I like what this blogger has to say about travel and the world and wanted to share it with all of you!

The Way I Wander

Someone recently asked me why I love to travel, and I didn’t have an immediate answer for them. It wasn’t something I’d seriously thought about before. My initial reply was simply, “Well, why wouldn’t I? It’s awesome!”

But that’s not a very good answer. And so I’ve thought about it.

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Here it is: the middle of July and that means summer is pretty much half over. Thanks to a nasty trio of infections I enviously watch healthy children, teens and adults enjoying the wonderful summer weather. They are blissfully unaware that losers like myself are confined indoors or swaddled in layers of clothing when venturing outdoors.

That’s fine. Not the end of the world although it is frustrating. On the upside there is still plenty of summer left in what remains of July and all of August. Beyond that we have the lovely month of September and then the very best season of the entire year: FALL! Crisp air, changing colors, leaves crunching underfoot, kids going back to school, football games, apple festivals, HALLOWEEN! While some (negative people) discount the beauty of the season and grumble about what comes next, I love this time of year. Not only is there the delightfully fun trick-or-treat celebration of crazy and color that falls on October 31st there is also Thanksgiving – the precursor to the wonderful Christmas holiday season. Christmas and winter and the first snowstorm and comfort food and hot chocolate eventually yield to the downside of the calendar – that long stretch of cold and snow and wind and ice that us Midwesterners grapple with (in varying degrees) every year. Then there is spring which runs a close second (for me anyway) with all its new growth and green and lovely blue skies and birds chirping and flowers, flowers, FLOWERS!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. There are still many summer days ahead of us and just as soon as I kick this nasty cough I plan to grab the bull by the horns and enjoy what’s left of it!

My dad died in 2007 after an eight year battle with prostate cancer. Mom struggled those first few years after his death dealing with the inevitable loneliness and grief and trying to find, as a friend described it, her ‘niche’ in life. Along the way she’s also had to deal with some serious health issues. Certainly it’s been very difficult for her and for the six of us girls as well. Mom chose to stay on at the homestead, a place she’s called home for more than 55 years. She sold a couple of sections of land a few years ago but has been reluctant to leave and start a new life living in town.

Until now.

She listed both her house, our childhood home and the adjacent apartment buildings this spring. The apartment buildings, by the way, were originally built when I was in middle school — another one of my dad’s many ‘ideas’ — as a dance hall slash tavern. He called it, appropriately, the Timber Inn. You’ll recall that my dad owned and operated a sawmill so the name was quite fitting indeed. Later my dad sold the Timber Inn to someone who wanted to convert them into apartments. Then a few years later my dad accepted the offer to buy back the property and it served as another source of income for my parents for many, many years. Ultimately the upkeep and expense for my mother to maintain both the apartments and the homestead convinced her that now was the time to sell and buy something more manageable in town where she could be closer to friends and to church.

The apartments were sold first and then a buyer materialized for the house. Mom had to move quickly and was able to find a place in town. The closing date on both homes takes place the first of August and there’s much yet to do. Happily she’s excited about this but I know it will be emotionally wrenching for her — for all of us — when the day comes to actually leave.

As for me I haven’t yet been able to get up there to help pack and otherwise prepare for the move but I plan to be there to help come moving day. And when that day arrives, in the not too distant future, I’m sure it will be fraught with anguish and sadness. I’m not sure how to prepare for it or what to expect. I do know that I’m not alone and that countless others have had to face similar circumstances with their aging parents.

I’d be interested and grateful for any insight and recommendations my readers might be able to provide as my mother and all my sisters and I prepare for Mom to move out of the home she’s known for so many years and to move on with this new chapter of her life.

Alright. I know that’s one very time worn expression and not terribly creative to boot. But, for me, it’s so very true!

Last week right before the three day July 4th weekend I started getting the chills. Then the usual symptoms I’ve become quite familiar with as someone with a weakened immune system who grapples with sinus infections throughout the year: headache, scratchy throat, congestion, a bit of nausea and those dang blasted chills. I’m sure the neighbors wonder about me whenever I venture outdoors — in typical sunny, warm summer weather — wearing sweat pants, a sweat shirt and a turtleneck! But when I get the chills I am positively freezing. So I knew IT was coming again.

