Thursday, November 3, 2016

San Antonio, Texas

It's been a few days since we were in San Antonio and even longer since we had a decent internet to work with. Texas is very big, but there doesn't seem to be a lot to it. A lot of wide open spaces. I don't think they believe in global warming as none of the campgrounds have recycling bins.

San Antonio, however is an oasis in the midst of all this openness. We spent 2 1/2 days there with no presidents to visit and managed to keep busy.

San Antonio is famous for its river walk  through the middle of downtown and for the Alamo, site of the famous battle that symbolizes Texas fight for independence from Mexico

Inside Mission San Jose
The Alamo is actually one of a string of missions built in the 1700's by the Spanish first as a means to convert the indigenous peoples to Christianity and second as a means of protecting travelers on the Western frontier. Hence it was first a church then a fort. The other four existing missions are still active parish churches. The missions are approximately 3 miles apart, the distance which was considered a one hour walk for a person. Mission San Jose in the center is the largest and best preserved. We were actually walking into the church for a visit when my brother phoned to give us some very positive news regarding his fight with melanoma. What a wonderful place to settle in for a few minutes to say a prayer of thanksgiving.

The Alamo itself is an enigma. It is situated right in the middle of downtown making it hard to envision what went down there about 175 years ago when the legendary Davie Crocket and Jim Bowie met their demise in feats of absolute bravery. Within those crumbling walls lies an abridged  lesson in Texas history.

The river walk actually is about 15 miles long. It goes along the San Antonio River from the center of downtown where bikes are not allowed to the furthermost of the missions. Our campground was situated right on a trailhead which made it easily accessible to ride our bikes on it. We rode to the mission conception. It was a lovely stretch of the river away from the urban setting.

River walk trail

Along the River walk and Villita, the oldest buildings in town.

Mission San Juan

Mission San Jose

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Revisiting Presidential Terms

So far this trip has been all about fulfilling one of Don's lifelong dreams: visit all the presidential libraries and/ or museums. In some cases, particularly those of our founding fathers, it means visiting their homes such as Mt. Vernon and Monticello. The reason I mention this is because he had his list down to 4 and here in Texas within a relatively small circle reside 3 of those. We covered both Bushes, LBJ, and the site of John Kennedy's assassination in Dallas.

Don looks very comfortable in George W.s oval office
It seems a very appropriate year to do this in the midst of a very interesting (?) election. Each of these men accomplished great things for our country during their terms in office. Even if you had less than admiration for any of them while they were in power, going through their libraries and studying the decisions they made and the laws they effected in context of the times in which they lived, anyone can find something of value to themselves.

Deep in conversation with George H.W. Bush
And whatever people thought of them as individuals one thing was certain, their hearts were in the right place doing what they thought was best to serve and protect the American people. Decisions, right or wrong, were made in the best interest of American as they saw it at the time and not in their own self interest or that of their respective parties.

I try very hard to keep my writings non-political, but please forgive me for my digression.

Sizing himself up with LBJ
It is very scary, the candidates we have to chose from on Nov. 8. Can we trust that our next president will be able to put aside the narcissism and bitterness engendered by their campaigns and do their best for the betterment of the American people. Only time will tell. All I can say for now is God bless and protect America from herself.

Site of JFK shooting as seen from Texas Book Depository window. The trees were much smaller in 1963

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Taking Time to Worship Along the Road

The Grotto of Mother of Sorrows, Portland, Or.
This week-end we attended mass at St. Joseph Parish in Bryan, Tx. On the way out of church I opined that I wished I had kept a list of all the different churches we have been to in the 46+ years we have been travelling.
As a Catholic, it is easy to find a church and mass time that fits your needs. Sometimes it takes a bit of effort, fitting it into the agenda and sometimes, admittedly, we have not made the effort but those are times to regret.

Making time for mass reminds us to be thankful for the opportunities we have been given to explore our God-given world as well as making some very special memories. It is like bringing Jesus along on the trip and could there be any better company than that.

