The Gift of Travel – Berlin, Part 2 – A Photo Essay

 This is the second in a series of what will be about 9-10 posts documenting and reflecting on our recent trip to eastern Europe. We spent 3 days each in Berlin and Prague and cruised the Elbe River between those two cities for 7 days.

You can read “Part One, Berlin Overview” here. . .

 We arrived in Berlin on a Thursday, slept for a few hours and then walked around the city on our own for several more. On Friday, we joined a bus tour provided by our tour company (Viking River Cruises) and scouted out areas we’d like to visit on Saturday. Our son and his wife had strongly recommended we visit Museum Island, especially the Pergamon Museum and we had spotted the Jewish Museum from our bus tour, so Saturday became. . . Museum Day.

We left the beauty of our local town square behind,

. . . said a fond farewell to those sweet lilac bushes, and walked the mile and a quarter to this imposing building.

The Jewish Museum of Berlin is one of the most intimidating and disorienting museums I have ever had the privilege to meander. It is intentionally so. Documenting the long history of Jews in Germany, the building is strange looking, both outside and inside. You enter through an old, traditionally styled building and then must traverse an underground tunnel to enter the museum proper, a building designed by architect Daniel Libeskind and opened in 2001.

The floors are strangely slanted, the windows are askew, there is even a ‘nothing’ space which cuts through all three floors.

 On the bottom floor, you walk into a room with nothing in it. Nothing. The walls rise three stories, the doors close and there is only the tiniest bit of light from the very top corner of the slanting space. It is deeply disturbing.

Outside, there is this collection of pillars, each built on cobblestones, leaning just slightly off center, with very limited space between them. They, too, rise high – at least two stories.

It is called the Garden of Exile. And it made me physically nauseous to explore.

To see the rest of the museum, you must climb three sets of stairs,
stairs that look like this . . .

. . . stairs that provide windows to the outside, but only in odd shapes and slits. From one of them, I looked down on the Garden of Exile and discovered the Russian silverberry bushes growing atop each pillar.

Trying to digest all the exhibits and simply experience the museum building itself requires enormous amounts of energy and concentration. We could have spent all day here, but knew we had more ground to cover.

One of the more interesting exhibits to me was the story of a 17th century woman who had a successful import/export business. Seeing the amount of traveling she did all over the continent of Europe and into parts of Russia was fascinating.

Something about this portrait captured the heartbreaking reality of so much of the story of Jewish people in Germany, and around the world. I found his expression haunting and moving. The one exhibit I regret not visiting (because we couldn’t find it!) was one called Fallen Leaves — 10,000 metal leaves strewn about the floor of the ‘voided space’ in the center of the museum, each with the names of victims of the holocaust. This exhibit is dedicated to all victims of war and violence and visitors are invited to walk on the leaves and listen to the sound of metal on metal as they do.

We walked out the back of the building to this interesting covered walkway, then enjoyed some of the architecture between the museum and the hotel, where we had a light lunch in our room of cheese/crackers/peanut butter/apples that we’d purchased at a local market.



 We were tired! So we took a cab over to Museum Island to visit the Pergamon. Even the cabdriver was unaware that they had closed the main entrance and that one of the MANY construction projects in the city was happening right there!

 We walked around to the back and entered through this lovely colonnade instead.

And this is what the museum is named for: the Pergamon Altar, dug up in Asia Minor in the 19th century and carted back to Germany, piece by piece. This humungous piece dates from about 200 years before Christ. The entire museum was literally built around it in the early 20th century.

 There are pieces missing, but overall, this exhibit is stunning. And sobering somehow. To build this required some pretty sophisticated engineering, don’t you think? We think we’re so smart – but wow, there’s been a lot of amazing stuff done over the centuries.

But here is the one that just got me! The Ishtar gate from the temple of Nebuchadnezzer in 575 BC. Made of glazed brick, with bas-relief pictures of royal and mythical animals, this thing was so big, I literally could not get an angle to shoot a picture. The gate itself is stunning, the side panels are gorgeous, and then there is the long hallway, marked by ‘the Processional Way’ — more of those cobalt glazed bricks and animals. Truly stunning.

 As an extra-added bonus, there was a temporary exhibit on the history of cities, with archeological finds from Uruk. This city of about 5000 souls dates from the mid 3000s BC. I mean, this is old stuff. And it comes from an ancient urban area.

A bill of lading – catch the date! And it is tiny – about 3 inches square. How did they ever get all that cunieform writing on there??

And, of course, there was jewelry. Lovely jewelry — gold and lapis lazuli. Women have loved wearing pretty stuff forever.
(And who knows, could have been some men wearing this, too, right?)

 Just as we walked out of the museum at 6:00 p.m., we heard the bells from the nearby cathedral, calling the faithful to evensong. Perfect timing.

 We arrived just as the service was beginning and photography was not encouraged, but I did get a shot of the cupola above the nave and of the front door after the service was over. It was about 45 minutes of scripture and music, almost all on the organ. And it was gorgeous. A gift, at the end of long, tiring and very good day.

We walked back to the hotel by Humboldt University. . .

 . . . and saw this stunning angelic figure as we did so.

 The photo below is the one that I put on the cover of Volume 1 (of 3)
of our picture books from this trip.

