2015: Cows, California, Cafes and Chalupas

“We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise, we harden.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Even if I didn’t write about them, I did have some lovely adventures and I love a sunset all over the world. Here’s 2015’s collection.

California for some calm and a birthday, Mexico for some chalupas and time with my cub, Michigan for a coney hot dog and some love, Cape Cod as a constant, rounding out the year with cafes in France, Costa Rican coffee and life in my cow town too.

Happy happy new year to all my loves.

2013: the year in review, the year I did more living than blogging

I used to wish for peace but as this year unfolded I’ve realized peace is an elusive and hard to pin down thing and when you do find it, you usually loose it and begin the cycle almost immediately. So frustrating. So annoyingly brief. So little, after so much. Makes me think of that Greek myth about that poor man and the giant rock that he had to roll up the hill over and over again for all eternity (that mean Zeus).

Instead of peace, I’m calling 2013 the year, I learned that really grace is the thing I’ve always longed for in life. The grace to navigate all these ups / these downs / these sideways moments – to be able to take in the sights, the news, the living part of life and place it all down in a pattern that makes sense and not let my proverbial emotional boat get swamped.

My laundry list of places is nothing to be ashamed of: Florida – the middle and either end three times, Cape Cod too many times and yet never enough, Ireland, Iceland, South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Brooklyn a dozen times and a lot of time here in the Berkshires/Southern Vermont. I saw Victoria Falls, the northern lights, an August meteor shower, my first and probably only African fin foot duck. Babies have been born, children have gotten bigger, houses have had to be sold, jobs have been changed – lost/found, hearts have been broken, love has been found in surprising places, relationships cemented with marriage/moving in together, good health news for some, terrible crappy rough health news for others, new friends made, my mother’s sight has worsened, lost a dear friend unexpectedly, people have moved, others have moved back, a family memorial service for one of our oldest brought cousins together and through it all, a great lesson was learned.

Sure, my mother is loosing her sight but she’s got one of the best minds going for an eighty three year old, sassy & funny as ever.

My nephew continues to flourish.

My friends who have been challenged with health news are fighting for their lives with every cell of their beings and they are showing me what bravery looks like every day.

I am over run with family and friends who I treasure.

My job has gone from a chore to something that is a pleasure to do everyday due to a fabulous new co-worker.

My friend, who left us far too soon, has taught me to tell people good things more often, to share all those complements we store up and make sure the rockstars of our lives, well, they know, they really know, how special and dear they are to us all.

For once in 2014, I don’t have many plans of where I am going and what I am seeing except that I want to see and do things with my beloved people and I’ll take it from there. I want goodness. I want to see all those babies born/grow/graduate. I really really want to hear good health news for all of you heroes.

Most of all, I want to keep working on this grace thing and really nail it down.

PS. Good news… just in case, I haven’t forgotten you can say it in pictures – here’s a little slide show of my best places/faces.

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Bridges 2013: Old and New

On a lazy Sunday morning recently, I saw a story on Bartonsville, a small Vermont town that lost a covered bridge in Hurricane Irene a few summers ago . The locals refused to accept this loss and one very determined woman, as she watched the bridge wash out in the flood waters, made sure it was rebuilt.

Ever since, I have been thinking about bridges a lot – a lot, a lot – maybe too much – who knows why – hibernation has grown claustrophobic. Ice pellets are still falling from our skies. Just every so often,  a a blue skied day with a hint of spring in the air keeps me going a few more weeks. I love these hills of mine but I sure do start missing the leaves right about now and my mind looks for an escape, and if not in body, my mind sets off traveling over bridges, old and new.

And it spins on… burnt bridges, crossing bridges, all the bridges I have ever been on, wanted to see, will see someday – all of this shuffles through my mind like a deck of cards.

Burnt bridges always first. I have burnt my fair share of bridges but what if it isn’t a burnt bridge? What if the bridge was environmentally unsound and never should have been built? I know, that’s just annoying. Not a bridge that has burned – one that isn’t essential to be put back? I am talking about the non-essential temporary bridges? Shaky relationships, built on bad pilings. I know that’s a bit much but it helps me when I like this – I’d rather picture the bridge being carefully dismantled and the river/stream/ocean returning to its normal natural state than a blackened pile of embers? It seems kinder, healthier somehow.

Despite my proverbial bridge burning, my travels are littered with great bridge memories.

Watching for the Sagamore Bridge to Cape Cod, after hours of being squashed in the car with my family, a summer’s prize to be the one to shout “I see the bridge, I see the bridge” first.

Living in London (man, was a long time ago) and walking across Battersea Bridge on Bonfire night with a box of wine & a mind for mischief.

Crossing the most unsubstantial, shaky, bamboo bridge somewhere in the wilds of Thailand and having one of those moments when I wondered what the %$#* is in the river below me and wishing I passed on that last serving of mangoes and sticky rice, almost being knocked over by a thousand year old woman with three tons of things balanced on her tiny body.

Guarding my valuables on Charles Bridge, warned that I would be outsmarted by the wily pickpocketers of the fairytale city of Prague (my pocket and I made it, despite the hype)

Pausing on bridge in the Serengeti to watch what I thought would be a bunch of hippos but instead was one glorious bird for what seemed like a life time – the silence of Africa getting into my soul.

Driving over the newly unveiled Zakin Bridge in Boston on the way to a job and in the middle of a time in my life that was perhaps the making of me but for a while was the breaking of me.

The loved up and beautiful bridges of Paris for too many reasons to list because my love for Paris is at the center of my sentimental heart and where my traveling all started.

And rebuilding bridges…. back to our intrepid Vermonters.

Last weekend, I drove through my wintery hills to see an old friend that life’s silliness almost washed away from my life. The kind of friend you make when you are young and foolish, who many years later proves that time traveling is possible, who will make you remember the best and the worst of your life, and make you belly laugh and cry at the same time. Someone I missed terribly when our bridge was out – sometimes, rebuilding is the only way.

Maybe I love bridges because I am a bit like those Bartonsville folks. I washed that bridge out myself but damn if I didn’t spend the last few years wishing I could rebuild it and what I lucky woman I am that it could be. Bridges, so many bridges, to be burnt (maybe not too many more, I am not getting any younger), crossed, seen and rebuilt.

Travel & Tears… a short list

“This is your captain speaking”

The most dreaded words in air travel without a doubt. Nothing like being 30,000 feet in the air, meal service under way and learning the plane is turning around, back to the land you just left, no local currency in my pocket, no mobile phone and yes, the yearning deep need to return home. Just happened to me on my way back from Argentina and Chile last month.

The airport in Buenos Aires was too hot, three machines were working to check hundreds of people in, the border control line was miles long and I was tired, thirsty and ready to get back to my life. One of those nights… the plane took off an hour late and then the captain came on to say, oops, we’re turning back, the great albatross of the Boeing 777 had some fuel line issues and rather than landing somewhere else, we needed to go back and decide what to do. I enjoyed the use of the word we by our captain. Giving us all hope we’d somehow be able to be part of the decision.

And so back we went and back we sat for four hours on the runway, checked out of the country, facing days of sold out flights. Thankfully, there is a happy ending but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Have logged countless hours on airplanes by myself returning home from school, adventures, family stuff, you name it. Lots of waiting, too much thinking, trying to sleep in uncomfortable positions, always over scented by expensive duty free perfume, my mind shuffling through the last decades of my life (yes, DECADES). The walkman, then the discman, and now the iPod providing a moving soundtrack to my thoughts – my inner teen always seems to be running the show in these moments.

My mystic crystal friends would tell me it’s the unsettled energy of being in the air, adrift and ungrounded I am certain (and you that know me well, like a lot of crunch in my granola if you catch my drift). Amazing vistas, delicious food and all that being away brings me has to be followed by some sort of reckoning, right? %#$ is usually my lazy mind’s response…. can’t I just think about glaciers and empanadas?

Nope, instead, I begin to write furiously…. lists and more lists. Things I have to do when I arrive at my destination, people I need to visit, call, email that I have overlooked/neglected, bills I need to pay, places I need to visit. Have scraps and scribbles of bucket lists and plans I find all the time. From telling X that my feelings are more than friendship, to going through my closet, all of it gets reordered, re-packed away in that emotional luggage we all carry around.

Life decisions are made, relationships begun/ended, plans laid, all before the flight attendants tell me to put my seat back up for landing. I am an emotional gal (please see the mystic crystal paragraph above) and what does deep soul searching and poking about in my emotional file cabinet do… you got it – I always get embarrassingly weepy – nothing like a public cry. Usually, side benefit, I scare my anonymous seat mates into not wanting to speak to me for the rest of the flight. Note to self… always get a window seat.

My top five teary plane moments:

1. Right after my father died, I watched Whale Rider (http://www.whaleriderthemovie.co.nz/). I sobbed, a snotty nose, dripping, gasping sob – the ugliest, most embarrassing public cry on record. I am not Maori, I am not a whale rider but I was a woman who was missing her father terribly and that movie uncorked all of it. No one was watching me except my friend who could have but was blissfully asleep. The credits rolled and so did a montage of Dad, my family, advice he’d given me that I was too proud, too young to accept or realize.

2. I was headed back from Tanzania the first time and my heart/mind/soul was just too overwhelmed by all that I had seen that I just broke down. In most of the first world, many of us have so much, so so much, too much perhaps – safe water, education opportunities, good health and when not, good doctors/hospitals, but mostly, the chance to change our destiny through hard work, loans, luck… we may not feel like the USA is doing well economically but on whose scale? As much as travel can broaden my mind, it also makes me uncomfortable but like the tears, deep thoughts and all of it, well, I’ll take it. And don’t get me started on all the big cats, vast savanna of the Serengeti, zebras and all the natural world… it should be the first on the list for the two pronged attack on my psyche but Dad takes it.

3. Just to lighten the mood here…. this memory is crying from laughing so hard. My parents were wacky bohemians – there’s no better way to put it – my mother was a refugee from her staid childhood in the wealthy northern Chicago suburbs and my father an actual refugee from Cuba. See my 1st post here ever beginning at the beginning for how our family vacations usually went down. This time we were in the Atlanta airport and my bold and sassy mama’s skirt hook broke and there she was walking down a very very crowded terminal in her slip. My sister and I took off at a run and in the background, we could hear her yelling our names and glances back, there she was still clutching her skirt. Not sure why we ran, we must have been too young to realize that no one would know this crazy woman belonged to us if we just pretended she didn’t. Reunited at the gate,  my family boarded the next plane, laughing so hard we were crying. It’s not really that funny unless you have met my mother and understand she has a voice that can be heard in space when she wants to but that day, overtired and headed home from a trip to the Cuban relatives, well, we cried the best kind of tears together.

4. The study abroad cries – am cheating because this is really two times. I was lucky when I was just eighteen to be able to move to London for a school year for my first year of college. Apparently, my parents, who had traveled by themselves in their late teens/early twenties, felt I was up to the responsibility of being overseas for months – I really wasn’t so sure about that. Nonetheless, I remember being terrified and thrilled all at the same time.  I left that August and two minutes into the first flight, the reality hit me and the tears busted loose. My very best friend had come to the airport too – headed off for her own adventure in the South Pacific later that month and we wouldn’t see each other for a long long time – endless hours on the phone would have to be replaced by onion skin paper letters – boy trouble would become possible telenovela scripts. And yes, the snuffling whalerider cry (see #1) …. it was on like Donkey Kong. This story has a happy ending…. a reprieve at Christmas, I got to come home for a few weeks and if we flash forward to that newly christened Londoner’s flight back, I cried because I wasn’t the little girl who left. I cried then because I knew I was going back to a world where I was going to not quite fit into. I cried because maybe just maybe part of me knew forever more, I would be stricken with incredible and joyful wanderlust (I doubt this last part but I like to give that emo 18 year old some credit).

