The Gift of Travel — Part 6: Dresden — A Photo Essay

In this post, we will actually SEE Dresden —
the pictures will be here, not just the word in the title.
This is the 4th post about the cruising part of our trip
and there will be at least one more, possibly two.
And then Prague — 2 posts for sure. :>)

Part 1 can be found here.
Part 2, here,
part 3, here,
part 4, here,
and part 5, here. 

When we woke the next morning, this was the view out our cabin window.

 Not too shabby.
After breakfast, we loaded on those oh-so-familiar busses and these next few
were shot through the window as we traveled over to
the ‘old’ town — which has been completely rebuilt
since WWII.
That meant digging through complete rubble
after the massive air attacks,
re-using as many old stones as possible,
patching in much lighter colored sandstone where needed,
and re-learning a lot of very old craftwork.
They’ve done a magnificent job.

 Twice, we saw small groups of toddlers with a single adult female.
Hard to tell, but I’m guessing this is a way to do childcare,
and not many sets of multiples.

 We parked the busses near this lovely park and walked over to one of the rebuilt
city squares, this one involved re-construction of the many
super-extravagant buildings build by August the Strong in the 18th century.
Talk about opulence!


It was mid-morning and trying to shoot the government buildings
across the way from this square was difficult.
I tried, but they came out much better later in the day.

 School was still in session in most of Germany while we were there,
and this day, there were hordes of school kids swarming the place.

This is the opera house.

Lovely floral borders, much like what we’ve seen throughout our trip thus far.

This magnificent circled square of buildings was basically built
to impress European royalty.
“Come on over to MY place if you want to see how rich and powerful I am!!”

Most of these buildings now house various collections,
including another collection of Meissen chinaware, as ordered by
emperors past. All of this stuff,
paintings, china, statues,
were boxed up and salted away to the mountains near the end of
the war. The Communists refurbished many of the paintings,
and at the end of the Cold War, only returned a portion of them
to reunified Germany.

This tower was just chiming while we were there.
It only happens twice a day, and the tour guide made
sure we were there for one of them.
Those bells are made of — take a wild guess —
yes, you are SO right — Meissen china!
August the Strong loved the china being imported from China
during his lifetime and ordered his ‘scientists’ (read ‘alchemists’)
to devise a formula for making some of their own.
Meissen’s china manufaktur was the result.
And it is a great source of pride all throughout this province of Germany. 

A costumed docent taking some school kids on a tour.

They are almost finished with this huge square of buildings
and it was truly lovely to see. One gate to go.

See what I mean about the light being wrong to shoot this direction?

We walked back through the square where we began, crossed
the boulevard and headed for the castle/home of August.
It is now a museum (and we could not take pictures inside.)
Suffice it to say that there were more extraordinarily expensive
gewgaws in that place than is believable.
There was one 41.5 carat green diamond that cost the equivalent
of an entire new castle complex when it was purchased
for August to wear on his sash.

Radim, our program director came along on all tours, with one group
or another — checking on guides, carrying entrance tickets to
special exhibits, taking photos for the souvenir disc you could
purchase at the end of the trip.
As I’ve said before, he set the tone for everything,
and that tone was delightful.

August was a man of many appetites, women among them.
He had numerous mistresses – this one lived in the castle below,
which was connected to the one he shared with his wife by
the covered bridge in the picture above.
My, wives were accommodating in those days.

 Looking out the window and taking pictures was allowed — and this was
interesting. Plaster work done in two stages,
dark color first, then light.
Then the design is etched through, to let the dark color show.

The tower in the corner of this interesting small square.
Contemporary craftsmen doing very old-style work.

At the end of our tour, the guide pointed out this lovely relic from
the Communist era — complete with its mosaic of ‘comrades’ working together.
It reminded us vaguely of all the Home Savings buildings in southern CA.

 We took one last look at the square on this side of the boulevard,
noting the cathedral tower at the back,
and determined to come back there on our free time after lunch.

 Enjoyed our usual great meal (we opted for the lighter lunches in the lounge rather
than the 3-course meal in the dining room),
and we rested a bit before walking back to town.
We enjoyed watching these 150 year old steam-powered paddle-wheelers
that cruise between Dresden and Meissen several times a day.

You know, I never really thought about it,
but I suppose castle windows need washing sometimes, too, right?

So this is the inside of the newly rebuilt cathedral of Dresden – it’s lovely and light.

