Finding Home

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I was young. Really young. Married at 20, midway through my senior year at UCLA, planning a Big Trip soon after graduation. I looked forward to that trip with eager anticipation, eagerly awaiting a chance to Get Out, Get Away, Be On Our Own.

Actually, it was a bit more than a trip. It was a two-year commitment to live and work in a country far from our home in southern California, a two-year trek to a very different life, a very different place. I’ve written about it here (see the African Journey page up top to see those six posts) and I’ve mentioned it here and at other places around the web.

But I don’t think I’ve ever talked about what it was like to come home again, to find my way back to the familiar, to re-enter our larger family circles, this time as a new mom and a more thoughtful and experienced world traveler.

It was good. And it was hard.

It was good because I desperately wanted our brand new, 5-month-old daughter to know her grandparents and other extended family. It was good because we were eager to see where God would lead us next. It was good because we both come from loving, involved family systems and we had missed that. A lot.

It was hard for many of the same reasons. Going away for two years was one of the best gifts we ever gave our marriage. Both number-one children, each of us deeply infected with perfectionism and performance pressure, it was good for us to move very far away, where there were no family resources to rely on, where we would be forced to rely on one another and to make our way into a complex, new-to-us cultural venue — or two. Zambian and missionary cultures presented two very different sets of challenges. 

The first two months back found us in my parents’ small guest house — really my dad’s study in their backyard — with no bathroom and no kitchen. For two l o n g months, while we waited out the job search and began to resettle into 20th century American life. Overall, it was a good time, a rich reminder of the blessings that were ours because of the families in which we grew up.

But it’s always tough to move back in with your parents after you’ve left home, isn’t it? And my relationship with my mom has always been fraught with multiple levels of complexity. We love each other very much, but I gotta tell you, there is no one on this earth who can get under my skin like she can!

I began a lifelong battle with my weight while we lived there for those two months. All of my growing up life, my mother worried about how I looked. She had me taking diet pills in high school, sent me with cottage cheese for lunch, worried that I’d be both too tall and too heavy to get a man. 

And once we came home from Africa, beautiful new baby in tow, almost her first words to me were, “Gettin’ a little broad across the beam, aren’t you?”

And I had gained a few pounds with that baby. A few. But I look at those pictures now and I wonder — what in heck was she talking about?

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I’ve often wondered if my complicated relationship with food isn’t directly related to that kind of offhand, semi-snide comment from my mother. Mom’s fears about me took root and I responded in a strange and opposite way. I think maybe it was the only form of rebellion I could muster, because I was a very, VERY good girl while I lived in their home.

But once that baby was here — and another one less than two years later, and another one just 2.5 years after that? Well, let’s just say, something in me — both physiological and psychological — shifted, and I began piling on the pounds.

Eventually, my mom seemed to find peace with the ‘real me,’ and now, in her dementing years, she cannot stop telling me how wonderful I look, what a fine person I am, how proud she is of me.

And how jealous she is of me, too.

That last one has been a stunner for me, a slice of real-life cognitive dissonance that I haven’t yet fully internalized. We’ve been home for 45 years now — and I’m still finding my way.

Because coming home is hard to do. And finding home can take a lifetime. Emily Wierenga has written a brand-new memoir, releasing today, called, “Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look.” It’s a rich memoir, laced with poignant story-telling and honest reflection. She, too, traveled far to find out that home was right where she left it.

I encourage you to read this intriguing story, to reflect with Emily as she discovers that her parents, whom she never felt loved her very well, truly do love her, with all their hearts.

Described as a ‘travel memoir, this book is actually a beautiful story of two marriages, her own and her parents’. And the revelation that sang to me was this one: when her mom became so very ill that her father became a primary caregiver, Emily’s parents found one another in ways both new and beautiful.

Emily has said elsewhere that her parents’ changing marriage became the beautiful one that it now is because her sometimes acid-tongued mom began to submit herself to her husband’s caring leadership. But as I read it, it seemed so much more than that. I saw a couple blossoming into newness of love because they each submitted to the other, in the process discovering each other all over again.

Emily and Trenton go through a long and often difficult process of rediscovery as well. And there, too, what Emily describes is a lovely journey for each of them, as they both learn to love and submit, love and submit.

It’s a beautiful book, one I recommend to you for it’s lyrical prose and it’s heartfelt commitment to truth telling. I received an advanced reader’s copy of “Atlas Girl,” and am grateful to have read it and more than happy to review it. Reading it prompts a lot of personal reflection on the meaning of home and what it means to find home after a long season of wandering. I encourage you to read it yourself. 

