A Fall Pause along Lake Michigan

This year doesn’t seem to make any sense; we keep time by how long since the beginning of Covid.  There doesn’t seem to be any future or past just a blur of days running together.  We left Virginia just before Labor Day weekend and headed to Michiana about an hour east of Chicago and right on Lake Michigan. 

This is an area with which we are very familiar but because we have to carefully consider the risks before leaving the house, we didn’t have the usual anticipation of things to do after we arrived.

I found a house in what we feel is a perfect location, in the woods, just a couple of blocks from the lake.  Unfortunately because of high water levels the steps to the beach are blocked off.  So many gorgeous homes line the beach road from here into Michigan City, a distance of about four miles; unfortunately many are at risk for tumbling into the water. 

Our house would be a great beach house for a family summer stay…with nice kitchen appliances and a cozy sitting/dining area.  There’s a large screened in porch that was a great place to read and enjoy my morning coffee when we first got here; however, fall quickly arrived and the mornings became too chilly for sitting outside. The house is VERY old, has metal cabinets and although there is an upstairs bed and bath because there is no railing on the steps, we haven’t gone up there except to initially check it out.   The owners have done a good job of adding coats of fresh paint and the place is clean but the floors are uneven and much of the house could use a lot of renovating.  Again, it’s a good choice for a family looking to get away for a week near the beach but definitely not a good choice for a long term stay.  It takes me back to the 1950’s and the weeks I spent at camp! We’ve spent previous summer months near the lake in year round homes which were far more comfortable and cheaper. I thought it would be nice to try something new and this looked great on Airbnb…but pictures don’t always tell the story.  We’re lucky, however, the furnace is good. And on this rainy morning with the thermometer reaching only 41 degrees, that’s huge! 

Besides our routine trips to the grocery store, we don’t venture out much. We do like to drive down to the city park right on the shore of Lake Michigan and sit in our car and people watch. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s cold or warm, windy or calm.

We’ve seen folks kite surfing, folks chasing seagulls.  The beaches seem to draw people no matter what the weather. And if it’s a fairly clear day we can even glimpse the skyline of Chicago.  It’s definitely a calming meditative place to be!

When we first arrived here, it had been more than a year since we had seen our oldest son, Kris and his family.  We really wanted to see them and were considering making the two and half hour drive up to Big Rapids but weren’t sure. Would it be safe? We definitely didn’t want to put anyone at risk.   Our daughter in law’s parents are our good friends and have a home on a lake just outside Big Rapids. So Andria (our daughter in law) suggested we meet up there where we could visit outside. Sounded perfect!  And it was! Lovely warm weather, great food and wonderful company!  

Our oldest granddaughter is a sophomore at Central Michigan University but she’s studying virtually.  As I think back to my days in college I can’t even fathom what it would be like to not interact with others face to face, to take classes online, and to not have all the fun outside of class!  We were really excited when we learned she was going to have a solo performance and we could watch it on zoom.  Had this occurred during a more normal time, we would have never had the opportunity to see her perform!  So I turned on the computer, got my glass of wine and settled in to listen to Alli and her oboe and felt a lot like I was at the Kennedy Center!

It’s incredible how many words have entered our lexicon in the past eight months.  In early March we first became familiar with “social distancing.”  Recently our five year old grandson was getting ready to go back to his Montessori preschool.  I asked him if he was looking forward to it and his response was, “I don’t even know what 6 feet is!”  So obviously the concept has permeated all levels of our society!  Another grandchild explained last week in a telephone call that she was going to an outdoor sleepover at a friend’s house. This friend’s family is one with whom they “bubbled.”  All concepts don’t appear to be so commonly understood.  For instance, I was flabbergasted when some folks believed that Covid 19 referred to the 19th version of Covid instead of Covid in the year 2019.  

Recently our youngest grandson turned 5. We had a birthday celebration online! Aunts and uncles from Michigan to Rome to DC were all able to join in and wish him a Happy Birthday in Rockville!

We have been genuinely lucky so far during the pandemic.  Our inconvenience pales in comparison to those who have lost family members or contacted the virus themselves and have become victims of a lengthy illness and an uncertain future.

Or those who have lost their source of income!  We are thankful for all the first responders who help keep us safe as well as keep our lives fairly normal.  We recently completed our annual medical treks to the Mayo Clinic and were amazed at all their protocols in place to keep folks safe:  from the special markings in the elevators to individual check ins at all the entrances, to the numerous volunteers who help guide patients to their appointed destinations. 

My major project these past couple of months has been to volunteer for the Democrats.  Like most Americans I can’t believe the lies and misinformation that have permeated our society for the past four years. And the negativity and divisiveness is almost more than a body can tolerate! I feel extraordinarily lucky to be an American but I also believe that democracy is a fragile institution that requires thoughtfulness if it is to remain viable. With our citizenship, I believe, comes the responsibility for every American to be informed and become involved in the democratic process.  To this end, I have participated in a variety of activities.  Bob and I started out making phone calls while we were still in Florida, but we soon became disillusioned with the few times we actually reached a real person.  Then the nastiness with which so many people responded was discouraging.  But when I was asked to participate in a texting campaign, I realized that was something I could do.  I sent more than 5,000 texts and while there was still a lot of negativity, there was also the occasional validating response!  In addition, I found Postcards for Voters so I ordered 100 postcards online, as well as stamps online, and started writing.  If I make the difference in 1 vote I feel my time has been well spent!  Our absentee ballots are mailed routinely to Patrick. He mailed them on to us the day he received them and then we mailed them on to Big Rapids the day after they arrived. We then checked online to make sure they got to Big Rapids!

Now that we’re only a couple of days away from the election I feel like I’ve done all I can do. But wow!  Waiting is hard!  I vacillate between being optimistic and being scared! 

We now are packing up and getting ready to head for Washington DC where we’ll spend a week before heading to warmer temps for the winter. We decided we want to be in a “blue” location for election night.  I’m crossing my fingers that citizens will feel compelled to get out and vote if they haven’t already.

Election Day is Bob’s birthday and so I wrote him a little diddy for his birthday.

Home After Deranged
(Sung to the tune of Home on the Range)

Oh, Give me a land
With Biden in command
Where Kamala stands by his side.
Where once more is heard
An intelligent word.
And the truth is no longer denied.

The voters have all had enough.
We're fed up with all Mitch's guff.
With Trump & Barr in jail.
The rule of law will prevail.
And we'll move on to doing good stuff! 

This election isn’t about party. It’s about returning our country to its values. This yard sign seems to sum it up pretty well!

Oh Shenandoah!

At the end of June we escaped Florida, Covid free, and headed north to Winchester, Virginia. It took us two days to make the 720 mile drive. We’ve made the trip from Florida to DC many times but we still enjoy it because of the lovely scenery as the marshes and water vistas change into rolling hills.  

We stopped just south of Fredericksbug, Virginia, for the night. The hotel was very clean but I still wiped sinks, doorknobs and light switches down with disinfectant just to be extra safe. Dominoes delivered pizza to our door without any interaction. And from our hotel window the sunset was spectacular as a result of the huge dust storm that had crossed the Atlantic from Africa.

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It’s Ground Hog Day!

It’s like living in a science fiction novel. This is certainly not anything I could have imagined when we began our travels in January of 2015!  Our first inkling of the seriousness of the Corona Virus came while we were in Seattle in February.  We even considered waiting until the end of March to fly back east because we thought it might be safer then.  So glad we didn’t! We’d still be there!

We spent a week in DC figuring out what next. Since it was March, somewhere warm had appeal.  We had flown into a hotbed of the virus in Seattle, and the east coast was just beginning to feel its presence. But because the day we landed in DC was the first day our youngest son, Patrick, was told to work from home, we figured that even though we love the city, the densely populated DC area was probably not a good choice.

So we celebrated my birthday at the Hamilton with Patrick and Cary having no idea at the time that it would turn out to be our last dinner out for a very long time. IMG-20200314-WA0001We had been to Amelia Island, Florida, in the northeast corner of the state and liked its location right on the water. It was a town with a lot of character.  Cary had returned to the US from Rome to work out details of a special visa and now she was unable to return to Italy.  One definite plus of the virus was spending time with our daughter! I found a place for 6 weeks for a reasonable price and we figured that would give us time to try to figure out our next move. Another draw to Amelia Island was we could make it in a day’s drive. So on March 19, equipped with hand sanitizer and Lysol wipes, we began our road trip. We were amazed at how few people were traveling south compared with the massive lines of traffic heading north. We were surprised too by how low gas prices were. We only stopped to use the bathroom.  And when we arrived at our destination 11 hours later, we drove through Taco Bell for dinner.

The house turned out to be fine but there was little outside area and because we were avoiding the beaches and crowds that was a drawback. IMG-20200818-WA0004We had a tiny patio with a couple of chairs off our dining room and Cary would take her daily break out in the sun.  Unfortunately she also encountered a snake who regularly liked to visit. 

The woman we were renting from tried to be helpful and sent out a couple of workers who did their best to get rid of the snakes (Yep, later the original guy had found a partner!) but while the visits were less frequent, they never were completly eliminated.  One of the last days we were there, the pest control man rang our doorbell to show me the shedded skin he had found in the front yard and explained it was really fresh.  mvimg_20200430_151241He and his buddy tried to reassure us that the snakes were a good thing that they got rid of rats and other vermin but all that did was convince me that there probably were other critters I didn’t wish to encounter nearby!

Almost as soon as we got to Florida the numbers of Covid cases began creeping up.  The governor kept insisting all was fine. Beyond taking an occasional ride in the car we stayed close to home. Most beaches were cordoned off and where there was access there were signs indicating how to stay safe. For the most part they were ignored. mvimg_20200504_123100 We did find a few isolated areas where we encountered few people. When we did go out we wore masks, and used hand sanitizer and socially distanced.

I downloaded an app so we could order our groceries online and have them delivered.  Cary and I also did our best to keep online sales solvent! We knew we needed to find another location to extend our stay and quickly found a lovely condo a short distance from our current home.  Little did we know when we made the move that we had traded snakes for cockroaches!  Oh, the things I took for granted living in Michigan!

I’ve settled into a sort of routine now that we can’t go exploring. Our days from the start were pretty much the same as they are now. I can’t imagine the pandemic before the days of the internet. I use my computer continuously from locating our next place to stay, to paying bills, to participating in an excercise class on Zoom, ordering items on line, and generally just staying in touch with others. I particularly enjoy conversations on Google Hangouts or Zoom with family and close friends.  We’ve celebrated many of our kids’ and grandkids’ birthdays and it’s been great fun to actually see the people we’re talking with.