 . . . and the cupola is gorgeous.

These candles reminded me that every cathedral in the world,
even if its congregation has shrunk to almost nothing,
is still a house of prayer,
a place where the faithful gather.

Yeah, the manhole covers in Dresden are beautiful, too.

The cathedral tower from the outside.
We saw a sign that said, “Lift to the dome,” and got excited!
My knees keep me from climbing hundreds of stairs,
but an elevator? Yeah, I could do that.

However, they did not tell us that the lift stops about halfway up
Then you climb a steeply slanted ramp for a long while, climb about 50 steps and
arrive at. . . an open work, straight-up set of iron stairs.

I do not do open staircases.
Most especially open staircases that hover in midair.
So it was more than a little bit discouraging to climb all that way. . .
and not get to enjoy the view.

I was, however, able to get a good shot of ‘the lemon squeezer,’
an interesting newer tower in town.
Dick gamely carried the camera that last set of stairs and took some
lovely view pictures for us.
It’s a beautiful city.

 And it’s a long way up there.
Especially looking back down.

Okay, so those buildings in the shadows in the morning?
Yeah, they looked a whole lot better in the afternoon.

I highly recommend a trip to Dresden – it’s a city worth seeing.

And quite serendipitously — and unknown even to our crew — that night
we enjoyed a special parade of those paddle-wheelers,
each one with a Dixieland band playing away.
This unusual parade was capped off by about 20 minutes of glorious fireworks.
These shots were all shot out our bedroom window.
Not a bad way to end our time in this lovely place.

Next up: Cruising Saxon Switzerland, a national park that crosses the border between Germany and the Czech Republic.

The Gift of Travel – Part 5: Cruising to Dresden — A Photo Essay

So . . . already, I cannot keep it to the number I had hoped.
We saw so.much.goodness.
(More likely, I took
So, this post will be about getting to and enjoying Meissen.
The next one will be about Dresden.
Then on to Saxon Switzerland (a national park, not a country),
and probably two posts on the Czech Republic, especially Prague.

You can find Part 1 here,
Part 2 here,
Part 3 here,
and Part 4 here. 

After our immersion in Reformation history, we cruised all morning the next day
to the city of Meissen, which houses the famous porcelain manufacturing company.
The first couple of dozen pictures were shot during that lovely,
relaxing time on the water — pictures of farmland,
changing topography, small villages,
animals, people on bicycles. . . just the ordinary stuff of daily life,
but somehow, as seen from the deck of a river boat,
things of extraordinary, often breath-taking beauty.
I think that — above and beyond the riches of history, the extravagance of
rulers past, the lure of museum treasures —
the richest kind of gift from this experience is this one:
the extraordinary ordinary,
the downright deliciousness of dailyness.

At last, a stork in the nest!
You have  undoubtedly noticed that the terrain is beginning to change:
sloping hillsides, rocky cliffs here and there,
vineyards and more villages.
This whole stretch was so very lovely.

 A bicycle and walking path paralleled the river for miles and miles.

Just before lunch, we drew near to Meissen, a city almost completely unharmed
in WWII. It’s majestic castle/fortress loomed over
the entire harbor area and seemed to beg for pictures
from every conceivable angle.

 The waterfront area was charming and we docked very near this row of houses.

Boarded our busses and proceeded first to the Meissen plant,
which is in the heart of the town and employs over 600 people.
Our guide was a remarkable woman of about 60.
She had grown up in Communist Eastern Europe
and her family was known to be Catholic.
She was humiliated in school, made to stand in front of the class,
and later, despite being an excellent student,
was denied access to the finer colleges.
She once held a ‘job’ at Meissen that had no function.
For eight hours a day for FOUR YEARS,
she went to work and had nothing to do.
That right there is its own kind of hell.

This is the Meissen insignia
and if you’re blessed to own any of their fine porcelain ware,
you’ll find it somewhere on each piece.

As we entered the ‘manufaktur,’ as the locals call it, these charming girls
were just getting out of school.
Loved the pink socks.

I have to tell  you that I could not afford anything from the seconds table,
much less something from this boutique.

 The tour did help me to understand what goes into making this lovely stuff,
and that helps me (a little) with the pricing.
We moved from room to room,
each artist had a box with audio tapes in various languages.
With a push of a button, music and narration began,
and each one did his or her part in the ‘assembly line.’

First the basic shapes are formed on a wheel.

Then the finer details are made by hand and prepared for the first firing.

 The first layer of paint goes on at this point.
And then I think they’re fired again.

This woman adds another layer of color and a finish and the pieces
are fired for the last time.

I would love to have seen one of those ovens, but that was not part of the tour. :>)

 There was a small museum, which contained
this organ, whose pipes are made of porcelain;

this gorgeous urn, which was about two feet tall;

these delicate figurines, which were my favorites;

and a special exhibit of a variety of flower arrangements. . .
made entirely from porcelain.
Loved looking at them — but would not care for the maintenance one bit.

We chose an optional walking tour up to the fortress complex and loved
the views and the general feel of this lovely small city.

Even the manhole covers are beautiful.

This right here? This is why my knees still ache!
(All the stairs everywhere plus the cobblestones make for one miserable
arthritic, I’ll tell you.)

We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of this town and came back to the
boat almost reluctantly.
But soon, the quietness of the river did its magic,
and we tucked in for our time in Dresden the next day.

Entering the city of Dresden, going under a low bridge just as a tram crossed over the top of it. Yes, we’re into a much bigger city now.
More adventures to come!

The Gift of Travel – Part 4 – Worlitz, Wittenberg & Torgau: A Photo Essay

Get ready to ‘set a spell,’ ’cause there are a whole lot of photos with this one.
You can find Part 1 here,
Part 2 here,
and Part 3 here. 

In the wee hours of the morning, we docked in a small town called Dessau, disembarked after breakfast and headed out to one of the most beautiful places we’ve seen in Europe.
It is the largest ‘English-style’ garden on the continent,
designed in the late 18th century to be more expansive and less formal
than earlier baroque gardens.
(We took a peek at the rooftop deck on the Schumann and were favorably impressed.
However, we had to wait until later in the week for the weather to warm up a bit
before enjoying its comforts.)

Our three busses (we were almost always on Bus “C”)
took us into the town and we briefly explored the
churchyard and small restaurant which border the garden.
Turns out we were waiting to board another boat,
but a very different kind.
Called gondolas, they seat about 15 people
and are rowed around the large lake that makes up most
of the Worlitz Garden area.
Our rower was maybe 15 years old,
wiry and small but very strong.
He spoke not one word of English,
so we smiled a lot.

English country gardens feature buildings, bridges and small structures and statues
rather than formal hedges and planted borders.

And this one was just glorious.
They had recently had a special fund-raiser of some kind
and several thousand people set out blankets all over the lawns
for a magnificent concert on the water
(the musicians were in the boats) and a fireworks show.
Must have been something!

It was an idyllic hour, very quiet . . . except for the occasional raucous
sounds coming from this guy, as he tried to woo the hen to the right.
Wow, those peacocks are gorgeous to look at,
but TERRIBLE to listen to.

We stopped for a cup of hot chocolate on our way back to the bus, enjoying
this clematis vine on the restaurant wall.

Time for lunch and setting sail once again.
We arrived in Wittenberg very late in the day,
and enjoyed an excellent lecture by our program director Radim
about the importance of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation
to the history of Europe, and indeed, the world.
This was the part of the trip we had both looked forward to the most!

We loved the town, but struggled with our guide’s poor command of English,
the first time that has ever happened on a Viking trip.
Fortunately, almost everything she tried to tell us,
our Director had already described!

Storks are a sign of spring and good luck in many parts of Europe.
This nest was empty.

It was a cold, damp morning and we were grateful that this was a walking tour —
it warmed us right up.
The town of Wittenberg is small and charming, even though chunks of it
are undergoing renovation and construction.

This is the monastery in which Luther lived and worked
before he tacked those 95 theses onto the church door.
It is also the house where he and his wife later raised their family.
It is now a museum.
2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of this major event,
and that is why the town is undergoing renovation and construction everywhere.

Katherine (Kate or Katje) Luther, a former nun whom Luther married, loved
and partnered with for over 20 years.

Luther’s primary preaching pulpit — even though he was short,
it was so small that he had to kneel to preach from it.

The back door to Luther’s primary lecture hall, shown below.
And yes, students stood for most lectures.

 An early edition of the Augsburg Confession.

A favorite Luther quote, one that I sent to The High Calling
because of how very well it fits their mission and ministry.

The sun began to shine through the clouds and we enjoyed walking down the main street of this lovely, small town. Both the preaching church at the top of the street
and the monastery church at the bottom were under renovation
and couldn’t really be seen very well.
The one at the bottom is where Luther (or a student of his)
tacked up those theses.

You can probably spot our tour guide with her ‘lollipop’ in the picture below.

The famous doors, snapped in a hurry
when the construction gate was momentarily opened.

And then we were sailing once again, as the sun began to set.
We pulled into the neighboring town of Torgau just before dinner
and took an evening walk-thru.
This is the town where Luther died and Katie had a restaurant for a while.
It was fun to see in the moonlight.

And then it was back to our moveable hotel for a delicious night’s rest on the water.

Next Installment — Meissen & Dresden. And I think there will be an extra cruise post, bringing the total to 8 (I hope!).

The Gift of Travel – Part 3 – Getting to the Boat

Sunday morning, May 12th, we boarded one of three buses to begin
the trip to the Clara Schumann — the river boat that would be our
home-away-from-home for the next week.
We stopped at this bridge, a meeting point during
the cold war, for spy exchanges.

 It was a beautiful location, there on the outskirts of Potsdam, a place
which has become a vacation spot for many Berliners.

Just outside the city is the home that Frederick the Great built for himself.
His wife lived elsewhere.
They had no children.
Are you surprised?

The palace is small as palaces go — 12 rooms — but the grounds are stunning.

He named it “Sans Souci,” ‘no worries’ – I think he and Bobby McFerrin
would have gotten along well, don’t you?

Next stop – lunch. Released from the bus for 75 minutes, we first explored
the church next to the bus parking lot and then we found our
way to a charming outdoor cafe in the Dutch quarter of town,
enjoying tuna salad and the view.


 Lovely shared gardens carved right out of the sidewalk on some streets,
and a delightful floral border at the city park,
which also housed a cemetery where all inscriptions were in Russian.

Next stop, the gorgeous Tudor styled ‘palace’ and grounds
where the Potsdam agreement was signed.
The guide was so intent on giving us as much info
as possible, that we stood in a driving rain
outside this place, listening hard.
Don’t think I can recall a single detail,
except that half of Europe ended up with Stalin.

Driving to our final destination — our ship! — we passed through
the first of many, MANY fields of this stuff.
It’s called rape seed and its ground up with a few other things
to produce canola oil and — get this — ethanol, at least in Europe.
Never noticed any vehicles reeking of veggie oil, however.

At last, the Elegant Elbe was in view — and the Schumann.

Our luggage had already been delivered to our room,
and we gathered for what would be a daily briefing
about the next day’s travels.
Then we had the most sumptuous welcome dinner,
complete with roses for Mother’s Day
and a 50th Anniversary celebration for our tablemates.
We began to move on the river just as dinner began,
and we remembered why we love this mode of travel so much.
These boats move slowly but steadily and
the landscape is always lovely to see —
even if it’s only the water, a bridge or two, and acres of flat farmland.

At the end of the day, we headed
to bed in our tiny, tiny, but oh-so-welcome room.

Next installment: Worlitz Garden and Wittenberg.

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.

An African Journey: Post Six – The Gift of Sight

A continuing series of reflections built around newly-scanned photos from long ago. From 1966-1968, we lived in Choma, Zambia, teaching school, running a ‘book-room’ (a small book store with a surprising reach, providing educational resources to the entire southern province), living in close quarters with missionaries and other volunteer workers and enjoying wonderful opportunities to travel and explore the great continent of Africa.

We were so young and our eyes were not as finely tuned as they are now. Too often, we didn’t know what we were seeing, we didn’t value what came to us as gift and treasure because of the remarkable place in which we were living and the truly gifted and committed friends who shared that living space with us. 

But when we took the time to move out from the schedules and the commitments, to travel and see the sights — that’s when our eyes finally began to open and we enjoyed brief moments of insight, clarity and wonder.
Driving through a wide variety of ‘game parks’ was a visual delight, a smorgasbord of color, imaginative creative detail and environmental adaptability.
From long-necked giraffes to graceful gazelles,
to the realities of ‘nature, red in tooth and claw,’
a beautiful impala, recently killed by a mama cheetah who had three hungry cubs to feed
we developed a deeper appreciation for God’s created order
and for the realities of wildlife conservation and its importance.
Almost our first weekend there, we traveled out into the bush for a baptism ceremony, staying overnight in this grass hut.
One night.
My husband was sick the entire night
and I was pretty much terrified.
Yet people around the world live in spaces like this all the time. How blessed we are to live with the creature comforts we do — and how valuable it is to experience even a little bit of what everyday life is like 
for so many people in this world. 
Watching a crew of strong African men create the building blocks for homes and hospitals brought the sober realization that our friends could not take a trip to the nearby home improvement center and purchase everything they needed for a DIY project. These adobe bricks required hard work, several days in the sun to harden up, and then the actual building could commence.
We were newlyweds while we lived in Zambia and it was important for us to remember that from time to time.
When our friends lived nearby, we took a couple of short trips together, just for fun and exploration.
This one was to the capital of Lusaka, enjoying the closest thing to a department store within a couple of hundred miles, admiring ‘curios’ being sold by the side of the road and making a stop at a beautiful roadside garden.
This is the president’s mansion just outside of Lusaka. Kenneth Kaunda was the first president of this new land and he remained in office for nearly 30 years.
After Lisa was born, we took that corrugated dirt road a lot further into the bush for a weekend with a sports-master friend who lived and worked 100 miles into the back country, near the Kafue River.
Dick was the sports-master at Choma Secondary School.
He also taught civics and a beginning business class called ‘commerce.’
This kind gentleman (whose name we have forgotten) came from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to work and support his family.
His family, however, did not make the move.
We enjoyed a great soccer match and a wonderful curry dinner, which he made for us in his small kitchen.
This bridge crosses the Kafue River, either just south of Lusaka or out further into the bush. Since the road is paved, I’m guessing we’re nearer to city life in this picture.
But this is a river shot from further in the back country
and this cheerful young man played us a tune somewhere off the paved road.
Early in our time there, we went with our friends to see Kafue Dam, one of the more modern wonders of this new country.
We were too naive to realize that swimming in a reservoir is not a great idea AND that the waters in this place contain really harmful parasites. Fortunately, we did not become infected.

While he worked in the bookroom, before he began teaching, my husband took a trip to the mining towns of Ndola, Broken Hill and Kitwe.
Copper mining was hugely important and the rise and fall of copper prices has wreaked havoc with Zambian economy for decades.
When he did begin to work at the secondary school, it turned out that my husband was an excellent teacher, investing heavily in his students. He found a series of exams published in Britain, designed for commerce and business students, and he helped his small class of about a dozen students prepare for and pass them. This provided them with some important certification of excellence as they prepared to move out into living in the 20th century, finding a job and supporting a family.
He also took his students on some excellent field trips.
A larger group went in the back of a big truck to see Victoria Falls, almost all of them for the first time in their lives.

And he took his civics class to the capital city to tour the governmental buildings and see first-hand how their new democracy was working.
It was his job as the sports-master, however, that brought him the greatest joy and enabled him to travel to a variety of different secondary school settings in our district. We had two champion distance runners, pictured below — and their names were Hercules and Samson. No kidding. 
And they were great runners.
We have tried several times to discover what became of these young men and others of those we loved while we lived among them. We kept track pretty well for about five years. And then the AIDS epidemic began in southern Africa and many of the students we knew were lost to that dreadful disease, most of them in the earliest years of its scourge-like impact on the continent, before we even knew what it was.

To this day, we are grateful for the experiences of 45 years ago, and we have been marked in deep and significant ways by our time living 
and working in a cross-cultural setting. 
At some point, I hope to write more reflectively about the missionary sub-culture and its impact on our thinking 
about how we did church in the mid-20th century.
There is much to criticize and regret.

But there is also much to celebrate and treasure,
chiefly the faithfulness of previous generations who came and built schools and hospitals as well as churches and chapels. Workers who believed that to be true to the gospel meant living it out in a holistic way, taking the good news to people who needed to experience it as well as hear it, 
who deserved education and health care 
as well as gospel tracts and evangelistic sermons,
servants who took Jesus’ own stated commission from the pages of Isaiah, who brought sight to the blind, health to the sick, hope to the downhearted.
The good work that continues in that place is built on that sturdy foundation and we thank God for it, and for them.

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.

31 Days in which I Am Saved by Beauty – Day 13

When I spend time in my daughters’ homes,
I am reminded of many things.
First and foremost,
of how very well they mother their sons.
And secondly,
how they have taken some of my
patterns and traditions and
greatly improved upon them.

I was – once upon a time – a great
seasonal decorator.
I saved art work for years and put
up my children’s creations
for every holiday.
I shopped the sales at Michael’s
and gathered a lot of 
decorative detritus
that we used for a long time.
Joy is doing the same thing.
And she is doing it so much better.
Her sons love this tradition
and beg her to pull out the bins
and put up the cute stuff.
Take a little look.
The manzanita branch
is used with a different set
of hanging ornaments for Halloween,
Thanksgiving, Christmas,
Valentine’s Day,
St. Patrick’s Day,
And every one of her Mission style door frames
has a decorative object or arrangement
that fits the season.
These photos only capture a little of the fun,
and in about 3 weeks,
they’ll be switched out for 
Thanksgiving decor.
This is the beautiful family room they added
about 10 years ago.
A lot of good memories have been made here.
Their home is always open for 
church youth groups,
They are superb hosts,
unfazed by groups sized anywhere
from 3 to 50.
I stand in awe.
And pictured below is our home-away-from-home
whenever we come down to see my mom,
who lives about 30 minutes from them.
This is where Dick stayed from Tuesday through Thursday
every week for ten years while he worked
in southern California before he retired in 2010.
Here is one of the really great things about retirement:
our schedule is flexible.
Packed and ready to return home last night,
we discovered that two of our grandsons
would be playing basketball games
as part of the YMCA fall season
this morning.
So, we unpacked,
enjoyed dinner & some good conversation,
and woke up just in time
to go to Griffin’s game at 9:00 a.m.

Griff plays with the 5-6 year old team –
half court, no score,
frequent substitutes.
He is one of the older members
of his 4-person team
and for the first time in his life,
one of the tallest.
He is a dedicated b-ball player and
it shows.
Good game, Griffin!

 This is his team.

 Holding his team treats after the game.

Colby is 11 and one of the younger and 
smaller members of his 11-12-year-old team, 
but he is scrappy and quick
and played well today.

Big brother Wesley and little brother Griff on the sidelines,
otherwise occupied.

Colby had a bigger team, they played the full court,
they kept score.
And they trounced the opposition.

 Colby played most of three quarters,
and in between
sat on the sidelines
sucking down water.

 And a picture of Colby with his after-game snacks,
but apparently,
an 11-year-old is a little too sophisticated to smile.

The trip home was spectacularly clear after that volatile
thunderstorm blew threw the area on Thursday.
These are the foothills in Ventura,

and a quick shot of a small slice of Halloween on the highway,

This is our favorite 20 acres on the side of the road north,
where we’ve watched strawberries,
and now berries-under-plastic
thrive for sixteen years now.

 And then, around the next bend, we begin to see the coast,
and we know we’re almost home.

Every single time I make this trip,
I am grateful 
to live where I do.
Close proximity to the ocean
is nourishing to me in ways
I cannot put into words
and I am still amazed
that God brought us to this place.

I have loved every place we have lived – 
six months in a 1-bedroom apartment 
in Santa Monica as a newly-wed college student;
six weeks in a single room at a
Christian camping center
right after graduation;
a concrete block 3-bedroom house
on the savannah of central Africa
for two years;
an apartment in West Los Angeles
and a rented house in Eagle Rock
when we returned to California;
three homes in Altadena,
each with memories and beauties
all their own.
But this one?
This ranch house we’ve pushed and pulled
and added onto and made to fit us,
this space that God led us to
just as we were ready to
purchase another,
far less desirable place –
this place is a gift of grace
and beauty
that God has used
to save me day, by day, by day.

An African Journey: Post Five – The Very Best Part

There we were, minding our own business,
getting to know this new country,
these new friends,
this new work . . .
and then the world shifted.
Well, maybe not the entire world,
just our tiny corner of it.
And it took a while to sink in, too.
On the 4th of June, 1967, 
I wrote to my mom and dad and said this:
“I have been feeling lousy the last 2-3 weeks.
Attacks of nausea at odd times, extreme sleepiness
and a late period. I am going to see the doctor next week
to find out what the trouble is. Will let you know the results.” 

