Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Resurrected

For the longest time there was no Christmas. My family is not Christian. There was no reason to have Christmas. When I married Wife, she brought to me the concept of:

 "What! No Christmas! Are you 'bleeping, bleeping, bleeping' out of your mind! 

Actually Wife would never use the term 'bleeping, bleeping, bleeping' or talk so demonstrably but displeasure was made know to me.

Hence started Christmas in my life. With the coming of kids, came the expansion of Christmas to a full ritual status. Then children started leaving the home. When they were in college, there would still be family coming back for the holiday. Then children started having careers and began moving far around the country and the world. Getting people back began to get harder and more expensive. Christmas began to be smaller. Then children started having children and the cost and ordeal of getting everyone here was even greater to the point where we all recognized it was not practical to have a big family Christmas.

Christmas for us entered its winter. There were years where we didn't do anything. But Wife in particular seemed to find that particularly oppressive. So a few years ago we decided that even it if was just the two of us, it was important to have some kind of ritual celebration. And so Christmas was resurrected. We have adjusted the old traditions to recognize the reality of just being the two of us. But we went back to buying each other presents which in many ways is comical since we pretty much buy whatever we want for ourselves whenever we want to.

We have a lovely couple of days planned out for the Eve and Day of. Hope you all have a lovely holiday too.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Health - WTF!

Over the last four or five months a number of things have happened that have led to my feeling better than I have for a long, long, long time.

The first has to do with a chronic post-nasal drip and sinus issue. It seems to have gone away. I got some significant relief a couple of years ago from the use of acupuncture. But this summer in response to the onset of asthma my doctor gave me a mild anti-allergy medication. The combination seems to have almost completely eliminated all those issues that caused me to be trying to clear my throat constantly, have stuff dripping down causing coughing and bunches of other stuff.

The second has to do with muscle pain. I used to have to get up during the night to take pain killers so I could sleep. I started taking turmeric about a year and half ago. That helped a lot. And then we got our memory foam mattress. That has seemed to help even more. For whatever reason, muscle pain as a detriment to sleep has seemed to disappear.

I also have more energy. I think a lot of that has to do with the success of my transitioned life that seems to be in almost perfect balance.

As in all things, I am exceedingly grateful and giving of thanks.

Friday, December 16, 2016

On Achieving the Steady State

This happens after each one of our trips. While we're on our trips, I am a blogging machine. Each evening I furiously doing my pictures, trying to get everything done so I can get posts up in real time. Don't always succeed but always try to. And there's tons to write about because we're doing so much.

Then we get home and we transition back into our 'non-travel' lifestyle. Which is very regular, like the ebbing and flowing of the tides (a gentle tide, not one of those crazy tides that goes up and down 20 feet and they use for creating electricity...that would be daughter #2's life...Love you #2). Work fills up a lot of the time but at nothing like the intensity of when I was working full time. I do my hiking. I do my writing. We continue to do this and that to add to the decor of the house. I shop. I cook. I do laundry. I do all the planning and arranging of the next trip.

It is all so very regular and so very not stimulating to blog writing.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

On Hiking and Writing

The transition from aged travel fanatic to semi-retired business professional went exceedingly smooth this time. Even Wife has started to admit that the tactic of stopping on our way back overnight at the US hub of entry before we go on home to Albuquerque makes the whole process of adjusting body clocks much, much easier. We have a great house sitter now who collects the mail so we can get right on it rather than have to wait two days until we finally get it. I started sending out emails to line up work meetings a couple of weeks before we were to come home so I the Monday after we came home (a Tuesday), I had a full schedule in place.

The one thing that was very difficult this time was getting back into the rhythm of my exercise hiking. The first day I was going to do it, the wind was pretty high, though not as high as I've dealt with in the past, and decided to pass. Then the next time it was raining. That's a legitimate reason to not go - no need to expose myself to slippery rocks at my age. Finally after a couple of weeks, it was a nice day and I actually did it, and I went again a few days later as schedule called for.

It took me a while to figure out what the issue was but I think it has to do with the fact that when we are traveling, our exercise, walking, is just a natural part of our day. We get up, decide where we're going, go, and spend 4 to 5 hours on our feet. It isn't like I have to program in exercise.

That's not the way it is when we're home. I have to schedule and block out specific times to get out hiking and I have to do something special (get dressed, drive to the trail, ice down when I get back) that is specific to that activity. It's a lot easier when it just fits into one's daily routine.

However, when I did finally get my ass in gear and got hiking I remembered one of the fabulous reasons why I hike - My Story. When I hike it turns into a combination of exercise, meditation, and creative outpouring. The vast majority of my story ideas come to my while hiking. I typically start hiking and will be doing a mantra repetition. Then out of nowhere some aspect of the story I'm working one will come out. When I say come out, it comes to me in the form of full blown dialog/interaction between various characters with a high degree of emotional content. And very frequently it is characters and interactions that have nothing to do with what I'm currently writing. That is how I've ended up with material for a at least two to three more books following the four book series I'm working on.  There is no other time when the creativity flow as it does when I'm hiking. I will switch back and forth between the mantra repetition and the creative outflow through out the hike. I often consciously repeat/go over what has come up creatively as I'm finishing the hike to remember it and then will jot down notes in my various outlines on my computer once I get back.

Just a bit of an update on the overall writing project. I am getting close to the end of the fourth book that I've written of the series that I'm creating. This book will actually be the first book in the story sequence. After this I will go back to the very first book I wrote (now the second book in the series) and rewrite it. Things have changed so much between what I initially wrote going back to my youth and now that it will almost be like writing that book from scratch. My writing keeps developing so I will need to go over the other two books as well. Plus, now that I have created the 'historical foundation' I will need synchronized all the other books to this initial book. I have decided that I'm going to hire an editor once the current book is done. I'm very confident in my story creating ability but I know the craft of writing is lacking. Hopefully I can find someone who I can click with. Then I think I will self-publish them. I've self-published a business book and it's really not a big deal in terms of cost or effort.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Gratitude Flows

Of course this is our national day of thanksgiving so it is a time when one focuses on what one is thankful for. But for some reason my feeling of gratitude and my feeling of wonderment that I of all people should have chosen for such a gusher of blessings is more powerful today than I can credit to just the holiday. Why me? Why not one of the millions/billions of people who have so much less or have to struggle so much more. And even within the narrow confines of my material class definition, I am in wonderment of all the aspects of personal relationships, family, friends, colleagues where I have so much more than others. I bow down in humility in thanks.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Ode to a Grandma

I have been in awe most of my life of Wife's ability to connect with children, especially younger one's. During our recent stop in Amsterdam, she was spending hours of time sitting with the 5 and 2 and a half year old doing various projects. On the last day we were there, she was working on her own pictures when 3.1 came over to see what she was doing. What ensued was an hour and a half of 3.1 sitting next to Grandma raptly watching and participating in the review and editing of pictures in Wife's Light-room program.  I managed to catch both a film of their interaction and a number of still shots without interfering with what they were doing.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Finishing Up Euro 2016 - Trial by Cold

Our last weekend was a second visit with the #3's in their new flat in Amsterdam.  The two flights of stairs to get there to their third floor flat are a bit of a challenge. If 3A had not carried the suitcases up and down for us, I doubt if we could have done it. But their new flat has so much more space than their old one and has so much more light.

I've said this so often but it is painful to have such a good relationship with one's children and have them so far away that visits are so infrequent. Nonetheless, we had a wonderful time...discounting the freezing of our asses off. It was really cold and never got above the low 40's the three days we were there. Since it was mostly hanging around with family, I'll go right to pictures.