Reading continues to be one of my favoite pastimes. I am working my way through my list of books suggested to me by friends or reviews I’ve encountered on the internet. No matter how voraciously I read the list continues to get longer never shorter. I have often sought out library cards where we stay but given the normalcy with which many Floridians are proceeding with their lives I’m not comfortable visiting the local library.   I travel with a Kindle but I love the feel of reading from an actual book. And because our expenses have been reduced significantly, I splurged and even placed an order for several hard copies.  (I justify this by telling myself I can pass them on to Cary when I’ve completed them!)

I definitely need some exercise and yet, with so few wearing masks I’m not comfortable venturing out very much.  After hunting online I found a Zumba class.  I’m not very coordinated but doing something like this via Zoom might be a good way to begin.  Much to my surprise, the woman I contacted, the course instructor, Sue Russell, lives in England.  IMG-20200613-WA0013She has a background in education and is a fascinating, creative individual with absolutely endless energy.  She invited me to chat after class and now it’s become a routine for us to chat on most days after Zumba.  We connected right away because of our common interests in education. She has lived in the US and for one of her many hats, she writes guided reading scripts for students of various ages on a wide variety of topics.  I can’t help but think during the pandemic this might be a really engaging way of involving kids, particularly in history. The kids could practice their parts on their own and then do it all together on Zoom!  What fun!  If you want more information check out her website: https://www.plays-r-ussell.com/product-category/my-school-play-scripts/hot-scripts-jan-feb-march/

I think I’ve done more cooking in the past few months than any time in our married life.  And most of the time I’ve enjoying finding new recipes and trying new things, especially in the land of seafood.  I’ve always liked to cook and now that we’re not able to eat out at restaurants I am becoming more adventurous in the kitchen. 

Once I was able to find yeast I even gave bread making a shot!  And we’ve enjoyed it so much that I’ve added it to my weekly routine. It did require the addition of a few kitchen items. I’m afraid I’ve become quite dependent on Amazon.

Three years ago my friend Rita taught me how to knit. She didn’t warn me however that it would become addictive.  I find it really relaxing, except when I’m trying to figure out how to correct my repeated mistakes! It is nice to have my mentor only a text away! I love to visit yarn shops, but for now I have to be content with picking out yarns online.

But my major splurge has been a keyboard!  Because it appears that we will be in the States for a long time forward, we’ll be driving our own car and have the luxury of space that we don’t have when we travel abroad.

The two things I have really missed over the past five and half years are my piano and my dog.  Haven’t quite figured out how to resolve the dog issue yet! And I do worry with my new hobbies that I’m acquiring more “stuff” for us to travel with, definitely not a good thing after spending so much time and effort sorting and getting rid of all our stuff!  Bob never says anything but I’m pretty sure he’s not pleased. 

Card games provide another diversion for us. Bob and I (and Cary when she was with us) play a lot of cribbage or rummy.  For the past few years, I have kept a running score of who wins the most games in each location.  Right now we’re pretty even. But one of my favorite activities continues to be Trivia. I found a Team Trivia game online that has now become part of our weekly routine.

Most recently we play with Patrick, in DC, and Cary in Rome.  (This means that Cary has to get up at 2 am to participate! The entire time she was with us in Florida she worked remotely with her colleagues in Rome which meant that she started her day about 3 am Florida time. So it’s not as though she’s been unfamiliar with strange hours. )

Bob kept insisting he needed a beard trim and I knew he was serious when he decided to order a set of hair trimmers and asked if I’d undertake the role of barber.  It didn’t turn out too badly…well, at least the first couple of times.  What do you think?MVIMG_20200523_155233Most recently as I began to trim his beard and hair I thought the cut was unusually close and then I realized I hadn’t put the guide on so it was acting as a razor. I had started in the back so luckily he wasn’t able to see the damage!  Lucky for me he is very laid back about it and continously says, “It’ll grow back.”  On the other hand I desperately need a hair cut and while I took some thinning shears to it once, I’m afraid to go any further.

Given the time we have on our hands, Bob and I both signed up to make calls for the Democrats.  This was short-lived as we soon learned that all our calling is done through phone banks and the contacts are all people who have already been identified as friendly calls.  MVIMG_20200623_170155 (1)We found it a very inefficient way to make calls given that most people today have cell phones and don’t answer those that are unidentified. When we did occasionally reach a voter, they informed us they had already been called on numerous occasions.  Hopefully, we will soon find a more efficient manner to be of support to the party. 

Cary was able to fly home to Rome in the middle of May. She was dressed with gloves, a mask and a carried sheet to cover her seat. But she had to change planes twice; first, in Atlanta and then in Paris.  When we took her to Jacksonville we found the airport eerily quiet but she didn’t encounter too many hassles and she managed to stay healthy!

Our kids continue to work remotely. And we, like everyone else, wonder what the next year will be like.  Our oldest granddaughter is a sophomore at Central Michigan University.  She’s decided to continue her classes online this fall.  Luckily she can commute to campus if she needs to.  Our oldest grandson will be a senior in high school this fall.  What will his senior year look like? A few years ago while visiting Cuba I thought about how difficult it must be for the Cubans to not be able to travel anywhere outside their own country.  Never did I dream, as Americans, we would be in the same situation.  How lucky we are to have such a huge country to call home!

With the weather getting a lot warmer and with hurricane season fast approaching we decided it was time to move on.  Still concerned about Covid 19 we didn’t want to travel too far so we decided to rent a place for July and August in Winchester, Virginia, about 11 hours north of Amelia Island. This way we can be close to both Patrick, and Stephen and Sadie’s family without being in a heavily densely populated area.  Who knows after that? Here’s a toast to the end of the Corona Virus! Until next time, stay safe! MVIMG_20200513_184312

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memories of My Mom

This Mothers Day my mom would be 118.  I wish I could sit down and have a conversation with her!   Lately I’ve recalled over and over a story she told me about a Christmas when she was a teenager and her parents told her and her siblings there wouldn’t be any gifts because they were quarantined. How amazed she was on Christmas morning when there were small gifts for everyone including oranges in the bottom of their stockings. This became a tradition she continued with my sister and me and one that Bob and I continued with our four kids. Mom said she never did figure out where the gifts came from!  That was the Christmas of 1918, during the flu pandemic. 

My mom grew up on a farm in Daviess County, in southern Indiana, near the small town of Elnora.  One hundred years ago this month, she graduated from Epsom High School.  One hundred years ago! 

velma & mabel ketchem

Mom and her sister Mabel (two years younger) and the dresses they made.  Mom wore hers for high school graduation in 1920. (Check out those shoes!)

Women didn’t even get the right to vote until 3 months after she graduated! I remember Mom telling me on more than one occasion how from the time she was in kindergarten she wanted to be a teacher. I never got the idea she felt poor, but there certainly wasn’t a lot of extra money. So it was after a lot of pleading, her mother gave her $3.00, the total amount of her cookie jar savings, so Mom could enroll at Indiana State Normal School in Terre Haute.  (Today this is Indiana State University.) They had a hired hand who took Mom up to Terre Haute and although it was only about 60 miles from home, it was an all day journey.  In Terre Haute she rented a room over a peanut butter factory. She pretty much lived on peanut butter sandwiches during her time at school.

Mom's completion Indiana State Normal Preparation of Teachers for Elementary Schools -

Clipping from the Indianapolis Star, June 17, 1922

In 1922 she graduated with her elementary teaching certificate. Mom’s first teaching contract stated in a very straightforward way that female teachers could not bob their hair nor be seen out after a certain hour in the company of men unless a chaperone accompanied them.  And most specifically women had to quit teaching when they got married.  When Mom announced that she was getting married, Mylo Murray, the superintendent of the Michigan City Schools, reminded Mom that she would have to resign.  My mother disagreed and fought it all the way to Indianapolis where much to the surprise of many, she won! A few weeks later, Mom submitted her resignation.  It wasn’t that she wanted to continue teaching after she got married, she explained, it was just that she should have the choice, the decision should be hers to make. And although Mom substituted after I started school, she didn’t return to teaching full time until I was in the fourth grade. Education remained really important to both her and my dad. My sister and I both grew up knowing that going to college was a given.  It wasn’t a question of “If  we would go”  but rather, “Where would we go?” 

I also remember mom telling me that I should marry only if I found the right man.  Men rarely make marriage a goal.  Neither should women! (I can remember Dad saying it was important to get my college degree so I’d never be dependent on a man! Quite progressive thinking for a man born in 1896.)

Mom never planned on marrying. She was next to the oldest of five children and these were the days before social security so she felt it was her responsibility to take care of her parents. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t follow her dream of being a teacher!ketchem family

Ketchem Family Back row left: Mom (born 1902), Silas (born 1864) Joseph (born 1901), Emma (born 1877), Mabel (born 1904); Front row left: Ruth (born 1908), Fred (born 1906)

Catching the Monon train somewhere near Elnora, she headed nearly 250 miles north to Michigan City where she had secured her first teaching job. Better paying teaching jobs were found in the northern part of the state particularly near bigger cities. It was common then for young teachers to rent rooms in boarding houses where breakfast and dinner were included in their rents.

Velma Ketchem 1932Days were spent teaching school, evenings writing lessons and grading papers. On weekends there were lectures, plays, card games and dances.  Her diary shows that she was never at a loss for activities. One of Mom’s roommates set her up with  my dad (a local businessman who had a car) for a double date.  The roommate had her eye on Dad and figured that since my mom was taking care of her parents, she was a safe bet.  In 1934 after a long delay in their plans caused by the onset of the Great Depression Mom and Dad were married. My sister was born in 1939 and by the time I came around Mom was 44 and Dad was 51. Theirs was a true love story!  I can remember at age 16 walking with Mom and Dad along the strip in Las Vegas observing that in their middle 60’s they were holding hands as they strolled.  11-18-2014_150 (1)

In retrospect I think it was Mom’s independent thinking that made the greatest impression on me. My sister and I were taught to act on our beliefs regardless of what others said.  Mom reminded us that there might be consequences for our actions and only we could decide if the risk was worth it. This was particularly useful advice when during the first five years of my teaching career we went on strike nearly every year. I chose every time to strike, but understood that I could be jailed or even scarier, I could be fired!

