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

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 – 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.”

Ending Confusion

Over the past few weeks as I’ve posted about my travels, I’ve heard from numerous people who think I’m writing about something I’m doing now.  However, these posts are about my travels from December 3, 2014 through January 31, 2015. I’m re-living my adventures by sharing them with you.

If you visit the first post of this series (Coming Home, http://wp.me/p1BaJh-59), you’ll understand how this all began.  Perhaps these calendars can help keep things straight as you follow along.  The next post will relate traveling to Baltimore December 10 for my visit with Karen on December 11-coming soon!

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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.