When I think of Berlin, I think of lots of things — activity, colorful architecture, museums and collections, new construction . . . and the river. The river is the heart of everything and wanders all around all things good to visit.
It’s a grand city and well worth any amount of time you can spend there;
we highly recommend it.

Next up – we begin our river cruise. I’l do that in about 5 posts, I think.
And then two posts on Prague.

The Gift of Travel – Berlin Overview – A Photo Essay

From the earliest days of our marriage, travel has been a high priority for us.
Eight months into this adventure we’ve shared, we climbed aboard a freighter
and spent 18 days on the Atlantic Ocean to begin our two years of life in Zambia.
Every year since then, we’ve tried to see something of this great world
we live in, and we have never regretted one moment of it.
(Well. . . there was that 2-week camping trip when the weather
never allowed us to set up the tent. . . but even that was fun!)

Since our 25th anniversary, we’ve tried to go to Europe about every five years,
and about 8 years ago, we discovered river cruising.

Now this is a grand way to see things!
At years 25, 30 and 35, we rented cars in England, Ireland and Italy
and, for the most part,
enjoyed exploring those lovely lands from the front seat.
But sleeping on a barge (a very large barge, but still. . . ),
viewing village and city life from the vantage point of the rivers that run
through them, unpacking only once,
and enjoying walking tours
in every port?


This trip took us from Berlin to Prague with three days
in each of those great cities on either end, and
seven days on the river between them, The Elegant Elbe.

We flew into Berlin early on the morning of May 9th, having left LAX at 7:00 a.m. the previous day. Our room was ready, even at 9:00 a.m.,
and we crashed for 5 hours,
grateful for every single amenity of the Hilton Berlin,
beginning with the upside down bear at the door —
the first of many such bears found all around the city.

Our hotel was located across the street from one of the most beautiful
squares in the entire city and
we enjoyed walking this neighborhood each day we were there.

We took a long walk that first afternoon, right down to
the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag, or parliament building.
Dick had been to this area 50 (!!) years ago as a college student,
just months after the Berlin Wall went up.
It was a joy to see this city wide open on this return visit.



Berlin’s river is not actually the Elbe, but the Spree, and it meanders
everywhere. We loved the bridges and the boats and the sound of water nearby.

This double wide row of bricks winds its way around Berlin,
a tangible reminder of the wall that once stood
between east and west.

 Fun touches of whimsy abound in this city,
from eyelashes on cars to silver painted street performers,
to wildly colored architecture, balloons in the park and wildflowers through the fence.

And speaking of flowers,
by some stroke of divine luck,
we arrived just in time for lilac season.
Oh my, they were gorgeous and filled long stretches of
city streets with their sweet fragrance.

 We dined alfresco each of the three nights we were on our own,
enjoying a few Berlin favorites (like weinerschnitzel and curry wurst)
and finishing each meal with a scoop of apricot gelato.

There were reminders of Germany’s hideous 20th century history here and there,
with this stark holocaust memorial the most prominent.
(We also toured the Jewish Museum – but more on that in the next piece in this series.)


Visiting this thoroughly modern and very prosperous city,
it was hard to imagine the horrors that were concocted here,
the cruelties and outright evil deeds that occurred during
the twelve years of the Third Reich.

This is a growing city, with new construction dotting the horizon everywhere.
People are friendly, conversant in English and very aware of
the history that haunts them.

This gorgeous chapel is built next to the bombed out ruins of
the cathedral (now under repair, but not being rebuilt.)
We ducked in here and were stunned by its beauty and simplicity.
That figure of the resurrected Christ visits my thoughts
and dreams a lot these days.

 Most of the wall has been broken into bits and sold as souvenirs,
but here and there are remnants.

 This is what the wall looks like now, rotting and slowly disappearing.
But along one stretch of the river, a large chunk
has been preserved, artists have been commissioned,
and the entire structure is covered with brightly
colored paintings and sayings.

I think both images are representative of Berlin in 2013 —
a city with a most definite past.
But also one that seems to have a vibrant present and bright future.

 There will be several more installments to this series over the next week or two; it was a wonderful trip and I’d like to share it with you as I’m able.

Ups & Downs, Ins & Outs – Riding the Coaster

Remember the old movie, “Parenthood?”
A recurrent theme in that story of growing up
was the comparison of life to a roller coaster —
and our need to follow the ups and downs,
the ins and outs,
to tolerate occasional queasiness and to
look for joy and beauty along the way.

I’m feeling those dips and swoops a lot lately,
often more than a little bit queasy from it all.
And I’m trying hard to look for the joy,
the small beauties that show up, if I have the eyes to see.

On my evening walk last Friday,
I almost missed this glory.
 The fading sunlight was hitting our neighbor’s blossoming tree at
exactly the right angle to make us gasp with delight.
Such a lovely, serendipitous moment of beauty as the weekend began.

 And these three sentinels glistened against the sky as I made my rounds,

 The next morning, I drove south to meet these three sentinels —
my mom on the left (91), her ‘baby’ sister in the middle (on her 89th birthday),
their brother on the right (90).

These three have been the heart of our family for over a decade now,
the last remaining members of the older generation.
Their mother died in 1997 at age 101, her sister eight years later at 102.
I doubt very much that these three will live that long;
all are showing signs of wear and tear, the ravages of age.
I lunched with my cousins while our parents shouted at one another
in a private dining room at my uncle’s assisted living residence.
They’re wearing ‘hearing aids’ constructed out of water bottles
and offered as a fun gift by my cousin’s kids.