Travel was viewed as an integral part of education. Travel meant roadtrips. In January 1948 when I was less than a year old, my dad sold his business, bought a travel trailer and a new car to pull it and we headed out to see the American West on what Mom and Dad described as “being gypsies” for 6 months.  Imagine in 1948, with a 10 month old baby and a seven year old, living for half a year in a 14 foot camper! We first headed south to New Orleans for the Mardi Gras, and promptly got stuck in Tennessee for a few days because of a snowstorm. From New Orleans we headed west stopping to see historical sights along the way.  In Austin my dad was thoroughly offended when while holding me in the rotunda of the state capitol waiting for my mom and sister who were hiking to the top, a tall Texan remarked to him, “Bet Grandpa is pretty proud of her.”  It wouldn’t be the last time people thought he was my grandfather. And while he learned to laugh about it later, he didn’t find it very funny at the time.  

We traveled on to Arizona stopping at the Grand Canyon and then on to Tucson to visit my mother’s older brother, and there my mother baked a birthday cake in the trailer oven.  Then to LA to visit my Dad’ sister, and then up the west coast to Oregon and Washington. When we drove up Mt Hood the snow was so deep Dad had to follow the snow poles marking the edge of the road.  At Timberlake Lodge, there were Saint Bernards to guide us into the lodge. These were the days before campgrounds so we stayed in residential trailer parks and my parents and my sister made lots of friends along the way.  People of different colors and different beliefs.  In Spokane, Washington, my parents were offered more for the trailer than they had originally paid so Mom and Dad packed up boxes, mailed them back home, packed the rest in the car and off we went staying in motels and cabins the rest of the way back to Indiana. 

Throughout the years I was growing up we continued to travel, never as extensively as that first trailer trip, but usually for a month to six weeks every few years and the purpose was always to see new things. Sometimes it meant retracing steps from the trailer trip, given that I had been too little to remember any of it.

Other times it included new sights:  attend a concert by The Morman Tabernacle Choir, swim in the Great Salt Lake, explore Rocky Mountain National Park and the maritime provinces of Canada, as well as visiting the undeveloped Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec.  When my sister left home and lived first in Virginia, then in Berkeley, California, then the Northwest, these all became travel destinations. I learned so much on those trips: history, geography, and map reading skills in addition to what mattered most to my parents.

My parents were stricter than most of my friends’ parents.  In retrospect I realize they were strict about specific things like curfews and dating. Because they had come of age in a different time, they had a hard time with me calling boys.  Or with long telephone calls. Or dating in general, particularly in cars. But in many ways I think they were probably a lot more liberal than many parents of the 1960s. I could read whatever I wanted to, spend my time however I wished. I loved cooking and would often come home from the library with a new cookbook.  From the time I was eight or nine, Mom would let me have total control over the kitchen as long as I left it clean. (She never wanted to be greeted by a messy kitchen in the morning.) Most of the time she’d be in the living room if I had a question. Often I would beat Mom home after school, and I’d scrounge around in the kitchen to see what was in the fridge.  Then I’d look in a cookbook until I could come up with a recipe utilizing what we had on hand.  When Mom would get home, I’d tell her what was for dinner.  That always seemed to please her.

My mother and father were both voracious readers and I remember once being told by an overly pedantic librarian that I couldn’t check out a book because it was “too mature” for me. When I shared the story with Mom she immediately got in the car, drove to the library and  marched in explaining in no uncertain terms, that it was NOT the librarian’s responsibility to determine what I could and could not read.  Any time I wanted to check out a book I was to be allowed to do so.  Mom knew it was important for me to read widely without censorship in order to make up my own mind about what I believed. 

Civic responsibility was a given. It was important to know what was going on in the world around us. I don’t remember ever being sheltered because something was too scary. Every night we’d watch the NBC, CBS and ABC news. I remember watching news reels most specifically of the conflict in Korea and the McCarthy Hearings and the threats of the Cold War. (In those days John Daley was on ABC for 15 minutes at 6:15, followed by Douglas Edwards on CBS, and then finally John Cameron Swazey on NBC.  Later Chet Huntley and David Brinkley entered the picture.) In 1964 I had read a lot about Barry Goldwater and volunteered for the Young Republicans. This was quite a shock in a home as left of center as mine was.  When my father objected, my mother quickly stepped in and told him I should be able to work for whomever I wished.  If he wanted to hand out materials on the opposite street corner he could do that but he should not silence my voice.  Dad acquiesced. I always had the feeling that Mom made most of the daily decisions for the family.  But when Dad said, “Jump!”  My mother would respond, “How high?” 

Perhaps all of mom’s philosophical ideals had at their center that we only had one chance at life. Don’t get bogged down with the mundane!  There wasn’t anything we couldn’t achieve IF we were willing to work hard and tackle the obstacles we were sure to encounter. Time, not money, she believed, is the most important gift we have so it’s important that we are always mindful of the way we choose to spend it living every hour, every day to its fullest. Mom and Dad gave 100% to everything they did. Mom was extremely well organized but with enough flexibility to be spontaneous!  

In my memory our house was almost always a relaxed place to be. Dad got home at 5 and we all sat down to dinner shortly thereafter. Conversations were focused on what we’d all done during the day, or what we’d read or current events.  Sunday dinners were in the middle of the afternoon and Dad would go pick up a good family friend who would join us.  For entertainment, sometimes friends would come over, or we’d play cards (canasta early on, bridge as I got older) or board games like Uncle Wiggley,  Parcheesi or Scrabble.  And there were a few television shows like Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town, or I Love Lucy or The Red Skelton Show. Sometimes, we’d go for a ride or I’d play the piano and my dad and I would sing (not well!). We didn’t have relatives in town so at holiday time, friends who either had no kids, or their kids were grown and far away, would join us for special dinners. Sure there were disagreements and arguments but they never lasted very long. Mom demonstrated what was important to her by modeling it every day! 

What a lucky kid I was!  I love you, Mom!  Happy Mothers Day!

velma ketchem 1920's

 

The Best for Last

February 1 we flew from rainy cold to paradise…Seattle to Honolulu.  We have now traveled to every one of the 50 states and all 9 Canadian Provinces! Just getting off the plane it felt different. Who takes pictures during their walk to the baggage claim area? Yep, this is definitely like no place we’ve ever been! Several times throughout the month we remarked to each other that we felt like we were in a foreign country.  For us Hawaii is like traveling abroad with all the best parts of the US. mvimg_20200201_153840

The pilot had told us on landing that there were showers in the area and our first reaction was, “Oh no!” But after a few days we realized it seems to always be raining somewhere on Oahu.  Most of the time it’s just a short shower, at least that’s all it amounted to during the time we were there. So it makes sense that there’s a rainbow on the license plate and the University of Hawaii is nicknamed the Rainbows.  mvimg_20200201_164326

Our first interaction with the locals was picking up the rental car.  Wow! Talk about friendly! The woman asked if we’d like a free upgrade, gave us directions to our destination, commented on how nice that area was! Was there anything else she could help us with? And this was just the beginning. For the entire month we were on the island we only heard a car honk once. People assume others will cut into traffic and graciously give way.  

Our condo was in a subdivision in Ko Olina, located on the west side of the island, about a half hour drive from Honolulu when it’s not rush hour. It’s a comfortable two bedroom condo with a great lanai where we spent a lot of time eating, reading and playing cards!

The west side is also the leeward side which receives far less rain than the rest of the island.  Beaches are all public on Hawaii (with the exception of a few areas owned by the federal government). In Ko Olina there are four lagoons These are manmade swimming and snorkling areas that are separated from the ocean by sea walls that allow the ocean water to enter but keep the huge waves out. Our condo gave us access to two pools but they couldn’t begin to compare with the lagoons!

There is a lovely winding walkway that connects the four sandy lagoon beaches. Restaurants and bars also line the walk and there’s free parking nearby. They truly have thought of everything! We spent many hours sitting at one of the lagoons people watching and reading.  And on our first day we were amazed to see a monk seal swim up and plop himself down on the beach. mvimg_20200207_133648We were impressed the way locals immediately cordoned him off with tape and signs that reminded tourists to give him space. This must a familiar happening given the speed and efficiency with which they reacted. 

When we first decided to go to Hawaii we weren’t sure which island to visit and whether we should hop from one to another.  But in the end we decided since this was our first visit we’d stay in one place. Hawaii is a very expensive place and not changing locations would save a great deal of money.  We chose Oahu because as history buffs visiting Pearl Harbor was at the top of our list and that’s where we wanted to start!mvimg_20200213_125335I had read online that it’s important to book tickets far in advance for the launch that transports tourists to the Arizona Memorial.  But by the time I read that, there were none available. The site did say that I could check each morning for the following day. Fortunately, on one of our first days on the island, I tried that and we had several choices for the next day. 

The emotional response is beyond description!  I don’t think unless we had actually been there on December 7, 1941,  we can understand what it must have been like to be stationed in this tropical paradise and then in a matter of moments have it all turn into a hell with an unknown future!  Would the Japanese come back and bomb more? What was next? The museum, as well as the audio tour, does a good job of describing moments in individual lives.  It’s a short trip out to the Arizona and there were rangers there to answer any questions visitors had. All in all it was a very moving day!

Our son Patrick and his roommate, Ryne, flew out from DC to spend a week with us.  I had reserved a van with a personal guide to take us around the island for the day.  Money well spent. And we couldn’t have picked a better day. The guide picked us up at our condo and from there we headed south and worked our way around the entire island.  The views were spectacular; the wildlife amazing.

Because the water was calm we were able to see whales with blowholes spouting on several occasions. We also saw a huge tortoise on a beach. mvimg_20200224_144716 As we approached the northern coast, the guide showed us where parts of Jurassic Park were filmed. This part of the island is so much different than the populated south.

Earlier in the month we had met a guy from Indiana, who told us the shrimp trucks on the north side of the island were a must do.  When I inquired of the guide if we could have lunch there, he immediately knew which truck was the best. He even knew to stop at a party store before we arrived so we could pick up a six pack!  And the shrimp?  It did not disappoint. mvimg_20200224_135124

The northern shore of Oahu is known for their great surfing.  This was the one place on our tour that the calm waters were a drawback.  There weren’t enough waves for surfing the day we were there but still it was really pretty. After lunch we continued down the center of Oahu and past the Dole Plantation.  MVIMG_20200224_150608We knew this was going to be touristy but we had to stop. Pineapple was definitely the theme. Trinkets, souvenirs of all kinds, candies and every sort of ice cream treat we could want!  We opted for cones. Wow! They were huge and wonderful!

