Nous somme Paris!

I’ve enjoyed so many exciting adventures since last November. In fact, today is the first anniversary of my retirement. I’ve traveled all over America and spent the last 3 weeks in Europe visiting Manchester for a Jesus Culture conference; London, Brussels, and Paris with my daughter; staying on a few more days in Paris on my own and continuing on to the Amalfi Coast, Florence, and finally Faulensee.  Of those cities I visited, 2 of them are experiencing fallout from terrorist acts or threats.  In fact, I left Paris on a night train just a couple of hours before the coordinated attacks occurred.

I don’t watch the news even when home much less when I’m on vacation.  I was on a train all night and didn’t arrive at my destination until about noon Friday.  My daughter messaged me, “Where are you?” When I told her on was on the Amalfi Coast, she then texted, “You should probably let people know you’re not in Paris,” and alerted me to the attacks.  I scoured the internet for details.

I had such mixed emotions about being out of Paris. I feel spared. Glad. Sad. GRATEFUL.  I enjoyed Paris 2 days with my daughter & 3 days on my own & I was feeling a little shaky that I had escaped being locked into Paris by just a few hours. I had debated staying one more day to spend it at the Louvre, but in my morning quiet time, I felt encouraged to move on. Though I would not have been out (I don’t often go out at night alone in San Diego, much less an unfamiliar city where I don’t speak the language), several of the attacks were close to the hostel we stayed at.

I had so many good experiences throughout Europe and particularly in Paris.  My heart broke for those who lost friends and family.  I could not help but remember 9/11, another terrible terrorist attack that I felt a connection to.  Connected to Paris because I just left there, connected to 9/11 because New York is my home. Over the next few days, I continued to reflect.

After 3 days on the Amalfi Coast, I headed to Florence and had dinner with one of my daughter’s childhood friends who happens to live nearby.  We had a stimulating conversation prompted by the recent events.  We touched on morality, who’s responsible for teaching morality, the inability to legislate morality. I questioned whether we don’t have a responsibility to each other not to stir up any people group with our opinions. Taylor said “you shouldn’t poke a bear but you shouldn’t stay out of the woods cause there might be bears.” We went on to discuss freedom of speech. That conversation continued stirring my thoughts for the next several days.

I think morality is a personal choice which we each have the freedom to make. As I thought about morality and holiness and choosing how to live, I contemplated the difference between those who commit acts of terrorism and those who deplore those acts.  I think those who commit acts of terrorism are living out their “morality” and “holiness” with passion. Though I abhor their acts, I wonder if I could live out my morality and holiness with the same commitment and passion as they.  Will I help the world be a better place if I do?

I caught a clip of Jimmy Fallon honoring Paris and her citizens.

This video by Antoine Leiris who lost his wife in the attacks is deeply moving:

We must live our lives with commitment and passion.  Don’t be a hater.  As Antoine so eloquently states, to hate will be to exhibit the same ignorance that carried out the attacks.

I could not leave Europe before saluting Paris.  Nous somme Paris!

 

What a disaster!

Doc from BTTF

Doc from BTTF

There is much I would like to share about my experience. For now,  I encourage you to visit this website to volunteer and/or donate, as the LORD leads.

Responding to disaster.

I’m heading home following an unscheduled adventure!  Just 2 days after completing the 3rd and final leg of my R.A.T., I received an email from the leaders of the recently formed Rock Disaster Response Team. The call for volunteers to help Samaritan’s Purse (“SP”) in recovery efforts for Northern California fires tugged on my spirit. 

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I’ve felt that God has been calling me to spend my retired life in disaster recovery and/or human trafficking rescue. The timing of this call to arms was perfectly nestled between R.A.T. ending and a European trip beginning. I made the necessary arrangements, completed yards of paperwork, and packed my ULA Catalyst to hit the road again. 

In addition to completing numerous online forms, you must get yourself to the site and bring your own linen. A partner church must qualify as a lighthouse church (in this case, San Andreas Community Covenant Church) and they then host the SP Senior Leadership Team, which goes in ahead of all the other volunteers. When overnight volunteers arrive, the church arranges space for sleeping.