It is hard to watch this process — my mom is the only one with dementia,
but the other two are dealing with much more serious physical issues than Mom is,
so who knows how long they’ll be with us?

When I got back home, 4/5ths of our middle daughter’s family
was here, ready to relax and enjoy the holiday weekend.
It’s been a while since we’ve spent extended time with these dear ones,
and we were so grateful for their presence,
for their happy and sometimes boisterous reminder of youth
and life and promise
as we deal with our aging moms.

We opted to skip church on Sunday (gasp!) and went out to breakfast instead.
Then we drove to the butterfly preserve north of our home.

 It was a gorgeous day, mid 60’s and sunny.
The trail meanders through eucalyptus groves and out onto
the bluffs just north of the UCSB campus — gloriously beautiful.

 The deep hanging clusters of monarch butterflies were not to be found this day,
perhaps because of the unseasonably warm weather.

What butterflies there were flitted all through the grove,
enjoying the sunlight.
They are such stunning creatures, these monarchs.
Brilliant orange and black,
making the long migration between Mexico and Canada every single year,
stopping all along the California coast to rest and re-group.

We followed the trail all the way out to the bluffs,
stripping jackets as we walked and gawking at the endless view
of water, sand, islands.

It is a good walk, with enough ups and downs to make it interesting
and even a tiny bit challenging in the full sun.
Kind of like life, I guess.

Turning away from the water yields a mountain view,
beautiful in its own right.
This stretch of coast is one of the last and longest undeveloped
expanses in our state and we love it.

We are blessed in our children and in our grandchildren,
and they are blessed in each other.
Even though we’ve ridden some pretty steep and scary curves together,
I’d say the ride has definitely been worth it.

It’s good to be reminded of that sweet and powerful truth
when the queasiness sets in, don’t you think?

Once Lyla helps me straighten out some formatting grinches, I’ll join this with Michelle, Jen, Laura and Ann:


Time Out… Archive-Diving, 2008

Written originally in the fall of 2008, right after the death of our son-in-law, I am once again diving into the draft archives as I prepare to move my blog after Christmas. This is a travel post and I’m saving it primarily for us, as a record of a fun getaway we put together during a particularly difficult time.

Both Dick and I have realized an ever-increasing sense of urgency about taking time out for a few days. A need to leave all things familiar and nest somewhere else together. It’s been quite a year. Enough trauma for a few lifetimes, it sometimes seems.

So after Sunday’s sermon (which was a sermon I needed to hear, and apparently a few others did as well), we went online and found a great deal at a Pismo motel we had never visited before. An ocean-front, two room, 2 bath suite for a great price.

Yes, it’s foggy in Pismo this time of year.
Yes, we already live in a beach community.

But we don’t live on the water and this place isn’t home, with its telephones, messes needing attention, and other assorted distractions – and that, for a little while at least, makes a huge difference.

So we drove up Sunday afternoon, had dinner at a quaint place where, if you like, they’ll throw an entire pot of 3 different kinds of shellfish, corn on the cob and roasted red potatoes all over your table for dinner. That was a little too much for us our first night away, so we settled for some fabulous homemade soups and seafood louie salads. Perfect.

The next day, after sleeping in a bit and enjoying what is euphemistically called a ‘continental’ breakfast at this lovely resort (it actually consists of a great deal more than that, including two waffle makers into which you pour a cup of batter, set the timer and enjoy), we got in the car for a little exploration.

I love to explore new places! Get in the car and drive, then get out of the car and walk. First we drove to the Pismo Pier, which we walked. (The top photo was taken from the pier, looking back toward our motel.)

Next, we went to Arroyo Grande – a charming member of the Five Cities here on the northern central coast. This is their ‘famous’ swinging bridge, which like everything else in the downtown area and environs, is exquisitely well-maintained and fun to see. After you cross the bridge, there is a small historical building site – with a schoolhouse, a Victorian home and a barn (all, only open on weekends, so no tours) plus a lovely town park with a regular River City bandstand in the middle.

They are currently tidying up their town for this weekend’s ‘world famous’ strawberry festival and we had a wonderful conversation with a woman, about my age, who was very happily painting pictures of strawberries on the store windows of the downtown area.

“How’d you get into this business?” I asked. “Well, 35 years ago, I was working for a bank and they knew I had an art degree. So they asked me to do some windows at the bank. I hadn’t a clue, but began to make friends in the sign industry and gradually, just built up my own little business. I’ve been doing it ever sense. It’s a great job – allowed me flexibility to raise my kids, takes me to all the surrounding little towns and I love being in the outdoors!”

The flowers in this small berg are beautiful, as you can see from these floribunda roses which were screaming out at us in front of the one-room schoolhouse. And soon, there will be new trees all down Branch Street, which is the main drag.

All in all, a very fun outing. We had a flyer for something called “Doc Bernstein’s Ice Cream Laboratory” which we found and entered with enthusiasm. They invent their own flavors and we each enjoyed two scoops as a finishing treat to our walkabout. As you can see, Dick LOVES ice cream.

