes sense to me. After the tour, I now see the White House as accessible and relatable to my life. There was something about the ordinary affairs of beets in a veggie garden that demystified the joint for me.

The majesty of the White House’s symbolism as a seat of power remains. But we all have power in our own ways. And in those realms, the mundaneness of daily rhythms and attempts to beautiful our various spaces are amazingly common. Magnolias are magnolias. After the tour, my friend and I walked to the front of the house to mill around. And something clicked again. 1600 Penn is a family’s front door. I wonder if there’s a doorbell.


Photo:. Ground Level, South Portico


Photo:  Yvonne standing under The Presidential Seal


Yvonne D. Hawkins is a former newspaper journalist, certified spirituality and life coach, and Baptist minister. She currently lives in Northern Virginia and enjoys exploring the Washington DC-Virginia-Maryland area. But being a former Chicago and Evanston, Ill, resident, she also misses Lake Michigan. And the Taste of Chicago. Her newest blog is