And come it did — with a twist and a vengeance. When I finally got myself in to see the doctor (on a Sunday morning by way of Urgent Care) I was surprised to learn that not only did I have pink eye (which I suspected) but I also had an ear infection and the not-one-to-miss-a-Julie-sickness-party sinus infection. I have a bit of a hearing loss as it is (runs in the family on my dad’s side) but over the last several days my husband was growing very weary of my repeated exclamations of ‘what did you say?’ just as I was ready to scream every time he mumbled and failed to enunciate! The diagnosis explained everything.

In 2001 I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and in 2003 it was finally brought under control when I started a new treatment regimen of some powerful medicines which unfortunately also serve to weaken my immune system. If you know anything about RA you may already be aware that this disease damages your joints over time due to the immune system essentially working in overdrive and attacking the body causing inflammation, fatigue, stiffness and joint pain. So the meds that I take (gross oversimplification here!) basically deal with potential joint damage by inhibiting the attacks made by my immune system.

These medicines have been a lifeline. Those first couple of years were horrible. Unyielding fatigue, pain and stiffness in my fingers, wrists, hip and feet. At times it took me fifteen minutes or more to walk from the parking lot to my office building which normally took less than a minute or two. A co-worker bluntly asked what was wrong with me. I was often exhausted after getting ready for work in the morning, so much so that by the time I got in my car ready to back out of the garage I felt wiped out. My husband had to cut my food, open jars and car doors, turn faucets on and off and even dress me. I was simply unable to pull up my socks and panties or fasten my bra. He had to zip up my pants and button buttons. Although this was serious business (to me anyway!) I had to laugh the day a friend at work asked how I was doing. She’d heard my husband had to dress me, cut my food and so on. Then she asked ‘Does he do your hair too? I noticed the other day it looked kind of bad.’ Now some women might have felt insulted or miffed but I just laughed. I’d continued to fix my hair in the morning. I had not needed Bill’s help for that! I told my friend I was apparently just having a bad hair day. I know she felt bad and was a little embarrassed but I thought it was hilarious!

Rheumatoid arthritis, at the beginning, was debilitating and painful and I began to fear none of the many medicines my rheumatologist put me on were ever going to fix the problem. Then in 2003 I started Humira and methotrexate — a powerful combination of drugs that finally alleviated the painful swelling of my joints and the mind-numbing fatigue. Since I began using these medicines I rarely have what’s known as a flare up and sometimes I forget entirely that I have RA.

As with most things in life that have value, however, there is a cost associated with the use of these drugs which brings us full circle. These medicines impact the immune system and as a result infections are a real concern. Seasonal flu shots are a must and any time I notice symptoms of a cold or the flu I need to stop taking both the Humira and the methotrexate until I’m well again. Most of the time I’m okay with this. It’s a fair trade-off considering how horrible it was after I was first diagnosed.

Right now, though, I’m frustrated. I just joined a new fitness club with my sister and the two of us have been thrilled about swimming again. Most likely I picked up the pink eye from the pool and while I don’t know that for certain I’ve since learned that people like me with compromised immune systems are more susceptible to picking up the ‘stray’ bacteria (Disclaimer: paraphrasing here — I’m no expert on the subject!) that isn’t taken care of by the chlorine in the water. My rheumatologist suggested I used ear and nose plugs to prevent water from getting caught inside my ears and nose and thereby allowing any bacteria to fester and cause yet another infection.

Once I get well again I’ll give that a try and I sure hope it prevents another triple whammy of sickness like what I’m going through now. Would I go back to the pain and fatigue I suffered early on? Of course not. But getting sick several times a year is no picnic either. So yes I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I am aware, however, of how incredibly fortunate I am. Many people with far worse afflictions would jump at the chance to trade health-places with me. While I am certainly not enjoying being sick right now or the prospect of having to give up swimming I’ll get through this in a few days or worst case a couple of weeks. And there are other activities and exercises I can engage in to keep fit. I’ve been a little tired and grumpy because of this but I do know — I really, truly do! — that things could be so much worse. I have much to be thankful for — including my health. Weakened immune system be damned!