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Atlas Girl is more than a book; it’s a journey in which Emily Wierenga takes you by the hand and invites you into the broken places in her life. She shares the unexpected beauty God has created in those places as he’s made her heart whole again, and how he can do the same for you. If you’ve ever been hurt or gone through a hard time, this book will give you hope and a new understanding of God’s love for you.” ~ Holley Gerth, bestselling author of You’re Already Amazing

“The best memoirs combine the storytelling elements of a novel–smart pacing, tactile details, people you care about–with the deep insights and spiritual takeaway of great nonfiction. Emily Wierenga deftly serves up that rich blend in Atlas Girl, a nonlinear, wholly moving account of her life’s journey so far. Her honesty is raw, real. Her faith is hard-won. And when it finally pours out, her love–oh, her love soars off the page and makes a nest in our hearts. Brilliant and beautiful.”~ Liz Curtis Higgs, bestselling author of Bad Girls of the Bible: And What We Can Learn from Them

“This isn’t just a book, this is a journey. Of grief and wonder, loss and gain. Emily tells a world-spanning story that this world needs in Atlas Girl!” ~ Jon AcuffNew York Times bestselling author ofStart and Stuff Christians Like

Vacating the Premises: Reflections on Getting Away from It All

Linking with the fine people at The High Calling for their week on vacation reflections. . .

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 Oh, yeah, this was a LONG time ago. One of our almost-annual treks to Mammoth Lakes in the eastern Sierras to stay with my husband’s extended family and fish, play board games, hike to town, enjoy the beauty.

Many years ago, I began a bi-monthly gathering for women just behind me in the mothering cycle, most of whom had brand new babies and maybe a toddler or two. At some point during those five years, I was asked a good question:

What one thing would you recommend we do to encourage the building of a cohesive and committed family unit?

My response surprised a few, I think. It wasn’t particularly ‘spiritual’ in nature. I did not recommend a regular family worship time, though I believe that is a fine idea for many families. I did not recommend regular church attendance, though that, too, is great to do. I came close to saying this: “Find a way to offer service together as often as you can,” because I believe that is an essential ingredient. And service can look like a lot of things, beginning with the practice of hospitality in your own home.

No, I didn’t say any of those things. Instead, this is what I said:

Find a way to get away every single year. Make traveling as a family a priority, no matter what that looks like for you. 

And I stand by those words. I believe there is nothing better that we can do for our children, for our spouses or for ourselves than to get a glimpse of God’s greater world, to tickle our toes under the sheets in a place that is new to us, to look at the wonders of nature, the complexities of city life, or the remarkable diversity at play in human culture.

So if I had to pick one such getaway and call it ‘the best,’ I would hesitate. A lot. Why? Because every trip was the best. The best we could do for that year, the best destination for us at that point in time, the best. True, some were better than others. But even the rough ones have made for great storytelling. So maybe I’ll string a few of those less-than stellar ones together in a short list and leave it at that.

The year we rented a trailer, sight unseen, saw it coming toward us over the freeway overpass which went directly over our chosen trailer park and realized that FIVE of us would be cramped into 14 feet for a full week And one of us was 14-months-old and getting an ear infection. 

The year we pulled a rented tent trailer, not realizing our station wagon didn’t have a hearty enough transmission to get us there and back. 

The year we put camping gear on top of our car and never took it off because it rained every single day for 3000 miles of National Park trekking.

The time we crept to a motel from our soggy tent at 5:00 a.m., trenches and tarps having totally failed to keep the deluge at bay.

The time I backed our rented car into an unseen cement post below the van’s back window. Thank goodness we bought insurance that trip. 

Our 30th anniversary trip to Italy which was part fiasco and part triumph, involving a lost wedding diamond, and a couple of miraculous discoveries. (A story told at another website earlier this month.)

And, of course, no list of mine would be complete without this one. The two times early in our married life when we took a camping trip without the poles for our tent. True, it was two different tents on two different continents, but still. Twice?

Yes, twice.

 

12 Things I Learned in August

That Emily Freeman, such a talented and fun lady. She started a meme a couple of months ago that I’ve been dying to try, so this is my first entry for the link that goes up tomorrow. August started so very well and is ending . . . not so much.

Most of these pictures are from item #2 on this list, except for the wedding picture, the stained glass church window from Hanalei, Kauai, and the last 2 miscellaneous shots from the same paradise. 

1. A personal calendar is truly only effective if you LOOK AT IT. (The editors at A Deeper Story/Deeper Family are very kind people, who forgave my forgetfulness and inattention, even providing space for an essay written very late indeed. Thank you, Megan Tietz!)

2. Playing miniature golf in Kilauea, Kauai is a whole lot more fun than playing miniature golf almost anywhere else on planet earth. Yowza, it was beautiful. Who knew you could combine a mini-golf course with a botanical garden and SCORE with both.

3. Saying good-bye to paradise gets harder to do each time I do it. For the first time I can ever remember, I did not want to come home from vacation. Sigh.

4. Getting airline seats early enough to secure the 2-seats-by-the-emergency-exit-in-a-3-seat-section saves the day. Literally.