I’d never seen pineapples growing before. They grow as a single plant with the pineapple in the middle, really unusual. About 6 hours after we had started, the guide dropped us back at our door.  What a great day! We had seen most of the island and everyone could enjoy the scenery without worry about navigating where next. 

There were several other places we wanted to explore on our own.  Downtown Honolulu is the home to the Iolani Palace built in 1882, the only royal palace in the United States. Bob and I decided this would be a great way to learn more about Hawaii’s history. (We were surprised when they gave us cloth covers for our shoes! )mvimg_20200211_135318 The palace was the home of King Kamehameha III through the time of Queen Liliuokalani. It was an incredibly modern home for the time having both electricity and also a telephone before the White House.  Queen Liliuokalani was a phenomenal leader who looked out for all of her people including ensuring those with Hansen’s disease (leprosy) were well cared for on Molokai. She was also an optimist, believing up to the time of the overthrow, that the United States would do what was right.  And while President Cleveland did support the monarchy, Congress did not. On August 12 1898, troops from the USS Philadelphia came ashore and overthrew the Hawaiian Monarchy. Queen Liliuokalani was imprisoned for 9 months in her upstairs bedroom.

  

Across from the palace is a statue of King Kamehameha. And also nearby is the Hawaii State House.  It is lovely! It’s designed around an open air courtyard with an entrance to the House of Representatives on one side and the Senate on the others. Far easier access than we’ve ever seen in other states.

And while it wasn’t in session when we were there, we could peek in the windows and see where all the action would take place. One one side of the state house is a statue of Queen Liliuokalani and on the other is a statue of Father Damien, who dedicated his life to caring for the people of Molokai.

Foster Botanical Gardens is a particularly unusual garden because its focus is on trees.  We saw candle trees, rainbow trees, cannon ball trees and orchids upon orchids!  So many new and interesting varieties we had never heard of before and the garden was right in downtown Honolulu. 

Several folks had mentioned the Aloha Stadium Swap Market.  It’s open on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays. We decided to check it out on a Wednesday figuring it probably would be less crowded on a weekday.  It was huge. Every sort of souvenir you could imagine is sold here. IMG_20200226_130147551_HDRFood including fresh fruits, nuts and jams to tee shirts, purses, keychains, you name it, they have it.  But again because we travel full time we don’t have the room to purchase much. So after wandering down the aisles making sure we didn’t miss anything and purchasing a few gifts, we were ready to move on.

Diamond Head is a volcanic cone that’s shaped like a tuna’s dorsal fin.  It’s also the most popular state park in Hawaii.

None of us were up for the challenge of climbing Diamond Head but we definitely wanted to see it.  And the views from there were gorgeous! We also wanted to visit the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. It’s located in the Punch Bowl Crater.  In addition to the more than 13,000 WW II soldiers who are buried there, there are other familiar names including war correspondent, Ernie Pyle, Senator Daniel Inouye, and Stanley Dunham (President Barack Obama’s grandfather).  There are also 70 unknown markers for men who died at Pearl Harbor.

 

As with other national cemeteries we have visited, the solemnity that permeates took my breath away. I was struck as we walked along the plaques describing the various battles, how much I know about the War in Europe compared to very little about the War in the Pacific.  Much of what I read was totally new to me. And yet the sacrifices were so great! 

We tried a variety of food in Hawaii…even SPAM.  I’m assuming SPAM is a staple because there is such a limited area to raise cattle and importing beef has to be expensive.  mvimg_20200202_120156On one of our first days on Oahu, Bob I walked to a nifty breakfast place about a 5 minutes from our condo, and I decided to give it a try. Don’t think I’d want it on a regular basis but it wasn’t bad especially because along with the SPAM and eggs, I was served a Hawaiian mimosa made with POG juice.  Pog stands for passion, orange and guava juices. Could definitely make that a regular addition to my diet!

Up not far from the shrimp trucks was a little town called Halewai.  It’s very touristy but a fun little town with quaint (and very expensive) shops.  Bob and I had already scouted it before the boys arrived and went back with them. We found a little bar, Uncle Bo’s, https://www.unclebosrestaurant.com/  that was showing surfing competition on the tvs.  We knew it wasn’t live but asked our waiter/bartender if the competition was nearby.  He explained if we went behind the bar and turned to the right we’d come to the exact location.  After indulging in some very tasty appetizers and beer, we headed over there. Again because the water was so calm we saw only a few surfers but could well imagine how packed it must be on a high surf day! 

As we toured Honolulu we came upon a great hole in the wall Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. Quite the find.  Really authentic and yummy! But our favorite restaurant was Tiki’s Bar and Grill near Waikiki Beach. Surprisingly, finding a parking place late on a  Saturday afternoon wasn’t too bad. We fed the meter and then headed around the corner. The restaurant is located upstairs in the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel. mvimg_20200223_183238It had everything…a live band, outside seating with a view of the sunset, and a fabulous menu with lots of seafood!  And to make things better, we walked in during happy hour! I swear Bob’s drink, The Monkey, looked more like a milkshake than an alcoholic libation! If ever in Honolulu, you definitely have to give it a try!  https://www.tikisgrill.com/  After leaving the restaurant we took a stroll down Kalakaua Street, the main street of the Waikiki neighborhood. 

The street parallels the beach and is lined with many high end shops. After several blocks we had seen enough and headed back glad that we were staying in a quieter area.  

On the night before Patrick and Ryne flew home we had tickets for a luau.  There were several that had good reviews, but I had opted for the Paradise Cove Luau because it was walking distance from the condo.  It seemed appropriate that as we went through the entrance we were given a Mai Tai as well as an orchid lei.

Then once inside we were shown to our seats for dinner and the show and then we had an hour or so to wander around the grounds right along a beautiful beach watching and/or participating in various activities including spear throwing, canoe rides,and  lei making. And of course there was the ubiquitous gift shop. Finally we were called to the imu ceremony where the roast pig was unveiled just as the sun was setting in front of us. We moved to our seats and then on to the buffet. Yummy! And it was amazingly efficient! After dinner the show with lots of dancing and Hawaiian music began. The fire dances were definitely the high point for me.

Patrick and Ryne didn’t fly out until late Saturday and we were leaving the next day so we had plenty of time to pack and then spend one last afternoon at the beach.  After dinner they took the rental car back for us on their way to fly out so that on Sunday all we had to do was get ourselves to the airport. Just as we arrived at the airport late Sunday morning, Patrick texted they were home.  Several hours later we touched down in Seattle. Now it all seems like a magical dream! Definitely a state we want to return to, maybe even annually if we can afford it! It was our 50th state to visit but it sure seems like we saved the best for last! 

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Travel in the Time of Coronavirus

Our month in Hawaii seems like light years ago! We left Hawaii on March 1 and headed back to Seattle hoping to spend another 10 days supporting my sister, Ruth, who resides in a memory care unit there.  As soon as I awoke the morning after we arrived, I realized I had a cold which removed any chance of visiting with Ruth in the near future. Seattle is such a pretty area. The views from Ruth’s home–spectacular. MVIMG_20200310_104122It’s hard to believe we had just arrived in the epicenter of the virus.  The rest of the week was pretty much a blur. We remained cautious but our biggest question was whether we would be able to fly out of Seattle on March 9 and head to DC. And then on to Majorca. Maybe we should just stay in Seattle for the rest of the month. We finally decided we’d wait and see how my cold progressed.  I obviously couldn’t get on an airplane if I were ill. By the time my cold subsided, homes for the elderly had closed their doors. Definitely a good thing but also frustrating to be so close to Ruth and not be able to visit. Given her current state of dementia, visiting by phone or computer was not an option. Ever the list maker I wrote down everything we needed to do for our own travels and made a separate list of things I needed to do for Ruth. Anything that required leaving the house was on yet a different list and we tried to tackle those things in one outing.  Luckily the weather wasn’t as rainy as it had been in January and flowers were beginning to pop up as well.MVIMG_20200310_120338

We finally concluded our flight to Majorca in the middle of April was not going to happen so I went to the Airbnb website and moved our stay back by a month.  (Now even that seems really optimistic!) May is obviously a more desirable time to be on an island in the Mediterranean than April so of course, we incurred additional costs.  In an attempt to travel as cheaply as possible I often book flights from the US into a major hub in Europe and then take cheap flights from there to our final destination. All well and good until reversing the process.  This meant canceling or rescheduling five flights instead of one. United was great! They immediately gave me a voucher for the total amount of our flights. But Ryan Air and Jet Blue were more difficult. Because Majorca is part of Spain and Spain had no travel restrictions at that time they weren’t willing to budge.  I finally decided it made no sense to cancel the plane reservation if we weren’t going to get any refund. Tomorrow, two days before our scheduled flight from London to Majorca, I will cancel our flights and see if I can get some compensation. Because our flight into London was to arrive in the evening, I made a reservation with Accor Hotels near Stansted Airport.  We have often stayed with them because they are clean, have efficient services and are very reasonable. Well, no more! I got a response from them saying that they were sorry our travel plans had changed but sympathy was all they were ready to offer. No credit or voucher. It was against their policy. “Really?” I responded. “You have a policy for a pandemic?” The cancellation costs were beginning to add up.

On the other hand we’ve had some really great responses.  When we cancelled our two month Peugeot Lease, through Auto France, we were told that there was only a $75 cancellation fee and it was likely we could recoup that when we leased again in the future.  Because we technically lease through Peugeot and not Auto France, they couldn’t give us a definitive answer but were very helpful.  

When I cancelled our walking tour I had scheduled in Milan to see the Duomo and da Vinci’s, Last Supper, I received a coupon for 1.5 times the original amount I paid.  Overall people have been very accomodating. 

We flew from Seattle to DC last Wednesday where we are staying in an Airbnb not far from our youngest son’s home.  Last weekend was my birthday. The kids asked what I wanted to do and usually that’s difficult because there is so much to choose from in DC.  This time it was more of a challenge. I finally came upon the idea of driving around the area looking at the cherry blossoms. We’d drive in our own car with our son, Patrick, and our daughter, Cary, acting as our tour guides.  While there were cars on the streets it was nothing like the usual DC traffic.

And while there were a few cherry blossoms blooming, there also were many other plants in bloom: jonquils, daffodils, magnolia trees, apple blossoms. 

We came upon Clara Barton’s home in Glen Echo where we got out and wandered a bit with few people around.

At the end of the afternoon we went to the Hamilton for my birthday dinner. We had read on line the night before that the Hamilton was taking a lot of precautions to ensure safety of their customers.  Tables were spread out; disposable menus were used. Doormen precluded the need to touch handles. All in all it was a great afternoon.

At the end of our month in Hawaii I had responded to a question I had seen posted on the internet by CNN asking about any impact the coronavirus was having on our lives.  I briefly responded and didn’t think any more about it. I was flabbergasted when a CNN reporter followed up with a telephone call. 

After chatting for a couple of minutes she asked if I could respond with a couple of short videos describing what our experiences had been and what questions we might have. I was even more surprised when she included me in her story.  Now less than two weeks after that call, I realize how insignificant the impact has been on us.   

https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/coronavirus-travel-cancellation-stories/index.html

Inconvenience best describes the impact the virus has had on Bob and me so far.  We are retired. We live on monthly pensions. All of our kids are grown and with the exception of our daughter-in-law who is a physician’s assistant in Michigan, who we do worry about, the rest of our kids can all telework. As a result our young grandchildren in Maryland have mom and dad at home with them.  We all worry about what’s in store for the future. How long is this going to last? What’s going to happen to people who are working hourly jobs with no benefits? How will they meet their bills? How will families manage who rely on school food programs to help feed their kids? Who will watch their kids if the parents are doing those jobs that the rest of us need to function?  Will the curve flatten or will it peak? 

But perhaps there are a few positives.  Slowing down life isn’t all bad. I read with amusement the number of daily schedules I see online.  Even though I was an educator for 40 years I still believe my own kids learned far more at home than they ever did in school. One of the things I loved best about the summer was the lack of schedule and the opportunities it provided me to really get to know my kids.  If mom and dad are fortunate enough to telework, this means there are more free hours in their day. They no longer have to spend their time commuting and getting ready for work. Time gives us the luxury of being spontaneous. I remember how much fun we had. Some slept in. Some got up early.  We read books, alone and together. We played games. Sometimes we did puzzles. Sometimes we watched tv. Sometimes we cooked together. We talked about ideas! We laughed…a lot!  Kids had time to do what they wanted to do.There was time to be alone; there were times we were together. They had time to be bored! Kids got to make their own choices. It was a 10 week break from the everyday craziness. Were there arguments? Absolutely! Were there times when it wasn’t so rosy?  Absolutely. But overall I feel very fortunate to have been able to spend those weeks with my kids. I believe those times, and those choices, were key to my four kids developing into the self-confident independent thinkers they all grew to be as adults. 

What’s next for us?  Our plan is on Thursday, the day after tomorrow, to leave DC and drive to Amelia Island, Florida. It’ll be a long drive, appears to be about 10 hours, but I’ll make a picnic lunch to eat along the way and once we arrive we plan to stay put for at least six weeks.  And after that? Who knows?

In the meantime, I hope all of you stay healthy and find your own little bit of  sunshine in these days of isolation and the unknown.

 

 

 

Winter in Warm Weather

As I get older, I realize my perspective of winter has changed dramatically. We spent most of the years when our kids were growing up in areas where we got a lot of snow:  Wisconsin, Illinois, upstate New York and Michigan. I remember with great fondness when our oldest son used to make forts out of snow and then be entertained for entire afternoons with his friends. Or when our daughter used to love to go down to the frozen soccer fields and ice skate for hours on end.  Or when our youngest son used to drag his bright orange net down to those same frozen fields for a pick up game of hockey. I never thought a thing about driving two hours every weekend to get to one of our kids’ hockey games regardless of the weather. I remember visiting our son, Stephen and his girlfriend in DC for Thanksgiving and enjoying the walk to a great Italian restaurant as large snowflakes fell.  Well, those days are gone! I now go out of my way to ensure that we spend the winter months in locations where we’re not apt to experience winter-like weather. We really don’t have the wardrobe for winter nor do we have space in our limited luggage to make room for it if we did. 

So it seemed natural that we spent this past November and most of December in Florida.  We returned to the same Airbnb on the west coast where we’ve been a couple of times before. We had had a pretty hectic travel schedule for most of the year so we were looking forward to  some down time. Bob and Art, the guys we rent from, are like old friends. img_0065 They take good care of us always checking in to see if we need anything, installing a new pool cover to make sure it stays nice and warm. They even invited us to have Thanksgiving dinner with them.

Talk about gracious hosts! Most of the  time we were in Florida the weather was amazing, warm temps with little rain. But it did turn cold a couple of times. And we had to smile as people dug out their winter hats, coats and gloves when the temperature fell to the low 50s.

 We found several interesting things to do when my friend Rita came down to escape the Pittsburgh cold. We love gardens so we decided to check the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, just a short trip up to Sarasota.  I’m not sure how we’ve missed this on previous visits.

Arcadia is a fun small town only half an hour away.  Both sides of the main street are lined with antique shops and because it wasn’t quite the busy season yet, we had most of the town to ourselves.  I was amazed when I inquired about something in particular, in this case a pitcher from Fiesta Ware, that after the owner told me she didn’t have it, continued to direct me to another shop that she thought might.  Bob and I stopped to have lunch http://marymargaretsteaandbiscuit.com  The staff were dressed as they would have been a hundred years ago.  And the food was fantastic! What a great afternoon!

I’m a pretty early riser and my morning routine consists of taking my morning coffee and a book or a Sudoku puzzle out to the lanai.  On one particular morning I was amazed by the flock of green birds that came to feed at the feeders in the house behind ours. I’d never seen anything like them. 

It turns out they were a variety of parakeets.  At least that’s what an article in the local newspaper said.  And they are considered invasive. Invasive or not I really felt lucky to be able to see them.  And they were kind enough to stay around while I grabbed my camera. Only on this one morning, they never returned.  But birds are one of my favorite parts of Florida.  We see so many interesting ones.

One afternoon we drove up to Farlows on the Water ( https://www.farlowsonthewater.com/)  and met my cousin and her husband for lunch. They’ve just moved to a place in Florida where they’ll spend their winters.  They too are avid travelers so it was fun to compare experiences. Her husband has done a lot of research regarding our family history in Denmark and I’m excited to go back to Denmark and follow up on it. And in addition, we had an amazing seafood lunch!

We also ventured to the Edison and Ford Estates in Fort Myers.  And it was just as lovely as I remembered it years ago when we visited with our kids.  I can’t imagine what life must have been like to live in Florida back in the 20s without all the conveniences of today.  And in particular without air conditioning. The estate was just getting decked out for Christmas which made it extra nice.

Online I read the American Sandsculpting Contest was taking place just about an hour away! What an event!  Each sculpture was more impressive than the last. Then just before we left, we came upon a refreshment tent and I’m always ready for a beer.  We had a seat and listened as a guy explained the process of building sand castles. He told us how the sand in the area was particularly good for sculpting and then he went on to demonstrate using buckets and hoses and calling upon folks in the audience to come up and help him construct a tower.  It was really fun and informative!

There’s something about spending Christmas Day watching little ones open gifts that we really wanted to see.  So we decided we would drive up to the DC area to spend Christmas with our second son’s family including our 3 youngest grandchildren all under the age of 10.  We figured we could do it in 2 days of driving. But there was a catch. I had made reservations for a house on Fort Myers Beach for the week of New Years.  So it meant driving to DC, then 5 days later driving back to Fort Myers Beach and then a week later driving back to DC. Oh well, we had the time; we only had to get the weather to cooperate!  And thankfully it did!  

Christmas with the kids was definitely worth the drive. It more than surpassed my expectations.  My daughter in law and I went with the two girls, ages 9 and 7, to hear Handel’s Messiah performed by the National Philharmonic at nearby Swarthmore.  The kids made and decorated Christmas cookies.

Cary flew in from Rome and Patrick came out from the city. Bob’s and my gift to the family was tickets for the Choral Arts Family Christmas at the Kennedy Center on Christmas Eve morning.  signal-2019-12-25-165700I wasn’t sure how engaged our four year old grandson would be but I needn’t have worried! He was captivated the whole time! 20191224_114344Afterwards we all went out for lunch! How wonderful it was for most of our family to be together. And Christmas Day was just as special as we had hoped!  Presents, games, great food, lots of laughter! The day after Christmas Patrick, Cary, Bob and I headed for Ft Myers Beach. And the others headed to New York to visit with their other side of the family. 

We took three days to drive down stopping along the way to see some sights including the slave auction house in Fayetteville, NC. Next we stopped in Columbia, South Carolina (where you may remember in a previous blog I wrote about the bullet holes from Sherman’s cannons that are still  evident in the capitol building there).

We also stopped for a night in Savannah, Georgia, where we spent the evening listening to dueling pianos. It was a great road trip.  

The weather in Fort Myers did not disappoint.  Most afternoons were spent by the pool we had at the house.  Because we’ve been to Florida many times, it was nice to have a week of rest and relaxation and not feel compelled to see all the sights! We found great beachside restaurants,  took walks along the Fort Myers Beach, made a trip to the beaches of Sanibel and managed to get in a round of mini-golf!

We even found a Hoosier bar so we could watch IU play Tennessee in their bowl game! MVIMG_20200102_205636For New Years Eve we found a great restaurant online that mentioned music and quickly made reservations!   About 10 pm following a leisurely dinner we inquired of our waitress what time the music started. We were shocked when she said they were just getting ready to close. This was New Years, what was she talking about? We also knew that the bridge going onto the island where we were staying was going to close for two hours at a certain point.  So we quickly called an Uber and went back to Ft Myers Beach. We wandered around the downtown and then found a bar, surprisingly not crowded, with lots of outside seating. We ordered drinks, got out our ubiquitous playing cards and began our euchre game. At midnight the fireworks began and we had front row seats. Such a lucky break! And when it was all over, we were walking distance back to our house.

On Sunday we put Cary and Patrick on a plane to head back to DC and Bob and I checked into a motel.  mvimg_20200105_180822Then the following morning we started the drive back. This was now the fourth time on these roads. It’s fair to say we knew them pretty well.  