5. The grateful cry…. of course this post has to have a circular theme so this is my this is your captain speaking cry of just a month ago. When the plane finally did re-take off (headed for Puerto Rico, then JFK – a miracle solution to a bum fuel line – we’d just do the long haul in medium hauls instead), I cried the tears of a traveler who is overtired but who’s caught a bit of luck. A similar cry to my Tanzania moment but I am older now, I’ve been even more places and I am a different sort of grateful. I choose this moment as the last on my list because in so many ways, it’s the accumulation of all the others. I am a woman now – not a young twenty something who has lost her father (I personally hate this expression – I do know where he is & what happened… he’s not actually lost but never mind, using it), not the wide eyed young tourist who is evolving into a traveler (a post for another day, the difference between a tourist & a traveler), not the teenager who is having her first moments of adulthood in a foreign land, not the young girl who is learning not to take embarrassment so seriously & remembering to laugh with her family (I have elevated this to a fine art). I am all of those teary people and more. I think age can make you grateful for the small things – the $10 bill you find in your pocket, the many online and real life friends that populate my life, my sweet dear family who have been here for the whole ride, and yes, the realization that I didn’t have to get off that plane until I was back on my own soil, didn’t have find my bag, didn’t have to find a place to sleep, didn’t have to fight lines and more lines to get myself home the next day. I cried that night just a month ago because I am blessed, I am lucky and yes, I am grateful for the people, the lands, the sights, the experiences I have had and will have more of in this world.

Europe: Remembrance Day, Bruges

A number of years ago, a friend and I decided to take this week long dash through some European countries we had not visited in a while and to see some friends – a week long journey of planes, trains, buses, trams, boats to the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands. Why we chose a week when Europe is often bitter and cold is a mystery…. but off we went anyway into the early November gloom to eat and drink our way across the days.

In London, we had pub lunches and visited the queen – well, the outside of her house anyway. In Amsterdam, we rode canal boats and drank lots of coffee and hot chocolate to keep ourselves warm.  In Brussels, we ate fries (or chips for my Brit friends) with mayonnaise, drank far too much beer (the whole special glasses thing for special beers – not sure I’ll ever recover – was like getting a sort of present every time I ordered a new kind) and of course devoured the street vendor waffles.

On the morning of Veterans’ Day or Remembrance Day, we got up at dawn to spend a day in the beautiful medieval town of Bruges or Brugge – depending on which language you favor in Belgium.

It was foggy, cold and maybe a bit rainy and we were certainly half asleep for the drowsy train ride.  Like small children woken from a nap, we  got off the train, disorientated, and  took the bus to the center of town to start walking around.

In London, we’d seen all the paper poppies for sale. World War II is very much D Day to most Americans and the action in the Pacific, a time for patriotism and, after 1941, sacrifice but it all happened so very far away. Our personal safety as Americans was threatened but bombs didn’t drop on our houses, most people didn’t disappear by the dark of night (not discounting the internment of Japanese Americans) and the U boats while close to our shores, never really threatened the day to day life of the average person, except in theory and in the news.

My mother’s birthday is in December and she remembers hearing about Pearl Harbor on the radio, she gathered peach pits for charcoal and had a ration booklet. My uncles served and one was shot down and spent a long time in a German Prison Camp. So, please do believe me, I am not saying it wasn’t part of her childhood and that we didn’t feel the loss of loved ones but America remembers that war differently than our allies overseas.

The first thing we heard were the drums and then we saw the crowds – all ages, waving flags, cheering, smiling, lining every street and few people deep and then we saw the parade and then by accident like the greatest of travel memories, we were marching in the very back of the parade – a sombre occasion to be honored but there was celebration in the air too.

And of all my travel memories, there’s something about this magical morning where I touched a part of history I was not really a part of except I was and I am, the joy of marching to the beat of a drum,  to see a part of history honored and remembered, to have an ancient gentleman of a Vet smile and march along beside me – showing me how it was done and refusing to allow me to just walk beside him, demanding I march too.

It certainly helps that of all the medieval cities of Europe, Bruges is a gem and retains her other worldly beauty. The fog stayed with us all day and in a place where you can wander off the main square and still hear the clopping tourist horse carts, it’s a time traveling place. It was a post 2000 morning, but it was also 1949, 1620, 1840 all at the same time – old and new memories blending together for just a moment when the best part of traveling happens, the traveler has a window into something so much bigger, larger than just one lifetime and remembers that with sadness, there can and always should  be joy side by side .