If we're in Amsterdam there is a mandatory list of street food we want to get

The absolutely best frites on the shit to have least I do

Waffles with chocolate sauce
(Don't think it was cold?)
Amsterdam has some of the best Turkish Doner outside of Turkey from our experience
In order below Chicken Doner Sandwich, Pide (kind of a meat, eggplant thing), and Turkish pizza with doner in it

Mandatory Art Shots
There was lots of color and light in the Serphati Park near the market

What sacrifice will a Grandmother make?
Going to the Granddaughters Hair Salon

The two stylists size up their victim...I MEAN THEIR CUSTOMER!
"Hmm what do you think?"
"I don't know. This could call for serious intervention."
"You really think so? You don't think a simple combing will do?"
"Puhlease, I am an arteeste."
"Don't you worry. We are experts."
"Agh, Don't leave me now."
The 'artists' in action

On another note, rare photographs of the elusive 3A

My daughter is a woman of complex emotions

And occasionally 

Let us conclude with a last dinner out where we had a wonderful, really wonderful roast beef rib

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Trip Review or Trial by Navel Gazing

We are back in the US staying over in Chicago to ease in the jet lag as I’ve talked about in the past. I do have another couple of posts with pictures from our stay in Amsterdam but they will have to wait for faster internet at home. Instead you get
The Great de-I Travel Navel Gazing Post
For others travel may be something they do occasionally as a way of getting a break from everyday life. For many travel is a chore they need to endure for work or family reasons or any other reason to go from point A to point B. But in the process of discovering what my life was going to be post-career, I discovered that that travel filled a host of deep seated needs. These included:
·      Having new things to discover
·      Enjoying cultures other than my own both ones I have experienced before and enjoy and ones that are completely new
·      Getting me physically out of my work environment, very important as once I decided to be ‘semi-retired’ work tends to attract more time than I would prefer giving it.
·      Providing an activity that could satisfy aspects of my Type A personality through requirement for planning and organizing
·      Giving me something challenging, something that tests my physical, mental and decision making capabilities.
·      Allow me the opportunity to renew the experience I had as a student of ‘living’ in a country as opposed to ‘visiting’ a country.
As Wife and I started doing our extensive traveling we developed a number of initial assumptions that would act as a template for planning our trips. These were:
·      Wanting to staying at a one place for extensive periods of time (3 to 4 weeks)
·      Being close to the ocean
·      Having a view
·      Wanting to be able to use a vehicle to get off the beaten path
·      Get variety – go different places
·      Make full use of our time
·      Stay in house or apartment rentals rather than hotels as much as possible
·      Aim for the best quality of rental – beds, public area – as possible
·      Travel on shoulder seasons – Spring and Fall
·      Try to leave in the fall after we have fully enjoyed our home/garden
·      Try to return in the spring in time to plant the garden for full enjoyment
·      Experience as much as we can during each trip
Our last two trips have resulted in a substantial amount of learning on our part which in turn is causing us to consider changes in our mode of travel.
Probably the single most important learning is that our physical capabilities are declining due to age. This in turn affects many the means and behaviors of how we travel.
·      Our ability within any given day to walk/climb/carry
·      The long-term negative affects when we ignore that declining ability
·      Our tolerance and enjoyment of driving in challenging situations
·      Our tolerance for cold or very hot weather
·      A need to have more rest; in a day, during a trip
We are also finding there is a real limit to what you can determine on-line in researching rentals. No matter how many pictures you look at or reviews you read, there is a good chance there is going to be something that you have missed.
I think I can clearly state that I’ve disproved the idea that you can replicate living in a place if you are just traveling there. Even staying 4 weeks somewhere is not going make it like living there. Living somewhere means truly being part of a community so you have to have something going on in that community other than just visiting it like work or study.
We also are coming to grips with the fact we get bored easily. Once we’ve seen most things in an area we’re ready to move on. As of the moment, we haven’t found some magic locale where we are ready to stay for some extended period of time.
The driving gets to be a real chore and energy drain, if I am doing it all the time and we are doing it in very challenging environments. So if we are going to drive, we can’t have me doing it all. In fact, we’re finding using public transportation (in city mass transit) easier as a means to get around
After much discussion, we have come to some conclusions (these pertain mostly to European travel which because of daughter #2’s next post being Kiev is going to dominate our activities for at least another 4 years).
The first of these deals with getting the weather and temperature we want. We want to continue to travel on the shoulder seasons of the spring and fall. If that is true that means we’re going to have to give up some of the time we enjoy in our home and garden to ensure the best possible weather when we travel. In the spring that means probably not leaving until the mid/end of March and coming back the mid/end of May. In the fall it means leaving no later than mid-September and getting back the first week of November.
If places we want to see are in Northern Europe/away from the Mediterranean, we have to go there after April 30 or before October 1
The next of these deals with driving. We need to bite the bullet and get an automatic transmission car when we rent so Wife can do some of the driving. We have to be willing to give up the views if it means crazy climbing driveways. In general, we need to be much more careful about the environment we’re in as far as driving is concerned. That many mean searching for areas that are flatter.
Dealing with our boredom factor and the fact that we can’t really scope out the quality of a rental means that we probably shouldn’t stay more than two weeks anywhere. Our experience of going to Avignon on the spur of the moment and finding a place in Paris when we were stuck has given me confidence that we don’t have to plan our full trip out in advance and can be a bit more freeform in our travel so if we’re not happy somewhere we can go elsewhere.
We definitely want to stay in more cities that have good public transportation. But we need to be careful that we stay away from any apartment that requires a multi-story climb to get to it.
We continue to like going to wine growing areas, particularly those with well-developed wine tourism (as in the Rhone area as opposed to Austria). We loved our time in Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas. It would make a lot of sense for us to schedule going to a wine region first and buying wine for the rest of a driving trip.
Along the lines of not getting stuck somewhere we don’t enjoy, we should continue to combine countries/cultures that are new to us with countries/cultures that are familiar.
Here’s a biggie – if we are acknowledging we are physically slowing down and not capable of doing as much, we need to be willing to accept that we are going to miss things in any area. We are going to have to accept doing less. So far we’ve been a dismal failure at that. I mean on this trip on the very first day, the very first day we way over did it. We have to stop carrying huge ass packs with us. We bailed on them in Paris and it was noticeable the difference on the wear and tear bodily. We also need to develop activities we like to do that are portable that can accompany us so if we’re tired or the weather is bad, we can just spend a day or two wherever we are and be content.
Finally, there is a big challenge of how we’re going to take all these learnings and use them when we have a trip to somewhere that is completely new to us. For example, our next adventure is taking us back to Asia where we’re going to be visiting Japan, Korea, doing some kind of beach resort thing with #2 and family somewhere in Southeast Asia and other things perhaps. Will we be able to resist the need to try and see as much as we possibly can in a totally new country/culture? I don’t know, but we’ve committed to focusing much more on these issues as we plan this next trip.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Heading Home - Via Amsterdam