While we try to avoid winter, it’s not always possible.  It had been seven months since we’ve been to Seattle and I really needed to check in and see how my sister was progressing since she had moved into a memory care unit there.  Seattleites don’t do well with snow. They don’t get a lot of it and when they do it’s usually short-lived. But for the time it’s there maneuvering the hills among drivers who generally aren’t used to snowy conditions can be a real challenge.  We were lucky that for the two weeks we were there the temps hung around 50 degrees, although it did rain EVERY day! And the scenery is spectacular!  We had several nice visits with my sister, got a lot of things done around the house, and then we were off again.  mvimg_20200130_092236

Six days ago we landed in Hawaii!  Last fall I found a two bedroom condo on the west side of Oahu and rented it for the entire month of February!  I feel like we’ve landed in paradise! The condo is perfect and the temperatures divine! We’ve now been to all 50 states and many we have visited more times than we can count.  This may be my favorite of all of them! 

We’ve also traveled to 36 countries and a variety of territories and have plans to add five more countries in 2020.  But in the meantime we have lots to see and explore here. Can’t wait!

Back to the Nation’s Capital

Somehow it quickly became fall and we found ourselves back in Washington DC.  DC is truly one of my favorite cities despite the current political climate. We’ve made a lot of friends during the times we’ve spent there. We find the city easy to maneuver and our host this time had a parking pass for us which meant we could leave our car parked unless we wanted to travel outside the city. And we were amazed that when we did use the car, it was rarely a challenge to find a parking place near our Airbnb when we returned.  

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Monroe Street, Columbia Heights

There is so much to love about DC.  Walking down the street we constantly hear a variety of languages.  The population is so wonderfully diverse. Because we have a son in the city, we get introduced to new local bars where we feel like we’ve known the bartender forever. As we walked downtown on the weekend before Halloween, we encountered literally hundreds of folks dressed in costumes. DC is fun! While the food is expensive, there’s virtually every kind of cuisine we could imagine. We had a great outdoor lunch with family and also found a new Mexican place as well as a great French bakery for lunch in Columbia Heights this trip. But there are still so many we want to try. Vietnamese…Thai…

Our Airbnb is between 14th and 16th Streets in a really pretty part of the city.  Our host has so many beautiful plants. It’s like entering our own garden. We are a short walk from the bus and with our senior metro cards it costs us less than $2 roundtrip downtown.  Such a deal! 

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Can you find Bob among the flowers?

And we never run out of interesting places to visit.  One place we often return to is the Looking Glass Lounge on Georgia where we often join Patrick and his roommates to compete in their trivia game on Tuesday nights (though I don’t think we add a lot of knowledge to the team). Before the game began we were talking about where we were headed next and what we planned to do during our month in DC. One of Pat’s roommates asked if we had ever been to Decatur House.  Funny, in all of our visits we had never heard of it. It’s located on the corner of Jackson and H, right around the corner from the White House (and right next to the office building where Pat works!) and although we had walked past it on numerous occasions, we were not familiar with it. 

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Decatur House

Later that week we decided to check it out. We were met by a woman who explained there are two guided tours a day and we were in luck, the next  would begin in 10 minutes. And it was free! The docent explained that the house was built in 1818 by Navy hero Stephen Decatur with money he was awarded for his heroics during the War of 1812. Decatur was a visionary in that he saw, even at that early date, the advantages of being close to the White House. Decatur house, built in Federal style and designed by Benjamin LaTrobe, was the site of many elegant events throughout the early years of our country. After Decatur’s death in 1820, the result of a dual, his widow sold the house  to John Gatsby, a noted DC real estate figure who added a building for slave quarters. These quarters are still part of the tour. Gatsby rented out the home to important DC figures including Henry Clay and James Monroe. Later it was sold to General Edward Beal of California whose descendants owned the home until 1956 when Marie Beal left it to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. We found it interesting that there was a move in the early 1960’s to tear down many of the historic buildings surrounding Lafayette Square to make room for office space.  Luckily Jackie Kennedy stepped in and promoted the historic value of the area.

The house is absolutely gorgeous with winding staircases and beautiful woodwork.  The state seal of California is set in the floor of the great dining room (added by General Edward Beal).  In one hallway, the guide pointed out a fake door reflecting the need for symmetry.

I was thrilled when the woman in the bookstore at Decatur House pointed out St. John’s Episcopal Church was just a block down the street. This is the church Jon Meacham mentions in his biography of Andrew Jackson, as the Little Yellow Church, (and it’s still yellow)  the place Jackson often worshipped. St John’s is also known as the Church of the Presidents. The plaque on the church points out that all presidents since Madison have occasionally worshipped there. President Lincoln is said to have been the most frequent presidential worshipper slipping into an obscure back pew for Wednesday evening services.  We were disappointed that the church was not open.

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“The Church of the Presidents”

The National Geographic Museum was another stop on our list. Again, this was a place we had missed on previous trips. It’s not a large facility but definitely worth the trip. Because it’s close to the centennial anniversary of the women’s right to vote, the special exhibit is Women of Change.

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National Geographic Women’s Exhibit

 

There were spectacular pictures, as only National Geographic photographers can provide, along with descriptions of women’s contributions since the beginning of National Geographic in 1888. The general admission for seniors is $12 and that got us into all the exhibits. Before touring the exhibit we watched a 45 minute overview of Women of Change.  Truly a great way to spend an afternoon. We will definitely go back!

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All covers of National Geographic are displayed on a wall in the museum.

The new permanent fossil and dinosaur exhibition had just opened at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum so one Sunday morning we met up with Rockville family to have a look.  Wow!

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Rotunda of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

When you can capture the attention of a 9, 7 and 4 year old for nearly two hours you know it’s got to be good. We walked among life size models of the great giants of the earth and were fascinated every step of the way.

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Grandson taking in an exhibit

And people are so friendly. On a lovely warm Saturday afternoon we went to the University of Maryland v Indiana football game.   There’s a new policy in college football that requires women to put their belongings into a clear plastic bag (purchased of course at the stadium) before they can enter.  I was totally confused when after buying one, we put my son’s girlfriend’s purse in the bag and also mine. Security didn’t check what was inside; once it was in the clear plastic bag it was assumed to be okay.  This struck me as very odd. Once inside the stadium, I heard a staff member say, “You can’t wear that in here.” I looked up to find a smiling face who was teasing me about my Indiana University sweatshirt! LOL

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IU v University of Maryland

While it was still warm we took an overnight trip to the Ocean City. 

We had a lovely stroll on the boardwalk and then later went out to a Penguins bar to watch the game and choose from their selection of “Pittsburgh eats.”

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Pens’ menu

We were amazed when the Uber driver asked us if we had seen the flooding. What? It hadn’t rained. The next day when we drove back to DC we were in for quite a surprise.  The winds off the ocean were so strong and the tides so high that several streets were blocked off because of all the water. We’d never experienced flooding without rain. How odd!  How scary. The Chesapeake Bridge is a really pretty one but this time on our way back to DC we were stuck in bridge traffic for over two hours. Not a pleasant experience. 

I’m beginning to feel like a real DC resident.  I sort of have an idea of where places are located in relation to other places but the triangular shape of the district still throws me for a loop every so often. One of my favorite places, that you may remember my mentioning in a previous blog, is Politics and Prose a wonderful bookstore that regularly hosts authors talking about their new books. Gail Collins, author and columnist for the New York Times was scheduled to give a talk about her new book, No Stopping Us Now: A History of Older Women in America.    It’s not as close to our apartment as other places but with the help of the GPS and the Metro apps on my phone we figured out how to get there. Bob, ever accommodating, agreed to go along. We decided we’d have pizza first at the Comet Ping Pong right next door to P&P. So we allowed plenty of time.  We walked about 4 blocks to what we believed was the right bus stop. But when the bus pulled up and I asked if it was headed to Connecticut Ave the driver very politely explained that we needed to cross the street and get the same number bus headed the other direction. After the bus pulled out, a woman who had just stepped off that bus, explained again exactly where we needed to be to get the right bus.  (I told you we encounter the very nicest people!) So we walked across and waited…and waited…and waited. In our experience with DC busses we’ve always found that if we’ve missed a bus, we’d never had to wait more than 10 minutes at the longest for the next one. We continued to wait. Finally after more than forty minutes, the bus pulled up. Once we boarded we understood the problem. It was nearly 5 pm and there were very few people on the bus.  Obviously, we were not on a well-traveled route. We got off several stops later, transferred busses with no hassle or wait and in a short time we arrived right across the street from our destination. The pizza was great; Gail was wonderful. Of course, I bought her book and had it autographed and in far too short a space of time we were on our way back home (via Uber).  

Another reason I feel like a resident is I now have lost count of how many times we’ve been to the Kennedy Center.  During the month we went twice. (Such a luxury!) We first went to see Nat King Cole’s 100th Birthday Celebration. Picture this, the Kennedy Center Hall, Nat King Cole’s music and Dulee Hill, singing and tap dancing and Patti Austin, and BeBe Winans, among others.  As if that wasn’t enough, Nat’s brother, Freddy Cole at age 88, appeared on stage and sang, “This Can’t Be Love.” We were blown away!

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Kennedy Center

Later in the month we returned to see Shear Madness.  Every time we have come to DC in the past few years, we’ve seen that it is playing but we never knew anything about it.  Bob took the time to check it out. It seems this is an improv production. The story takes place in a beauty shop with the outcome determined by the audience of the day.  It was hysterical! The play is performed in the Theatre Arts Performing Lab, a very small venue. During intermission, the players interact with the audience but they always stay in character.  We chatted with one of the “detectives.” When the second act began, the detectives were taking questions from the audience in an attempt to solve the mystery. Bob asked what the detective, whom we had just interacted with, was doing at the time of the murder.  We laughed out loud when he responded, “Bob, I’m shocked that you would suspect me!”  

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View from the porch at the Kennedy Center

One of the most unusual experiences we had was tracking down Rachel Carson’s grave.  Our son, Stephen, had pointed out to us that Ms. Carson, was buried in a Rockville Cemetery, not far from his home.  Rachel Carson, a preeminent scientist and pioneer of the environmentalist movement, was born in Springdale, Pennsylvania, the same small town in western Pennsylvania where Bob’s family is from.  In fact Bob’s grandmother had been a friend of Rachel’s mother. And although Rachel was older than Bob’s aunts, they knew one another in high school. So we made the trek one sunny afternoon to Parklawn Memorial Park where Ms Carson is buried.  We found the office and I went in and asked if they could direct me to her grave. To my astonishment, neither the receptionist nor the person who she called down to direct me had ever heard of Ms Carson. I tried to explain, but they couldn’t seem to grasp that this was probably the most famous person who is buried in the cemetery.  The woman who was trying to give me directions via a cemetery map finally got frustrated with the process. She said we should just follow her golf cart and she’d get us there. When we got to the general area, we began to walk and read tombstones. Finally we came upon it.