What can I say?
I was young and . . . naive? 
Let’s just say it . . . 
I was plain old stupid about the process of reproduction.
Yes, thank you very much, I did know how it happened.
I just didn’t have a clue what happened when it happened.
So . . . stupid?
Yeah, that about covers it.
My mother just laughed hysterically when she read that letter,  
and her diagnosis arrived about the same time the doctor’s did:
you are two months pregnant.
About four months along, sipping a Coke on the Garden Route in South Africa.
My husband’s parents and younger sister came to visit us and took us on a wonderful three week trip to game parks and other beautiful places south of our home. I will write another journal entry about our travels to other parts of Africa while we lived in Zambia.
About 6 months along in these two faded black & white photos.
So. We were pregnant.
DEEP breath.
And so, the thinking and the wondering and the planning
and the gathering began.
My doctor was an American,
a member of the denomination with which we served,
and his work and his hospital were 40 miles away,
over a very, VERY bumpy dirt road, out in the bush.
I saw him three times during my pregnancy.
My everything- you-wanted-to-know-about pregnancy reading was limited, 
to say the least.
A friend who was a nurse had an old ob-gyn textbook,
filled with pictures and descriptions of 
all that can go wrong in pregnancy and delivery.
Fortunately, there were women living in our 
neighborhood who had borne babies before.
In fact, over the next four months,
four other women announced that they, too, were pregnant.
It was an epidemic!
Those of us who were newbies learned from the old hands,
and somehow, we muddled through.
Our baby was due on January 9, 1968,
and I worked as a teacher through the end of the term in
mid-December, grateful for papers to grade,
students to love and exams to prepare.
We found treasures to be repaired and painted,
I created curtains out of fabric bought in our town,
friends sent me maternity clothes and baby clothes
from home, carefully folded into 9×12 envelopes.
Over the next few months,
the reality began to sink in:
we were going to be parents.
January 9th came and went.
January 19th came and went.
My 23rd birthday on January 23rd came and went.
I lay on the bed, weeping, convinced that I would have this oversized basketball in my body for the rest of my life.
At about 6:30 in the morning on Sunday, January 28th,
I woke up with a strong back ache.
I went into our bathroom/laundry room and
sat on the edge of the tub, folding clean towels.
I remember being overwhelmed with
the realization that my life was going to change
by the end of that day.

I was, however, still stupid.
I stood in the middle of the lawn at about 9:30 a.m.,
watching my stomach ripple under my dress,
begging my cross-the-street neighbor 
(who was pregnant with #4) 
to tell me if this could possibly be labor.
She just looked at me and said,
“Diana, get yourself into the car and drive to Macha.”
So that is exactly what we did.
If you ever find yourself wondering how you might speed things along in early labor, I have a suggestion for you.
Find yourself a very bumpy dirt road and drive on it for about an hour.
I guarantee that things will pick up nicely.
We arrived at the hospital about 10:30 in the morning, went to a very nice room with a bath and my husband proceeded to talk to me about our travel plans for the summer, 
when our term of service would be ending.
I think I may have thrown the notebook in his face, 
but I can’t be certain. 
It’s all a bit of a blur.
At about 11:45, they wheeled me into the delivery room. 
Only, it wasn’t really a delivery delivery room,
it was a surgical suite.
The doctor was a thoracic surgeon and he did a whole lot of chest surgery out there in the bush.
They didn’t have a delivery table as such, 
just a surgical table,
and that sucker was hard.
His favorite nurse, who happened to be his wife,
gave me a small mask to put over my face with each
pain, a gas called Trilene.
I had no other medication.
At 12:12, just after noon on a glorious sunny summer day,
Lisa Ruth Trautwein entered the world,
a thick head of dark hair and a great set of lungs
announcing her presence.
And I distinctly remember sitting up on the table and
shouting, “This is fabulous! I want ten of these!”
As I said, stupid.
Winnie Worman, the doctor’s wife and an excellent nurse, holding our 1 day old daughter.
I stayed at the Mission until Thursday, eating in their home. Dick spent the first night with us both and then returned to school on Monday morning to greet his students.
The doctor himself (Robert Worman) with our beautiful girl.
With Winnie and Lisa, outside my room. The government asked them to add 5 private rooms and I got to be in one of them. The entire birthing experience cost us about eight dollars.
We had a rocky first night.
Because my husband was with me, the nursing staff left the three of us alone that night. I very quickly learned how much I did not know about mothering, 
and, once again, how much I did not know about being a woman who carries babies and gives birth.
My baby cried non-stop. Nothing would soothe her.
 And I was more than a little bit weak and wobbly from very normal blood loss that scared and surprised me.
Because, as I’ve said . . . I was terribly uninformed . . . 
Yup . . . stupid.
By 6:00 the next morning, 
I greeted the nurse on duty like a super-hero of some sort. She took one look at our girl and said, 
“Oh, this one loves to suck. I can see it. Try this pacifier.”
Glory be! It worked. From there on, it got easier.
In the picture above, Lisa is about 22 hours old.
I’d been up, showered, shampooed, curlered and combed out, (there were no portable hair dryers in the entire country of Zambia!) and in this picture, I am figuring out how to bathe an 8 1/2 pound human person.
Fortunately, she loved it. . . and so did I.
We brought her home and introduced her to our room and to the space that would eventually be her room.
Dick and I were both ecstatic, overwhelmed with gratitude,
sometimes anxious, but basically simply delighted
to be living with this entrancing creature.
She was, of course, the most precocious child in the history of humankind, smiling at 10 days, laughing big at two months, growing blond hair with dark tips.
Our African students adored her. I think she was the only newborn baby they had ever seen who had longish, straight hair, 
and they loved to touch her, to hold her, to stroke her head.
A Zambian friend loaned me her baby carrier and I used it as a pattern to make this one for Lisa and me.
There were no Ergo carriers in the 60’s.
In fact, American and European parents 
knew nothing about carrying babies on their bodies.
I learned about it from my African friends 
and I used this sling all the time.
From the time of Lisa’s birth until the time we left five and a half months later, I was called Bina Lisa by my African colleagues, most of whose first names I never really knew, as they were always called Bina —- (insert the name of their first-born child). I have been unable to find even one picture of Lisa with our African principal and his wife or with the students who earned pocket money by helping me with my ironing twice a week. (Remember ironing??) They are among a small set of pictures that we haven’t been able to locate as we’ve been scanning old memories into our computer.  But I have strong and happy memories of their warm acceptance of our baby and of the gigantic leap of respect our becoming parents engendered in the attitude of our students toward us.
This was Lisa’s favorite position, hanging upside down, sucking vigorously on that pacifier.
All five new babies near the end of our time in Zambia. 
Lisa was the only girl.
Our next door neighbors, Rosemary and Harry King, holding Lisa at a staff gathering. Harry took the black and white photos you see in this and other of these African Journey posts.