Next, we decided to follow the road out to Lopez Lake, a spot we had often wondered about, but never visited. Lovely drive, but probably no return trip planned anytime soon. It’s another of California’s large reservoirs that are labeled lakes and allow boating and fishing but no swimming. A few nice campsites out there and this small deer, chomping away.

We ended the afternoon at the 10-plex movie theater, watching “The Soloist.” I had read such mixed reviews on this film that I was hesitant, at first. It is a bit too long and sometimes confusing to listen to – but I think in many ways, that was intentional. I love the director – Joe Wright (of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Atonement” fame) and I enjoy both Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx, so it was absolutely worthwhile just to see some of the interesting directorial choices and the acting chops of these two fine performers.

And it was deeply troubling, too. The condition of the homeless mentally ill in the city of Los Angeles, indeed, in all cities in our country, is simply devastating.

And there was a voice-over line at the end that just tore at my heart, especially in light of the sermon I had worked on last week. It went something like this. “Nathaniel is still sleeping indoors and he is still mentally ill. Some experts have told me that the simple act of having a friend for a year may actually change his brain chemistry enough to help him stabilize a little.”

Having a friend can change brain chemistry??? Who knew? I think perhaps Jesus understood this powerful truth when he told his disciples, “I have called you friends.”

I’m so glad I am enjoying the gift of a few days alone with my very best friend.

An African Journal – Post One: Beneath the Surface

With this post, I am beginning what I hope will be a series of reflections and rememberings about a formative part of my life and journey as a Jesus follower – the two years we spent living in Zambia in the 1960’s. As I’ve noted elsewhere on this blog, one of my primary purposes in writing here is to have a record for my grandchildren, most especially my two young granddaughters, a record that tells a little about who I am and how I got here. I so wish I had something like this from my own grandparents! I am deeply grateful to my grandson Joel Fischinger for scanning our 500 slides from that time so that I can access them for these pages.
The VW Kombi bus labored a bit as it climbed the hill just before the border crossing. Before us spread the great savannah of central Africa, dotted with trees and brush that were strange to our eyes, yet oddly reminiscent of our southern California home.
This label made us giggle. Yes, it was a BIG tree – a baobab tree.
 I look at these pictures and think, “We were such babies!” I was 21, he was 24.
“Look! What’s that?” I cried from the passenger seat.
“Honey, don’t tell me to look over there,” my new husband begged, with the beginnings of a quaver in his voice. “I can barely manage to keep this thing in the lane!”  After all, he was driving on the right side of the car and the wrong side of the road.
“Just slow down a little bit and look over there to the left,” I continued. “Do you see what I see?”
“Give me a sec,” he agreed, slowing the bus just a little. “Wow! What the heck is that?”
“Look, look, look! It’s a whole tribe of baboons! Slow down, oh, please! Slow down!”
We were too startled to pull out our tiny, square-format Kodak 126 camera when those baboons traipsed across the road in front of us. But here are two unrelated pictures of two different kinds of monkeys we saw at later dates.
And he did, mouth agape, startled to see an entire troupe of 50-60 monkeys serenely crossing the road right in front of us. Mamas carrying babies, larger males, young adults – the whole extended family was there – scampering, to be sure – but unafraid of us or our vehicle.
“Holey moley, honey! We are not in Kansas anymore!”
“You’re not kidding. I can’t believe it! Did that really just happen?”
We had traveled far to be in that van on a sunny Monday morning: California to Brooklyn by car, Brooklyn to Capetown by freighter, Capetown north through Rhodesia in a van to be shared with other missionaries, yet to be met.  We were on our way to Zambia, a land completely unknown to us, a land that would be our home for the next two years.
Married just 8 months before, we were young, idealistic and ready for adventure. It was the mid 1960’s and the escalating war in Vietnam brought deep soul-searching for many men of draft-able age. My husband had a unique up-bringing which led to an unusual choice, a choice which took him far away from the jungles of Southeast Asia.
“The draft” had been part of American life since the early years of WWII and the nation was heaving with discontent as the war in Southeast Asia continued to escalate. A saving grace in the draft process was the option to register as a 1-W – a person “opposed to bearing arms by reason of personal religious conviction.”
And that’s exactly what my husband had done. Raised as a pacifist, with family members on both sides vehemently opposed to killing for any reason, he had registered as a conscientious objector (CO) when he turned 18. He knew that meant two years of service offered in lieu of joining the military.
My husband wanted to do those two years somewhere far from home, somewhere that would require an element of sacrifice on his part, somewhere that the cause of peace could be served in a practical, hands-on way. Every 1-W during those years was drafted. Most of them chose to work within the continental US for their two years, but he wanted something different.