In Dublin, Ireland we attended a local church to hear a sermon making women responsible for getting their husbands to church. We have attended masses in a local parish in Italy, the Vatican and at Notre Dame in Paris. We stumbled into a French language mass in Windsor Canada and a Latin mass in Wausau, Wi. only to realize how universal the language of the Eucharist is.
In Michigan, we drove 50 miles with our kids only to find out we were given the wrong time for the mass and we were locked out of the church for being late.
El Cristo Rey, Grand Canyon
Twice we were privileged to hear mass in the midst  of God's creation, the Grand Canyon.

We have attended services, both Catholic and non-denominational, at campgrounds sharing a common bond with fellow campers. Whenever we are in Atlanta, we attend the Methodist Church with our son's family.

Worshipping with people of different cultures is part of the adventure. A part that has given us a feeling of peace and many fond memories.

Monday, October 17, 2016

What is a BFF

This one's for you Dorothy

The kids have an expression bff which I believe means "best friend forever". Forever is a long time and even longer to someone who is just at the beginning of their life journey. True friends are rare in this life and I have been blessed with many. Can one have more than one bff or do you risk offending many by choosing one?

We have started off our current adventure by visiting friends whom we have known since the beginning of our life journey. People who were there at the beginning, are still a part of our lives, and probably will be to the end of our days.

I'll never forget the day I met Grace. My parents had just dropped me at the dorm, Wardall Hall on the Champaign campus of the U of I, and headed for home. I was sitting on the edge of my bed contemplating how to begin my college career when a rather diminutive mom walked in and said to me, "this is my daughter Grace and she doesn't have any friends. Will you be her friend?" Friendless as I felt at the moment how could I refuse.

I don't know to this day why Grace loves me  but I do know why I love her and have tried to hold her close to this day. First I fell in love with her quirkiness and quick wit. Even when telling the most tragic story she can find a bit of humor in any situation. As I got to know her better it was her heart that held me close. A goodness that is hard to find anywhere else. It is as simple as that. One person in your life who accepts what you are warts and all and embraces it.  The one person you can trust with your most private thoughts with the confidence that you will never be judged.

As Grace put it recently, we shouldn't even be friends. We were constant companions during our first year of  college after which I had to transfer to another school. We talked on the phone infrequently over the next three years. She was in my wedding and godmother to my youngest son. As our families grew and we became busy mothers we saw each other less frequently until she moved to St. Louis and we went years during which our contact consisted solely of birthday and Christmas letters. Now our children are grown and although we still talk to each other infrequently and visit less frequently, each encounter just seems to continue where we left off as though no time has passed at all.

Hardly a day has gone by over the 45 years we have known each other that I do not have a thought of her and no matter how long it has been since our last contact, I know that if I ever need her she will be there  for me in a flash. That's why we took a selfie this week and posted it on facebook with the simple caption "bffs"

While visiting Grace, we stayed around the corner from the historic district of St. Charles, Mo. A quaint town with great food and the usual assortment of chotsky shops.

Dinner at Mother-In-Laws House
St. Charlles historic center.

Dining al fresco in October

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Boot Camp, Oscar Shearer State Park

Once again I arrived in Florida for the winter wondering how I have allowed myself to slip into such miserable condition during the fall months when we allow ourselves to wallow in "the weather is so bad I can't do anything but sit in front of the TV eating bon bons" syndrome. This year I thought I had escaped that syndrome by spending a few weeks in Florida before Thanksgiving getting plenty of sunshine and exercise before the holiday gorge. Well, yes I returned to the northern tundra feeling great and well conditioned and then three weeks of no sunshine and the usual cadre of parties with baked goods and great candy readily available and I returned  to Florida in deplorable condition.

Luckily, our first major stop is always, Oscar Shearer State Park near Venice Florida. Aerobic exercise class three mornings a week, the Legacy bike trail (20 miles round trip), 12 miles of sandy hiking trails, the all trails hike each year, and of course, the beach have finally helped me overcome the state of lethargy created by too much to eat and not enough movement.  

Anyone who is my fitbit friend will note the soaring of my steps from last week to this week. My flower has been raised to the max every day and now I feel great. Non fitbit users please excuse the references which you probably don't get.

