Home for a minute, “Home” for the holidays

There’s no place like home.  Home is where the heart is. Anywhere I hang my hat is home.

At the moment “home” is Lincoln, NE.  Lincoln is more interesting than I thought it would be.  More on that in a later post.

Things change quickly and now “home” is St. Louis.  I visited a friend of 19 years i haven’t seen for 5 and now with a friend of 29 years I haven’t seen for 14!  It has been tons of fun to catch up with such wonderful sisters!  Let’s go back to where I left you hanging.

Between East Coast and West Coast, Christmas 2014.

I had to be at the Charlotte airport to catch my flight home to San Diego and did not want Don and Margo to get up at o’dark thirty again to get me to the Clemson station. I decided to rent a car for the 2-hour drive.   I reserved a car through Enterprise in Anderson, and they had no car available when I arrived. Reminded me of Jerry Seinfeld: “You know how to take the reservation, but you don’t know how to hold the reservation.”

The Enterprise rep suggested we “start the paperwork and maybe a car would be available by the time we’re done.” Mama didn’t raise no fool.  If I “started” the paperwork, that would keep me locked into an Enterprise rental until a car showed up. Lucky for me, Hertz was right outside the door across the parking lot and they did have a car, though it cost a good bit more than the car I reserved.

Away I drove, sad to leave after a too short visit with Margo.

Thankfully the ride to the airport was uneventful.  I was on a huge plane with 9 or 10 seats per row, flanked by two woman. The young woman to my left sold something and the military was her client.  She was deathly ill.  She was kind to show me how to operate the in-seat tv screen, no doubt sharing her virus in the process.

The woman to my right was going to visit her daughter who escaped the holidays because they were too painful to celebrate.  Her daughter had one child and he had been killed while at a baseball camp.  Another camper had hit him in the back of the head with a baseball bat.

I didn’t want to press for details cause it seemed difficult for her to talk about losing her only grandchild.  She was a woman of faith and we said all those things one says about God–He is faithful, with us through every trial, has a grander purpose than we can know–and yet … words are so inadequate.

The flight home was smooth sailing.  Well, smooth flying.  I spent the next couple of days getting ready to travel down the west coast.

First stop Seattle to spend Christmas with family.  My reserved flight to Seattle, connecting in Oakland presented challenges. The first flight was delayed which meant a missed connection–the last flight out of Oakland to Seattle for that day,  The Southwest rep calmly suggested I sleep in the Oakland airport overnight. WHAT!  In the end I flew the next day on a nonstop flight, but it was frustrating to have my plans delayed.

My daughter was ill when I arrived just a few days before Christmas. I spent a rainy Monday negotiating Pikes Place, that famous Seattle market packed with holiday shoppers.  I had saved my holiday shopping til arriving in Seattle and went to several other downtown shops in the rain. I was cold and wet in a very short time. Needless to say, between sharing virus spores with my seatmate on the Charlotte to San Diego flight and spending the day in the rain, I was ill myself by Christmas day.

Nonetheless, we celebrated Christmas with family and friends. My brother and SIL were in town and their daughter hosted us all for dinner and a lively game of Pictionary.  I was glad to not have any plans for the next several days and equally glad that Urgent Care was across the street from my daughter’s home. Between the antibiotics and rest, we were finally all well again.

IMG_2008My daughter and I had tickets to see Mike Birbiglia on New Year’s Eve at the historic Moore Theater.  We enjoyed a wonderful dinner before the show at List.  What a great night we had!

East Coast R.A.T. complete and Christmas and New Year’s celebrated in grand style, I was ready to begin the West Coast R.A.T.  More adventures to come!

East Coast – New York, New York

Note to reader: I did not snap any photos of NYC on this trip.  I know! Crazy, right? This photo is from the internet. cropped-wtc-blue-lights1.jpg

New York, New York.  So nice they named it twice!  I boarded the first of many long distance Amtrak rides on Friday, December 5 from Framingham, MA.  I was on the Acela Express, a daily commuter train (http://www.johnnyjet.com/2014/08/the-good-bad-and-ugly-about-taking-amtraks-acela-express-train/).  Amtrak-Acela-Express-NY-to-Wilmington-Delaware-Aug-2014-002-150x150I chose the “quiet car” (hereinafter referred to as “the QC”) so I could write thank you notes to the many people who had blessed me with retirement gifts. The QC passengers are very serious people.  These folks were not on an adventure, like I was, but just wanted to get from point A to point B with very little interruption and could this d–n train arrive on time please!

Even the conductor had a no-nonsense, Dragnet persona (just-the-ticket-ma’am).  I guess the QC is for sleeping.  Don’t be talking on your cell phone in the QC and, whatever you do, don’t talk to your neighbor.  I was asking people sitting behind me a question about the process and the conductor chastised me!  “This is the quiet car.  There’s no talking in the quiet car.”  He conveyed that information to me by talking. In the QC.

Writing on the Acela Express was very challenging.  The bump and sway of the train made my handwriting look like I had Parkinson’s, so I gave up the thank you note task.  In addition, the quiet car was creepy quiet, so I made my way to the café car.  I didn’t realize how dark the “quiet car” was until I was in the café car.

The café car had large windows and the lights were on.  The QC was to the cafe car as a morgue is to a circus.  People were talking on cell phones (which I could do without–they all talk LOUD about their personal business, gossiping and complaining), playing cards and board games, and talking with each other and laughing.  One guy was watching porn. No joke.  A true slice of American pie.

I had a nice conversation with a man who was trying the train for the first time.  He has to make many trips between Boston and NYC and usually flies.  The rest of the time I watched the scenery fly by.  I did not take pictures of the scenery because by the time I thought “that would be a nice picture” it was gone.  The Acela can reach speeds of 150 mph.

My much younger sister.