We're just about done with the great 2016 European Epic Trip.

We left Paris yesterday and took the train to Amsterdam where we are going to spend the weekend with #3 and family before we head back home on Monday. We've been to Amsterdam so many times that coming here is about visiting family. HOWEVER, as #3 and 3A know and plugged into the family schedule, there is a mission for Wife and I to spend a half a day going after and eating all of our favorite street food .

While it was pouring rain yesterday (but fortunately starting just after we got into the kids new flat), today is a weird day in Amsterdam - all sunny and blue sky. However, not warm. The high is only going to be 5 or 6, very low 40's for we Fahrenheit folks.

A lot of learning has taken place during this trip relating to what Wife and I want and can do as far as continuing to travel. A navel gazing post will be forthcoming.

Foodie pictures post grazing also to come.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Finishing Up Paris or Trial by Nostalgia

We finished up our brief visit to Paris today and will be heading on to Amsterdam for a couple more days with the family before we return home next week.

Paris for me is different than anywhere else I travel. It is the first love. It is a place that always makes me feel comfortable and at home when I visit. The first city I ever visited and stayed in when I came to Europe to study in 1967-68. Even though we only spent 6 weeks here before heading off the Normandy for the bulk of our time, I would always be coming back to Paris for weekends. Then as I went on with life, I would keep coming back. I took Wife there for our first international trip right after we were married. I took my girls there as very young ones and as early teens. And as travel has become a major part of my transitioned life, Paris still beckons.

