It’s Been a Year

One of my long time blog followers, Sandy, recently reminded me, “It’s been a year.” She was of course referring to the date of my last blog post. But those words hold so much more meaning than just milestones on the calendar. As we round the one year mark of the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the struggle for peace continues with no hope for the fog of war to lift in sight. As I grow older, looking back on my own personal past which seemed so simple to what lies ahead can also sometimes feel like no peace on the horizon. I thought these were supposed to be the “Golden Years,” yet the older I get the faster it comes, and the less it feels like gold and more like lead.

I have really missed the blog. I miss digging through my non-creative brain for sparks of creativity. I can’t paint, draw, or play music. The blog was as close to creativity as I ever got, and I miss that. I also miss my beloved companion, my Canon G7X camera which is MIA.  And I miss the connections I have made. But most notably, I miss looking for the beauty in my surroundings to share here. As I told Sandy, it’s not that I have nothing to say. It’s that I have too much to say. Yes, “it’s been a year.”

I have to hand it to the ole farm…it serves up some stunning sunset views.

Our new neighbors….goats on a trampoline.

Shortly after my last blog post one year ago, I took a trip to Tulsa to visit the new Bob Dylan Center. On the way back, I stopped for a few days in Beaver’s Bend, which was my deceased brother Stephen’s happy place. He often escaped there to find solace from his complicated life. I thought it would make me feel happy to retrace his steps, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was like peeling off the scabs from a seven year wound. In other words, putting my hand on a hot stove.

The morning I woke up to leave the park, my slide-out wouldn’t retract. The park was full and it was beyond check-out time as I recruited some strangers to help me manually crank it in. Then on the way home, the Winnie went into “limp home mode,” meaning the error code of “insufficient turbo boost” began preventing it from getting above 45mph. Figures it would start limping as I came through Dallas at 3:00pm on a Friday afternoon. And here she still sits awaiting a few thousand dollars in repairs while I sit waiting to finding my way out of denial.

It wouldn’t be a Central Texas winter without….

Gayle says this “poor kitty” is looking for shelter from the sleet and freezing rain. I say he has a more nefarious agenda.

Add a glass of Cabernet for the perfect way to end the day.

As the summer heat intensified, life continued to heat up as well, as I spent the Fourth of July watching the local fireworks show from the fold-out bed of the hospital beside my Mom. She went into the ER with an elevated heart rate, and came out a week later with a diagnosis of abdominal tumors. However, the decision was made that surgery at 93 would be too risky. Since she was having no pain or discomfort, they would just leave them be.

A Fourth of July to remember…watching the local fireworks show from Mom’s hospital room.

Don was still on the farm installing a new mini-split AC in his Navion RV. Record high temps made it too hot to think about getting the Winnie repairs done until it cooled back down a bit. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. After living in the Winnie for 10 years now, seeking a life outdoors while chasing 70 degree temps, sleeping with the windows open, I have trouble breathing air conditioned air. I have worse trouble outdoors when the air being inhaled is hotter than the air expelled. So with Mom being well cared for, I left Texas in search of some place cool. I flew to the UK and did a counter-clockwise loop up through Scotland, across and down through Ireland, and back to London via Wales. I hope I can write about those gorgeous places one day, before the memories completely fade. I’ve already lost the camera. I don’t want to lose the memories. “Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.” (Simon & Garfunkel)

By the time I returned from the UK, Mom was beginning to feel discomfort. Her long time cardiologist recommended she see a surgeon. The prognosis was the tumors were beginning to crowd her stomach making it difficult to eat and hard to breathe. It was determined a surgical procedure to “de-bulk” the tumors was the only option to give her some comfort. She went into the hospital on 8th November. After two delays in her surgery date, one due to a-Fib and the second due to COVID (no symptoms, just a positive test result which cost her a 10 day delay,) she finally had surgery on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Never can I find the words to convey how helpless and hopeless it felt to be waiting for the surgeon in the post-op conference room while watching the staff walk out one by one, wishing each other “Happy Thanksgiving!” The following “Black Friday” on a dark and stormy evening, the unspeakable happened…

Three months later, and I still can’t say those words aloud without breaking down, or even type them for that matter. I should have written a tribute. But I couldn’t. I can’t.

It’s been an aura of loss since that time, as one by one, family members splinter. No matter how solid you think your foundation might be, when the matriarch departs this earthly plane, the whole world rocks. When the last remaining roots of the family tree die, when the foundation cracks, well…brace yourself.

