Time-tripping: A new perspective

My husband and I took a journey [this past week], a trip into our past.

The miles were few; and the travel time far less, because of a new highway, than it had been 30-some years ago when we made the trip regularly. We recognized some scenes along the way, and when we turned into the little town square for a drive through our memories, it looked pretty much the same, only slightly more forlorn now than then. The same shuttered buildings still seemed in danger of falling inward during the next big storm.

This is not a thriving, bustling population center. It is a very small, simple, rural area adjacent to a lake which, for the past several years at least, has faced debilitating effects of the drought and the economy. People here, from the looks of it, are not yet feeling the benefits of a recovery. And, on a rainy day in February, in Texas, there are no fragrant blossoms or green leaves to signal the promise of spring.

Experiencing life in the rear-view mirror

But we drove on. We had returned only once before, in more than 20 years, to see the retreat we had owned for more than a decade beginning in 1981. We had spent many a happy, sunny, activity-filled day there when our son was young. I have trouble, even today, calling it a “lake house.” It had floor, walls and roof. It had a kitchen, and a bath, one bedroom, and another small sleeping area. It was filled with mismatched furniture and cabinetry. We applied gallons of white paint to freshen its old walls. It had air conditioning only in one room. We added a screened activity porch, floored with cast-off multicolored tile, and graced by one banging screen door.

Oh, the times we had there in the one large room with a view of the water. We laughed; we cooked and read and played board games on the floor as a family of three. We watched mourning doves hatch in their nest outside our window, and we shuddered when a swarm of bees made a home for a night in the same tree. We did much the same — laughing, cooking, talking and playing, indoors and out, in and out of the water, on and off the boat — when we invited a crowd.

In the summer, we all cooled off under an outdoor shower plumbed to the trunk of a big tree, before putting hot dogs and burgers on the grill. On July 4th, we spread IMG_0679blankets on the lawn, and watched fireworks explode over the water.  It was a place for all seasons, and during the heat of summer we occasionally slept in hammocks and deck chairs.  Occasionally the allure of the place meant we packed up our sweaters and boots, and brought lots of hot chocolate just so we could watch migrating ducks and angry skies. In the winter, we slept soundly under warm quilts, lulled by the sound of lapping waves.

We loved the place. Our son — and our dog — learned to swim at “Camp Swampee.” Our son learned to sail, and to steer the motorboat. He learned to love fishing, and to dissect frogs, and to chase butterflies. He learned which snakes to avoid, and to watch for spiders under rocks. He learned to occupy himself alone in the great outdoors. He learned to steer the truck down the long, straight, bumpy road to the compound. We all learned to deal with the Texas heat during the searing days and to marvel at the star-filled sky at night.

We learned that the alternative to our day-to-day busy lives in the city, filled with school and jobs, meetings and friends, planned activities and regular schedules, is a cadence of life far different. We had “lake neighbors” who were equally happy to trade busy everyday lives for weekend peace and simplicity.

Our son grew up. We moved on and we moved away, but we carried with us a peculiar nostalgia for that place and time, across the miles and over the years.

Some journeys teach unexpected lessons

So, given opportunity and no set schedule, we set out to visit the past.

But it’s not there.IMG_0674IMG_0678IMG_0670IMG_0676It was almost a physical pain: My husband and I exchanged glances, without speaking. We, both of us, took slow steps onto the lot, walking with a hesitant, measured pace to where our house once stood.

Grass has begun to grow, and falling leaves camouflage bare ground. The dock still stands, but just barely. And, because of the lake level, it would be impossible to pull a boat into the sling under the shaky roof.

The shock was not so much that the building was gone. It had been old and worn when we owned it. The surprise is, rather, that what still shapes the way we are and think and feel in numerous, important ways has no physical presence in this world. We have left no lasting impression on that particular spot of earth.

We move on through life; we learn from each experience, sometimes in graphic, poignant and unexpected ways.

As we strolled back to our car, the lesson we both have learned:

Savor the present time

Note: This story was originally published on February 10, 2013 on Yahoo Contributor Network. That creative virtual magazine was taken down several years ago, but I ran across this post recently, and thought it worthy of a reprint. Except for a few minor revisions, it is as originally written. 

We think often of the good times we had on that little slice of earth on the shores of Cedar Creek Lake, and remember the place fondly, even though it no longer exists.  Perhaps, now that more than five years have passed since our last visit, we will take another ride to see if someone else has built a new home on the site.

In a way, I hope so. The lake and its lakeside communities have changed now, populated with full-time residents, and much grander weekend and summer homes. Perhaps the spot is enjoying a new incarnation with another family.

Somehow, though, in our minds it will remain frozen in time just as we knew it.

 

It’s the people, not the places . . .

It’s good to get away, and sometimes it doesn’t seem to matter where the journey takes us; it’s the break from routine that’s important.