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Rachel Carson grave

She asked me where I was from and I explained Michigan. “Oh,” she responded, she was from Grand Rapids.  Wow! Almost every time when we meet people from Michigan they’re from the Detroit area, not the west side of the state. I explained I was from Big Rapids “Wow!” she explained her brother went to Ferris and was currently in Big Rapids. Once again…small world! She gave me a big hug and we each went on our way. I still think they should promote being the burial place of Rachel Carson.  Could be a great fund raiser on her birthday or Earth Day! 

Entertainment, great food, wonderful people, historic places to visit.  Once again, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in DC and are already planning our next visit.

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Jackson Statue in Lafayette Square

 

Summer in North America

Although we haven’t encountered much snow since we’ve retired, it always seems as though summer flies by and this summer has been no exception.  After arriving back in the States in late May we first caught up with our DC family. We had a very short time with them but were thrilled when our son asked if we could drop the three off at their schools in the morning.  First, we took the two girls to their elementary school, and then we were amazed as our three year old grandson directed us to his daycare more than a mile away. Ever the proud grandparents!

After ensuring all were safe in their academic environments, we began our road trip to Michigan with our youngest son who lives in DC and our daughter who flew in from Rome to attend her niece’s high school graduation. DC to Michigan is quite a trek but we sure enjoyed the trip back in time to other roadtrips we had taken when they were just kids.  Seems like yesterday! How could it be possible our oldest granddaughter was getting ready to head to college!

Graduation weekend in Big Rapids passed quickly and we soon found ourselves at breakfast saying “good bye” and “see you soon.”  We then dropped Cary and Patrick off at the Grand Rapids airport to fly back to their respective homes feeling very lucky that we had been able to have even this short time together.

It was now time for us to start on our cross country road trip from Michigan to Seattle where my sister has some health issues and we needed to help out.

Bob and I have made the trek from Michigan to the west coast on many occasions over the past several decades camping in our popup when the kids were little.  This time we chose the route along I90 because we thought there was a lot more to see instead of taking I94 through North Dakota. But even with more sights, we chose this time to only stop at those places that scream, “YOU GOTTA STOP HERE AGAIN!” The first of these was the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota.  20190606_112422The Corn Palace was built in 1892. Now more than half a million tourists visit it every year. The thing that strikes us as the most amazing is that it’s redecorated with a different theme every year. Because we had been through it twice before we didn’t feel compelled to tour again but we did have to stop and snap a few shots of the outside. 

From the Corn Palace, it was on to the Badlands.  Upon seeing it in 1985, our oldest son, then ten, made the comment that it was like walking on the moon.  It really is different and beautiful in a very unusual way. When we visited Mt St Helens in 2014 we bought a lifetime park pass to the national parks.  So it cost us nothing to take the drive winding through Badlands National Park. What a deal!

Our next stop was Wall Drug.   Wall Drug began in 1931 started by a pharmacist and his wife, a school teacher, who were looking for ways to make their drug store in a lonely place profitable.  It was the signs they posted along the highway advertising “free ice water” that brought them success and put them on the map. I remember my parents talking about Wall Drug and how we had stopped there in 1948 on our way back from the west coast. I feel certain they wouldn’t recognize the Wall Drug of today. We began seeing signs for it hundreds of miles before we actually got there.  Of course we had to buy our own tourist memorabilia proving that we too had actually been there.20190606_153051_HDR

Next on the itinerary was Mount Rushmore National Park.  Again, this is probably the sixth or seventh time we’ve been there but it never fails to take my breath away.  Borghlan’s carvings are amazing. And the flags and archways add to its beauty.

And this time as we were leaving we came upon a view of Washington’s profile we’d never seen before!  

The Crazy Horse Memorial was new for us.  And we were so glad that we made the stop. The monument is not complete but there was so much history to take in.

Crazy Horse was a Lakota leader of the Oglala branch of the Sioux. We arrived just in time to see the Sioux dancers perform.  It was wonderful!

We were surprised as we continued west on I90 that heavy snow was predicted in the mountains just west of Billings. We were looking forward to the mountainous part of the drive but wanted to enjoy the views and not get bogged down in a snowstorm so we decided to stop early and spend the night in Billings.  (Also, a good time to get a hair cut and do the laundry!) The next day the drive lived up to our expectations.

 

Montana is an incredibly wide state, more than 500 miles to cross, but the 80 mph speed limit makes it seem shorter.20190609_093526

We continued across the Gallatin and Bridger Mountains over Bozeman pass and just east of Butte we crossed the Continental Divide. The views of the valleys were just as enjoyable as those of the mountains. 20190609_101853I90 brought us into Seattle through the Cascade Range crossing over Snoqualmie Pass. Even merging into Seattle’s infamous traffic couldn’t diminish the beauty!

My sister’s home is located with a view of Puget Sound with the Olympic Mountains right as a backdrop.  The Sound has a constant traffic of fishing boats, freighters, pleasure boats, ferries, and cruise ships.

We even saw a submarine move up the Sound one morning.  (I later learned that each sub is the 4th biggest nuclear power in the world. Perhaps if I’d known that at the time I wouldn’t have been so excited to see it!) IMG_0020

After several weeks in Seattle, we had a reservation for two weeks at an Airbnb in Coquitlam, British Columbia, just outside the city of Vancouver. It was perfect.  20190704_151655_HDR (1)The owners lived upstairs which we always find is a plus. The host greeted us and proceeded to show us the details of the suite, as she called it.  As she was about to leave, she asked us to let her know when we needed to dispose of our garbage. It seems that there are a lot of bears who visit the area.  I suppose it would be more correct to explain that this is a new subdivision that was built in an area where a lot of bears made their home. So the bears take advantage of the new food sources.  She told us how smart they are, how they maneuver locks on sheds, shake car handles to gain entry. There was even a brochure in the apartment, published by the town of Coquitlam, entitled, “Bear Aware!”  

While we were always on the lookout, we never saw a bear. (We were told they were most often seen at daybreak which occurs about 5 am and way before our rising time!) But we did enjoy the location and the ease with which we could get in and out of Vancouver.  We found the traffic of Vancouver far more manageable than had been the case in Seattle.IMG_0060 (1)

We had a couple of favorite stops, the first was Stanley Park. It’s the third largest park in North America and borders on the edge of downtown Vancouver. 

It was about a 40 minute drive from our apartment. Stanley Park is largely surrounded by water with beautiful views everywhere we looked.  The Totem Poles, perhaps my favorite stop in the park, are the most visited tourist site in British Columbia. The first totems date from the 1920’s.

Most of today’s are new ones commissioned by the Park Board. Many of the originals were sent to museums for preservation. Nearby we found the statue of Portuguese Joe, who lived in the 1860’s.  IMG_0114 (1)He was born in Portugal, and then lived in what is now Stanley Park where he was a whaler, fisherman and saloon keeper. The statue, the newest sculpture in the park, marks the connection of Europe and First Nation peoples. It was created by Portugal Joe’s great grandson, Luke Marston.  

We also spent an enjoyable afternoon at the Vancouver Aquarium located in Stanley Park.  This is a major research center for marine life. We got there just in time to see them feeding the otters, which next to Penguins are my favorite animals.  It’s not a large place but very well-maintained if a bit on the pricey side. 

Another afternoon we drove to Queen Elizabeth Park, which is the highest point in Vancouver. 

We had come to the park to spend the afternoon at Bloedel Conservatory.  Again we were provided spectacular views as we walked from the car. The conservatory gardens are filled with exotic, plants, flowers and birds.

While the conservatory isn’t large we spent nearly two hours there fascinated by the birds!

Our host suggested a beautiful drive north up the coast toward Whisler which took us to Shannon Falls.  Again another bear warning.  I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the precautionary signs indicating when a bear was last seen in the area.

Vancouver is a great place for short day trips and after the busy, taxing weeks we had just spent in Seattle,  we had come to Vancouver for a place to read, relax and renew. What a great choice it was!

The northwest is lovely; the scenery beyond belief.  The people wonderful, but I truly feel far more at home on the east coast than the west.  I think it must have to do with what you get used to. Funny time zone differences don’t bother me in Europe, but really have difficulty adjusting to them in the US.  

We decided to drive back east through Canada. The first town we came to was Hope, BC, a small town surrounded by high mountains. But further east was what I was looking forward to! We had never driven the Ice Fields Parkway and it was at the top of my list of “Things I Want to See.” Several websites list it as one of the top drives in the world.  It’s about 9 hours drive east of Vancouver and on the way the Trans Canada Highway took us through 3 national parks: Mt. Revelstoke, Glacier (not to be confused with Glacier National Park, US) and Yoho before arriving in Banff.

The Canadian Rockies are particularly pretty because they are usually snowcapped! Towns along the way are few and far between.  But their populations are surprisingly larger than we anticipated. The Icefields Parkway connects Banff with Jasper. The highway is lined with turquoise lakes, glaciers and spectacular mountain views. (The Columbia Icefield alone has 6 glaciers.)

The weather had turned gray and cooler so we optimistically thought we might see some wildlife, but no luck!  No moose, no bear or no sheep, not one!  We had checked long in advance about staying in Banff but the cheapest room was $350.  So we  decided to drive further east to Calgary which meant saying goodbye to the mountains and entering the plains.  

The Canadian have such descriptive names for their towns.  We stopped in Swift Curren,  to visit the Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame.  (We even saw a sign for Michigan, Saskatchewan!  Who knew?) Then on to Moose Jaw!

Crossing the plains in Canada we saw a lot of yellow rapeseed fields similar to those we had seen in Italy.  We learned that this rapeseed is different and is used in the making of canola oil, a leading product of Canda.

When we came to Brandon, Manitoba, we cut south to North Dakota passing through the International Peace Garden at the border.  The park was established in 1932 and contains a lovely floral clock as well as a peace chapel with chime that straddles the border between the two countries.

Further south in North Dakota, we came to Rugby, North Dakota, which is the geographical center of North America.  We definitely needed to have a picture of that!  IMG_0296

In Grand Forks we wanted to check out the Ralph Engelstad Hockey Arena, the home of the North Dakota Fighting Hawks, formerly the Fighting Sioux.  Many have called this facility the Taj Mahal of hockey.