The city has changed and yet seems to not change. The roads, the way the buses and the metro work, the small shops, the pace of life somehow seem the same. I'm sure if I had lived here all this time I would see much bigger changes. But for a person who drops in every so often, it is strangely consistent.

What has changed to me seems for the better. I don't see hardly any of the haughty francocentric arrogance that used to be a hallmark of visiting this city. We have been blown away by the kindness of so many people like when Wife's backpack got caught in a metro entrance and two middle aged women helped her get through or the young bellman at the hotel our first night who seeing we were whipped made sure everything was going as we needed, or the two waiters we had the last two nights for our meals who spoke a combination of English and French without any hangup of which language was being used and who looked genuinely pleased at our pleasure with the meals.

Paris Pictures

Breakfast at de-I HQ/Eldership Paris
We are on the Left Bank, 5th Arrondisement, the Latin Quarter
I try to go elsewhere in the city as a base but some how 'home' keeps calling me back

The well known corner of the Rue St. Jacques and Rue Soufflot
To the West, the Eiffel Tower
To the North, the Sorbonne

And to the East, the Pantheon

Go past the South side of the Pantheon for three blocks and you come to:
And where it all began for me
Which today is a nice set of residential flats but back in the day was a cheap little student hotel
I was up on the fourth floor in the center room.

Go around the opposite, North side of the Pantheon and you come to the Church of St. Genevieve.
The origins of this church go back to the earliest conversion of the Gallo-Romans to Christianity. But the current church, although it looks Gothic, was actually built the late 1600's to early 1700's. So much of its decoration is Baroque. Believe it or not this was my first time in this church.

Then we headed down to Ile de la Cite and the Cathedral of Notre Dame. One of the pillars of Gothic Cathedral architecture. As with so much of older France and especially the church buildings, it had deteriorated and then was greatly damaged during the French Revolution. What we see know is the result of massive renovation.

Let's talk about Stained Glass
I remember as the young student seeing my first authentic, Gothic age stained glass windows in a Cathedral and being blown away by their beauty, their color, the massive amount of information they are designed to pass on, and the detail of their construction. 

I never knew much about how they were made until this trip when we went to the Musee de Cluny, the National Museum of Medieval Art. They discussed the art of making stained glass in great detail. 

A typical stained glass window scene consists of a number of panels. Each panel is made variety of techniques. They will paint, scrape away, etch, add washes. Here is a link to a Wikipedia article if you'd like to know more.

An example of a single panel
Note the detail of the musculature, clothing and the action of the figures
Now see panels in an ensemble
And the effect of entire windows from both St. Genevieve and Notre-Dame
(By the way, a pat on the back to photographer me. For as long as I can remember taking pictures of stained glass windows always came out with them being over exposed and not really seeing the colors as you saw them with your eyes. I used the manual settings on the camera to offset this problem with a fair degree of success)

Last French Foodie Post!
After a couple of not so great meals, I used my apps (TripAdvisor & Michelin) the last two days for our big lunch meal. Both were at bistros specializing in country style cooking. Sorry that yesterday we were very tired and didn't take pictures but had a wonderful sweet potato soup poured over vegetables and lardons of smoked pork. Then we had a stew made of beef cheeks with carrots, potatoes, turnips, and mushrooms. It sounds very prosaic but was exceedingly good.

Today we were in a place that specializes in the Burgundy area
Wife started with the classic onion soup, something she loves and rated two thumbs up
I had a classic Burgundian appetizer of poached eggs with a red wine sauce
Wife had a grilled Chateaubriand steak she announced was the best meat of the trip
While I had the classic Boeuf Bourgenion, beef stew, that was equally as good as the daube in St-Paul-de-Vence or the stew we had yesterday.
Accompanied by a glass of Givery from Burgundy, and the service of a delightful waiter, Wife and I agreed, it was an excellent way to end our stay in France.