This time, though, it was all about the place. My husband and I, as those who know us (and those of you who read the previous post) know, spent the better part of a summer in Alaska 13 years ago. We traveled the Marine Highway of Southeast Alaska and numerous watery byways that led us to out-of-the-way villages and secluded coves. We went north to Skagway and Haines, west to Glacier Bay and Sitka, spent delightful days in Hoonah and Petersburg and bobbed gently “on the hook” with only stars and lapping waves for company. We visited Juneau, the capital, several times, and we had good times in Ketchikan, Alaska’s “first city.”

At the end of August we returned to the 49th state, arriving in Anchorage on a Friday evening to spend a few hours prior to embarking the next day on a seven-day voyage aboard Golden Princess. The trip would take us past impressive Hubbard Glacier and into Glacier Bay before visiting Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan on a journey slated to end in Vancouver, British Columbia, the following Saturday morning.

It was not a trip we spent a lot of time planning. It was, in fact, a snap decision, made with a “why not” attitude, but with low expectations. We sandwiched it in between short trips to other destinations during August.

Some initial observations:

What we experienced surprised us. We were less than enamored by Anchorage, home to fully 40 percent, if not more, of Alaska’s residents. But, to be fair, we spent only a few hours there and during our brief visit we encountered delightful people. The city, however, is not pretty, apart from its surroundings.

Our appreciation for the spectacular natural beauty of Alaska emerged fully intact. Looking down on the Anchorage area from our airplane and seeing snow-capped distant peaks towering above the clouds was duly impressive. The water and the coastal vistas are incredible and the vast land seems to extend forever.

And the flowers — before I visited Alaska, I would not have believed there were flowers in what I considered a cold and desolate place. How wrong I was. They were — and still are — everywhere. Wild flowers and flowers in public parks; flowers on window sills and in shops, flowers filling huge municipal planters; flowers in airports and on the docks. Wildflowers along the highway. Gorgeous, colorful flowers. Everywhere!

On Saturday, we boarded a bus for the short drive to Whittier, a year-round deep-water port at the head of Prince William Sound. The trip allowed us a glimpse of white Beluga whales in the waters of Turnagain Arm and a herd of Dall sheep navigating a craggy bluff on the other side of the highway.

It’s exciting, to be sure, to wear jackets and knit caps in August, even if we did have to don rain gear as well. We visited the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center to see wood bison and musk ox, wolves and porcupines, bear and moose, deer and foxes.

We continued on through the engineering marvel of a tunnel that gives the only land access to Whittier. It is shared (on a one-way basis) by passenger vehicles, buses, trucks and the train!

A floating city . . .

Once aboard, we began to settle in to the life of a floating city with 2,600 other people — not difficult, actually, with the wealth of activities and the pleasant mix of public and private spaces. Every day seems a celebration on board a modern cruise ship.

What we knew we would miss was the feeling of being close to the water — the sound of the waves, the experience of cold fingers and blasts of wind as we dropped anchor or secured the lines of our vessel to the metal cleats of well-worn wooden docks. We missed the camaraderie we felt with fishing boat captains as they put away their gear after a long day; and we missed the hot coffee and good conversation that was always available in cluttered dockmasters’ offices.

We also missed seeing whale spouts and fish jumping just above the swells, gulls and eagles trailing fishing boats and circling above small docks, the occasional family of sea otters looking for refuge in a marina, and eye-level contact with those splashing waves and floating chunks of ice. Looking down on the water from a deck 70 or more feet above it, or searching for native wildlife through binoculars and behind protective glass has nowhere near the same effect.

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What we enjoyed was the companionship of other passengers, especially our delightful dinner tablemates, talking with fellow travelers from not only other states, but from Australia and New Zealand, from Germany and England, from Mexico and from Asia. We appreciated the perfectly prepared fresh fish and seafood that was offered at every meal, the smiling service of bartenders and waiters, the helpfulness of the crew, the variety of outdoor deck space from which to view changing vistas of glaciers and icebergs, mountains and clouds.

We were blessed with sunshine for at least a part of every day, somewhat unusual for this part of Alaska.

We also appreciated having the assistance of other eyes to help spot whales and otters, eagles, bears, seals and porpoises. And, yes, we did spot some, although we yearned to see more! The ship reverberated with a chorus of delight for each occurrence. We were thrilled once again to visit Glacier Bay. The naturalists and Park Rangers who came aboard were interesting and knowledgeable. It was a learning experience, and it was good to have their input.

We heard the “thunder” of glaciers as they calved, and realized anew that listening to the natural sounds of Alaska is mesmerizing.

‘Tis the season . . .

We could have done without the proliferation of t-shirt and key chain shops, furriers and jewelry stores, harborside kiosks and lines of tour buses and waiting guides. But then we realized that they were very much a part of port life 13 years ago as well.

As Alaska residents acknowledge, the season is short and it’s tourism that turns the wheels of commerce in the ports of Southeast Alaska. Life after October settles back into familiar patterns and the majesty of the land becomes once again the personal domain of those who call Alaska home.

Travel is enlightening in many ways. But it’s not the places; it’s the people one meets.

We sought out those people on this trip. And we were rewarded tenfold! Friendly residents are more than willing to talk about their lives, their cities, their families and their experiences. As always, we were fascinated to learn about daily life as it is lived outside the pages of guidebooks.