5. It is possible to undo 4 weeks of restful vacation time with 9 medical visits during the first 10 days you’re back home. NINE, people. Nine.

6. Making slight adjustments in the medications of a 92-year-old dementia patient can make a large difference in her happiness and your own.

7. Discovering that 27 adults in your congregation of about 300 people are willing to come to quarterly meetings in support of your children’s and student ministries team is one of the single most heartening things you can discover about your community. Wow.

8. Rediscovering that meeting with people for spiritual direction is a privilege, a joy and a challenge, all rolled up into one, helps soothe the trials and tribulations of re-entry. I met with my five directees this year within hours (well, really, it was days) of returning home and each one of them is a gift in my life.

9. Seeing the daughter of a dear friend and former colleague marry a good man – outdoors and in a park, no less – provides nourishment for the soul that lasts a long time.  (And the actual meal was delish, as well.) Also? Cowboy boots look grand with sassy coral-colored bridesmaids’ dresses!

10. If  you sit with someone for a Google+ chat, said chat can be videotaped and PUT ON FACEBOOK. Who knew?? Good thing I love Deidra Riggs, because she’s the one who put us out there. It was a privilege to talk with these four women about a film that touches on so much important stuff. (Lee Daniels’ The Butler)

11. Having dinner with all your children and all your grandchildren (including the ‘big boys’ who are now in college) is the best reward ever for anything. Such great people.

12. The Telluride Film Festival is a BIG DEAL and they keep their schedule tightly under wraps. But . . . I have a copy of it on my computer because. . . TA DA!!! . . . my #1 grandson got the film he was the cinematographer for into the festival! This is good news, my friends. And this ‘student’ film? One of the best short dramas I’ve ever seen anywhere. It is that good. (And it is featured Saturday and Sunday morning at the festival. YES!)

All in all, August has been a good month, despite all the medical crap in and around everything else. Every single test I had came back just fine – and there were a heckuva lot of those suckers. Thanks be to God – and to those vigilant doctors, too.

Couldn’t find a button of any kind, so just click here to jump over to Emily’s place and see that grand collection of posts all about what we learned in August.

What I Did Yesterday: A Photo Essay

If you know me very well, you quickly become aware
that I am a mass of contradictions.
One minute, calm and self-confident,
the next minute, a mess of insecurities and fears

I’m working on it, but somehow perfection eludes me.

Case in point —
I live in fear that something I say or do
will embarrass my children.
Some days, this fear stays quiet
and seems to be fast asleep,
hiding comfortably under
a bushel basket of busyness.

Other days, however,
like these days — right now —
when I am living without a schedule,
without deadlines,
without commitments.
Well, on those days,
that fear gets loud and snarly.

We are vacationing at the same time as two of our three kids.
We’re not exactly vacationing together,
but we’re staying in close proximity and doing things
together from time to time.

Yesterday the whole kit and kaboodle of them
(one kid/wife/one of their two kids, one kid/husband/three kids,
one kid’s spouse’s parents (who NEVER embarrass their children),
one kid’s friend’s family of 5 . . .
if you’re counting, that makes a group of 15 so far)
decided to take a snorkel tour up the Napali Coast.

They invited me to go along,
and I said, YES, surprising us all.

Four hours long, beauty that stops the heart,
a chance to swim with tropical fish,
and a big old turkey sandwich and cold guava juice
to finish the day.
Oh, yes. And a one hour return ride
through the afternoon swells,
directly into the wind.

My husband gets seasick,
so he kept the 3-year-old and they had a ball.
I carefully sun-screened my entire body,
wore one of Dick’s t-shirts over my suit,
packed (as usual) more stuff than I’d need
and quietly clomped my way down the stairs
to join the crew.

So there’s this piece:
I have two bad knees
and a recently flaring achilles tendonitis.
Oh, and I’m old and a scaredy-cat.
So the opportunities for
being awkward, slow, and
so-much-less-than —
well, they abounded.
Yes, they did.
They ABOUNDED. 

But, I went anyhow.

And I am so very glad I did.

Getting there required:
driving down the hill from our condo
to the town of Hanalei,
parking behind the garbage container of a seafood restaurant;
(not the ideal aroma before a sea voyage of any kind);
waiting to sign in and get a waterproof bag for our stuff;
waiting four times for a 12-passenger van to shuttle
50 people to two 25-passenger boats;
riding said van to the river that flows into the bay;
then walking through knee-deep water
to board a six-passenger dinghy

which would take us out to the boat.

I, of course, was in the very last dinghy.

On board, I sat next to someone I did not know.
And out of all the towns, and all the rivers,
and all the boats in all the world,
I sat next to a woman who,
when I asked where she was from,

said to me: “Santa Barbara. Well, actually, Carpinteria.”
“Oh,” I said, “my kids are from there,”
pointing across the aisle,
“and my DIL practices medicine in Carp.”
“Omigosh,” she hollered.
“That’s my most excellent doctor right there.”