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Nothing like a field of flowers to instill dreamy thoughts of summers past especially those of one’s childhood.  These carefree blooms, photographed at a winery in Missouri, were beautifully swaying in the breeze that day.  Watching their movement, set on an slight elevation overlooking a small pond, with birds  chirping and tweeting as they flew through the mix it was easy to imagine running through the flowers and grasses and wanting to escape to simpler times without the day in, day out worries and demands of our adult lives and responsibilities.  To only think and act as a child, chasing dragonflies and searching for turtles and frogs along the water’s edge.  Leaping with joy and abandon and living only in the moment, shrieking with delight at the smallest discoveries.  Perhaps we should allow ourselves the simple pleasure of appreciating a summer afternoon spent the way a child would enjoy it.  Probably easier said than done since our adult minds seldom let us go too long before thoughts of more serious, pressing matters intrude and spoil the party.  A worthy goal though nonetheless.

 

Creativity is not one of my strong suits. Oh, I appreciate art and creativity well enough (as I interpret these concepts anyway) and there are times when I’m inspired enough to want to produce something, usually via baking or photography, scrapbooking or writing. The first time I baked ciabatta bread I truly felt I’d created something beautiful (and delicious!) My photographs can sometimes turn out to be quite artfully composed – I’m better with composition, however, than I am with the technical aspects of operating my trusty camera. And occasionally (but never often enough) I am able to find the words I’m seeking to convey ideas or emotions that come to mind at those most quiet of times when my heart sometimes speaks — or whenever a word or a phrase pops into my head and I am compelled to flesh it out and DO something with it.

Beautifully and skillfully created drawings, paintings, sculpture, crafts, photography, writing, music and film: I marvel at human achievement. As the old saying goes, I know what I like. Sometimes I’m blown away by what others have created and incredulous that mere mortals are able to fashion such fantastic works of art. And always I’m jealous, wishing I had even a modicum of the talent used to deliver such breathtaking results.

My sisters chide me for my tendency to get choked up when I’m in the presence of light or goodness or grace or the mastery of the written, sung, painted, spoken, woven, sculpted, danced or otherwise illustrated words of the human soul. Watching the Thunderbirds perform at an airshow several years ago brought tears to my eyes. The power and magnificence and beauty of these awesome machines (and the humans associated with them – both the pilots and those responsible for designing and building them) almost brought me to my knees. I was simply awestruck and that moment became lodged in my psyche as a reminder that exquisiteness can be found in many things, if only we are receptive to what’s offered.

Being immensely creative and masterful of any sort of artistic medium is not, as I’ve noted, a characteristic that I possess. I have tried however! In college I took an Art 101 course to fill out my credit requirements for that semester. Going in with low expectations and a willingness to see what I had to offer, I found the assignments to be fun, challenging and sometimes a little off the wall while they allowed me to dabble in a variety of art forms. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that while I wasn’t exactly artistic I did possess a tinge of creativity and that I wasn’t afraid to employ shock value or quirkiness in the delivery of some of my assignments. One especially memorable creation of mine (which the instructor photographed and used in a slide show for future classes) made use of women’s feminine hygiene products as dinner accoutrements – much to the embarrassment of some of the male students in the class. I’m pleased to report I got an A for that assignment and for the course overall.

When I am excited and passionate about what I’m doing, when I am inspired to succeed, when I am motivated and willing to experiment this is when I’m most likely to feel good about the results. So perhaps I am creative after all. It’s just that I don’t have the artistic ability to go with it, to actually produce many things of real beauty. And I’m OK with that (but oh to be able to paint like Monet or write like Jane Austin).  Lest the reader think I’m merely being coy:  for every artistic ‘success’ I’ve had, there are numerous scrunched up pieces of paper in the trash, or cooking/baking results that went awry or photographs that have failed — miserably.  It’s precisely because these efforts — few and far between — have hit their targets that I cherish them all the more.

Where there is passion and motivation for any endeavor the outcome may be seen as pleasing, comforting, interesting or satisfying. When something you’ve made is wrought by your own hands, under your own power, fueled by your own imagination it can be powerful stuff indeed. Some might even call it art.

Last weekend my husband and I drove into Missouri where my son, who teaches chemistry at a community college south of St. Louis, had a bit part in their production of Grease playing the Frankie Avalon role of Teen Angel. This was his first time on the acting stage (he’s certainly not shy and is accustomed to performing in public as he is the drummer for a local blues band). He did a bang-up job and I was one proud Mama.

Watching him on stage I was reminded of my own experiences in high school and community theatre plays. I auditioned in the tenth grade for Dobie Gillis landing a very small part where another actor and I were to walk across the stage. We played high school students walking down the hall and one of the other ‘student’s on the stage was supposed to say something as my cue. However during my debut performance she forgot her line and not knowing what else to do I continued walking until I was off-stage. Still. I had been under those lights in front of an audience and the entire experience was FUN.

My next role was that of Little Rosie in My Son the Exorcist (yes, my high school years coincided with a similarly named box-office hit and so there you are). I wore a pink polka-dotted dress and my face, arms and legs were painted green. I growled and swayed and threw myself at the ankles of leading man Dave Winters, pretending to bite him as he dragged me across the floor of the stage. Certainly not high drama but again it was fun.

The only other experience I had in high school theatre was when Sue Levad and I, not being at all musically inclined, were given the opportunity to participate nonetheless as student directors for the fall production of South Pacific during my senior year. We had a very talented cast and I thoroughly enjoyed the singing, the dancing and the camaraderie of being involved in a high school musical. I recall with much fondness the incredible feeling backstage, the giddiness and laughter as we all watched Dave Schaefer burst onto the stage in his grass skirt and coconut ‘brassiere’. It was exciting, it was thrilling and it is probably one of my best memories from high school.

After high school I performed in a number of Brickstreet Theater productions in our small home town: The Mousetrap, God’s Favorite, She Was Only a Farmer’s Daughter, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown and several others whose names I have since forgotten.  Forest City is a tiny hamlet in north central Iowa (home of Winnebago Industries!) and only occasionally would we have any newcomers showing up for auditions. I rarely played any lead characters and if I’m honest was probably only mediocre at best. But I was one of those few regulars to audition each time and I gave as good as I got.

Aside from learning about staging and costuming and character development the biggest take-away from all of my theatre experiences is what I call the psychology of the audience. No matter how prepared you are or how well everyone on stage memorizes their lines there is no way to predict how the audience will react to what’s happening up there under the lights.

That first night of South Pacific when the audience howled with appreciation to Dave’s grass-skirted gyrations led us to expect the same reaction during the next performance. Except that it never happened. I remember the sense of expectation and waiting for that same euphoria we’d experienced on opening night. But it was flat somehow. How could that be? Why didn’t the audience react the same way?

Later, in other plays put on by Brickstreet Theater, we learned to pause briefly at expected ‘laugh lines’ only to discover during some performances that the laughs never came. On the flip side the audience would laugh uproariously at places we never expected. This was weird. I didn’t understand it but I learned to accept that this is just how it is and as an actor you have to be ready to roll with the punches.

The psychology of the audience isn’t just limited to live theatre. Perhaps you’ve experienced it too? I looked forward to seeing the film Men in Black because I’d heard it was really good. The theatre was packed but hardly anyone – at all – reacted to it. I walked out of there not at all impressed. Actually I hated it. I suspect others had the same reaction. The same thing happened when we went to one of the Spiderman films. Admittedly this wasn’t a movie I would have gone to on my own but we were with other family members and that was their choice. Again the entire theatre just sat there and many of the supposed sight gags and one-liners literally fell on deaf ears. It was a horrible movie-going experience and I could not wait for the film to end.

Of course audience psychology goes the other way too and can help to make the whole experience fun and enjoyable. My husband and I went to The Others a few years ago. This Nicole Kidman film is a dark, tension-filled thriller and at one point the entire full house gasped and jumped in their seats. Then, in a spirit of camaraderie, we all laughed in unison at having been spooked collectively. I thoroughly enjoyed that film.

The ultimate audience participation film, Rocky Horror, is a favorite of mine. And yet I have only ever watched it in the comfort of my own living room. Still I love it for the music, the campiness, the quirkiness and the fun (and of course Tim Curry!). I can only imagine what the psychology of the audience would be like to see it as many claim is the only way to watch it: in the theater with other crazy fans all around you. Perhaps sometime I’ll take in a midnight showing!

Now when I go to a live performance or to see a movie I pay attention to how the audience is responding and I try to evaluate what’s going on ‘up there’ on its own merits and not let my reaction be corralled by the audience’s reaction (or non-reaction). Still though when a production is solid and the actors are good having the other audience members there with you for the ride helps to make for a more memorable experience overall.

I am not an athlete. Never have been, most likely never will be. PE was my least favorite class in both junior high and high school. I dreaded those presidential physical fitness awards we were forced to endure each year. I was never able to throw a softball the required distance (far, far from it). I couldn’t run fast enough. I couldn’t do sit-ups very well. Flat out — I was a pretty poor specimen of physical ability, grace and stamina. I accepted my lot in life and never agonized for very long (if at all) at how much I sucked at anything athletic.

Fast forward to my courtship with Bill. He was a star athlete and is good at almost anything sports-related. Because he loves golf I was determined to try, to really TRY to learn. And a funny thing happened along the way. I discovered that when I gave a good, solid effort and listened to my husband’s instructions on how to hold the club, how to swing the club, how to put, how to chip, how to play — when I really tried — I was occasionally rewarded with a decent shot. Not every time of course (golf is frustratingly like that) but enough to make me want to keep at it.

This was a revelation to me. I’ll never be a gifted athlete but to realize that I can participate in a sport, in some kind of physical activity and get something in return for my effort — well, if not life-changing this was pretty darn close.

I recently joined Lifetime Fitness, primarily to take up swimming – again. I reluctantly add the word ‘again’ since I don’t wish to mislead anyone into thinking that I vigorously applied myself to this activity when I was younger. Not true. I enjoyed swimming and going to the pool when I was a kid but as with anything sports-related I never really applied myself. Being a little older and maybe a little wiser I now find myself wanting to try. I swim the 25-yard length of the pool, stop at the wall, and my heart is pounding in my chest. But, strangely, it feels good. Gliding through the water feels amazing. And I keep going. I’m actually applying myself. I’m on the cusp of doing something ATHLETIC. It’s powerful stuff and when Bill picks me up afterwards I’m actually a little giddy.

I’ll never be an athlete but maybe, just maybe I’ll enjoy the effort it takes to work at being one now. And I think that’s pretty neat.

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Road tripping, either done over the weekend or as a means of travel over the course of several days or even a week or two, brings to mind the old maxim about enjoying the journey and not just the destination. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, when it comes to travel (especially via our nation’s roadways): You never really know what you’re going to get (or where you’re going to end up). Those less brave and optimistic about life’s twists and turns might read this with a negative bent. I, on the other hand, prefer to consider all the wonder, mystery and beauty in this world including the charm, goodness and generosity of those we might encounter along the way.

To my way of thinking there are two necessary components for enjoying a fun and rewarding road trip excursion (aside from a reliable mode of transportation, a full tank of gas and adequate funds to get you to where you want to go):

  • Flexibility: Being joyfully willing to accommodate a change of plans, target destinations and perhaps even travel companions. Individual thresholds to comply may vary (refer to your own personal owner’s manual).
  • Sense of adventure: Welcoming new experiences with grace, enthusiasm and a hefty sense of humor. Employing a gleeful approach to stepping outside one’s comfort zone is a must for cultivating unforgettable memories.

Optional elements for a successful road trip include the following (although some, like myself, would argue these are requirements in their own right):

  • Camera, charger and/or batteries to capture the fun and whimsy along the way.
  • Funky, colorful clothing, solid yet stylish footwear, sunglasses and your favorite jewelry (you want to look good in those photos, don’t you?)
  • Portable laptop (don’t forget the power cord!) to upload said photos and to research landmarks, historical information, find restaurants, hotels, campgrounds and other points of interest.
  • Books, magazines, Kindles to peruse during your downtime or while on the road (preferably while your partner/significant other is doing the driving. ‘Nuff said.)
  • Great travel music which helps immensely over those long stretches when caffeine and the ability to safely rest are just beyond reach. Highly recommended: George Thorogood, Joe Bonamassa, Dire Straits, Queen and Pink Floyd. Not your cup of tea? Pick your own poison.
  • GPS: Our own personal Ginger (when we remember to hook her up) is an invaluable tool for navigating unknown locales, finding the nearest Starbucks or a particular restaurant as well as providing useful stats such as travel time, average speed, maximum speed and rest time. Use with caution however and in tandem with a pre-printed travel route. Ginger has been known to divert us to impractical and/or inefficient paths that she, in her wisdom, deems the preferred method for getting us from Point A to Point B. These alternate routes have at times taken us very much off the beaten track.

So. There you have it. Everything you need to enjoy your time on the open road. Perhaps most important, however, is the desire to just have fun and to make the very most of your road trip adventure. Our world offers a multitude of travel and exploratory opportunities. Now get yourself behind the wheel and go enjoy what’s out there!