SP has some of the most amazing equipment, including a shower trailer (6 shower rooms, each with bench & sink), a cooking trailer (including stove top, ovens, counters and a freezer), not to mention, the DVR unit which houses the tool shop and office.

It was a gratifying and deeply fulfilling experience to help people who lost all their possessions and their homes in this ravaging fire. 

What you do for the least of my brothers you do for me.

Matthew 25:40

Heading home

Waiting at Austin airport I’m feeling a little glum because being at Austin airport means my R.A.T. Middle America has ended. And they pipe in only county music. Ugh!!  Thank God for headphones and my worship playlist.  No offense intended.  I just don’t like country music. Sorry Blake!

East coast leg was completed in December 2014, west coast January 2015 and middle America began August 5.

Quick impressions:

  • All hostels are not created equal. I’ve stayed in 2 rat traps.
  • All hotels are not created equal. 2 more rat traps.
  • Biggest surprise is that Lincoln, NE is a nice place to visit.
  • Second big surprise is that not everyone in Texas wears cowboy boots.
  • Biggest disappointment is that I didn’t see everyone I hoped to see.
  • Second big disappointment was when my thru hiking/backcountry trip had to be cancelled,
  • Missouri Botanical Gardens is worth the trip to St. Louis.
  • New favorite city is Chicago.
  • The reaction people have when I tell them how much they blessed my life has made me smile/cry/glad and will stay with me forever!

R.A.T. Stats:

  • 35 cities
  • 5 planes
  • 13 trains
  • 7 buses
  • 9 subways/light rails
  • 3 taxis
  • 5 ferries
  • 4 car rentals
  • 1 castle
  • 2 gardens
  • 6 museums
  • 20 hotels
  • 6 hostels
  • 10 homes
  • # miles traveled  ??
  • 56 people visited

I did not write as much as I wanted to and still have the entire west coast R.A.T. to re-live thru many blogs.  I was much more interested in visiting the wonderful people I went to see, catching up with important events in their lives and laughing over our past shared experiences, even the painful ones.

There are many more adventures to have, e.g., my upcoming European tour and how God is going to spend the rest of my life. I’m ready. Let’s roll!

East Coast–The Carolinas–Anderson, SC

Hopefully you haven’t been waiting with bated breath for the next installment. I’m currently on the 3rd and final leg of my R.A.T (Retired American Tour). Since last post I was busy preparing: buying supplies and bus tickets, reserving campsites and hotel rooms, etc. Today I’m writing from Denver, CO.    I plan to catch up to where I actually am, which means multiple blogs each week for the next several weeks.  I will be unable to include photos from East and West coast R.A.T. blogs until the end of September because all photos are on my computer at home.  For now, you’ll get the words. Enough about the present.  Let’s return to where I left off back in July.

This visit with Margo and Don occurred December 2014.

The 4-hour delay resulting from the train accident brought me to Clemson, SC at 5:39 am.  My friends Don and Margo met me at the station, and we drove to their Anderson, SC home in the dark, cold, early morning hours.  Don and Margo made us a 5-star breakfast and then we all went back to sleep!

I met Margo in Lexington, KY at Second Presbyterian Church a few years before she and Don married.  Margo was the director of Christian Education at Second Pres.  At the time I was a single parent and Margo was always generous and gracious toward my daughter and me.  She is the first person I met who I can say upon reflection walked out the love and grace of Jesus.  Margo never talked about it though.  Humility is one of her many virtues.  She simply walked the walk.  I don’t believe I ever saw Margo angry or impatient.  She was ever pleasant and calm in every circumstance.

Margo brought out the best in everyone,  She was always encouraging which made it a pleasure to do whatever Margo asked of you,  Even if it was something you had never done before and didn’t think you could do.  If Margo believed in you, you believed in yourself.  You always wanted to come through for Margo,

Like the time Margo asked me to “play” Mary Todd Lincoln at the Mary Todd Lincoln House as part of the week-long celebration for the church’s 175th anniversary. Mary’s dad, Robert Smith Todd, was one of the co-founders of Lexington, KY, instrumental in the establishment of Second Presbyterian Church and, the Mary Todd Lincoln House was preserved as an important part of Lexington, KY history.  I read no less than 4 biographies written about Mary so I might portray her accurately.  I could not let Margo down.

One Christmas Margo learned that we didn’t have a Christmas tree,  It was a hard season and I didn’t have a penny to spend on a tree, whether live or artificial,  I don’t remember how she found out, but after the Christmas Eve service was over, Margo brought the church office tree, fully decorated, to our apartment,  “Well, the office is closed for Christmas, so no one will miss it,  Everyone should have a tree on Christmas,”  That’s Margo.  See a need and meet it, no hesitation.

Margo is the reason the R.A.T. was conceived,  It all started with a desire to see Margo again,  I decided that If I was going to travel that far to see Margo, I might as well see everyone else I knew on the east coast,

My visit was too short and I hope to have another chance to visit Margo and Don in Anderson.  Thanks Margo! You’re the tops!

East Coast – The Carolinas – Cary, NC

The plan to write more often has not been achieved.  I’m still battling bedbugs and visits from the exterminator which means packing up stuff before he comes, then unpacking stuff and doing lots of laundry after he leaves.  It’s exhausting.  The best way to handle bedbugs is don’t get them.  They are ridiculously difficult to get rid of.

Cirruzzo Family 001

2010 Christmas Card

Back to happier times. . . the next stop on my RAT was Cary, North Carolina.  I arrived late Sunday, December 14 and stayed in the Windsor by Wyngate near the arena.  Don’t be fooled by the regal sounding name. I was here to visit Laurene and her family (husband, Doug, daughter, Julianna, and pet dog, Snickerdoodle). We met at work in Colorado Springs, CO several years ago.  Laurene and her husband are native New Yawk-ers (like me!) and there is always an instant bond between New Yawk-ers! They moved to Cary, NC about 6 years ago.

LC Paint to winWe always laughed a lot together, even during difficult situations, and managed to entertain each other on the job. In fact, I do believe I was once instructed to stay away from her desk because I was keeping her from doing her work. Haters gotta hate. Laurene is a great storyteller shared some of her incredibly interesting experiences with me which I enjoyed through gales of laughter.  Some of the experiences weren’t funny at the time, but she made me laugh when telling the story nonetheless.

Another amazing skill she has–the girl can cook! But, she can’t sew.  Laurene is petite and every pair of pants she ever bought was too long for her.   We had this deal: Laurene would give me one homemade genuine Italian meatball for each pant leg I hemmed for her.  Reminds me of The Wedding Singer getting paid in meatballs for singing lessons.  Worked out well for both of us.

Their new home in Cary is lovely and it was a joy to see them all.  One room in the house is filled with a cardboard box fort.  What a fun and unique playground for their daughter and her friends!  I was sorry post-trip that I didn’t take any pictures.  I was so wrapped up in traveling and visiting that I rarely thought about pictures. Now I wish it had been a priority.  I’ll never see a fort like that again.

Laurene and Doug had to work the next day and Julianna had to go to school, so I kept my visit short.  Even though we hadn’t been together for many years, our friendship crosses miles and time and we had no trouble filling every minute with conversation.  They talked about maybe someday moving back to Colorado.  I hope they are there by the time I visit this summer.

East Coast – Washington, DC and environs

Baltimore is included in the commuter system which serves Washington, DC. Abandoning Amtrak for this leg of my R.A.T. (Retired American Tour), I boarded the MARC from Baltimore’s Penn Station to DC’s Union Station, changed from MARC to Metro Red then Metro Yellow to arrive at the Pentagon.  Though a partly sunny day, a nice change from weather on my trip so far, the temperature was frigid.

I was again challenged to manage luggage that didn’t work as expected.  The new suitcase I bought in Baltimore at Ross or Marshall’s (I forget which) rolled smoothly on the store’s linoleum flooring when empty, but now packed to bulging, it waddled like a duck. Clearly there was a defective wheel on this discount purchase and the sooner I could get rid of it, the happier I would be.  More on that later.

Courtney, a lovely young woman I met while working in San Diego, became one of my bosses during our time together at the job, left for grad school in Texas, returned as one of my bosses again and then, having achieved her doctorate, left to work in the DC area. Courtney had recently married Mark, a Lt Col in the Marine Corps.  I couldn’t make the wedding and we planned that I would visit while on the East Coast leg of my R.A.T.  Mark has top-secret clearance at the Pentagon. If I knew more than that, they’d have to kill me.

I texted Courtney when I surfaced from the underground Metro line and wandered around with my waddling duck and other rolling bag while shouldering my purse, awaiting instructions from Courtney.  I stood in the windy and frigid cold and attempted to take a picture with the Pentagon behind me so Courtney could have a visual of where I was and a voice shouted out “NO PICTURES!  MA’AM, THERE’S NO PICTURE TAKING!”  I about jumped out of my skin, firstly because I thought I was alone, secondly the statement was clearly a COMMAND, and thirdly when I located the body that went with the voice, he had a gun.

Courtney arrived and brought me to and through security where we met Mark.  It was my first time meeting Mark and his polite, respectful and humble manner won me over instantly. Pentagon floor plan

Mark brought us upstairs to his department Christmas party. Never mind which department–top-secret, remember? What a spread! All kinds of food, beverages, and people.  The party was held in one of the corners or points of the star.

Mark then escorted Courtney and I on an extensive tour of the Pentagon, taking us places where the public usually doesn’t go, unless personally escorted by a USMC Lt Col.  In addition to being the seat of military administration and authority, the Pentagon is a museum.  The displays were impressive, ranging from war photos and mementos to dedications about one well-known military personality or another, including their contributions to our military history and their uniforms and medals, as well as numerous other photos and displays.  I hope to do that tour again one day. (Hint, hint Courtney and Mark.)

Another imposing characteristic of the Pentagon is that it is, in effect, its own city. There are florists, dry cleaners, barber shops, jewelry and clothing stores, optician, numerous food courts, a gym and a post office.  I’m sure I’m leaving out something–there was so much to see.

Courtney and I left Mark to finish his work day.  We brought my waddling duck and other luggage to her car and then visited the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial.  We had seen the memorial while on tour from inside the chapel dedicated to the memory of those who died that day.  It was in the chapel that I picked up the card which explained the details of the memorial’s design. Thoughtfully laid out on the ground under the flight path American Airlines Flight 77 traveled as it approached the building, the memorial covers a lot of ground.  Click on the images below for an enlarged view.  To return to this page, click your browser’s back button http://pentagonmemorial.org/ 20150526_174137

We left the memorial and Fratellisheaded to an international deli near their home not too far from DC to pick up some special goodies, and met up with Mark at their home.  I was treated to dinner at Fratelli Italian Restaurant.  In spite of my best efforts to pick up the tab, Mark pulled rank and somehow trumped my plan. http://www.fratelli2.com/  Everything was delicious and we couldn’t decide so we ordered all the desserts we were interested in. Nothing wrong with 4 desserts for 3 people, right?

My visit happily coincided with the 2 week period of discounted shopping I could enjoy at Anthropologie, courtesy of my daughter’s Christmas season employment there, and the next day, Courtney and I had to shop!  We enjoyed lunch at a lovely bistro up the street from Anthropologie, shopped at Michaels for decos for my ugly sweater and returned the waddling duck suitcase.  Courtney blessed me with a suitcase she was giving up. Time would tell if my luggage woes were over. IMG_8920

Another fun coinci-dink is I was in their town at the same time as their 2nd annual Ugly Christmas Sweater party, held at Bugsy’s Pizza Restaurant and Sports Bar. http://www.bugsyspizza.com/  I’m in the back on the right raising my left hand and swearing that I will never tell of the things I saw that night.  My eyes are still burning..

The next morning Courtney brought me to Amtrak so I could continue to my next East Coast stop.  It was raining again which matched my mood–I was sad to leave.  The 2 days I visited flew by so quickly and were filled with fun and adventure.  I had a grand time!  Thanks Courtney and Mark!  You are wonderful hosts and I hope you’ll accept my company again one day.

East Coast – Baltimore

The weather was cloudy and/or rainy since I left San Diego on December 3 and this travel day is no exception.  Taking the LIRR to Penn Station in New York to switch to Amtrak to get to Baltimore was non-stop action.  Because I had two rolling bags to manage, I had no hands free for train station photos, Starbucks, scratching an itch, etc. Stairs, escalators & many people going every which way made me feel like a bumper car.

I used the Amtrak Android app to buy all train tickets and struggled with my bags and needing my phone out with e-ticket showing for the gate attendant.  The attendant was positioned at the top step of the escalator and with the crush of humanity pressing at my back to get down to the station platform I was anxious that I’d be trampled. Note to self: get a better luggage system soon!

I was on my way to visit Karen.  We met through Urban Walkers, a San Diego meetup, back in 2009. Karen moved to the East Coast to spend more time with her family, planning a return to San Diego after a couple of years.  However, life intervened and she has stayed. She lives in an ocean front community in Delaware. Being off-season, it would have taken many hours and four public transportation changes to go to her home, so we made arrangements to meet in Baltimore.

20141210_190827The Wyndham Peabody Court in the Mount Vernon neighborhood was my resting place. Sounds posh right? The room was gi-normous, feeling even more so after the really tight quarters at the Americana Inn in NYC. However, the hotel was showing its age and could use some remodeling. Perhaps someone could take down the sheer drapes and get them cleaned. Nonetheless, I had a deep and restful night’s sleep in the king-20141210_190926sized bed and met Karen the next morning.

We drove to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and had brunch at the Royal Sonesta Harbor Court. Karen and I haven’t seen each other for a couple of years yet our visit felt like just a week or two passed since our last visit. Talking has never been a problem for us! 🙂 http://www.sonesta.com/baltimore

Our next stop was the American Visionary Art Museum (http://www.avam.org/), a unique exhibition of the unusual.  Life-sized sculptures made of match sticks, a huge ship model made of toothpicks (I think it was the RMS Lusitania), scientific displays about things I can’t remember but found interesting, garments made of wool, paper art, paintings . . . an eclectic collection.  The Visionary Experience: Saint Francis to Finster was a somewhat unsettling exhibit, like living in the book of Revelation.

I was most intrigued by a sculpture hanging from the ceiling down through the center of the spiral staircase.  It was called Falling Angel and I regret I did not note the artist.  The sculpture spun slowly and but for the expression on the angel’s face, you wouldn’t have known there was a problem.

FallingAngel AVAM

This photo of American Visionary Art Museum is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Overall, art that was, to me, offbeat and odd yet compelling and arresting.  I would definitely visit again!

20141211_130123Even the gift shop was, well, offbeat and odd. The Sideshow Shop (http://www.sideshowbaltimore.com/) boasts a unique potpourri of items, in addition to many art books.  One of my favorites is Criminal Crafts. This D.I.Y. craft book has the instructions for making many “useful” projects, including a ransom note kit and a John Dillinger soap gun. http://www.amazon.com/dp/1449409857/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

CriminalContentsThis entertaining bulletin board can be found in one of the ladies rooms. Click on image to zoom in.20141211_123720

20141211_131019While we were at AVAM, it began to snow.  Big fluffy flakes.  It was the first snow I’ve seen in years.

20141211_135519We went shopping, visited a pub in the old part of town, some more shopping, and generally did those things friends do when they get together. A short but sweet visit in a place I’ve never been.  Thanks for the whirlwind tour Karen!  It was great to see you.  As the former California governor says, “I’ll be back.”