So now here I am on the farm alone for the first time in my life. Just me and the cardinals.  I’ll leave soon, but not without taking care of my Mom’s personal effects first.  The more intimate the item, the harder it is. Most days are spent wading through years of family memories. Mom never threw anything away. Going through old boxes that haven’t been opened in fifty years is a double whammy as I sift through not only my Mom’s keepsakes, but the baby clothes of my deceased brother, Stephen who died in 2015. Déjà vu all over again, but not in a good way. Open one box, and there are all my childhood doll clothes, some embroidered with the doll name “Tiny Tears.” Open another box, and there are the “Mother and Daughter” matching dresses cross-stitched by the hand of my maternal grandmother. A hard-sided “mystery suitcase” reveals every “fancy” childhood dress I ever wore, from christening all the way up to the prom dress, bought but still awaiting the invite.

Even disposing of the dozens of bottles of Mom’s medications, I find myself thinking back over the years, recollecting the evolution of each doctor’s visit, and how I came to know the intimate details of each medication, each dosage, when and why they were modified. Some days an hour or two is all I can do, as pain from my past overtakes me.

My christening outfit, 1954. Our bodies are so miraculous, aren’t they? To think I once fit in this. LOL!

“Mother and Daughter” dresses. My grandmother made them, complete with hand cross stitching around the hem and trim. Preserving in a photograph makes mementos easier to discard.

My Kewpie dolls, “Old Baby” and “New Baby,” wrapped up in a little box like a coffin, found in the top of Mom’s closet.

In later years, my Dad started a tradition of giving my Mom a “Knockout Rose” every Mother’s Day. Why was I so compelled to prune them when I likely won’t be here to see them bloom again? My dear cousin said it best, “It’s therapy.”

As I am going through the things Mom saved over the years, much I didn’t even remember, it’s opening one time capsule after another. I wonder…did she save these things because she loved them? Or did she save them because she couldn’t bear to destroy them? The ladder is certainly understandable.

My advice to my generation, those of us well into our “Golden Years,” I can’t stress this enough. Simplify your life. Rid yourself of keepsakes like crystal bowls and nick-knacks. Report cards to greeting cards. Not only will you free yourself, you will free those loved ones left behind to sort it out. Spare them the cloud of grief that gets stirred up with each drawer, each cabinet, each stuffed box or suitcase. I implore you…Do what you can now to lighten the load and free yourself as well as those left behind.

So now I am trying to plot a new course after feeling like I lost my anchor, my rudder, and half my sails in the storm. The compass is spinning, but at least I am still upright.

Here is the way I choose to remember my Mom. This was our last day out before she went into the hospital for surgery. She had just had her “perm” and was feeling quite spunky as she made the most of her frozen margarita. Cheers to a life well lived, Mom!

“When you lose a parent, it feels like a suitcase that you’ll be unpacking for the rest of your life.” ~P!NK

The Train from Ukraine

The poor blog is so far behind, I have lost the will to get it caught up. I visited 10 different countries between the months of August and November, and saw so many wonderful places that I don’t want to forget any of them. So one day, I hope to get my mojo back. Meanwhile, there is one that keeps nagging at me…the tenth country on my itinerary…Ukraine.

I am sickened by what is happening in Ukraine right now. Imagine the horror these poor people are undergoing, having to flee their homes in fear. Worse yet, having to leave their husbands, boyfriends, and sons behind to fight a senseless war to defend themselves and their homeland against a power-hungry thug gone mad. It’s no doubt terrifying. I think back to my own childhood, and I can still remember the practice drills of crawling under our desks during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Imagine what trauma those memories would hold if there had been bombs and bullets involved…bombs so destructive they are banned by 110 countries.

But there’s little we as onlookers can do to help. There are the usual worthy recipients of donations such as the Red Cross and the High Commission for Refugees. If you want to help, but are not sure where to contribute, CNN has compiled a list here. But also smaller causes such as Kviv Independent and José Andrés World Central Kitchen which I have personally supported.  Otherwise, posting on Facebook or changing my profile picture feels like “slactivism,” (taking a stand on social media, but doing nothing to support the cause in real life.) Still, the desire to share my brief encounter with Ukrainian people on my own tiny corner of the internet brings me back to the blog…

I visited Lviv, Ukraine on All Saints Day weekend, the last weekend of October this past fall via train from Krakow, Poland. I had been traveling throughout the European Union since August, and was running out of days on the 90 day visa necessary to visit within the Schengen Zone (the majority of the European Union countries.) I needed to leave the EU to stop the clock, as I was not yet ready to leave the continent.

I was having dinner with a former colleague and his partner in Estonia, when the topic came up of “What’s your favorite European city?” My response was “Paris!” but then I was accused of being a cliché. 😉 One of our friends began to talk about Lviv, Ukraine, just 43 miles from the Polish border. He said it was a UNESCO World Heritage site, and what “Old World Europe” used to be.

Since I was headed for Poland anyway, I decided I would take a side trip to Lviv with the intent on doing a bit of reconnaissance to see if it was a place I would like to stay put for a few days. After all, every day outside the Schengen Zone was one day longer I could stay in Europe.’

It’s not far from Krakow to Lviv, however getting there is a bit of a challenge. The two rail lines are different gauge, and if you take the train all the way through, one must wait while the trains under-carriages are switched out, which can take eight hours. By changing trains in Przemyśl, Poland near the border (where refugees are currently seeking safe shelter and Chef José Andrés is helping feed the masses) it only takes about four hours.

I only stayed three days in Lviv.  By this time, the COVID Delta variant was surging, and I was starting to feel like I was pressing my luck. I had become accustomed to vaccination certificates being required to enter restaurants and events, but this check was not in place in Lviv, nor was mask compliance mandated. Though I found the city to be beautiful, I was becoming weary of worrying about the virus, even taking to holding my breath as I met passersby on the street. As the scale tipped from pleasure to paranoia, I decided to return to Poland where the mandates were more heavily enforced.

I feel compelled to share some photos of Lviv, now one of the main escape routes for refugees fleeing from Ukraine. While I typically strive to capture pictures without people passing through, I now look at these photos again after the Russian invasion, and it’s the people I see. Innocent people, going about their normal lives, celebrating a three day weekend marking All Saints Day, drinking, laughing, and enjoying the company of friends.

The beautiful Lviv train station where CNN’s Erin Burnett stood broadcasting was the exact spot where I waited for my brief, air conditioned train ride back to Poland. News footage now shows 10 children wedged into a single berth where I, being the privileged American that I am, booked a First Class seat, just for “a little extra room” just four short months ago.

It’s difficult to imagine what these people are going through now.  Even more difficult to imagine what their future holds at the hands of one man gone so mad as to put the whole of humanity on alert…

Lviv railway is one of the oldest in Ukraine. The first train arrived in Lviv on 4 November 1861. The station was built in 1904, and was considered one of the best in Europe from both the architectural and the technical aspects.

My room in the lovely Saint Feder Boutique Hotel.

My room rate included breakfast, served in this elegant dining room at the top of the hotel with this wonderful view.

One of the small bars serving Pyana Vishnya (aka Drunk Cherry) Lviv’s traditional cherry liquor, Good for the throat. 😉

Lviv has many small, unique cafes lining the pedestrian streets.

A mural in the old Jewish Quarter. I wish I knew the story behind it.

Lots of pedestrian only lanes that wind through the historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Mural on the old brick wall is map of the Kingdom of Galicia, part of the Habsburg Empire that Lviv (along with Krakow and Przemysl, Poland) were a part. Names are written in Cyrillic alphabet.

There are many passageways in Old Town Lviv, all decorated with old world style murals and modern-day graffiti.

Most of the writing in Lviv is in the Cyrillic alphabet, but some of the buildings such as the top of the Museum of Ethnography and Crafts, you will see written in Polish, “Galicyjska Kasa Oszczędnościowa” (“Galician Savings Bank.”)

Lviv is known as a centre of art, literature, music and theatre with more than 100 festivals annually, 60 museums, and 10 theatres.

All these people are lined up, waiting for the Opera House doors to open. I stopped to ask one man what opera was playing. He said he did not care, he just wanted to go to the opera!

It doesn’t take long to be charmed by the old town.

I regret not having gone for a ride in this taxi. 😉

St. George’s Cathedral, a baroque-rococo cathedral constructed between 1744-1760 on a hill overlooking the city.

The interior of St George’s church is magnificent.

One of the main reasons to visit Lviv is the beautiful architecture. This example is the Church of Transfiguration, built between 1703 and 1731.

This church has a beautiful Baroque interior.

Traditional folk costumes sold in the square.

Lviv also has its share of some pretty unique street performers.

Market (Rynok) Square

The market square is a busy hub of the old town.

In the 13th and early 14th centuries, Lviv was a wooden city, except for its several stone churches.

The tram system is extensive throughout the city.

The Cyrillic alphabet makes it challenging to tell if it’s a cafe, bar, or coffee shop.

Lots of alleyways to explore.

The Armenian church was built during the 16th-17th century. The interior is beautifully painted with wall murals.

Hotel George, the oldest hotel in Lviv, opened in 1901. Lots of important people have stayed here. I wonder if this is where Anderson Cooper is staying.

An outdoor cafe in the Old Jewish Quarter.

So many beautiful churches, I lost track…

All have equally stunning interiors as exteriors.

While my thoughts turn to the people of Ukraine at this impossible time, I also pray for the preservation of the beauty of the historical old city of Lviv.

“No one in the world will forgive you for the murder of peaceful Ukrainian people. This is Ukraine. This is Europe. This is the year 2022” ~ President Volodymyr Zelensky

Land Ho, Denmark!

Thanks to all for the kind holiday wishes. It feels good to have the holidays behind me for another year. It doesn’t feel so good to be facing more reports of “unprecedented.” Happy to have you follow along as I delve back into my autumn ramble through Europe, which believe it or not, now in the face of Omicron, seems like a simpler time. Hope you are all healthy and warm…Now back in time to September, making first landfall in Denmark!

After two nights at sea, the Smyril Line Ferry from the Faroe Islands made landfall at the seaport town of Hirtshals at the top of the Jutland peninsula in northern Denmark…not exactly a tourist Mecca! Continue reading

I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.

Happy New Year! I have moved up from the warmth of the sunny beach to the cool high desert nights of San Miguel de Allende, a place that feels like a “winter home.” I’ve lost track of how many New Years Eves I have spent in San Miguel, but I am pretty sure I am nearing the double digits, if not there already. It feels good to be back again, after having missed the last two holiday seasons, 2019 due to my Sudan/Ethiopia trip, and 2020 due to…well…you know.

In addition to the beautiful spring-like weather in San Miguel, one of my favorite traditions is the New Years Eve celebration in the Jardin, the main tree-filled square. It’s Continue reading

And So This is Christmas…

Hopefully I will get back to my catch-up posts on Denmark in time for a little holiday “hygge.” (Def: Danish word for a mood of coziness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment.)  But I didn’t want the holiday season to slip by without taking a “real time” moment to wish each of my kind readers, dear friends and family, and supporters of this blog the Merriest of Christmases. Let’s all put our collective hopes together for a return to normalcy before another COVID Christmas 2022!

Hopefully John and Yoko were right in the “Happy Xmas” song released fifty years ago in 1971 when they penned the lyrics, “War is over if you want it.” Let the war on COVID Continue reading

Wrapping Up the Faroe Islands: No Time to Die

I could have easily written an entire blog post about each of my seven days in the Faroe Islands. Every day was filled with unique experiences and spectacular scenery. But this poor blog is so far behind, I am never going to get caught up at this rate, so I am going to hit the highlights of those experiences I most want to remember.  So please forgive me as I cram what should be about four or five different blog posts into one!

Driving through the Faroe Islands was an experience unlike I have had before. Once you head out to the smaller villages, the roads become one lane, often times with a Continue reading

Faroe Islands: The Many Moods of Mykines

While it’s possible to explore the Faroe Islands by making Torshavn a base for day trips, this would also mean spending a good bit of the day in the car, backtracking along the narrow, winding roads. My time in the Faroe Islands occurred over the last week of August and first of September. That far north, days begin to get shorter at a much more rapid pace than they do further south, so I didn’t want to spend precious daylight hours commuting back and forth. Instead, I decided to spread out my visit staying on a few different islands.

Travel by public transportation around the Faroes is sporadic and infrequent, so it’s really best to rent a car. For those who might be planning a visit, it’s essential to do this in advance, particularly during the summer months as there is a limited supply of rentals on the islands.

One of the top attractions in the Faroe Islands is the tiny island of Mykines, the Continue reading

The Faroe Islands: Culture, Conservation, and Controversy

The Faroe Islands unstitched me in so many ways. Not since my two months through Newfoundland and Labrador have I been so enchanted by the unique culture of a destination. Just gob smacking beauty at every remote turn. Hardly any COVID restrictions because there are hardly any COVID cases. Hardly any COVID cases because there are hardly any people. Hardly any traffic because there are hardly any towns. Hardly any roads because there are hardly any cars. While Iceland was a bucket list item left over from many years of making wish lists, the Faroe Islands was like discovering your favorite Danish pastry you had been waiting to savor had chocolate inside! Continue reading

Sailing Out of Seydisfjördur

This past summer when I booked my flight to Iceland, I wasn’t sure how long I would stay, or even if I would be returning from Reykjavik. My airline ticket would have been $400 one way, or $450 round trip. So while I originally intended to just book a one way ticket and see where I ended up, my pandemic paranoia got the better of me. What if all hell locked down, and I had to get out of there? Airfares would likely triple. So as an “insurance policy,” I bought a round trip ticket with the hopes that I didn’t have to use the return. It seemed like a worthwhile gamble either way.

When doing research on potential destinations once I left Iceland, the ferry kept popping up. How cool would that be to leave Iceland by ferry? Cruising out of the Continue reading

Iceland’s Golden Circle: Last but not Least?

Please forgive my lapse in completing the loop around Iceland on the Ring Road.  In real time, I stepped up my pace a bit while traveling as COVID cases have been on the rise again throughout Europe.  Doing research to stay in front of the rapidly changing border rules and restrictions has taken a bite out of my “screen time.”

Closing the loop on the clock face, my trip around Iceland’s Ring Road has finally come back around to where we started, near eight o’clock. But there is still one key attraction left to cover, the Golden Circle. This is by far Iceland’s most popular day trip. Not really Continue reading