The Kings were from Virginia. Millie and Dave Dyck, our neighbors on the other side – and the parents of Michael, born 2 weeks after Lisa and pictured above and below, were from Canada. He went on to become the head of the Mission Board of the Mennonite Brethren Church in that country.
Michael must have been teasing Lisa to make her pout like that. 
Mom and babe on Easter Sunday, 1968. Is she not the cutest thing ever?? 
(Until her sister and brother were born, of course. To say nothing of all the grandkids…)
We did take a trip on the way home.
But by the time we actually left in June, that trip
had been shortened considerably.
We spent one week in Kenya, visiting some friends who were teaching there, then about 10 days in Switzerland (pictured above) and Germany, visiting my cousin and some friends from UCLA.
We were so smitten with our girl that we wanted to get her back to the arms of our loving families just as quickly as we could. And she was a great traveler, too . . . until our very last flight. From Copenhagen to Seattle, she cried almost the entire way, then settled down as we made the last leg into LAX. 
That little one was just plain done with airplanes.

We were greeted at the airport by grandparents, a great grandmother and a small horde of aunts, uncles and a smattering of cousins. 
It was a deliriously happy time and
I think we brought home the very best souvenir imaginable, don’t you? 

 Becoming a mother changed me in ways that are profound, 
in ways that I cannot articulate.
Carrying, birthing, nursing and tending three small persons is soul work, 
down deep living-life work, sometimes terrifying, always gratifying heart-work.
Meeting Lisa was my introduction to that work
and that meeting took place a long way 
from the only home I had known to that point.
There is a very real sense, however, that birthing her in that wonderful place cemented in my spirit, 
my heart, 
even in my body, 
this truth:
home is not a geographical place 
so much as it is an emotional space,
a spiritual point of connection and commitment.
All of her life, Lisa has been able to say,
“I was born in Africa.”
And we have been able to say,
“Africa was our home.”
And those two things go together.

I will happily join this long story with Jennifer and Duane:
And one week later, this will be my first entry in the Parent’Hood synchro blog, joining through Joy Bennett’s blog: