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Rolling Down the (Danube) River

Posted: 08-22-2017
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My husband Ron and I embarked on our first ever river cruise in August. We travelled with AmaWaterways on a 7 day float from Vilshofen, Germany to Budapest, Hungary. I say “float” because the sailing was so smooth I could hardly tell when we were docked or when we were in motion. This was a great comfort as I once crossed the Atlantic on the SS United States during very bad weather. I spent the entire crossing on deck with other sick-as-a-dog passengers sipping bouillon while wrapped in two layers of blankets. Staying below deck as the ship rolled and tossed was NOT an option! After 45 years of resisting all forms of water travel, I finally succumbed to a river cruise.
It was fabulous.

THE HIGHLIGHTS

Prague. We signed up for a three day pre-cruise stay in Prague. What a beautiful city! I thought Vienna would be the highlight of our trip but Prague was far more interesting. Vienna features monumental buildings and a rather confusing street pattern. Prague is a checkerboard of public squares connected by very pedestrian friendly streets.
We took a special interest tour of Terezin a Jewish ghetto created by the Nazi’s. Those Jews who refused to die from starvation were shipped to extermination camps. The visit was emotionally devastating. That night we went to a wonderful concert at the Spanish Synagogue in Prague (there are concerts every night at many different locations). The program ended with Jewish folk songs that helped alleviate the sadness that enveloped us from Terezin.

The river locks. We passed through a dozen or so locks that make the Danube navigable for ships. It was amazing to watch the ship enter a lock (while sipping a coffee macchiato from The Coffee Machine) and observe the river water levels drop by as much as 30 feet. Sailing beneath low bridges was also interesting. All the structures atop the ship collapse to allow the ship to clear low bridge clearances.

The coffee machine aboard ship. The coffee served at meals aboard ship was not very good. No problem. They had a coffee machine in the lounge that was phenomenal. It featured 8 different coffee choices (including  straight-up regular,  cafe latte and espresso), heated cups and hot chocolate.  It was like a Keurig on steroids.

Illumination tour of Budapest. Budapest is coined “the Paris of the East” and it certainly deserves that title. Heavily bombed in World War 2, the city has made a remarkable recovery. At night all the amazing buildings along the Danube are illuminated. Drifting past these structures on a clear summer night was stupendous.  We drank wine instead of coffee to toast this spectacular display of lights.

Excellent tour guides. Every day featured a choice of tours, all led by local guides. There were a few so-so guides but for the most part they were excellent. Passionate about their respective towns, they could recount what it was like living in Budapest or Cesky Krumlov (yes, that is a town not a dinner course) before the Russians left in 1989. This personal view of life before and after the communist regime was always interesting.

Living in the lap of luxury. During my college years, I visited Europe on a tight budget. Staying in hostels, eating cheap and travelling by Eurail Pass helped keep costs to $5 per day. Spending 7 days on a luxury cruise ship cost a tad more than $5 per day. But I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed having everything planned out, tour guides all arranged, meals prepared and served, cabins cleaned and bed made.  I liked being greeted by clean towels fashioned into animal forms.  AmaWaterways provided a complimentary pashmina scarf which I figure, based on what we paid for the cruise, is the single most expensive article of clothing I will ever own.
The Wachau Valley. The Wachau Valley is a beautiful stretch of the Danube in Austria that features picturesque towns, the crumbling remains of castles and terraced vineyards. Ron and I stretched out in deck chairs and enjoyed the view. The Coffee Machine provided us with café lattes.

WOULD I DO IT AGAIN?

The cruise definitely surpassed my expectations. Unlike the bus tour of national parks my husband and I enjoyed several years ago, a river cruise avoids the need to pack and unpack at different locations and eliminates long bus rides. I liked having more options in terms of socializing, too. On a bus tour, there are only as many people as bus seats. I liked the larger numbers on a cruise (we sailed with 140 people) because we got to meet many different people.