The school that would be our home and workplace from 1966-68.
And that’s what brought us to the center of Africa. Working with the Mennonite Central Committee, we would teach at a boarding school in the small town of Choma. The school itself was run by two denominations – my husband’s and one other, even more conservative in both dress code and theology. Given his own life experience, my husband had more than an inkling of what our life might be like.
I, on the other hand, had never heard of a CO before I fell in love with my husband. Intrigued by the idea – and thrilled at the possibility of a cross-cultural adventure – I was eager to unpack, settle in and get to work. Both of us were committed followers of Jesus, we just came to that place down very different roads.
The small town of Choma, about 2 miles from our campus by bicycle or Kombi-bus. I’ll write more about Choma in later posts.
And now we were driving 1400 miles north on the Cape to Cairo road, blithely unaware of what was ahead of us.  Two fifty-gallon oil drums crammed to the top with wedding gifts – waiting to be opened and sorted; a campus and a town waiting to be navigated; new neighbors waiting to be met.
And most of those looked a whole lot different than I did.
Our home for those two years – cinder-block to distract the termites, 3 bedrooms and electricity most of the time. FAR nicer than the tiny 1-bedroom apartment we lived in while I finished at UCLA.
“Did you see how many of these women are wearing prayer bonnets?” I asked plaintively as we took a walk around our new, small neighborhood.
“And look at the length of those skirts! Wow, do I feel out of place! Who in their right minds wears long sleeves in weather like this?”
“Well, it is a little more ‘cloistered’ than I thought it might be. On the west coast, we don’t see as many with this sort of Amish look. But relax, sweetheart. I don’t want you to look like these women – I want you to be you.”
 We moved into a house that had been inhabited by missionaries on furlough. They planted this HUGE garden, which to my very young and inexperienced eyes looked overwhelming. We managed to keep much of it alive and put up 40 jars of tomato juice our first month on site.
Momentarily mollified, I fingered the pearls at my neck. They had been a gift from Dick on the day of our wedding and I loved them. Somehow, touching them from time to time brought back happy memories of that day and of the courtship that led to it.
I had always considered myself to be on the conservative side – modest in dress, wearing only a little make-up, hard-working and committed to my faith.
But here?
Here, I was a wild-eyed liberal, a hussy who colored and cut my hair, who wore sleeveless shirts and skirts at the knee. And jewelry. I wore jewelry.
What in the world had I gotten myself into?
 A staff Thanksgiving celebration, near the end of our time there.
“What’s this?” I asked my husband several weeks later, fingering a letter from the local denominational bishop.
“Um…well…,” he stuttered, dreading the reaction he knew was coming. “It’s a list. A list of things you are not to do.”
“A what? A list of laws? Are you kidding me?” And I burst into tears. For the first time in our nearly two months away, I was desperately homesick.
Dick folded me into his arms, sighing into my hair – my short, artificially colored hair – and held me while I sobbed.
Between hiccoughs and tears, I sputtered, “Are they really serious? I can’t wear my wedding pearls, even just to the staff gatherings? I can’t wear ANY make-up? I have to cover up my arms and lengthen my skirts?”
Slowly, I calmed down and began to let the shock dissipate a bit. Dick kept apologizing and patting my back, trying to assure me that I was fine, just FINE exactly as I was.
And slowly, I began to believe him.
“You know what? This is not going to work for me. At all. The jewelry thing – I get not wanting to look ‘rich’ in front of the students. I get that. But at Bible study, off campus, with just staff? I will wear my pearls once in a while, whether he likes it or not.”
“That’s my girl!” Dick smiled.
“And I’ll try to talk to the bishop about what I believe, about how I know and experience Jesus and see if we can maybe meet in the middle. What do you think?”
“I think maybe our friend the bishop has met his match in you. And I’ll go with you to that meeting.”
It was not the most comfortable 45 minutes of my life, but that meeting helped cement in my spirit the importance of being open to a wide variety of faith expressions within the Christian community. We both gave a little space to the other – I would not wear jewelry or sleeveless dresses in the classroom. He would not complain if I wore my pearls to Bible study or dressed more casually at home or in town.
Over the next two years, we lived in community well. A new bishop arrived, one with a few less concerns about dress code. And a few women actually cut their hair short and began wearing lighter-weight clothing, with shorter sleeves and hemlines. 
I grew up a little and began to see beneath the prayer coverings and the pinafore-style dresses and sensible shoes. To see the tender hearts and deep commitment of these neighbors who were fast becoming friends.
They introduced me to Pennsylvania Dutch cooking; I introduced them to homemade flour tortillas and ground beef tacos. We laughed, we loved our students, we commiserated over the obstacles in their way and celebrated their accomplishments. We realized that not one of us had it all figured out – and that God loved us all anyhow.

And I was never homesick again.

We arrived the end of August, had that meeting with the bishop in mid-October and celebrated our first wedding anniversary in December. One of our new friends baked us this cake and we had a lovely evening celebrating together.

Because this is an exercise in ‘playing’ with my past story, I’ll be connecting these posts with Laura Boggess’s invitation to a Playdate with God and with Laura Barkat’s In, On and Around Mondays. Also joining with the sisterhood at Jen’s place and a new one to me, Hazel Moon’s “Tell Me a Story”:

On In Around button

Midweek Meanderings: a Photo Essay

The 5-point (meaning I pivoted 5 times to get the whole thing), 240 degree view from our back terrace this week. Sigh.

The rain last night was lovely, clearing the air, greening the hillside,
encouraging a warming fire in the fireplace. 
This morning, all the clouds are piled up to the south,
slowly making their way to our real home,
and the homes of our children.
 These shots taken on my afternoon circular walks around the driveway. Once, this was a grand central CA home. Now it is an amazing view with a very run-down house. It makes me sad to see homes neglected, but we are grateful for what there is in this spectacular vacation space, hanging over the bluffs with the hills just behind. And there’s lots of room to spread out, which is a good thing with

We’ve been together since last Friday,
spread out in a large, hacienda-style rented home.
A place in need of some major TLC – 
but with a killer view of the Pacific coast.
Birds flourish here.
And so do children.
The 2-year-old runs headlong down the hill toward the bluff,  causing gasps on all sides.
But someone bigger is always nearby 
to step between her and the abyss.
May it always be so!
Eastertide is a season for celebration and for gratitude,
for remembering who we are as the people of God.
And here, on this rugged shore,
with a 17-year-old asking good, hard questions,
two 13-year-0lds sharing a kayak adventure,
a 10-year-old giggling his way through a great game of ping-pong and two 6-year-olds alternately 
adoring and infuriating one another,
we are celebrating.
And we are grateful.
Even the 21-year-old was here for the weekend,
before heading back to school and responsibilities,
four hours south of this gathering place.
Our adult children are good and interesting people.
Their spouses are kind and good-natured.
All of them are attentive parents and generous housemates.
We observed Easter at a church unknown to any of us and followed with a feast, just as the Christian church has done for centuries. We are also celebrating the 70th birthday of Poppy, 
our loved and lovable patriarch, the acceptance into his 1st choice college for the 17-year-old and a good private high school scholarship for one of the 13-year-olds.
After so many years of struggle and loss,
it is good to gather in gratitude.
We even took a family photo … the first ever … 
to round out the weekend just past.
The photographer is working on the touch-ups
and we will soon have a lasting memento of this time spent together, 
possibly by week’s end.

 The hunters and the hiders – not sure who enjoys the Easter Egg Hunt the most.
Though she loves the idea of hunting and hiding, Lilly does not quite fully grasp the concept. Generally, if she hides, she guides the hunter until she’s found. :>)
In the meantime,
we soak in the beauty around us,
explore the small towns that circle round the sea,
while some play tennis,
and others a little b-ball.
One daughter and her husband paid for two days of heating the pool on the property and about half the crowd
jumped in and enjoyed getting wet and tired.
We’ve had an egg hunt or two,
enjoyed delicious home-cooked meals,
even traveled to a local ice-cream maker’s
“All You Can Eat” Tuesday celebration.
In a beat-up side room, there is a pool table and ping-pong,
and someone contributed a 2000 piece puzzle to pour over.
Settlers of Catan has made an appearance and Bananagrams, too, 
so no one seems bored. 
Many naps are taken in this house, 
signaling the welcome arrival of true relaxation
and energizing Sabbath rest.
We all point and shout, 
thanking God for sightings of otters,
sea lions, an occasional dolphin – 
even a whale, far out in the bay.
Avila Beach, just north of where we are.
A creekside restaurant for lunch in San Luis Obispo
Through it all, we thank God for the richness of family life,
the push and pull of living in the same space,
sharing the work and the fun,
watching the children grow in wisdom and in stature.
Friday, we return to reality.
Or at least to our usual list of responsibilities and commitments. 
Sometimes, though, I do believe that experiences like this week are the true reality,
life as it was originally designed to be lived.
Maybe everything else is mere illusion,
the structure that has been overlaid on human life
in the wake of Eden.
So, we’ll take these windows of grace.
And we’ll savor them, thank God for them,
take lots of pictures 
and build reservoirs of stories to share 
as the years progress.
And once in a while,
I’ll write about it here.
Because I really do believe that
this is the truest part of me.
At least, until Friday.

I’ll sign this one on with Michelle at “Graceful,” Jen at “Finding Heaven,” Ann at “A Holy Experience,” Em at “Canvas Child,” Laura at “The Wellspring,” Laura at “Seedlings in Stone,” and Jennifer at “Getting Down with Jesus.” I encourage you all to check out these fine blogs – but I am having increasing difficulty getting buttons to show up in the new blogger format. If anyone has any shortcuts for this tedious job, I’d love to hear them.


Leaving LaLaLand – a Photo Essay on Re-Entry

 Getaways are wonderful.
Fresh air for body and spirit,
time to re-connect with spouse and with self.
But it’s not real life – at least not regular real life.
 The week began with beautiful blue skies,
moderately warm sun,
clear mountain views,
and an invitation to slow down.
 Our last night, we went to dinner at Roy’s – one of our favorite restaurants. Pacific rim food, beautifully cooked, elegantly prepared.
 We skipped lunch, got an early dinner reservation and enjoyed 
an almost empty restaurant.
Both of us felt rested and grateful.
 Braised pear and spicy walnut salad,
perfectly grilled salmon with polenta and braised spinach,
 and their trademark Molten Chocolate Cake with
Haagan-Daaz vanilla.
 We don’t eat this way very often, 
so when we do – we make the most of it!
By the next morning, a big storm system was moving in rapidly. The mountains had disappeared from view, 
 and the wind was swirling as we loaded the car.
 The desert reappeared, brown and sere, as we headed back to the freeway, just a tiny square of blue remaining in the sky.
 There is a strange beauty to a desert landscape.
It’s not one I would choose to look at all the time,
but it is one I appreciate when I’m there.
The desert palette is subdued, drawing attention to the shape and contour of the land itself.
The play of shadow and light is always shifting,
changing, soft and subtle.
 Driving through the pass between Joshua Tree and San Bernardino, there are windmill farms by the acre,
tall spikes reaching into the air,
huge blades spinning, spinning, spinning.
 I never know quite how I feel about these large areas of wind farming. I like the alternative harvesting of power 
for our ravenous and technologically dependent culture. 
Yet I rebel against the invasive nature of these foreign objects across the landscape.
We don’t live in a perfect world and these enormous 
turbines are reminders of that truth.
 Yet the orderliness of their rows appeals to the (now almost entirely latent!) organizer in me and they do make a striking silhouette on the hillsides around the highway.
 Like the rest of our desert experience, 
the drive home is filled with interesting contrasts:
dry desert edges met by 
green grass and expansive landscaping all through the cities;
geography that would naturally repel large numbers of people met by 
wide roadways, crowded with cars and trucks;
sagebrush, cactus and joshua trees met by 
golf course after golf course after golf course.
 By the time we got to Redlands, it was raining quite hard, much-needed water falling on every surface – from high desert to mountain top, where elevation changed the drops to flakes of snow. At last, a bit of snow pack for our dry state.
We joined my mother for lunch in her dining room.
It was St. Patrick’s day and all the waiters and waitresses were dressed accordingly.
Corned beef and cabbage,
green macaroni salad,
shamrock-shaped sugar cookies.
She was glad to see us – we were glad to see her.
She seems to be settling into assisted living better each week.
 The rain was stopping as we neared Santa Barbara, but the wind was fierce. A brief stop at Butterfly Beach told us walking the beach would not be possible that day.
 But even in the bluster, something rang and sang inside me.
This is the view that nourishes me most.
This is home.
 We dove right back into life almost as soon as the car was unloaded. 
Sunday worship, Connections Dinner with new people from church, several directees to see for me,
flight arrangements to be made for board meetings for Dick.
 It is so good to get away from the regular sometimes.
To look at different landscapes,
to enjoy quieter, more solitary experiences.
But it is also good to come back to the regular,
to re-enter the maelstrom, to engage with the people and the work that God has called us to. 
My husband will celebrate an important birthday this next week, a birthday that we are so happy he is reaching – alive and well, using his gifts to serve his family and the church, loving his grandchildren, helping many to make wise investment decisions, enjoying the somewhat slower pace that retirement has brought.
As I write this, it is very early on a Saturday morning and we have been home for one week.
He will rise in a few hours and play tennis with our son.
We will both work around the house, doing things that need to be done – but also doing things that will remind us of our time away – reading, writing, conversing.
And we will do them with contentment and purpose,
glad for the restful getaway, but also glad and grateful to be ‘working out our salvation’ in this time, in this place.
Glad and grateful to be at home.
Joining this one (and Part 1) with the Lauras – Barkat & Boggess with thanks for their weekly invitation:

On In Around button 

Only in California – A Photo Essay of Fun


You know you’re in a resort community when you see streets named after celebrities, when golf carts are given the right of way, when casinos are the highest buildings on the horizon.

And I suppose, to many people, these kinds of pictures are ‘typical’ for life in what has been not-so-affectionately called LaLaLand.
I can almost hear the armchair critics now:
“Just a bunch of glitz out there in Cali-forn-eye-ay, Mildred.
Them folks got no morals, no culture, nothin’ that’s real.
Ya wanna stay away from that place.”

Yes, I jest.
A little.
And if this were all there was to see when traveling around the greater Palm Springs area, you might sit right down in that armchair and join the chorus.
But I’m here to tell you – there’s a lot more to see, to do, to enjoy,
 than celebrities, golf and gambling.
Especially if you’re in need of a change of pace, some time and space to rest, and the fun of watching portions of a renowned tennis tournament.
 The first thing to remember is that you are, truly, in the desert. When you arrive at your hotel or your rented condominium, things will not look like this, however.
 They might very well look like this.
Or possibly like this.
Surrounded by towering mountains,
silhouettes of palm trees everywhere,
angled light of late winter,
colorful blooms,
rolling green golf courses,
you could be sitting on a small, delightful patio,
just aiming your camera wherever you please.
 More than likely, there will be a well-maintained,
nicely heated pool somewhere nearby.
This always makes for a relaxing afternoon.
 Of course, there are the local courses to wander.
The mountain backdrop somehow makes everything seem more dramatic, more picturesque.
 And on those wanderings, you might encounter some water fowl here and there.
 Ducks of various kinds.
And an occasional honker or two,
lost on their migration back home to Canada and points north.
 No guys – that’s not a pond. It’s a sand trap. Try again.
 And there’s no better place to enjoy a little bird-watching – from the comfort of your patio chair, of course.
 The mocking birds are out in force, preening and singing their little hearts out, hoping to set up shop with the missus somewhere nearby.
 The hummers love the lantana right next to the table, so you can spend hours – literally! – waiting to capture just one of them with your camera.
If you’re really blessed, you might just spy a small beauty like this one, whose name you may never know.
 And in the temperate climes of the late winter high desert,  there are always blooms to enjoy – 
colorful, interesting, unique.
 And if you’re really fortunate, you might glimpse some of these fluttering, wandering wonders, too.
 After all that rigorous activity, you’ll need some sort of outing to refresh and inspire you. And this place is just the ticket!
The Indian Wells Tennis Stadium – at night, to avoid the heat of the midday sun.
 The tournament is sponsored by a bank most of us have never heard of before – but if they have their way, we will all know who they are very, very soon.
 And if, perchance,  you should happen to be in attendance on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, you will get a chance to see the two finalists play – on their way to becoming finalists.
(The finals are much easier to watch from the comfort of your own family room, upon your return home.)
 Roger Federer, the Swiss titan.
 Who actually lost the first set to an up-and-coming young Canadian named Milos Raonic – who was excellent.
 But then, of course, he went on to win this round, beat Nadal in the next round and win the tournament the following Sunday.
And then you might be able to watch John Isner, the only American left in contention. Six feet, nine inches with a powerhouse serve, this guy is intimidating on the court and played well against Federer in the finals.
 If you’re a true fan of the game, you’ll stay for the second event of each evening, although almost everyone else will abandon ship. Watching women’s doubles is interesting and exciting and Ivanovich won her singles match to advance to the semis and eventually the finals.
 What you will come to appreciate if you attend a tournament like this is the huge network of folks who make it happen.
Line judges, referees and ball-fetchers, to name just a few.
 Figuring out when they rotate positions is tough to do. And you might find yourself wondering how the kids who chase down stray balls and tend to the needs of the players can possibly stay awake in school the next day. 
Especially when you get out at midnight both nights.
Yes, there is much more to these California desert resorts than celebrities, casinos and golf.
There is natural beauty, on scales both grand and small,
there is warm sunshine,
there is a relaxing ambiance that invites you to slow down,
settle in,
and unwind.
And that is a very good thing.

Joining this (and part 2) with L.L. Barkat and Laura Boggess for their weekly invitations:
On In Around button

The Good Ache: a Photographic Reflection

 Overlooking the Saanich Inlet on Vancouver Island, August 2007
Aches and pains.
Yes, I’ve got a few.
Part of the aging process, or so they tell me.
Knees that creak,
heels that are tender,
hips that remind me they’re there, working away.
And heartache?
Yes, I’ve known a bit here and there,
some of it permanent.
You never stop missing those you love.
But there is another ache that I live with,
day in and day out,
from sun up right through my dream life.
And that ache is a wonderful thing.
An ache buried deep within me
at the hand of my Creator –
an ache for…
Yes – beauty.
and I’ve kept thinking about it ever since.
Turning a corner and finding…
a sunset,
a sunrise,
a cooing baby,
a soaring mountain range,
a field of wildflowers,
a couple in love,
the coltish antics of middle-schoolers,
leaping across a lawn,
the creative genius of a fine artist,
a musician,
a sculptor,
anything and everything
that makes that chord inside ring and resound.
Anything and everything that sings to that yearning,
that yearning for every single reflection I can find
of the beauty of God.
Some words in response to Lisa-Jo’s prompt for 5-minute Friday this week. 
And that prompt is “ache.”
This written reflection was done in 5 minutes – 
links, photos and captions added later.
Join the party over at The Gypsy Mama and check out how others have responded. 

(And then you can scroll through a few samples of heart-thrumming beauty recorded by my camera over the last few years – and this is just a small sample. They range from scenic vistas to charming children, to delicious food to ancient cathedrals.) 

Puget Sound, WA, August 2007

Four gangly boys and their games.

Butchart Gardens, August 2007
Two-year-olds that same summer.
 Whidbey Island views, 2007
Cathedral views, various places – stained glass on old stone; organ pipes and chandeliers; trussed ceilings lit by natural light.

Human structures, remarkable engineering and reflections.
All of these from a river cruise in Europe, 2009

And of course, a variety of Hawaiian views – from Maui and Kauai – places and people who are dear, dear, dear to me. (And a couple of creatures plus a whimsy driven color combo that knocked me flat one day at lunch.)
This last picture is similar to others I’ve posted in this space – one of them in the post noted above – and it is one of about FIFTY I shot of the most remarkable sunset I’ve just about ever seen. And that’s saying something – I’m in my 7th decade, I live in a coastal town, I’ve traveled to HI about every other year since 1980. And this one was an absolute corker.

Five Minute Friday: DELIGHT: A Photo Essay

I’m about out of words for this week.
I’ve written my heart out for the last two weeks or so, 
trying to be more ‘vulnerable’ in my reflections.
Net result?
Fewer readers, many fewer comments.
A couple of those were ‘entered,’ if that is the right word, in an open invitation, a highlight-will-be-featured kind of event.
Never yet made a cut at any of those,
so I know there is something missing in this place.
I’m just not sure what that is.

So, I’m taking a bit of a break from words just now.
I’m heading out for this three-day weekend,
spending it at the mission,
a reunion with the folks from the school where I am in training for spiritual direction.
I will not be posting or checking facebook for a while.
So to transition myself from too many words to none,
I’ll reflect on Lisa-Jo’s invitation this week with photos from the last two weeks, photos that reflect that intake of breath when I see something wondrous,
I am grateful beyond words for these God-given moments of bliss, particularly during this difficult season of slow loss,
the fading away of our moms.
These photos range from a surprising surround-sound sunset as I walked circles in my front drive,
to a glorious pink-flowered tree as I walked in my daughter’s neighborhood on Monday,
to beachside stops for lunch and prayer,
to a few shots of our local-est grandkids.
Thank you, Lord, for these good gifts.

Thanks, Lisa-Jo, for this great prompt. Delight is a gift of grace and it’s always fun to reflect on how we meet grace in the everyday.
Check out some of the other entries over at TheGypsyMama: