Flashbacks

More strollers, more skateboards, more helmet-wearing youngsters…… the transformation within our neighborhood has become clearly more evident during this pandemic, with many families spending more time at home, and a younger generation of families flocking to the streets.

“I just got this new scooter!!!” …. exclaimed the young boy with a helmet and a proud smile, probably 7ish, his face glowing with excitement. As I nodded and started to pass by, he kept looking up at me, eager to engage in conversation. He looked so….happy! Something about his “look” – the eagerness, the excitement in his eyes, the sheer “boyishness” – something about it touched a soft spot inside of me, and took me back 20 years…..

Once upon a time, WE were that young, new family in the neighborhood. Not this neighborhood. There were actually several (Louisville…..Minneapolis…..Chicago), as we explored new career opportunities, embraced new surroundings, and navigated the world of raising little boys.

“Wow – I absolutely love your scooter, it is so cool!” I replied to the adorable boy. His younger brother, probably 3ish, trailing behind on a little bike with training wheels….and bringing up the rear, a young pony-tailed mom, pushing a little baby in a stroller.

This was my life, years ago ….. on a sidewalk in a Midwest suburb, walking to the park with my 9-year old on a scooter, my 5-year old trailing along, and me, trying to keep up as I pushed my new little baby in the stroller, feeling some guilt as this third child always had to settle for quick naps in the stroller. My mind can clearly “see” this image, even the vivid colors of the grass, the trees, the sky. My brain can clearly remember the exact feeling of this long-ago moment…..all of the joy, mixed with worries and fatigue at the same time……juggling daily responsibilities, feeling capable and content on many days, yet sometimes overwhelmed and lonely on other days, craving faraway friends and family. I can remember….all the feelings. I can remember…..my sweet, wild little boys. My throat tightens.

As I walk away from this cute family, I secretly send “vibes” to this young mom, as I think about all she must be dealing with, along with the extra challenges of the pandemic, social distancing, and remote learning (aka, home schooling!). My heart goes out to her, and all mothers right now.. Parenting is challenging enough, even under the best of circumstances…I cannot imaging raising little ones during this time. I would likely lose my sanity. Yes, many prayers and vibes sent her way.

My mind drifts back to those early years ….so busy and challenging, yet also, a pure sweetness, even a blissful “innocence”. With three energetic boys, it was easy to get caught up in the challenges of every single moment, without giving a passing thought to any future challenges or hardships ahead. During that early stage of motherhood, my images for the future life of my children was always idyllic and hopeful. But just like every family on earth, we have endured some bumps and obstacles along the way…..along with many wonderful moments of pride and joy. We have sailed through some dark and stormy waters, no doubt…but with love and patience and tenacity, we have learned how to navigate through rough waves, and stay intact. If truth be told, we are always still learning.

All of this – all of this – overwhelms me as I walk along, after my quick interaction with this sweet young family. This mom has NO idea how the years ahead will unfold. None of us do. Each individual path will be unique and special, but no path will always be easy.

Today, we are all trying to find our way through this rough, uncertain time in history – a worldwide pandemic, as well as a nation in crisis over racial injustices, and the tension of a crucial upcoming election. The days have morphed into weeks, and months. We are weary. Each person, each family, must continue to examine their own heart, finding their own route. While we are in this unprecedented moment together, we each must navigate our own way, finding hope and courage to meet each challenge, and hopefully lift others up along the way.

My heart tugs, my eyes sting….as challenging as it is to raise a family, at this very moment I would just LOVE to have my “little boys” back for a day, riding and running along with me for my walk through the neighborhood. I would love to turn back time, pre-pandemic, walk along the path into the woods, holding their soft little hands …. I would love to nuzzle their sweet, sweaty necks…and then walk back home with them, curl up next to them and read them a story.

Dreaming and Hoping

Day 47 of “social isolation”. A beautiful spring day…..the first day of May. Our “sequestering” routine has started to become more familiar, even somewhat comfortable, yet……..while I wake up each day full of gratitude for our health and home, a growing weariness has set in. Some days, the heaviness feels more intense, as COVID cases and deaths continue to rise around our world, nation, state and community. Frustration grows inside of me as I try to follow the news cycle: new information daily, yet interpretations and potential solutions are vastly different….leaders disagree, guidelines change, opinions shift. Trying to make sense of it can be very confusing.

In the beginning of this crisis, as our plans and daily activities took a dramatic turn, we embraced new ways of communicating, and actually found some benefits…much-needed time to rest, to declutter, to read, to complete a few home projects. There was a sense of time slowing down…less time spent in the car, more time for long walks and meals together. Creative ways to “connect” and make celebrations special…..Easter deliveries, mailbox messages, ZOOM gatherings, driveway conversations with neighbors (six feet apart!).

But now – day 47 – the novelty of ZOOM and FaceTime have diminished, and I am truly craving LIVE, in-person connections again!!! I am missing so many people, so many routines…..even simple things, like quick trips to the grocery store and coffee shop, without considering masks and contamination. It is not lost on me for a minute, that my frustrations are very minuscule, in comparison to so many others. Too many people have lost loved ones to this terrible virus, many are still fighting for their lives, and thousands upon thousands have lost their jobs. Beyond my imagination is the physical and emotional toll of being a “front line” healthcare worker at this time. They are true life heroes. My heart hurts as I watch the news and see the death toll rising daily, along with rising unemployment numbers.

As we all grow weary and start to shift our focus to “re-open” society gradually, there are so many questions and unknowns. Our leaders face a tough “balancing act”, with crucial decisions on how to restore the economy while still minimizing the spread and fatalities of COVID19. What is right? What is wrong? In some ways, it seems that we are living in the midst of a grand, historic “experiment”, with lives – and livelihoods – at stake. Unfortunately, many “right” and “wrong” answers may only reveal themselves in hindsight.

Will we ever return to handshakes and hugs? No doubt our society will be changed forever – but it makes me very sad to think that the “six-feet apart” rule might be here to stay. How can we evolve, yet still BE TOGETHER? After all, we are social beings, most of us.

Considering all of the potential changes, I am yearning to find some positives, some HOPE. As one of my friends pointed out, it is important to consider what parts of our “old normal” that we really want to return to? and what parts might we want to let go? what have we discovered about ourselves during our “isolation” that we want to keep, and nurture?

As I consider all of this, I personally feel it is vital to my well-being to remain hopeful, even dreamy. So, I will continue to look ahead and plan toward gatherings with family and friends. While sequestering, I will thrive on research and travel ideas to faraway places (Italy!…Spain!…Greece!)….as well as favorite, familiar destinations (Carolina beaches and mountains!). These plans and places fill me with hope and excitement for the future.

What brings YOU hope and excitement during this time?

Until social gatherings and trips can actually happen again, I will continue to be sustained by the world around me. The quiet beauty in my own backyard…mighty oak trees, soft wind, and solitude of the woods. Just sitting, sipping coffee and listening to nature sounds is calming and restorative. This time of reflection can sooth and lift some of the heaviness, a blessing to carry forward indeed.

Back Porch View – April 2020

Mailbox messages during “stay-at-home” orders

Creating Space

Pandemic (pan – dem – ic) – a disease prevalent over a whole country or the world

Only a short time ago, most of us associated the word pandemic with fiction, with wild scenarios or far-fetched plots in novels or movies. But here we are, in a place none of us ever imagined as a reality.

First, we were told to limit gatherings to 1000 people…then, 100…then, 50…then, 10. And now, just don’t gather with anyone except those in your household. First, we were told no handshakes…then, no touching…now, stand at least 6 feet away from others, or better yet, don’t get near anyone period.  Best to stay in your house. 

The concept of “social distancing”, purposely avoiding close contact with others, can feel awkward, almost rude. Yet ironically, it is just the opposite.  We are backing away, and creating space, simply out of compassion, a collective effort to reduce the spread of this rampant virus. 

Funny, how lifestyles can change in a matter of days. “Technology-challenged”individuals are now embracing virtual meetings and online classes. Simple, everyday movements are being constantly re-examined, as we wash and disinfect every single item in sight.  After recently bringing home a take out food order, questions swirl…..should we remove the food from the bags outside of our door? …should we spray down our car?…..should we remove our shoes outside?  …..should we? should we? should we?

Being sequestered, we are slowing down, and sometimes taking more notice of nature around us – flowering buds of spring, birds chirping, fluffy clouds in the Carolina blue sky, fiery sunsets.

Once this pandemic finally passes, we will be changed, perhaps more mindful in many ways. Hopefully we will return to “life as normal”, yet with more appreciation for the small, everyday things we once took for granted, a very short time ago…intimate gatherings, sharing of words and laughter, the wonders of nature, smiles, handshakes, and hugs.  

*To be published in Poetry and Prose Anthology, Webster’s Reading Room, by Old Mountain Press, Spring 2020*

Spring 2020
Spring Sunset during Pandemic – March 2020

Our Travel Tree

Every year, the Christmas season seems to roll around earlier, and with each passing year, I feel less “ready” to embrace it. After the whirlwind of November birthdays and Thanksgiving, along with an early December ACC championship game in Charlotte for our Clemson Tigers the last few years, it seems that I cannot fully wrap my head around the holidays until mid-December…..and by that time, my “to do” list is scary long.

So, as I start to think about decorating and shopping and wrapping and cooking and entertaining (along with planning for year end deadlines, and oh, another family birthday) it is quite tempting to fantasize about crawling into my bed, and not arising until January 1!

BUT every year, as I reluctantly begin the process, somehow I manage to slowly, slowly, find the joy amidst the chaos.

One tradition that helps me find joy is decorating our travel tree, which we started about 7 years ago. We have always collected ornaments on our travels, beginning early in our marriage. The travel ornaments initially hung on our regular tree along with all the other sentimental ornaments, until we finally realized that we had collected enough (over 25+ years together) to fill up a new, separate tree!

So each year since we started this tradition, decorating this tree brings more personal joy into the season, as I reminisce about every location, and start dreaming about potential new locations for the upcoming year!

A few ornaments from this past year include Savannah, California, Charleston, Switzerland, Italy, and London. I treasure each trip and each memory from 2019, along with all the previous trips and memories. Each ornament tells a story……beginning with our first travel ornament, the German “Oktoberfest” ornament from Munich in 1992.

Now that the season is coming to an end, it is time to start packing up all the ornaments for storage until next holiday season. Funny….as hesitant as I was to begin the season, I am now equally hesitant to see it come to an end. We have spent many special, beautiful days with family and friends! As I slowly start wrapping up each precious ornament from the travel tree, I wonder what 2020 will bring….and beyond??

A new decade, hopefully many new travel opportunities, creating more special memories, in special places, with special people!!!

Travel “gems”… close by!

August

After our special, wonderful European adventure in July, I will admit to battling a bit of travel “melancholy” in August……frequently finding myself daydreaming about narrow Italian streets, scenic train rides through the Alps, magnificent medieval ruins, creamy gelato, rich espresso……ahhhh, so easy to get lost in the recent memories and become fixated on the idea of returning to these destinations, or discovering new places far, far away……

September

Back to routines of school, work, yoga, and daily life……. but not wanting to completely let go of Italian culture, I consumed Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, soaking up every word, envisioning myself in Naples and many other locations within the books. When the last pages were finally turned and long saga ended, I felt a sense of loss, a genuine “craving” to hold on to the characters, and keep experiencing this other culture…..far, far away from home. Yet, as tempting as it was to stay in this state of melancholy and faraway dreams, I started to acknowledge that this was not a healthy way to pass my time…..

October

Enter Autumn….. fading sunlight and the beginning of transformation all around us…..greens gradually turning to reds, yellows, oranges. Pumpkin spice, cozy sweaters, and Halloween decorations! Slowly, gradually, as temperatures continued to drop, my sense of “adventure” started to re-align back to the present moment, back to the world around me, back to the beauty and treasures close to home.

A big thank you, to October, for reminding me that unique, special travel adventures do not always have to be far-flung destinations. I totally enjoyed re-visiting a few favorite NC/SC spots with a few favorite people, as well as discovering a few new treasures along the way!

Relaxation and “excitement” with Mom – in Cherokee, NC

Quirky, fun Asheville and Quaint Black Mountain and, NC

November

Now here we are. Ready or not, time to enter our busy, crowded season of birthdays and holidays. We will celebrate at our home or nearby…..special times to cherish with family and friends…..yet no doubt this season can also involve stress and tension. My tension will be reduced by yoga, long walks, long baths….and maybe, maybe, just a few dreams of faraway places.

Today……Rest

Schedules and routines will be forced upon us soon…..

today, let’s rest and play in the mountains.

How about ….. admiring the sunrise? Then going to back to bed?

Closing eyes, savoring the moment, the peaceful quiet

No rushing, no schedules, just for today

Fighting an urge, a habit….to GO, to plan, to be “busy”

But no…..just for today, it’s not necessary

Maybe, linger over coffee

Or walk in the breezy mountain air,

Or books, games, stories, laughter, togetherness

Tomorrow, more driving, more family connections

Next week, schedules and school and traffic and jobs,

and plans, plans, plans.

But today, right now…. let’s slow down, relax

Listen to the birds sing, the distant train whistle

Find beauty in stillness

Today, rest.

Orvieto, the ”little gem”

July 10,11,12

Viewing Orvieto from a distance is quite spectacular, truly an “intact” ancient medieval city perched high on a hill of volcanic rock. Beneath the walled city is an underground network of tunnels and caves, dating back thousands of years, and still in existence today – just below the winding, cobblestones streets, artisan shops, trendy shops and cafes. The main “Duomo” of the city center is a beautiful, Gothic Cathedral. Orvieto’s nickname ,“citta bomboniera”, means “little gem” (quite appropriate!).

Orvieto’s origins trace back to the Etruscan period, around 600 -800 BC. Walking around a city with structures from this period is VERY surreal!!! The Etruscans used the intricate network of caves and tunnels underneath the surface to survive, and hide from enemy attacks……which actually worked for hundreds of years….until the Romans ultimately conquered them around 200 BC and destroyed this city, along with the entire Etruscan civilization. However the network of caves and tunnels still existed (although abandoned)……and the city was rebuilt during the Middle Ages. It became a thriving, active city during the Medieval period and continued to flourish for hundreds of years. The underground caves and tunnels were used for shelters and hideouts during many battles and wars throughout history. Since then, the city has continued to grow and survive, changing with the times “above ground”, while the network of caves and tunnels remain intact below ground.

Today, the caves and tunnels still exist, but most sections are privately owned by the businesses and its residents, directly under each property. The caves provide a perfect storage area for wine with the cool temperatures, but sometimes the caves are used as a sort of “basement”, for storage of other household items as well. One favorite “find” in Orvieto was le grotte del Lunaro, a restaurant which has an entrance from street level, but steps leading down into an open dining area, actually a portion of the cave which had been renovated and decorated in the most interesting, charming fashion. Service was great, as well as the wine and food ….. especially the homemade black truffle pasta! Oh my!

Orvieto retains so much character and charm within its city walls, it is easy to see why it has become a popular tourist “day-trip” from the larger cities. Also, there are a few strong advantages for Orvieto tourism: one, the town sits conveniently on a train line between Florence and Rome……and two, it sits right in the middle of the rolling, picturesque hills of Umbria, a significant wine-producing region. We visited one small winery, Madonna del Latte, a rather new winery for this region, but they have already produced some award-winning wines from their vineyards. The owner, Leon, gave us a wonderful tour and tasting, while sharing much of the region’s history and his wine-making passion. He also served some marvelous local cheeses and prosciutto along with the wines. We enjoyed talking with others from Finland and Germany at the winery……a wonderful way to spend Friday afternoon!

After three nights, we were a little sad to leave Orvieto and our lovely bed and breakfast, Casa Selita, which is situated in an olive grove just beyond the walls of Orvieto. For easy access into town, there is a path uphill through the grove, leading into the city. Along this path into the city, you are treated to lovely panoramic views of the Umbrian hillside. We loved making this trek up to the city and back, as well as spending time in the bustling streets of Orvieto, both night and day. We met many warm, welcoming people, including a very nice bar owner/musician, a Frenchman named Antonio. He enjoyed giving us some local wine recommendations.

As our train pulled away from the Orvieto station, heading toward Rome, we sipped our strong espresso and talked about returning to this area again, wishfully dreaming about renting a villa for the entire summer!

Venice….city on the water

July 7,8,9

Some friends suggested we avoid Venice. When researching and gathering information for our big trip, we had to decide where to focus our time, knowing we could not see everything. With limited time and so many wonderful places in Italy, we did consider focusing on other areas.

But…now that we have experienced this unique city for ourselves, let me make one thing clear: I AM SO GLAD WE KEPT VENICE IN THE PLAN!!

The truth is, we just could not bring ourselves to leave it out. After weighing our options, we both could not imagine a trip to Italy without seeing this iconic city on the water. And honestly, it even surpassed our expectations, it is so special and different, unlike any other place on earth!

On arrival, we found a bustling, loud, busy train station (hello, Italy!) and made our way to a water taxi platform, amongst throngs of tourists….it seemed as if 3-4 cruise ships had just disembarked nearby! Immediately we took notice of water and boats, water and boats, everywhere, all around us……no cars, no “traffic” as we know it. Even bikes and scooters are forbidden in Venice. What a nice change for a few days – only boats and walking!!!

Upon following a few VERY narrow passageways into a bigger square, we found Hotel Saturnia and our lovely room, with a beautiful bouquet of yellow lilies, from the staff for our 30th anniversary. What a welcome!!!

Making our way through the “maze” of streets, we found our way to the main piazza, the truly magnificently St. Mark’s Square…. with impressive architecture all around, and so very beautiful and magical at sunset! Many people of different nationalities all around, cafes with classical musicians, and……pigeons, pigeons, pigeons!

As the hours passed in Venice, the charm grew and grew. Venice is only TWO miles wide, a very surprising fact, because the curving waterways form a complicated maze of canals, streets, and bridges throughout the city, making it very easy to get lost, and very easy to walk much more than two miles!

Yes, it was very crowded, and yes, sometimes people approached us to “give” us things (such as flowers) for money in return…..sometimes to the point of annoyance….but hey, it’s midsummer, it’s a huge tourist destination, so you deal with the little annoyances alongside with the great things, right?

We enjoyed discovering the local Venetian custom of “cichetti” (small plates, similar to tapas) and wine, traditionally served at bacaros, small bars, many times with standing room only. We toured a few bacaros and learned more about the popular local food scene with Venice Urban Adventures. One of the bacaros has been in existence since the 1400’s!

The history of Venice is rich and fascinating, with original settlements on this network of numerous islands and “swamp” land, dating back to the ancient times of barbarians. The early settlers eventually learned methods to build sturdy structures among the land, between narrow canals and waterways. One historic, mind-blowing discovery for me…..within St. Mark’s Basilica, the actual bones of Mark are kept (yes, “THE” Apostle Mark who wrote one of the four Christian gospels!). We learned this, along with other fascinating facts, on a tour of the Basilica and Doges Palace with Walks of Italy. To condense a long legend regarding the bones…..since Mark was declared the Patron Saint of Venice, a group of Venetians undertook a mission to steal the bones of Mark, which were buried in Egypt. They “tricked” a group of Muslim guards who were safeguarding the bones, by covering the bones with pork (forbidden by the Muslims). The Venetians were successful in this mission, and brought the bones back to be kept in the Basilica, where they remain today. WOW – true or not, a fascinating story, depicted in one of the murals of the Basilica.

The art and frescoes within the Basilica and Doge’s palace are all very beautiful and fascinating, each telling a detailed story, either involving religion, history of Venice, or combination of both.

In Doge’s palace, in addition to the former elaborate government and court rooms, there is also the former prison and torture chambers. The notorious Casanova was kept in this prison for almost one year, before he became the only prisoner to successfully escape, by planning his escape route past the guards during a time of a celebration at the palace.

The famous “Bridge of Sighs” can be viewed from inside the Doges Palace, through a small little window, which prisoners would pass by on their way to incarceration. Sadly, the family members (usually wife and children) would stand on the bridge and wave their final “goodbyes” as the prisoner was led down into the lower level prison.

Bridge of “sighs

As I wandered around this very unique city, I found myself wondering what day-to-day life would be like in Venice. No cars to run errands and transport groceries?? No moving vans to transport furniture and household items?? No cars, no driver’s liscenses, no DMV?? Is there a test to become licensed to drive a boat on the waterways?? These questions and more swirled through my mind as I tried to imagine life in this special city. I would love to explore and learn much more about Venice, I am certainly intrigued……hopefully, there will be another opportunity to return to this amazing city on the water.

Charmed by Morcote

 

July 5, 2019

 

Lake Lugano is situated right on the border of Switzerland and Italy, with many charming villages on both the Swiss and Italian sides of the lake. We decided to take a ferry from Lugano to explore one of the nearby villages, Morcote. The ferry ride offered more stunning views of the Lake Lugano coastline. Many Europeons may take a summer “holiday”, or have a vacation home, on this lake, and it is easy to understand the attraction.

 

There are no adequate words to describe Morcote: simply a very old, very quaint,  hillside Italian village (although still part of Switzerland). We fell in love with the beautiful foliage and outdoor cafes along the waterfront, the narrow cobblestone alleyways connecting the homes, and the stunning historic church overlooking the town.

We decided to climb the MANY steps up to the church, situated on the very top of the village, above the rooftops. Wow, what a steep, long, winding, climb to the top, but we made it, pausing along the way to catch our breath, and observe some spectacular views over the city.  Reflecting inside the alters of the church, walking along the path of incredibly beautiful gardens and elaborate gravesites, it felt like stepping back into an ancient, wonderful fairytale.

 

 On on the ferry ride back, we met a very kind young Swiss man who was almost finished with his hike around the perimeter of Switzerland! He spoke perfect English, with an “almost” American accent…….we shared a quick toast and “cheers” with him before he disembarked to finish his trek throughout the mountains. It made us feel a little silly, for being so proud of our “big climb” up the steps to the church and top of the village!

Lugano – Swiss or Italian?

July 4,5,6

As our train crept deeper into Southern Switzerland, we noticed a change. Alpine beauty was still prevalent all around, but the distinct “Swiss-German” look of the houses and rooftops gradually started to shift into more “box” style, flat-roof homes, as well as more palm trees and lush vegetation ….. palm trees in Switzerland?

Our train guide explained that we were transitioning from the “Swiss-German” section into the “Swiss-Italian” section of the country. Switzerland is unique – a small country with 26 distinct “cantons”, and four national languages (German, Italian, French, and Romansh). Even though English is not an “official” language, it seems that most everyone understands it, and thankfully, English is often printed on menus, directions, etc……we learned that Swiss schools made English mandatory as a second language to all students in 1974.

From the moment we stepped off the train into Lugano, it truly felt as if we were stepping into Italy, not another Swiss town. Italian cars, Italian architecture, Italian voices, as well as pizzerias and gelato stands everywhere! Lake Lugano offers a Mediterranean, beach town vibe, with plenty of upscale shopping boutiques and jewelry stores.

When planning our itinerary, we decided to spend a few days in Lugano for several reasons. First, it is a convenient stop on the way from central Switzerland into Italy. Second, our research led us to discover that an annual jazz music festival , ‘Estival, would be taking place during the weekend. Our first evening, as we strolled to the main square, Piazza della Riforma, we found all types of food trucks and vendors surrounding the streets, with activity and restaurants crowded and busy well into the night. (Sunset does not occur until 9:30, and it seems very common for people to start dining around then.)

 

Each evening in Lugano, after a busy day of walking and touring, it was so nice to stroll toward the piazza and hear the soothing sound of live jazz music. At our hotel, International du Lac, we noticed some of the jazz musicians sitting nearby at breakfast one morning!

Speaking of the hotel, it is a very old, historic hotel in the heart of Lugano. It feels like stepping back in time, with the decor and furnishings, with many reminders of past history through framed pictures and mementos on the walls. The staff is extremely friendly and helpful (and thankfully able to communicate with us language-challenged Americans). The pool area and surrounding gardens are so picturesque. We feel very fortunate to experience this special place. Saving all those travel miles were worth it! (I keep pinching myself!)

 

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