We always asked for local recommendations for food. In Anchorage, we were directed to a popular local brew pub, and were immediately befriended by a local resident only too willing to share his views on everything from oil drilling to recreational cannabis, from the Northern Lights to politics. The next morning we had cafe au lait and warm croissants at the charming Paris Cafe, a short stroll from our hotel.

In Skagway, there was a wait at “the best place in town to eat,” but the wait was worth it — and we were notified by text message when our table was ready. Skagway may be small and remote, but there’s no shortage of technology! WP_20180821_12_44_28_ProWe were rewarded with perfectly prepared fish, crispy chips and superb local brew.

We took a short bus ride to White Pass, following the path traversed by miners with gold fever, and snapped photos at the border between the United States and Canada, “Gateway to the Klondike.” We walked around Skagway for just a short time before retreating back to our ship as it began to rain. Skagway has changed little, but with four cruise ships in town, it was crowded!

That afternoon, before slipping lines and heading south to Juneau, a program by “real Alaskan” Steve Hites, one of the 1,057 full-time Skagway residents, was a highlight of the trip. Accompanied by guitar and harmonica, the 64-year-old songwriter, storyteller and tour operator charmed listeners with a 40-minute history of “his” Alaska, and the small town he knows so well.

In Juneau and Ketchikan, once again we asked for local food tips and were given the names of two eateries slightly beyond the tourist mainstream. At both, The Flight Deck in Juneau, and again in Ketchikan at The Dirty Dungee, we devoured fresh-caught Dungeness crab, and couldn’t have been happier!

About traveling to Alaska . . .

My heartfelt advice to anyone considering an Alaska cruise?

GO!

My husband and I realize that we were privileged to be able to experience the state as we did — on our own — and that trip will remain in our hearts as a unique experience.

We remember how small we felt while on our boat, especially one morning in Juneau as we awoke to the presence of a massive cruise ship snuggled against the dock directly in front of our vessel.

101_0747As luck would have it, on this trip Golden Princess occupied that slip, and we wondered if the private yacht owners felt as dwarfed as we had that long ago morning.

The allure of Alaska has not diminished for us. We shared the excitement of first-time visitors on this cruise. And we understand clearly the sentiments of those who return again and again. There are many ways to travel to this unique state, from “big-ship” cruises to private vessels, land-sea combos, fly-in fishing or sightseeing trips and active expedition cruises. The Alaska State Ferry runs north from Bellingham, Wash., year round, the the Al-Can Highway provides an unparalleled opportunity for those who love road trips. There are summer work opportunities for college students, and the tourist industry brings part-time residents every season. There is no one-size-fits-all recipe for visiting Alaska.

Absolutely, go to experience the place — the stunning scenery with majestic peaks and pristine water, the wilderness, the waterfalls and the icy blue glaciers. Look for wildlife, of course, and marvel when you spot a whale or a group of bears on shore, eagles in the trees, or otters in the sea. Eat your fill of freshly-caught fish and seafood. Snap Selfies. Take tours. Buy trinkets.

But go especially to meet the people! Dinner companions often become lasting friends. At the very least, casual encounters with shopkeepers, restaurant servers, tour guides, ship’s staff, and the people you stop to talk with on the street linger as lasting reminders of the trip  even when memories of specific sights begin to fade.

Cruising is invariably a pleasure, no matter what the ports.  And Alaska still lives up to its moniker as the American “last frontier.” It’s a big adventure!

So, yes, go to Alaska!   

Will we return? Perhaps not. But we would not hesitate to do so. It’s that good!

 

Good food is all about . . .

100_5366 (2)

I met a 10-year-old a couple of weeks ago who told me in all seriousness that if he were offered a choice between doughnuts and salad, he would have to go with salad. He volunteered that tidbit after telling me that he liked all vegetables, especially salad greens. I had asked about his favorite lettuce, and he answered “Romaine” with no hesitation.

We were standing in the demonstration greenhouse of DFW Aquaponics Farms in Burleson, Texas, where I was photographing lettuces, chives, kale, Swiss chard and tomatoes in various stages of development. I had heard the young boy talking with his dad about how delicious the produce looked, even though many of the plants weren’t yet mature and the tomatoes were still green.

I’m not sure that at age 10 I even realized that there were different varieties of lettuce. I ate salad, I think, because at that age I ate most of what was put in front of me. It was simple food. I grew up during the days of family meals served at home, punctuated by an occasional sandwich at the downtown drug store soda fountain as a Saturday treat.

I vividly remember the taste of those sandwiches, and the special delight of a fountain Coke! To this day I occasionally long for a real fountain drink, rich with syrup and bubbly from the seltzer.

I also remember that home-cooked food varied by the season. Winter brought soups and stews, spring and summer were filled with fresh salads, bright peas and juicy watermelon, and fall was full of crunchy apples, and tasty pumpkin, squash and spices.

Because I was a city girl, I knew little about growing food. But I knew that when the right season rolled around, there were ways to judge the ripeness of fruit and vegetables.