My much younger sister.

My sister and I were meeting in Penn Station. I was arriving by Amtrak and she by Long Island Railroad.  The original plan was to dash to our hotel, dump our luggage, head to the TKTS booth for Broadway show tickets, grab a quick bite to eat and then go to a show. My sister saved us from dashing and bought tickets in advance to a revival of On the Town. Happy retirement to me!

With so many people on the move, it felt like the options were move with or get out-of-the-way!  It was raining a good part of the time and we had to have our umbrellas out.

We had dinner at Desmonds Steakhouse on West 38th http://desmondssteakhouse.com. We both ordered short ribs and talked about a million things I don’t remember.  We walked in the rain to the Lyric Theater for On the Town.  The show was fun fluff with great dancing and exaggerated New York accents.  We headed back to the Americana Inn on West 38th (if you can avoid it, don’t stay there!) to get some rest for a full day on Saturday.

Published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2005; Distributed by Yale University Press

Published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2005; Distributed by Yale University Press

Our first stop Saturday morning was The Cloisters. If you have never been there, you must put it on your bucket list. We were as far northwest as you can get and still be in Manhattan.  Once an independent museum, The Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park, New York is now a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  This grand collection of medieval art and architecture will amaze you. Read more here: http://www.metmuseum.org/visit/visit-the-cloisters. It’s one thing to ship a sculpture, painting or rooster aquamanile from Europe to the US, but to dismantle entire rooms, ship and then reassemble them on site is mind-boggling.  The stonework is impressive.  We’re talking massive columns, carved stone archways and gigantic doors with original hardware as well as limestone tombs.  I did not ask if the bones of the dead originally buried therein were still in the tombs.  It was something I wondered.  Photography is not permitted, I cannot show you any pages from the book without express written permission from the publishers which I did not get.  😥   It is beautiful, just go and see for yourself.

We headed to the completely opposite end of Manhattan to go to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.  After several hours at The Cloisters and nearly another hour traveling by bus and subway, we stopped for a bite to eat.  It was raining on and off all day and outdoor pictures were not a thought.  I can’t remember if photography was permitted inside the museum; however, I didn’t even consider taking pictures. I was just about being there.The pools are imposing, though with the rain and our need to catch a train to Long Island, there wasn’t a chance to walk around.  I did look over the edge of one and the feeling is of bottomless infinity.  Hypnotizing.   I don’t believe one must be a native New Yorker to feel the solemn intensity of this place, another destination to add to your bucket list. http://www.911memorial.org.

We high-tailed it back to the Americana to pick up our luggage and get on a train to Long Island.  The timing couldn’t have been more perfect as we just made it on the train that was leaving NOW.  I stayed the next 3-1/2 days at my sister and BIL’s home on Long Island, visiting a couple of nearby relatives, being treated to several restaurant meals, and just hanging out. My sister set me up in grand style with a bedroom, sitting room, and separate room for my luggage-like a suite at the Ritz Carlton.

All good things come to an end and it was time to move on.  Thanks Cathi and Steve for being so generous.  I enjoyed my visit and look forward to next time.

East Coast – Boston

cropped-images1.jpgNote to Reader: I did not take this picture. However, it looks exactly like I felt.

The RAT (Retired American Tour) began December 3rd with a plane ride to Boston, MA to visit my nephew Grant and his beautiful family–Anna, Caleb and Jacob.

My seatmate was a young man named Jacob who was heading home to see his family after spending a couple of years at a Krishna monastery.  http://www.krishnasd.com/.  We shared our respective beliefs for the entire plane ride!  As Jacob explained aspects of his faith, I was able to point to Bible passages that said the same thing as well as speak intelligently about precepts that were different.  I was excited that I had enough Word in me to confidently participate throughout our discussion. The extra blessing came as we exited the plane and the woman walking ahead of us, who happened to have been sitting in front of us, stopped and turned to face us. “I listened to your conversation and a couple of times I wanted to join in.  I’m a believer and I was blessed.”

View from the bedroom window.

View from the bedroom window.

My nephew Grant and his family live in a lovely little town near Boston and they were gracious to turn their spare bedroom over to me for a couple of nights. Their home is so comfortably cozy and wonderfully decorated in a beautiful country motif.  Props to Anna for her style.

Anna and the boys fetched me from the airport and we met Grant in the North End to eat dinner at a family style Italian restaurant, Lafamiglia Giorgio’s. http://lafamigliagiorgios.com/  With good food and even better company, we had a wonderful time visiting over dinner.  We also stopped at in an Italian bakery to get dessert.  I ordered an Amaretto Cannoli – excellent!

(left to right) Jacob, Me, Caleb

(left to right) Jacob, Me, Caleb

My nephews were a little reserved around me at first. After all, Caleb and I hadn’t seen each other for a couple of years and I never met Jacob.  Once we got to their home, Caleb was all about showing me his room, his drawings, and his 2 million legos. We became old pals fast.  Jacob ran everywhere Caleb ran.

In spite of eager helping hands, we managed not to burn the place down.

The next night we went to Lady of Fatima Shrine which was delightfully decorated with Christmas lights. Though I’m not Catholic, I lit a candle for my Grandma who was a devout Catholic.  In spite of eager helping hands, we managed to avoid burning the place down.

It was a cold night and fun to go back home to hot chocolate.

My nephews are very active and almost every picture looks like an action shot ’cause they’re always on the move.

Jacob zooming

Jacob zooming

Likewise, Caleb

Likewise, Caleb

Long story short, circumstances separated Grant from the rest of our family for many years.  I would have never known this nephew but for an action taken by Grant’s wife Anna. So it was extra special to visit Grant and his family and I can never thank them enough for opening up their home to me.  I really enjoyed my first east coast stop and look forward to connecting with my Massachusetts family again soon.