It has granite floors, cherry wood seats with leather upholstery. And six months ago they added a six million dollar scoreboard.  And to cap it off there is a huge statue of Crazy Horse in front of the arena. IMG_0305It appeared to be closed when we got there, but a woman in the pro shop said of course she could give us a brief tour.  What a sight to behold!

About an hour from Grand Forks we came to Fargo. Folks at the hotel where we were staying told us there was an airshow.  And while it had a hefty entry charge, we, along with many others, drove out to the campus of North Dakota State where we had a great view! 

I don’t usually think of North Dakota as a particularly interesting place to visit but we sure enjoyed our drive through the state.  We now were headed to Michigan City, Indiana, just an hour east of Chicago, to a place just a few blocks from the beautiful Lake MIchigan beaches, a place we’ll call home for the next couple of months.img_0001.jpg

 

Things to See and Folks to Meet…

Finally the time came and Rita, my good friend from Pittsburgh, arrived in Antibes.  She had flown from Pittsburgh to London and then into Nice. 20190511_171702As we waited for her plane, we were a bit taken aback by the armed guards we saw in the airport.  I know they’re supposed to make me feel more secure but…

Rita and I had so much on our list of “must do’s” while she was visiting.  But first we just needed to get something to eat and catch up.  One of the first excursions  was to see the Van Gogh Immersion. As you may recall in a previous blog, Bob and I and Cary had enjoyed a Van Gogh Touring Immersion while we were in Lecce.  We had read online that the Atelier des Lumieres in Les Baux de Provence (as well as in Paris) was featuring a similar exhibit. This one was much larger than what we had seen. The website provided a lot of helpful information.  I found that I could purchase timed tickets in advance avoiding standing in a long line when we got there and I also discovered there was a discount for senior citizens. Ah! The advantages of getting old! We set off on Sunday morning for the two and a half hour drive to visit Van Gogh. I was amazed that Rita was able to jump right in to sightseeing even though she had landed about 15 hours earlier and was experiencing a six hour time difference.

The exhibit is in a cave and its entrance is on the side of a mountain making parking very limited.  The fact that we were there on a Sunday afternoon with what seemed like half of France only complicated the situation.  Not finding a place, Bob turned the car around for a second pass. We were stunned when a young park employee stopped us and asked if we were looking for a place to park and then held up traffic as we waited for a car parked almost exactly in front of us to leave.  Talk about serendipitous!  

20190512_133038The exhibit didn’t disappoint.  It was very much like the one we previously viewed but this one was absolutely huge.  Between the Van Gogh loops, we watched a short program entitled “”Dreamed Japan, Images of the Floating World” based on Japanese prints of the late 1800’s and featuring the art of Kasushika Hokusai’s, The Great Wave off Kanagawa. According to the literature I read, VanGogh was fascinated with Japan.   The entire experience left us feeling like we had stepped into another dimension.

From Les Baux de Provence, it was a short drive to the Pont du Gard, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Not knowing what to expect we followed our GPS, then followed the signs to parking and started walking and then all of a sudden, WOW.  There it was. 20190512_15274320190512_153005We were looking at an ancient Roman aquaduct, built in the first century! It’s three levels high, built from huge stones, cut so accurately that no mortar was needed in the construction. Rita and I decided we had to walk across.  And although it was a chilly sunny day, I can’t begin to describe how windy it was. I had the distinct impression that had I been carrying an umbrella I would have been picked up in Mary Poppins style. My reading glasses were literally blown off my head! 20190512_153321_HDR

Bob and I had loved Avignon and so we wanted to share it with Rita.  Unfortunately, it had turned considerably colder than it was on our previous visit but was still enjoyable. And it was a good location to spend the night and continue our adventure the next day. Near the top of Rita’s list was Arles. This is where Van Gogh painted Cafe Terrace at Night. And the cafe still stands.  What an emotional experience to stand where Van Gogh stood and painted in 1888.  20190513_130310_HDR

I had read about the Rothschild Gardens on several occasions.  So we set off once again for Cannes, Ahh…way too many Rothschilds!  Unfortunately, I had confused the Rothschild Historic Home in Cannes with the Rothschild Gardens in Nice.  It caused us more than an hour’s detour but well worth the drive. Villa Ephrussi Rothschild, located right on the water on the French Riviera was constructed at the turn of the twentieth century. We passed on a tour of the inside of the villa. It was the gardens that we wanted to see.  The views of the sea took our breath away. In front of the villa is a musical fountain and from there you can wander the nine gardens each with a different theme. 

Rita had discovered on ancestry.com that she had relatives living in northern Italy, about an 8 hour drive from Antibes. So having no idea what we would fine, we set off early one morning, stopping to pick up Cary at the Genoa airport. How lucky to have a daughter who is fluent in several languages and willing to meet us and act as our interpreter. From there we drove to Lasino, a tiny village not far from Trento and close to the Austrian border. The drive north into the Dolomites, was a part of Italy we had never seen and the scenery was spectacular and very different from the rest of Italy! 20190516_164201_HDRWhen Rita had booked an Airbnb for us for 3 nights she had mentioned that she wanted to see the area where her relatives had lived and check out the cemeteries.  When our host, Giada, greeted us she showed us the lovely apartment with gorgeous views of the mountains. 20190516_083227She mentioned that there is a woman in the village, Titsiana, who carries the geneology of the families in the area in her head. Would Rita like to meet her? She would arrange it for the next morning.  This was far more than Rita had hoped for.  

We went off in search of a restaurant.  A short walk from our apartment we found a really nifty place to have dinner (connected to a gas station).  And everyone was so friendly. Thank heavens for Cary. Without her Italian skills, we would have had very limited conversations with folks. But when people found out that we were Americans and that Rita had come in search for connections to her family, everyone had something to volunteer.  20190515_211740_HDR

The next morning we walked up to a local bar and over cappucinnos we literally spent hours as Titziana explained relatives and connections.20190516_103953_HDRShe talked about those who had left for South America and who had left for the United States. So many folks left and no one had any idea what had happened to them. And Cary continued, hour after hour, to translate nonstop. When we left the coffee shop, the ladies asked if we’d like to see the women’s museum.  It was a block away and featured the work of the area women during World War II.

There was even a canvas bag from the corn meal that was supplied by the Allies. It’s hard to imagine their lives with all the able men off fighting leaving them to maintain their homes, find a way to feed their families and all the while trying to keep their families safe. This is the stuff we read about in history books.

Later that evening, Giada called and told Rita if she were interested in meeting some of her relatives she’d set it up.  The next morning we walked up to the community center and all of a sudden it dawned on us that the folks who were standing there had all come out to meet their American cousin.  20190517_112952_HDRIt still puts chills through me when I think of it. Cary, ever in gear, continued moving with Rita from one person to the next helping Rita understand who these people were. They then invited us into their town hall and the conversations continued.

Folks had brought pictures and even a family tree. It was hard to take it all in. And then the mayor, who also happened to be one of Rita’s relatives, presented Rita with a book of local history as well as a banner of the city.  20190517_120947_HDR

A smaller group then escorted us up to the local church, with one woman commenting, “Rita, this is the same path your grandmother would have walked.”  20190517_125730

From the church we went to the cemetery.  It’s difficult to understand the cemetery. As I understood it, because of the very limited space, the graves are changed every 25 years. 20190517_130308_HDRIt’s hard for me to imagine going to a graveyard and then returning years later and it’s different. But in any case there were many with familiar names that Rita recognized from her research although I’m sure it will take quite a while to put it all in order. 

And as if that hadn’t been enough, Tiziana invited us to her home where she lives with her sister, Dory, to continue our visit They asked if we’d like a snack and proceeded to serve lunch meats, breads, cheeses and an amazing torte and of course, wine! 20190517_144356 Cary continued to translate. Then we were invited to another cousin’s home. Here more wine was served! And the conversations continued. Finally, about 6 pm, nearly 9 hours after we first had gathered, we said goodbye already anticipating the next time they might see each other. 

It’s amazing how quickly the foreign can become familiar. Three days after first arriving in a small village where Rita thought she would be wandering through cemeteries trying to piece names together,  Rita now left with more than memories. She left not just knowing a lot more of her family but to feel personal connections with so many, many relatives she had not even known existed just a few short days before.  And how lucky we were to be part of the whole celebration! 20190516_102951_HDR

Time had absolutely flown and we were getting ready to leave France.  The three of us flew to London where Rita would spend a day with us before flying home. Bob and I would have another few days.  

We had rented an Airbnb in Belsize Park in the same neighborhood where we had stayed previously because we liked the area, and the bus lines made it an easy trek into London. The apartment was really lovely with high ceilings and leaded glass windows.  Because this was Rita’s first visit we decided the Hop On Hop Off would be a good choice so she could get an overview of the city. Of course, we had to have the traditional pictures at Trafalgar Square. We also enjoyed seeing Buckingham Palace.  The next morning Rita headed to Heathrow for her flight back to Pittsburgh. What a great time we had!

 For our respective birthdays, Bob and I had given each other tickets to see Hamilton. How fun to see it in London!  There was some kind of gathering near Westminster Abbey and our bus seemed to be stopped dead in traffic. So we decided to hoof it.  After stopping to ask directions to the Victoria Theatre (which no one seemed to have heard of) and accessing our GPS, we finally made it.  King Georg is portrayed as such a bumbling fool! At intermission, a man walking into our aisle, leaned over to the woman next to Bob and commented, “At least we still have the queen!” 

Theatre is one of our favorite parts of London so the we decided to check out what other plays we might see. Mamma Mia has been running in London for twenty years. Seemed like a good choice and it was great. I found myself humming the music for days afterwards.20190525_172955_HDR

When I first learned that we were going to be back in London I connected with a friend, Jackie, we had met in Gosport in 2016.  We arranged to meet up for a drink before we headed to the theatre. Jackie is following a book of walks in London.  They sound really interesting.  She told us that while they’re all within the city, they are focused on of off the beaten paths and are usually connected to history.  We are so lucky to met such interesting people in our travels.20190525_132658

It was time to head back to the States.  We started the year in the Dominican Republic and then after a weekend in DC, spent the next month in Italy, and then two months in southern France.  Now we were headed back to DC and then on to Michigan to our oldest granddaughter’s high school graduation. It was going to seem different to understand the dominant language and use the American dollar.  Europe has been wonderful but we are ready to go home to the US for a while! 20190527_083400_HDR