However, had I been given a choice, I am certain I would have opted for a chocolate chip cookie, a scoop of ice or even a just-picked strawberry over a ripe carrot or a stalk of fresh romaine, no matter what the season.

Today, like that 10-year-old, I too prefer salad over doughnuts, although ice cream is still as tempting as that fountain Coke.

I have learned what I am sure my farm-raised grandparents knew: Freshly-picked and locally-harvested food tastes good. It’s that simple. It’s immensely satisfying to create a salad or an entire meal from what one has grown.

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Today, because of greenhouses and modern technology, it’s possible to grow fresh food — including salad greens and seasonal produce, year-round in many different locales.

I am not still not committed to growing my own food, but I certainly understand the motivation. Luckily, at least in my area, farm stands, local markets and community-supported agriculture (CSAs) are increasingly popular. Fresh, seasonal, locally-grown, non-processed food is available. It’s a good time to experience the joy — and the flavor, texture, color and fun — of good, fresh produce any time of year. It’s simply better.

I am delighted when spring arrives and local farmers markets spring to life with colorful carrots, new potatoes, bulbous onions, butterhead lettuce and showy Swiss chard. Later I wait for the melons to ripen and still later I search out the most beautiful eggplant and squash — as much for their vibrant color as for their taste!

Food is always an adventure — whether picked from the garden and prepared at home, created by an award-winning chef at a renowned restaurant, or purchased from a trendy food truck at a community festival. I continue to learn new things about food and about people, no matter what the occasion or where in the world.

It was here at home that I learned another lesson about food. Kudos to my 10-year-old “teacher,” and to his dad for showing him the way.

Teach them young, they say . . .

Portovenere: Poetry in any language

My husband and I hadn’t really intended to be in Portovenere. We were driving through Italy with no particular destination in mind. At a small gas station in the port of Genoa, we stopped to ask general directions to the waterfront, with every intention of finding a charming out-of-the way inn along the way, perhaps one with a view of the harbor and a trattoria within walking distance.

We had no timetable. It was chilly. It was the end of January, not the height of tourist season along the Mediterranean coast. The prospect of a good glass of red wine, a simple pasta and a comfortable bed beckoned. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The station attendant pointed — Portovenere, he repeated — along with a rapid stream of Italian, most of which was lost on us. “Portovenere, Portovenere, Portovenere. . . ,” accompanied by hand waving, curliques in the air, motor sounds, big smiles and, once again the repeated word: “Portovenere!”

It was decided. We pulled out the map, pinpointed the location and the route, smiled at our benefactor and trip planner, and were off to Portovenere.

What a Delight!

The little city is nestled into the craggy cliffs that line the sea; it has all the charm and colorful beauty of better-known Cinque Terre villages. Along with them, Portovenere is on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. They are all magnificent. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Portovenere is ancient, and it retains the homey aura of a small fishing village, with terraced hillsides above.

Perhaps it was just because we arrived at dusk during a very slow season, but everyone we met, from the hotel desk clerk to local workers on their way to the trattoria, greeted us cordially and made us feel like long-lost friends.

The feeling was not diminished the next day, nor the next. We stayed on, enchanted by everyday life in this beautiful village. We walked the streets, sauntered along the docks, ventured up the steep, hillside cliffs when we felt like it. We breathed deeply of the fresh seaside air, and looked out on the waters of the Med, but felt no need to take the sightseeing boat to the nearby trio of islands that are major tourist destinations.

Familiar Comforts

The truth is that Portovenere wrapped us in the comfort of normal lifestyle, at a point in our three-week trip when we had tired of tourism. In some ways, it felt like going homeOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We sipped aperitivos at the local bar, and watched local television with residents relaxing after work, and then we ambled down the street to enjoy fresh seafood, good wine and spirited, if awkward conversation with other diners in the sparsely-occupied room. I’ve forgotten the dishes and the details, but the warmth of the experience, and the certainty that it was a good one, remain. I don’t know the name of the restaurant, but I like to think it is still there, awaiting my return.

It’s a fanciful thought, I know, appropriate in some odd way for this Thanksgiving week. Going home for Thanksgiving is deeply ingrained in our consciousness, whether that trip is to Grandma’s house or simply a gathering that brings family and friends together for shared experience, wherever it may be.

Special Places and Times

That first and only visit to Portovenere was more than a decade ago and it still stands out in my memory as one of those places I would return to on short notice! That’s what I have been thinking about this week — the prospect of revisiting favorite spots across the globe, an irresistible urge to experience old delights once again. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Pisa is on the list, and Assisi, along with Carrara, where Michelangelo found his stone. The tops of the mountains shine white in the distance, chipped away over the centuries to expose the shining white cores. Counter tops are still quarried here, some of them by old methods. It’s quite an experience to drive to the summit of a marble mountain!

There are other places, too, to revisit, most of them not the subject of travel guides and magazine articles. But that’s what makes travel special, isn’t it? Finding those places that speak to the soul is not something a traveler plans.

If it happens, it’s hard to deny. Portovenere is like that.

Savor the Good Times

In my mind, I can picture my return, just as I picture returning to my former home city of Santa Fe this year for a large family Thanksgiving.

May all of you find a special place in the heart this Thanksgiving. Maybe we can all search out those delightful spaces and places at other times of year as well.

If it’s impossible to return home in a physical sense, however, at least make a point to revisit those special places periodically in spirit. Savor those experiences.

9-11-2001: Years removed in time, but etched indelibly into our psyche . . .

Fifteen years: It’s the span from birth to teenager; young adult to middle age; active working adult to “old.”

It’s difficult to look 15 years into the future with any degree of accuracy, but looking back takes little effort. And, in some cases, 15 years — or 50, or only two  — disappear in an instant and we, in our minds, are returned to a time so hard to comprehend, so impossible to understand, so devastatingly brutal in memory that it brings us up short. The best we can do is retreat into our own silence, finding what solace exists with the passage of time.

Today is one of those days.

Fifteen years ago on a clear morning full of promise, the world was forever changed. For those of us old enough at the time to be aware of what happened in our world, it is a moment, a day, an era still frozen in time. There are other such days for many of us; actually, there are too many of those moments for some of us.

On days like this one, at a specific hour, whether the flag is lowered to half staff or we observe a moment of silence, whether there is a public ceremony or not, we cannot help but take a deep breath, suffer feelings of deep regret, and remember. Sadly, the list of those remembrances grows longer.

It is said that adversity make us strong. I wonder.

It is said that we must learn from the past. I am not certain we ever do.

It is said that we must not allow such things to happen again. Is that possible?

9-11-2001

Fifteen years ago.

Yes. I remember.

But I also remember other things about that day.

I recall standing silently with a group of coworkers, tears streaming down our cheeks, eyes trained on the television. I remember the need to talk with distant family members, to hear the voices of loved ones even though there were no words to soften the blow of that day. I remember the anguished — and accented — question of a recent immigrant: “How could they do this to our country?”

I have to think that Americans were one on that day, united in shock, and determined to face an uncertain future together.

Today, 15 years later, that oneness is no longer evident.

I wonder why we as a people are always at our best in crisis?

Actually, maybe that is the hope we should cling to.

No matter what our differences, no matter how much we disagree on most days — in thought and action and the ongoing exercise of our freedoms — maybe we can once again stand together when the next crisis occurs.

Not that I look forward to that day.

Also read my thoughts about a chance encounter on 9-11-2014.

 

 

The dream dies hard, but the memories live on

It looms large on the horizon, the hulk of the S.S. United States, as she lies in port in Philadelphia. Her stacks rise above the neighboring dock buildings, and it’s possible to use them as landmarks rather than following GPS directions as you chart a course to see the once grand ship in her current forlorn and decrepit state.

This ship — and the search for a traditional Philly cheesesteak — took us to the city of brotherly love this summer.

We found our ship with ease, and we lingered there. Remembering our first encounter with this vessel, my husband and I didn’t speak. We just gazed through the chain links at this once gleaming passenger liner with a history that is irrevocably intertwined with ours.

We met the S.S. United States, and one another, on the same day in August 50 years ago at the port in Le Havre, France. The ship was just a teenager at the time. We were young as  well, and impressionable.

She was a looker, massive and shiny and silent, but aswarm with crew going about their duties. We were impressed by her presence and by her glamor; she took our breath away. We had some other experiences with her, but her days at sea came to an end barely three years later.

Our story continues.

This summer, as we mapped our road trip north, it became a priority for us to see the grand old ship. Philadelphia was miles out of the way, but we took the detour. Our hearts were in our throats as we first spied those distinctive smokestacks. We were buoyed by the hope that this old lady might actually sail the seas once again.

Unfortunately, early this month, we learned that the plan to refurbish her as a cruise ship is not feasible. The S.S. United States has been out of service for 47 years; she has languished at the dock in Philadelphia for more than 20 years now, longer than she sailed! And, though she is deemed still structurally sound, the dream that she might again carry passengers has died.

There is still some hope that the S.S. United States will be saved from the scrap heap and turned into a floating “history book.” She is, after all, an engineering marvel; this last American flagship set a world speed record on her maiden voyage. It has never been broken. Is it so hard to believe that others could be inspired by looking up at her towering stacks, standing at her railing, or exploring her labyrinthian interior. Not for us.

The experience certainly stayed with me and my husband throughout our years!

As we again gazed at her with awe, she sat behind locked gates, no longer shiny and glamorous, but impressive nonetheless!

We left the docks finally, and found a Philly cheesesteak at a tiny Tony Luke’s on Oregon Ave., almost in the shadow of Interstate 95 South. There were only seven or eight tables inside, but the line snaked through the building and extended into the parking lot beyond. It took some time to reach the order window, but not long at all for our traditional beef and melted cheese sandwiches to be ready. Miraculously, there were two seats at a table. The wait was worth it; Philadelphia’s signature food treat was the second delight of the day!

We had come to Philly for the memories. And we left well satisfied.

It was an epic road trip and coming home is hard . . .

I am home now — after nearly two months away and never a dull moment. The summer included a path through 22 states and two Canadian provinces, a total of 4,780 highway miles, and almost six weeks in the historic small town of Wiscasset, Maine.

While in Maine, we explored new territory, basked in the sun, breathed the salt air, ate seafood and fresh corn as much as possible, and enjoyed every minute of the time we spent there. It was with regret that we packed up the car when it came time to leave. But the road trip was adventure of a different kind!

Although I’ve been home now for two weeks, I find myself still smiling about the trip just completed and considering the ones yet to come. Several are currently in the planning stages of my mind, waiting to emerge as full-fledged itineraries with dates and reservations.

Is it good to be home? Yes, it’s good to be home. I think so. But, it’s good to be gone. If I stutter and stammer a bit when asked if I’m happy to be home, it’s because the fun of being “on the road,” seeing new sights, eating new foods and meeting new people never seems to grow old. Some would term that a personality disorder.

Coming home seems like an ending somehow; and I haven’t yet gotten used to endings. New beginnings: Yes, those are what I thrive on. Readjusting to the routine of normal life — that’s a chore! But then, I can’t seem to define normal.

While watching the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, I find myself daydreaming about South America and fantasizing about what I hope will be an upcoming trip.

South America is on the horizon. But it will have to wait until after the Panama Canal, already scheduled for fall. And then, maybe,  a winter trip to Florida along with a jaunt to to Cuba? Or, as an alternate, perhaps a quick cruise along the Pacific Coast, or a few days in Cabo. Maybe the urge to travel is, after all, an obsession. It’s only a shame that I don’t have unlimited funds to fuel my desire to see the world.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the world is shrinking. It is still as large as the mind can imagine. And so many destinations await.

So, my fascination with gauchos and Cape Horn, the southern fjords and Chilean wine (enjoyed at a Chilean vineyard, of course), the rainforest and the Amazon, the icebergs and the Andes, penguins and llamas — has only been heightened as I watch the world’s athletes compete in the games and celebrate their victories!

I guess I’ll have to get serious about getting back to work after the closing ceremony.

Note: Look for additional posts about this summer’s epic journey in coming weeks.

The open road: Traveling tips

101_2217Fast food isn’t particularly good for the waistline or the pocketbook! And, no matter how familiar, most of it is nothing to write home about.

So, this summer, why not slow down a little to nurture your spirit as well as your body? Whether you take a quick weekend jaunt or an extended trip across the country, here are some good ways to make your next driving trip a memorable one:

Pack a picnic basket

Seriously. There was a time when a wicker basket was a staple in the back seat or the trunk of almost every vehicle. Those were the days when people planned a day’s journey based on the distance between gas stations, and pulled off the road to enjoy a field of flowers or a lakeside vista. Today, with conveniences available at every highway exit, it’s not so necessary to plan ahead, but having a picnic basket full of good food still makes sense.

Fill yours with hard boiled eggs, a package of mini carrots or sugar snap peas, cans of sardines and packets of tuna, a jar of peanut butter, a loaf of crusty French bread, crackers, and homemade granola or trail mix. Bring along either a round of Brie, a wedge of blue, or some string cheese that can stand being out of the refrigerator for a few hours. Include apples, oranges and dried fruit, and maybe some homemade cookies. Pack plastic plates, glasses and silverware, a roll of paper towels and a plastic tablecloth. Include a blanket or quilt for sitting on the ground.

If you’re taking a long trip, restock at a local grocery store; forego the chain restaurants. Forget the cooler full of soda, but bring a large thermos filled with iced tea or lemonade. In cooler weather, fill the thermos with hot chocolate, tomato soup or chicken bouillon. Invest in refillable personal water bottles and fill them with tap water. When you get hungry, get off the road and get out of the car. Park by a stream or find a city park: Walk around, lounge on the grass, walk the dog, and let the kids run!

Get off the road – go local

Turn off the interstate occasionally. Even if you want to make good time getting to your destination, you’ll be surprised how invigorating it can be to take a scenic route or venture onto a back road. Forget the GPS and the app, and buy an old-fashioned road map, the paper accordion-folding kind that you spread out on the hood of the car, the kind that shows small towns, county roads, twisting dirt paths, historical sites and topographical features. Then make time to explore.

Leave the smart phone in your pocket and teach your children map-reading skills; get lost on purpose, just so you can find an alternative way back to the highway. Cultivate spontaneity! Take a few chances. Laugh a lot!

The highways were built to move goods and people quickly from place to place, and they do that well. But, any journey can be as interesting as the destination if you take a turn through the countryside and small towns along the way. It’s a whole different world view and one you don’t want to miss. Stop to photograph wild flowers, historical markers, spectacular views, a herd of longhorns, or an old barn. Look for the unusual. Stop at farm stands and “pick your own” orchards. Buy freshly-squeezed orange juice in Florida, fresh shelled pecans in Texas, cherries in Washington or just tapped maple syrup in Vermont. WP_20160508_007 (1)

Keep a travel journal

Don’t worry about the literary quality; just make it personal and it will be memorable. Simply write quick notes to keep in an old three-ring binder and punctuate with doodles, postcards, snapshots or restaurant business cards. Or take notes on your digital device to accompany the pictures you snap: Transfer the notes and photos to an online journal when you return home. Just be sure to date (and place) the entries so that you can look through actual or virtual pages later to recall specific events.

Your kids will love reliving this part of their history, and you can tell friends and relatives about your experiences.  Write about the wild flowers or the weather; the long, boring miles of highway, or the squabbles in the back seat; add anything that describes the moment! And don’t wait for an epic two-week vacation to Europe to begin journaling. You don’t have to be born with a sense of adventure to enjoy travel. You simply have to keep your mind open to possibilities, your heart open to fun and your eyes focused on the new sights all around you.

Slow down and look around

Take advantage of state tourist information centers as you cross state lines. Great sources of information,  they are staffed with knowledgeable volunteers, and often offer snacks, coffee and cool drinks. They also provide a welcome break from sitting! Many states also have upscale, modern rest stops with clean rest rooms, playgrounds and picnic tables.

Turn off the highway and head for a small town square. Look for a local café, or a diner with lots of cars parked outside. Chances are you’ll discover friendly people, good food and good times. Strike up a conversation with your server; ask questions about the area if it’s new to you.

Travel without reservations if you don’t have a deadline, and look for local hotels in small towns rather than chain motels along the highway. Consider it a bonus if you find a charming country inn, a lakeside cottage at a state park, or a historic hotel in the heart of a Midwest city. Another way: Take day trips to other towns in your area. You’ll be surprised at the things you discover!

Walt Whitman said it pretty well:

         “Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road, 

         Healthy, free, the world before me, 

        The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.” 

Remembering when the earth rumbled

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STS 133.

I’ve been taking trips down memory lane — I don’t know why exactly. But planning new trips (which I do, it seems, every winter as the walls start closing in) somehow just naturally calls to mind previous adventures.

STS 133. The 133rd flight of a U.S. space shuttle. The last voyage of Discovery. The 35th mission to the International Space Station.

They called it an “Express.” As if others made interim stops! That makes me smile.

The backstory . . .

For as long as I can remember, I have looked up at the sky and dreamed of traveling into space. Spacecraft and rocket launches never fail to mesmerize and excite.

In February 2009, we were traveling south on Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway; we had hoped to be near enough to Cape Canaveral to witness a shuttle launch, but there were weather delays. Without a firm target date, we made no firm plans.

In early March, though, somewhere near Titusville, Florida, we witnessed the liftoff of a Jupiter 2 rocket, “at 2248 from Pad 17 Bravo,” according to the U.S. Coast Guard in a security zone broadcast alert to boaters that evening. We saw the flash on the horizon, bright and perfect, as we lay at anchor.Bahamas-March-April 2009 180

In mid-March of that year,  we were docked at Port Lucaya in the Bahamas. After weeks of continuing delays, STS 119, a flight of the Space Shuttle Discovery, was finally scheduled for launch at 7:43 p.m. the evening of March 15. From 60 or so miles away, we saw the light in the night sky that signaled another perfect launch.  A cheer went up from the mostly American crowd, from vessel decks throughout the marina, and we watched until the glowing cloud of light dissipated.

The real meaning of “earth-shaking”

Not quite two years later, the launch was scheduled for 4:50 p.m. Thursday, February 24, 2011. There was a 10-minute window; official NASA records put liftoff at 4:53:24. That’s pretty close to on time.

There were other boats all around; all gathered at a perfect vantage point to witness one of the last shuttle launches of the American space program. It felt like a block party. The day was calm and beautiful, and we had a “front-row seat” in a small cove a few miles east of Cape Canaveral with a clear view of Merritt Island and the Cape just beyond. We could see the busloads of tourists heading for viewing sites. The air of anticipation was palpable. Radios blasted the latest news as the minutes ticked down.

I remember the anticipation. I remember seeing the smoke; then hearing the sound; then FEELING the blast; in that order. Yes, even though we were cushioned by the water, we felt the earth tremble beneath us.

And then the shiny, slender white rocket rose steadily into the upside down bowl of blue sky to begin its journey into space.

Raw power of that sort is hard to describe. Words don’t do it justice.

Launch Day at Canaveral 058 (2)A moment in time

I remember the cheers. No one dared speak. Even breathing was difficult. All eyes, trained on binoculars or straining to focus through a camera lens, followed the arcing path over the Atlantic until the rockets and the shuttle were just a pinpoint with a trail of white that drifted back towards the home planet. It was gone in only minutes, but witnessing that launch was an experience not easily forgotten.

History was made that day. Discovery’s story was completed 12 days later, when it returned to Earth at Kennedy Space Center just before noon on March 9. Six men were on board that mission.

Between 1984 and 2011, Discovery flew a total of 39 missions, carried 252 crew members into space, launched the Hubble Telescope and, finally, was retired to the Smithsonian Institution where the public can view it. Discovery was the third of five shuttles built and the first to leave active service. Read more about Discovery’s last mission.