At least 50% of the trail looks like this.
giving your walk the feel of a real work out.
Did I really hike all those trails for a hot dog?
 Yes, and it was the best one I ever ate.
Our time here is up on Saturday. Over the years of coming here we have made a few friends and acquaintances. It was good to reunite with many of them. We will miss Carl's banjo and jokes, pancake breakfasts, and even the exercise classes and hope all will be the same when we return next year. This is such a great place to recoup from the excitement and fun of the holidays.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

What a Great Summer

Our summer didn't really begin with the Big Adventure. It started the moment we arrived home from Florida the Wednesday before Holy Thursday when we were anticipating 13 house guests for the week-end attending a youth hockey tournament. The afternoon they were to begin arriving, we discovered a leak under the kitchen sink and as Don was heading out to get the parts to fix it he was informed that one of our house guests is a plumber. As a result of our hospitality we had the sink leak fixed, a shower fixed, and a toilet seat replaced. Thanks, Corey. We all had so much fun cohabitating for three days, that we may do it again next year only we requested that they bring an electrician along next time. 

We spent Mother's Day in Minnesota home of the Twins. (also Bob and Gretchen). Bob treated us moms to a wonderful prime rib dinner.

Immediately after returning from our trip we packed our suitcases and headed out by car to Mound, Minnesota. Their mother had a wonderful opportunity to tour Europe with a band as both chaperon and clarinetist. Bob needed a little help with babysitting and managing the household in her absence and Don and I were recruited. These are two of the funniest children I have ever known. The week was filled with laughter and joy. Their love of water in any form makes the swimming pool one of the best babysitting aids ever even on less than desirable days. We found something to do each day, rain or shine, big or little, and each day was an adventure in itself. Even announcing that our adventure for the day is going to the park we get a resounding "YEAH".

 Besides the several parks we visited, we played mini golf twice, (this is Jakie's newest obsession), went on a bike ride to the drive-in for lunch, and spent a day at the local swimming hole. 

Both boys mastered their two wheelers this summer

Jacob had a bit of trouble mastering the steering.

Later in the summer we were honored when the whole family came to Chicago for their vacation. It was only for a week-end, but we sure made the most of it. The biggest event was the day we spent downtown. The twins had their first train ride which Jake told me he had been waiting his whole life for. (He's four). Both of them spent a great deal of time with their noses pinned to the window. We went to the top of Sears Tower, again with noses pinned to windows, lunch at Bergoff's, then Millenium Park to the Bean and the fountains. 

We also hit the All Aboard restaurant better known as the choo choo restaurant, where the food is delivered in a model train, the Children's Museum, and Blackberry Farm. During these days Jake discovered that putting jelly on your peanut butter sandwich is actually a good idea, and chocolate ice cream is just as good, if not better, than vanilla. Robbie decided he would like to go up into all of the towers in Chicago and grandma really knows how to pick the best ice cream flavors.

Our girls paid us a visit in September when Ella and Amy had tickets to see One Dimension, the latest preteen heart throb boy band. Elise came along to hang with the grandparents while mom and sis attended the concert. We had some really great girl time, something that doesn't happen too often in this testosterone dominated family.

The rest of the summer we spent a lot of time on the golf course, a little bit of biking, a few trips with our Winnebago Club, and just having fun hanging with our good friends.

On one of our Winnie trips we visited the Field of Dreams in Iowa. I can't believe how moved I was to be there. I guess it is just such a great piece of Americana which has managed to escape commercialism. It stands in its original state, well maintained and free of charge.

Four days into fall comes my birthday and it was a real wow this year. It lasted for four days. On Thursday I enjoyed my free birthday golf game, compliments of Village Greens, with my friend Mike who shares birthdays with me. In the evening I was treated to a great Italian dinner at Clara's by my niece, Lindsay, and brothers Jim and Bill. I happened to mention the week before that I was short of golf balls and when presents started arriving, I received 42 of them. Thanks, guy, they won't go to waste. On Friday we golfed with Bill and later had dinner with one of our cousins. Saturday I received a birthday surprise visit from our Green Bay Chilsons and we spent the evening in Geneva at our Nephew Jason's house. The week-end terminated Sunday evening with dinner at our camping buddies the Russells. 

As always I try to be forever thankful for the blessings of the family friends we have been honored so with.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Adventures Continue 2014

Here it is the report you have all been waiting for. The 2014 Big Adventure Trip.

This year we were limited to 10 days due to other family obligations so we made the most of them putting somewhere near 3,000 miles on Bertha and covering 3 National Parks, a visit with my sister, and Monticello, the home of our first cousin six times removed, Thomas Jefferson.

Jack has been asking to see Mammoth Caves for the past several years and we thought this would be a great starting off point not terribly far from home. However before we left Woodridge we had to hit Doggie Diner for a Gyro. Jack has developed a taste for Chicago food and his favorite eateries. He now has a culinary agenda for his visits. Besides Doggie Diner, they include Papa's Pizza, Portillos, Connie's Pizza, and the coups de gras, Fannie Mae Candy. Do you see a theme here? Much of this was inspired by his father's nostalgia for home. My children have never wanted mom's special meals when they come for a visit, they are always looking for good pizza. Spending the winters in Florida I can tell you, we live without pizza for almost 4 months and usually hit Papa's the first day back in town.

However, I digress. Mammoth Caves which I have been to twice before was never so exciting as this time seen through the eyes of these children. They have a special way of making everything such great fun. Elise decided this was already the most awesome trip we have yet taken and at the young age of 6, she is already on her 4th adventure with us. They all have their National Parks passports and know exactly how to get them stamped without our aid.

We arrived in Virginia on the evening of Carol and Jim's anniversary. What do you think of a sister who will spend her anniversary preparing a full lasagna meal and delivering it to a campground to five hungry travelers? A the next evening we celebrated our 44th anniversary with hot dogs and s'mores over a bonfire at their home. A great way to mark the passage of time in the presence of family.
Our anniversary selfie

The first day we spent at our cousin Tom's estate called Monticello. Ella has become immersed in history, especially on knowing she is related to our third president. She had her hand up every time our docent asked a question about him. This was her favorite part of the trip.

Shenandoah was especially fun as we were able to explore it in part in the company of my sister, Carol, and her grandchildren Joseph and Jacob. Of, course it was great to spend time with her son, Andy and Amy, his wife. We had a great picnic and a great hike. We ascended to a beautiful view view from on high of the Appalachian mountains. The children spent quite a bit of time climbing out on the rocks while Grandma held her breath in fear of losing one of them. These children are remarkably adventurous and seem to have no sense of their own limitations (if, indeed, they do have any). I was proud of our Jack and the way he kept Elise close to him allowing me to breathe intermittently.
Andy with Joseph and Jacob
Taking off from Virginia, we had an all day drive to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After many card games, we arrived at our final destination.
I taught the kids a favorite Patterson game "Piggy"
We spent the first day hiking the mountain trails to new heights and spectacular views. As is typical of the Smokys, it is difficult to capture the splendor through the fog. It did clear enough occasionally though for us to appreciate where we were. Of course, we had to stop at every high rock for the kids to climb. Jack took such good care of his little sister enabling her to explore further than she could have if it meant that I had to help her. I think he likes his sisters a lot more than he will admit, but we'll keep that between you and me. Our last hike of the day was up to a waterfall and we were able to let them splash in it and cool off. Especially Elise who just can't help but get her clothes wet wherever there is water. She never complained though about having to finish hikes in wet pants. She is a real trooper.
The second day we spent several hours driving through the historic part of the park. We had a good taste of the difficulties and the beauty of pioneer life in this isolated land. Don decided to try to purchase this lovely little cabin as a summer home.

We were camped a short distance from Dollywood and although we didn't choose to spend our time and money in the park, we were treated each evening there by a rather spectacular fireworks display sitting in comfort on our patio.

Don treated us all to a variety show one evening, The Smoky Mountain Opry. There was something for everyone: comedy, singing, dancing, tumbling, and magic. Elise was so totally wowed by the performances that the people sitting near us were equally entertained by her excitement. A good time was had by all.

Returning home we were met at the door  by their Dad who scooped them up and took them away leaving us with great memories of shared time and bonding with those special children.