So SHE took that embarrassing moment I was so afraid of,
and captured it all for herself.
YIPPEE!!

The trip up the coast was magical;
there is no other word for it.

The captain set a leisurely pace,
stopping to look at caves,

waterfalls,
dolphins, hikers, kayakers
and green, green valleys.


At one time, about 3000 Hawaiians lived and fished
in these valleys, leaving only
when they needed medical attention
because of infections brought by explorers and traders.

When you look up these cliffs, you cannot imagine
how anyone ever lived here.
In the winter months,


40-foot waves hit these walls with such force,
they leave permanent scars of white calcium
and red-dirt run-off.

Parts of the Pali are open to campers,
with permits,
but the trail is rated a 9 out of 10 for difficulty,
and is often slick, muddy and very, very narrow.

If I were 40 years younger and a whole lot fitter,
kayaking to the first valley might be on my list.
(I say ‘might’.) But hiking it? Not a chance.
 
After we got to our snorkeling spot,
at the very end of the northern tip of the island,

I waited and was nearly the last person into the water.
Once all my children and their children
were safely looking down into the water through their masks,
I oh-so-gracefully,
slid myself over the side of the boat
and  plunged into the warm Pacific.

Maybe someday, I’ll have a photo from
my son-in-law’s underwater camera to
add to this story,
but for now, you’ll have to take my word for it:

God is a genius.
A GENIUS, I tell you.
Coral of all sizes, types and color,
tiny fish, mid-sized fish
and one midling sea turtle
yes, a real live sea turtle,
the sight of which made me say
through my snorkel,
“this is so cool, so cool, so cool.”
(So glad none of my kids can hear me through that snorkel.)

The trip home was. . .  how shall I say it?

Strenuous.


But  you know what?

It was tremendous fun.
We got bounced and bumped and WET.
But we also saw a pod of about 30 spinner dolphins,
three of whom jumped the wake of our boat.

Sittin’ on the bay, waitin’ for the dinghy to go home.

And that night, we all ate together, saw the best sunset yet,
and enjoyed watching some neighbors
sail paper lanterns,
lit with specially coated, biodegradable wicks,
while all the children around sang
that song from “Tangled.”

Magical.
That’s the word for the entire day.

And I didn’t embarrass my kids.

There was that one time I laughed a little too loudly, 

but they’re pretty much used to that.

And there was the fact that I cannot, in any way, shape or form,
manage to straddle a picnic table that’s low to the ground.
Other than that, I think I made it through
and lived to tell about it.
I’m glad I chose adventure
over my fears and insecurities.

And I loved every minute of it.
It was nearly completely dark, so this is very blurry, but I loved that lantern against the colors of the sunset.
It’s Monday, so I’m joining this one with Laura, Jennifer and Michelle, because even though it happened on Friday rather than Sunday, that snorkeling was the most wonderful worship experience in a long while.

 

The Welcoming Sound of Vowels: A Photo Essay

There was just a small spot of light on the pew, the one just below the open window.
The window made of green sea foam glass,
through which the strong Hawaiian sun filters itself into softness,
becomes invitation.
The breeze welcomed us to worship as the service began,
offering gentle reminders of the wonders outside the building
as we enjoyed the simpler ones within.

We’ve been to this place before, five years ago,
and remembered the gentle, sometimes befuddled, kahu (pastor).
He was sitting in the tiny choir loft
as we walked into this beautiful old wooden building,
the one so often featured on postcards and travel brochures;
he was pulling notes together,
readying himself to lead.

But Sunday morning is not a time for postcards,
and there is no paragraph about what happens here in any brochure I’ve ever seen.

Sometimes we need reminders that real people live in this place, this paradise.
Real people, with jobs and families, worries and hopes and dreams.
To sit with them, to sing and pray and listen,
to watch the keiki (children) hurry to the front to meet with the kahu
and then make a quick exit to the open-air Mission Hall for music and stories;
to hear the sweet sound of ukeleles and Hawaiian voices during the offertory;
to watch the graceful hands and hips of two middle-aged women
offering a hula at the same time . . .

All of this reminds us of how much we share even though the details may differ.

The sermon was not exactly a sermon,
at least not a sermon using the seminary definition of same.
No biblical exegesis, no story-telling.
Rather, a collection of verses around a theme,
a series of quotes found online,
a bit of stumbling here and there in the delivery.

But you know what?

It was a wonderful theme, and some of the quotes were funny and memorable.
And the pastor was sincere and kind.

“Show proper respect to everyone . . . ” I Peter 2:17 = guiding verse.

And these were the 5 main points:

When you speak, be tactful not just truthful.
When you are served, be understanding and not demanding.
When you disagree, be gentle and not judgmental.
When you share your faith, be respectful, not rejecting.
When people are rude to you, respond politely.