Space Shuttle Endeavor’s final launch was May 16, and Atlantis flew July 8 under the NASA designation STS 135, ending America’s shuttle program after 30 years.

The saga continues

I still look up at the sky. I still dream of traveling into space, although I know that, for me, it is only a dream. But for others .  . . . Let us not forget that the missions continue. The International Space Station orbits our Earth approximately every 90 minutes. You can look up and see it; or you can view your planet as the astronauts see it, in real time.

Note: My husband and I were liveaboard boaters at the time, traveling eastern U.S. waters on an almost three-year epic journey that took us from Florida north to Maine and the Canadian Maritimes, saw us in the Chesapeake and on the Potomac, in the Carolinas and Florida and the Bahamas, ending our journey finally in Mobile, Alabama, on the Gulf Coast. Our adventures on Gypsy Spirit, our 44-foot aft-cabin power vessel, were the stuff of dreams; we occasionally browse our log books to rekindle fond memories of those times.

 

 

Digesting art and history — good memories

Two menus occupy special places in my heart and in my home. They couldn’t be more different.
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When in Rome

The first is a colorful, poster-size graphic from Da Meo Patacca, a memento from a first “Roman holiday” when I was 21. I still smile every time I look at it, remembering how impressed I was with the white-shirted waiter who unfurled the almost three-foot-long roll of paper with a deft flick of his wrist.  I don’t remember the food of that long-ago dinner table, but I can’t forget the experience, and the framed menu has graced my kitchens and pantries for longer than I care to admit.

The classic restaurant is still serving its traditional fare in Rome and, by all accounts, still delighting tourists from all over the globe. It is now possible to purchase the extravagant vintage menus on ebay or etsy, and I suspect that many, like mine, are still kept as keepsakes.20160110_120156

I treasure the memory; I also delight at the items priced in Lira. A mixed salad for 250, garlic bread at 100, saltimbocca a la romana at 950, gelato for 300 and a bottle of wine at 2500 – dinner easily required counting out bills running to multiple thousands! Truly, that was culture shock. However, the exchange rate at the time was around 600 Italian Lira to a single U.S. dollar. My dinner, I am sure, was quite a bargain! I returned to Da Meo Patacca a few years ago and came away with a later version of the menu, this time with prices in Euros. I also took away a renewed appreciation for this lively eatery that has served generations of diners during its five decades of operation. I know there is better food in this ancient city, and trendier trattorias. But this is a tradition of sorts and, on a pleasant evening, the patio is friendly, the wine is abundant, and the music can be fine!

Viva la France

The second menu is not as vibrant in color, but it boasts fascinating pastel drawings of animals around its edge – elephant, bear, camel, kangaroo, cat and rat – along with frivolous hot air balloons floating over the countryside. It is dated “25 Decembre 1870 – 99eme Jour du Siege” from Voisin in Paris. It is in French. And, no, I did not eat there. Rather, I was entranced by the images and by the subject.

I have loved this menu for years, knowing it was not a real menu. I thought it was simply a quirky take on French culture and paid little attention to the actual items: Haunch of Wolf with Venison Sauce, Cat flanked by Rats. Jugged Kangaroo and Elephant Consomme20160109_171810Among the Hors d’Oeuvres: Butter, Radishes, Stuffed Donkey’s Head, Sardines. It includes other food choices as well: Wild Mushrooms Bordelaise and Rice Cake with Preserves. Again, I thought, a nod to French ingenuity, or an attempt to be entertaining. I thought nothing of the English translation at the bottom of the poster. I investigated no further, and simply enjoyed the artwork of my charming wall hanging. Until just recently.

The Back Story

Around Christmas, I happened across a blog post with an intriguing title. With an audible gasp, I realized that it was the story of my menu. I now know about the Franco-Prussian War, about the long and celebrated history of Voisin Restaurant, about how adaptable French cuisine can be, and about the suffering and endurance of a proud people during hard times. I know about how a renowned chef was truly creative and managed a Christmas dinner that must have been quite a treat for wealthy diners, and that at least one other restaurant routinely served equally bizarre dishes. By discovering the history of “my menu,” I have gained a new understanding of life, and of war and survival. During this siege, not even the well-to-do were spared hunger and deprivation.

The City of Light has known some very dark times. The French surrendered to the Prussians in 1871, when the citizens of the city were truly half-starved. I still love the depictions of the animals in their faded watercolor reality. But I will never again look at this menu in quite the same way. And I now view history very differently.

Learn more about the war, the zoo and the dinner.

Also included, between the French and English versions of the historic menu, is a letter to “Dear George,” signed “See you in Boston. Hopefully, Charles.” Perhaps it’s a figment of someone’s imagination. Or not.

Among other things, the letter states: “The Prussian encirclement of Paris is now so complete that no word is getting out except by carrier pigeon or balloon. As the besiegers have become increasingly adept at shooting down the balloons or tracking them to their destinations, the government will probably soon abandon the balloon service.”

It continues with the odd statement: “I think you will enjoy the enclosed Christmas menu from Voisin’s where I dined yesterday. As you can see, hunger forgets squeamishness.”