Sometimes the scheduling got a little too structured for me. I bypassed a castle hike mid-cruise because I just couldn’t handle another guided tour. I am still seeking that perfect vacation that combines the luxury of overnight accommodations found on a cruise ship with the spontaneity and adventure of travelling Europe on $5 per day.

SOME ADVICE

I did not bother upgrading my cell phone so I could use it in Europe. My husband did not even take his. So when my husband missed the bus going back to the ship after a castle hike tour, he had no way to communicate with me or the ship. (This was the one tour I skipped). Fortunately the ship was docked within walking distance (3 miles) so he hoofed it back. Next time we travel to Europe, I am going to make sure we are cell phone ready.
The only other piece of advice I would offer is to study up on the history of the area before the cruise. I wish I had done a cursory review of past events in the countries we visited. My knowledge of the Habsburg Monarchy is pretty weak yet they played a major role in shaping the countries we visited. I made amends by buying several bottles of Frankovka Modra, a red wine supposedly favored by Empress Maria Theresa, the final ruler of the House of Habsburg.  Imbibing history is always  a pleasure.

 

My Mother’s Cruet Set Poses a Cosmic Dilemma

Posted: 07-19-2017
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Here is a picture of my mother’s cruet set, missing three glass bottles from my careless handling.  Not that I have ever used the cruet set in the five decades since my dear mom died.  The glass has dropped and shattered as I have sloppily transferred the set from one area of storage to another.

I look at that darn cruet set and face a cosmic dilemma.  What do I do with a reminder of my mother that I will never use and that my children will never want?  When I showed the set to my adult son  and explained the emotional attachment I felt, he nodded thoughtfully and asked “What the heck is a cruet?”  (A cruet, also called a caster, is a bottle that hold olive oil or vinegar or mustard.)

Advisors to emotional hoarders like me say “let go.”   Take a picture, they advise, if you want to preserve the memory.  Look to  the future, they counsel, instead of wallowing in the past.  And always remember, they say, that your children will never, ever want a cruet set.

I have finally decided to unload the cruet set.  The emotional attachment is still strong but it has been overcome by an even more powerful insight about me and the future:

Polishing cruet sets is not on my bucket list.

My farm wife advetures featured in Growing America

Posted: 06-29-2017
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I had the pleasure of talking to Lynne Haynes, a reporter/writer for Growing America, who wanted to do a feature of my experiences as a farm wife.  Here is the finished article.  Lynne is obviously a GREAT writer because I come off sounding pretty good!

 

http://growinggeorgia.com/features/2017/06/unexpected-farmers-wife-when-city-girl-goes-rural/

Earthquakes and Family Togetherness

Posted: 06-15-2014
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The possibility of earthquakes was the least of my concerns when planning a family vacation in Chile. Travelling with two adult children carried a much higher risk of disaster. I figured after sharing close quarters with me for two weeks, my children would eagerly offer me as a sacrifice to the fiery gods at Villarrica, an active volcano near Pucon.

nick and me in pucon

Our son Nick teaches English in Chile. My husband Ron, daughter Molly, and I accepted his invitation to spend Christmas in Santiago and to welcome the New Year in the lake region near Pucon. Nick took me on an excursion to one of the lakes outside Pucon while Ron and Molly climbed Volcano Villarrica. Molly has always referred to Ron as the “good parent,” so he was in no danger of becoming a human sacrifice. My goal for the day was to allow my son to be in control and not revert to the role of mother in charge. I was determined to forge an adult relationship with my 25-year-old son and respect his guidance. That is why I found myself crawling like a Chilean tree lizard under three rows of barbed wire.

In Chile, private landowners control access to most of the natural features. In the case of the waterfall we were visiting, different property owners provided public access to different overlooks. We ended up at the least attractive overlook but the only way to get to a better one on a neighboring property without a half-mile detour was to scramble over rocks and crawl under barbed wire fence. “You can do it, Mom,” urged Nick, holding up a strand of barbed wire. I flattened myself to the ground and inched my way forward. I did not mention that a closer review of the guide book might have avoided this episode.

After enjoying some peanut butter sandwiches, we hiked a mile back to the main road. Just as we got there, a bus appeared. “Run, Mom!” yelled Nick. Showing the great racing form that earned me third place in the 5K Freedom’s Run category of “old and slow,” I hightailed it to the bus. At our next stop, Lake Cayubuga, we were greeted by great rumblings of thunder. I conveyed my concern to Nick that it seemed we were going to a major water body with a thunder storm moving in. Nick assured me the thunder and lightning and rain would be confined to the upper reaches of the mountain, and it would be sunny at the beach.

As we stood on the beach in the rain, Nick strolled ankle deep into the water to take pictures of the massive rain clouds and the occasional lightening strike. This was too much; the mother-knows-best impulse broke free. “Nick, I advised, “GET OUT OF THE WATER NOW.” I had visions of hosting a posthumous display of Nick’s photographs with the explanation he was struck by lightning while ignoring his mother.

Nick decided it would be best to hitchhike back to Pucon rather than waiting for the bus. “Look old and tired,” he told me, “so people will stop.” No problem, I replied. A very nice Chilean professor (who told us a former student is studying at WVU) drove us back.

That night, Ron and Molly shared tales of their arduous five-hour climb to the top of Volcano Villarrica. I countered with a description of my sprint for the bus. Our trip to Chile was an unforgettable experience. We viewed glaciers, endured an earthquake that registered 6.5, rode horses through the Andes, and were guests at a traditional Chilean barbeque. But what is even more amazing is that after spending two weeks together, my adult children are still speaking to me.

Going to the Dogs

Posted: 06-11-2014
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Here is a sure sign I am getting older.

I am watching too many video clips of dogs on YouTube.

My favorite features a soldier returning from duty in Afghanistan and his dog literally hugs him and cries for joy. I also like the talk show clip of a young officer reunited with her Labrador retriever. The pooch goes crazy when he realizes his master is on stage.

I confided in my daughter that I am watching a lot of dog-greeting-returning-soldier videos and she sympathized as only a daughter can. She sent me a video of a cat ignoring his owner after a long separation.

Last week I watched a video of beagles freed from a medical research center. I tearfully watched as the beagles took their tentative, first steps on grass. Or how about that poor flea ridden mange infested pooch rescued from a garbage dump, I mean landfill? Dogs should not be found abandoned in landfills but neither should drilling waste from hydraulic fracturing. The WV legislature has approved unlimited disposal of fracking byproducts in seven landfills. Thanks to the leadership of State Senator Herb Snyder, none of the landfill sites are in the Eastern Panhandle because areas with karst geology are excluded from the bill.

When I first contemplated retirement, I did not envision spending hours watching video clips. I planned on passing my golden years puttering in the garden. This idea came to me from reading a lot of British mysteries as a young adult.  Some character, usually wearing a floppy hat and smock, was always happily cutting and clipping in her garden when approached by a constable seeking information about the murdered vicar.   Puttering in the garden seemed to me a nice past time.

I do enjoy selecting seeds and buying plants. My interest wanes when it comes to actually planting the seeds and plants, much less weeding in the hot summer sun. One morning I dutifully donned a staw hat and carried a wicker basket to reap the bounty of the garden. I mistook some young zinnia plants for basil leaves. Luckily, I realized my mistake before making batches of pesto.

Now I go to local farmer markets for fresh vegetables. For the first time in 50 years, the number of farms is increasing in Jefferson County. Small farms are being managed by new operators, many of whom are women, and local markets are essential to sales. Unfortunately, the Jefferson County Development Authority is not very supportive of small farmers. They have eliminated the position of agricultural development officer. I wish the Development Authority would place the same priority on growing local businesses as they do in chasing out-of-state corporations.

I still enjoy puttering in the garden. I take my iPad and a tall glass of iced tea, recline in a lawn chair and peruse the web for dog video clips. Every once in a while I look up and observe the gardener I have hired as he weeds and mulches the flower beds.

I always give him a tip of my floppy hat.