And these were some prime quotes for each point:

“Being tactful is making people feel at home when you wish they were at home.”
“Why are we most disrespectful to the people we’re closest to, our families?”
“We are not morally superior to anyone.”
“Righteousness does not equal rudeness.”
“Don’t be a blowtorch with your faith witness, all you’re asked to be is a light.” 

No, it was not the intellectual challenge that we’re used to,
that we enjoy on Sundays in Santa Barbara.

But here’s the thing:
the pastor knew his people,
and the people knew their pastor;
every person in that room was glad to be there,
every person in that room was friendly,
every person in that room exuded gentleness of spirit,
thoughtfulness before speaking,
and a deep gratitude for the presence of visitors.
Out of a worshipping congregation of about 120,
approximately 25 were 1st time visitors —
and every one of them got a handmade flower lei.

And over and around everything,
from the printed bulletin,
to the unison prayers,
to every song sung but one,
there was the soothing sound of this language,
this mellifluous, lilting language,
these words composed of so many vowels.
Only 8 consonants and each one must be followed by a vowel
or a double vowel.
Something about hearing it is soothing, welcoming.

 Aloha is more than a word in this part of the world.
It is a way of life,
and we are grateful for it.

For the first time in a long while, happy to be joining with Michelle and Laura:

5 Minute Friday: In Between

It’s that time again — linking up with Lisa-Jo Baker and her incredible blogging community to write for 5 minutes, without editing. It’s always intriguing to see what comes when you let the fingers loose!

Five Minute Friday

Prompt: In Between

GO

We’re right there again, aren’t we?

In the middle, in between.

For most of our marriage, that’s where we’ve been — married younger than many of our friends, traveling far from home during our earliest years together, having children almost immediately.

We were the couple with the kids. . . all the kids . . . so close together.

And then, two decades later, we were the couple with the grandkids. And they just kept coming, didn’t they? A 20 year age span and we love ’em all.

But now. . .

. . . but now. . . we’ve got these aging mamas, both of them frail and forgetful. Confused — one combative, one paranoid — both lost to us in so many ways.

And here we are . . . in between.

In between a rock and a hard place a lot of the time and getting older by the minute our own selves. How do we wisely and compassionately divvy ourselves up? How do we best love our moms AND our grandkids? And somehow, also care for ourselves and do those things we’ve waited a lifetime to do?

Very carefully, it seems. Planning vacations long in advance, lining up family members to pay visits to 90-year-old grandmoms and great grandmoms, trying to cover every base.

And in between, saying ‘thank you, thank you, thank you’ for the riches that our ours, trying never to let discouragement win, asking for grace to find the beauty in the midst of the broken, the happy truth that we’re both still here, relatively healthy and enjoying the wherewithal to do the things we are able to do.

Even if spontaneity isn’t always easy!!

STOP

On vacation in May (and going again in July!). We’re heading into the last leg here and trying to do it well. 

The Gift of Travel — Part 10: Prague Views & Re-Entry — A Photo Essay

Before we left home, we purchased one optional tour
and it was scheduled for our last day in Prague.
With that tour, we had lunch, enjoyed a spectacular 25 minute concert,
and enjoyed the museum-quality collections of the
Lobkowicz family at their personal palace
located on the grounds of the large
castle on the hill.

We had gorgeous weather that day and this palace
provided views of the city that were breathtaking.

To re-trace our two-week trip, you can click through
to all parts of it here:

Part 1 is here,
part 2 here,
part 3 is right here, friends,
part 4, here,
part 5, here,
part 6, here,
part 7 is just a click away,
part 8, here,
and part 9, here. 

At the end of day 2, we walked down from the fortress/castle to the trolley,
and enjoyed the views from atop the hill and through
the trolley windows as we headed back to the hotel,
and then enjoyed a fine dinner at The Imperial Cafe,
with its glorious tile work on all surfaces.

On day 2, we also had lunch in this quiet cafe we found off to the side in the castle complex.
The food was so-so – but the views?
Amazing.

Trolley views!!

Loved the reflection of the sky on our hotel as we returned to it at the end of
exploring day 2.

Dinner that night and below, lunch the next day at the Lobkowicz palace.

This small room was where we ate ‘traditional Czech goulash & dumplings.’
You’ll see a photo of it below the ones of the view from the window of that room.

It almost looks like a different city from the hazy view of the day before.

The menu and the host – who grew up in Boston. When the wall came down,
his dad sent him to Europe with his savings – not enough – but a start.
They gradually have recovered many of their homes and possessions,
but live in a 1-bathroom rented apartment
and offer these special tours to try and make their treasures
available to the public. It was outstanding.
They own two original manuscript copies of Beethoven symphonies,
and a hand annotated script of Handel’s Messiah by Mozart
when he re-orchestrated it.
Also lovely artwork and a fascinating family story.

The best view of the Charles bridge that we had while there,
courtesy of our telephoto lens.

And the old Town Hall from miles away.

The dumplings look like plain old white bread to us.

On our way to the concert, admiring the ceilings and the view from
one floor further up.

Outstanding music – violin/cello/piano.

Private chapel.

I loved the concert room after it was all over – the light was just right.

Our last night we walked to a different MacDonald’s
and had TWO burgers and ice cream —
perfect way to end our time on the night we had to PACK.

Driving to the airport (courtesy of Viking),
we enjoyed one last view of the hill where we spent most of our time in Prague.

Leaving Prague, some reminders of the beauties we’d enjoyed the previous two weeks:
Yellow rape-seed fields, charming villages, shifting clouds and sun.

And landing in Zurich 90 minutes later, we saw similar views. . . through rain.

A two-hour layover, with only our backpacks to worry about. Going home, we checked those bags we’d carried with us from LA.

It was wet out!

Saying good-bye to Europe.

A glimpse of Greenland.

The TV screen that was in my lap for 12 hours while the guy in front of me kept
his seat fully reclined the entire trip. Ugh.

Coming into California.

And into Los Angeles.

These two books (gifts from our daughter) were terrific.
We highly recommend the Top Ten books for any travel.

 Here’s a postcard of that diamond I talked about in the post about Dresden.

And the downright gaudy toy-like setting August the Strong had in his collection.

And last, but not least, a 3 foot high carved piece of ivory, also in August’s collection.

Our son’s family came for a cook-out over the weekend of our return,
and the girls enjoyed the puppets we bought them in the Prague castle,
a charming toy shopped carved out of the rock.

Within 10 days, we were swept up into lovely family celebrations,
like Joel’s graduation from middle school and our son’s
and 2 grandsons’ birthdays.

Lisa, Joel and Karl prepared a gorgeous yard/house and table for
about 60 friends and family to enjoy as we celebrated everyone.

Traveling is truly a gift.
But home is an even greater one.
We are grateful for all of it!!

The Gift of Travel — Part 9: Prague! A Photo Essay

You know what?
This will probably be the next to the last post in this series.
Amazing! I can imagine that you are relieved.

You will see a lot of church stuff in this post, especially
windows – both stained and painted glass —
from day 2 in Prague. Some pretty incredible whole-city views
will show up in the next one, those views from day 3.
SO glad we opted for that extension!!

If you really want to see the whole series,
here’s what you do:

Find Number 1 here,
number 2 here,
number 3 here,
number 4 here,
number 5 here,
number 6 here,
number 7 here,
and – whew!! – number 8 here. 

The heat broke with a rainstorm during the night
and our 2nd day in Prague dawned bright and cool.
We asked directions to the castle complex, high on the hill,
and after a bit of a struggle to get a day pass,
we successfully rode the trolley —
and made a transfer!! —
and e v e r y t h i n g looked completely different
up there on that hill.

 

Nobody hanging on the guard box.

Hardly anyone in the square!

Easy line of sight to the noon guard change.

And time and space to really explore this vast cathedral
with my camera.
It costs to tour this place.
And it costs extra to take photos.
Dick opted to sit outside and wait,
and I just took my time and slowly made the large circle
around, peeking into the chapels,
marveling at the gaudiness of a local saint’s coffin and surrounding
silver angels, admiring the open architecture of the Gothic period.

Just scroll through and imagine you, too, are walking the
big circle that is the Cathedral of St. Vitus.

This was my favorite non-window piece of art in the whole place.

And that last look at Prague will also contain leaving and re-entry photos.

The Gift of Travel — Part 8: The Czech Republic — A Photo Essay

Somewhere soon after leaving Bad Spandau, we crossed the border to
The Czech Republic, heading for the small town of Litomerice.
This post will feature that town and our introduction to Prague,
after we left the ship.
We are so grateful that we opted for the 3-day extension,
because if our only impression of that great city had been based
on the one day connected to the cruise . . .
well, I’ll let you be the judge if that was the best impression
to be had from Prague!

You can find all the parts of this series
by clicking on the links below:

Part 1 is here,
part 2 here,
part 3 on this line,
part 4 will be found here,
part 5 clicks over from here,
part 6 from here,
and part 7 . . . well, it’s right here. 

It rained most of that morning, so we stayed in and watched the water sliding
down the window.
We also visited several locks for the first time on this river.
Those are interesting but sometimes tedious,
as you wait for the boat to rise or fall.

It is necessary to vacate your room sometime in the morning to
allow the housekeeping staff to come in and straighten
things, replace your towels as needed,
and leave you humorous small gifts on your bed.

Just as we arrived in Litomerice, the clouds parted,
and we were able to walk all around this interesting Czech town.
First up the hill to the church.

Another passenger told us that she had read that about 65% of the country is atheist.
That was a stunning number to hear!
But as I watched this tour guide, and the one in Prague,
treat the churches we visited with a certain amount of
dismissive disdain, I could believe it.
I wonder what the difference is between this land
and a place like Poland, where nearly 100% of the people coming
out from under the yoke of Communism are pretty devout Catholics.
I’m thinking it must have something to do with the
vibrancy of the church at the time of occupation,
but who knows?

You know, these fancy pulpits are beautiful to look at,
but I cannot imagine preaching from one!
So separated from the congregation, and usually high above them.
That says a lot of things I’m not very comfortable with.

These beautiful peonies graced a side altar.
I loved the way they caught the sunlight.

Next, the town square. When my son looked at these pictures,
he immediately said, “You can tell you’re in the Czech Republic, can’t you, Mom?
See how different the spires are? They have those fine, pointed edges.”

I hadn’t really noticed. But now I see it in all these pictures!

Tours are really helpful in lots of ways.
Except for this one: having to stay connected to a group of
people when you really want to duck down a side street on your own.
Most of the time, we were quite content,
because the guides were excellent and we wanted to
learn from them.
But once in a while, that old rebellious nature of mine shows up.

I appreciated the fact that the Czechs themselves
erected this monument to a poet they loved.
Not a military leader (as all the Communist statues note), but a poet.
I like that.

Paintings and small sculptures above the doors
were the original house addresses in about the 18th century.

The clouds really celebrated our view for us, didn’t they?

I loved this zigzag staircase.

And this silvery tree in the park with the view.

And this goofy granddad on the horsey, too.

Next stop — not  a favorite: beer-tasting.
The Czechs love their home-grown beer,
and this rustic restaurant housed a micro-brewery.

They provided a tray of condiments and snacks,
and samples of 3 kinds of beer.
I believe they’re called pilsners rather than ales.
I took a Coke light, Dick sampled (barely) and I tasted.
I never learned to like anything alcoholic,
though I’ve tasted a few wines that almost made me a believer.
But it was fun to see this cellar and the
equipment that produces the beverages.

Back to the ship to rest and change for our last dinner aboard.

The entire crew was out to meet us as we went down to the dining room.
They did such a superb job of caring for all 107 of us.

The place settings were even more elegant than usual,
and the menu?
FAB.

Our table-mates were from the Coventry area of Britain —
almost half the passengers came from the British Isles.

The pastry chef was a red-headed German young man who was about 22.
And he just outdid himself every single day.
This platter was the post-dessert dessert.
STUFFED.

The next morning, I said farewell to my lovely rose,
which had lasted beautifully all week long,
and we hopscotched our way around the luggage
outside the doors.
All of it was loaded onto the busses and unloaded
into the hotel rooms by others.
This is a very nice feature of tours.
Very nice, indeed.

And we boarded the busses for the 40 minute drive from the Elbe River to the Moldau (in German) and the Hilton Hotel just above it.

Czech completely defeats me!

Good-bye, boat. Good-bye, Elbe.

Hello, Hilton.

Our rooms would not be ready for several hours,
so we had a brief break and climbed back on the busses
for a tour of Prague.

Slight problem.
It was the hottest day of the year so far — mid-80’s —
and everyone in the entire city decided to be out and about
to enjoy the beauty of the day.
Yowza, it was crowded!!

We drove across the river and up the hill to the palace/castle
(pictures of that place to come in the final couple of posts).
They have guards at every gate of the palace area, and they change on the hour,
with a whole big changing of the guard ceremony at noon.

So, imagine you’re in a group of about 40 amidst this throng,
and you’re trying to keep up with your guide,
who is in a very big hurry to keep to a certain timetable,
and you’d like to try and take a few pictures along the way.
Well, it wasn’t easy.

I did manage to get a few exteriors of St. Vitus’s Cathedral — enough to know I wanted to come back to this place — but she literally led us in one door and out the other.
I was lucky to get even one inside shot this day.

The photo series above was taken from the ‘golden side’ of the church.
Perhaps you can see why.
And it was here that we saw the most interesting tour group of the entire trip so far,
these travelers from Bavaria.

Apparently they keep cameras in those lederhosen and dirndls.
Who knew??

Everywhere, PEOPLE.

Trying to see the noon changing of the guard. Not terribly successful.

But I did manage to get this wrought iron and gilt detail.

We found a vantage point and shot a few city views.
But the heat caused quite a significant haze and it was tough to see much.

Next stop, the river.
We walked along the side of it for awhile, and through a lovely park to
get to the most famous bridge of all, the Charles.

Unfortunately, that place was the most crowded yet!
We were set loose to find lunch and then meet at the gate to the bridge.
Unfortunately, we had no Czech money yet,
but were assured that most people would accept euros or dollars or
credit cards, so we chose a delightful garden restaurant,
sat down, ordered and then thought to ask —
no, actually, they did not take anything but Czech crowns.
So we went to McDonald’s and split a burger.
And it was quite good.

The beautiful manhole covers continued across the border.

I thought it was sweet that this real baby wanted to pat the sculpted one,
part of a larger exhibit making a statement about the
dangers of technology.
Not sure I buy that warning —
babies will always be babies.

Thank God.

We saw small numbers of these padlocks on fence rails in other cities,
but this place took the cake!
An engaged couple puts one on to mark their engagement
and secure their eternal connection.
Cities are learning that it is cheaper to replace the entire
section of wrought iron than to manually remove all those locks.

This troll figure picture was shot through the rails of the padlock fence.
Apparently, trolls are big in Czech fairy tales.

This is the Beatles’ wall, where young Czech dissidents would write out lyrics from Beatles’ songs as a means of protest against the Communists.
Just standing near this wall could get you arrested in the good old days.

The garden we almost ate lunch in.

The entrance to the Charles Bridge.

And the street just behind the entrance. The MacDonald’s was at the top of this street.

I lifted my camera above my head to try and get a couple of pictures of the bridge without
hordes of people in the shot.

Next we walked across to the old town where we waited
for a particular clock to chime — supposedly the 12 apostles come out on the hour.

It was a lovely clock, but the apostles?
They were tough to see in the side windows.
Not sure it was worth standing in the heat,
but what the heck?
I preferred this view of the town hall towers across from the clock. 

I have looked at this picture about 10 times since I took it,
and it wasn’t until I posted it here that I noticed that the brickwork
pattern is different in each tower.
Go figure. 

The last part of our walk took us by this street vendor.
People stood at nearby tall tables, wolfing down chunks of this stuff.

The synagogue in the Jewish quarter — still in use, I believe.

And more pictures of Prague and
a final post about leaving Europe and returning home still to come.

The Gift of Travel — Part 7: Cruising Saxon Switzerland — A Photo Essay

This just may have been my favorite day of the entire cruise,
and that is saying something, because I LOVED the whole experience.
This is our 4th outing with Viking River Cruises.
We combined the first two — one from Normandy to Paris,
followed by another from just outside Paris to Avignon  —
eight years ago. And we did a two-week cruise four years ago,
from Amsterdam to Budapest.
This one was the smallest river, the smallest boat,
and we think — our favorite.
This day is one reason why.

You can find Part 1 of this journey here,
Part 2 here,
Part 3 here,
Part 4 here,
Part 5 here,
and Part 6 here.

The day began early and the sun was shining in between the clouds.
We sailed by a lovely, long castle that is now open to the public,
the first one we’ve seen that wasn’t perched high on a hill.

Then we began to enjoy this brand-new geography —
high cliffs, rocky outcroppings, lots of trees.
This is Saxon Switzerland,
a national park that straddles the border between
Germany and The Czech Republic.
(It is NOT Switzerland — apparently, in German, the word
for that country also means ‘wilderness.’)

We cruised for several hours, docked for a while
and then boarded busses, which we took BACK
to the area where we had seen people peering down on us
as we rode the river.

Amazing country, amazing natural wonder, amazing day.

I think this was my favorite bridge picture of the trip.

We enjoyed more interesting traveling partners
during this stretch than anywhere else.
A nice variety from boats to rafts to trains nearby.

And of course, the ever-changing natural wonders all around us.

A little windblown, but having a grand time.

See that bridge up there? Yeah, well, we’ll be standing on it pretty soon.

I mean, really — can you imagine a better way to enjoy this part of the world?

Up on the hill is the largest fort we’ve seen yet —
not much castle, but one mile of wall.

And a turret or two, too.

 One of many trains – all kinds, freight, people, new cars.

Coming round the bend to our port – Bad Schandau, a spa resort town with access
to the national park.

Loved seeing these bikers lined up to ferry across the river.

So, it was a nice enough day to have lunch on the top deck.

Pretty dang nice.

A ‘caravan’ park on the river’s edge.

Waitin’ for the laundry to dry. . .

And we loaded onto the busses to head into the park.

What the tour guide called a ‘meza’ (I think it’s the same as mesa?).

Just a particularly lovely field of rape-seed.

The Germans love horse-drawn carriages.

You know, I’d been walking on cobblestone streets without incident for over a week,
but here, just down the road from these horses, on asphalt,
I failed to look down and tripped over a grate, landing flat.
Dick broke my fall enough so that I wasn’t injured, just embarrassed as heck.

 The rocks from above.

Spotting the climbers with my telephoto lens.

And enjoying the views of the river from high up.

After descending over 100 steps to get to the bridge, we opted not to follow
even more steps further out.

That big fort from straight on, courtesy of the telephoto.

Looking back at the bridge we’d been standing on.

Love that backpack. Love that guy, too.

Looking at some of those 100+ steps on the way back up.

And rewarding ourselves for all that effort!

 And my favorite yellow-field shot of the trip.

And then we were off again. . . and almost done with the cruise.

We are now moving into the Czech Republic.

Next installment – Litomerice and early Prague pictures.


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