Thursday, November 3, 2011

Notes From the Road

Stuart* just returned home from a month long business trip. These are clips of Facebook entries and emails home, pieced together to recreate his big adventure.

     Calling home while on safari in South Africa.
It is 3AM here in Mongolia and we just checked in at the hotel in Erdenet. So, if my calculations are correct, it took me 45 hours of travel to get here from the time I left the house. The last six hours were a fairly torturous car ride up into the mountains. I wouldn't hesitate to say that the very best stretch of road that we were on was equivalent to the very worst road that you can think of in PA. There ain't no sleeping in the car while riding here! Most of the ride was fairly teeth rattling. I was correct that, as soon as we left the capital city, I lost cell phone coverage and we never passed through another town. We did stop at a little outpost to pick up drinks and a snack. I will call it an outpost, rather than a rest area for several reasons. First, it was completely out of place in the middle of nowhere. Picture the “last chance for gas for 200 miles” station at the edge of a desert. Except they did not sell gas. There was a rest room, consisting of an outhouse with nothing but a hole in the floor: no light, no sink, no seat. The hotel is significantly better and yet giving it a half a star would probably ruin my credibility as a hotel critic.

There are a lot of these yurts outside of the capital city with people living the same way they have for thousands of years.


En Route to South Africa
I've been wandering around the Kuala Lampur airport for about two hours trying to find a place where I could connect to the internet.  Now I've got about 30 minutes before my plane boards.  I found out that I'm not in India, I am in Malaysia.  Not sure where that is exactly but they have a really nice airport. 

Since I flew on Korean Airlines, I had a Korean dinner and breakfast on the plane.  Both were pretty interesting with vegetables I haven't seen before.  Breakfast was creamed rice with onions, beef, roasted seawead, and something like water chestnuts.  I think I like apples and cinnamon oatmeal better.
I'm going to give Korean Airlines a 10 for customer service.  Their staff are the most polite, courteous, pleasant people I've ever seen.  Unfortunately, I have no more flights with them.

Mongolian Airlines, on the other hand, could be renamed "anarchy of the sky".  Though they do serve a good sandwich.  I don't think it is so much the fault of the airline, but it seems that the Mongolian people were born to ignore authority.

South Africa
My watch battery died this morning which is really odd, considering it is solar recharged. I keep having to ask what day it is. Technology has not been my friend on this trip, that's for sure.

I did some quality napping today. Bed is FANTASTIC. Ooooohh I have missed pillows.

(Facebook entry) Be careful with strange critters:
I wasn't quite minding my own business.  I was sneaking around this bird to get a good picture.  My kids really like birds and there are loads of 'em in Africa that I've never seen before.  Anyway, the light was all wrong so I was keeping my distance, circling around to get a better angle.  I took a couple of shots along the way in case I spooked the poor thing and lost my opportunity.  Well the darn thing spooked all right, took off and flew straight at my head.  He came at me screaming and then veered off when he got to about six feet away.  I thought that was interesting until Tweety here turned around and came back for another pass.  Freaked me out just a bit.

This Buffalo is the first of the “big five” that we saw on safari. They are called that because they are the five most dangerous animals to hunt.

The buffalos are huge and when they are alone, the males can be territorial and will charge a human. There were two of them in a dry riverbed just a short way from our “camp”

We had just stopped for a "sundowner" or cocktail hour after seeing the cheetah family. The guides brought drinks and snacks and everybody got to stretch their legs for a bit and take pictures of the sunset of course.  Just after the sun had set, a leopard came walking down the road behind the jeep, (another driver let us know he was stalking us) which made for a bit of excitement.  The idea is that the animals are used to seeing the jeeps but basically they see the jeep and the people as one big animal that doesn't threaten them.  The animals are not supposed to see people outside of the jeep as they might feel threatened and/or hungry.  
                                                               My room at “camp"

 Each of us had our own hut which boarders the camp. The whole wall opposite the bed was glass. Overlooking a stream bed and water hole. There were small deer and monkeys wandering around the camp all the time and at breakfast, the monkeys were stealing food off the tables. They were very small, smaller than a poodle but bigger than a squirrel.They were fast and one of them managed to get a piece of bread right off a woman's plate while she was eating.The staff had a slingshot that they were using to chase the monkeys off. I don't think they were shooting rocks or anything harmful, just discouraging.
On the first game drive, we came across a cheetah and followed it to where a couple of cubs were playing.

After dark we could hear this lion roaring in the distance. The drivers are allowed to leave the paths when they are following a “big 5” animal, so we took off through the bush, following the sound. On the second day game drive, we saw giraffes, elephants, rhinos, and hyenas. Our drivers said they hadn't seen hyenas in many months so that was pretty exciting. This is really a spectacular country where we can drive from the desert to tropical rain forest in 30 minutes. The cities are really modern with shopping centers and businesses and nice cars. When you get outside of the city, things can be a little different. An awful lot of people here live in poverty in shack villages where the “houses” are smaller than our bedroom. I just passed one with a hand painted sign that said “hair salon”, which is kind of fancy as I've also seen barber shops on the sidewalk that consist of a chair and a pair of scissors. People will move to these camps, near cities or factories, and the men will go into the city to work. Some of them will return on the weekends and holidays to build a real house so often I see very nice looking houses in the middle of a hundred tin shacks. It doesn't seem to be the norm that they will invest their earnings in housing.


Can't trip on the curb here without falling into a canal.

Whew, walked an hour to get [to the Van Gogh Museum] and two more hours around the museum. My legs have had it. Lots of smoochie couples in there. I wouldn't have considered Van Gogh really romantic but apparently many do.

Well, I went to bed early last night. The Anne Frank Museum opens at nine and my plan was to get there before then and beat the crowds. I woke up on time (not too hard since daylight savings set the clocks back) and looked out the window. Broad daylight hadn't really hit yet and there was a bit of a haze. There were no people or vehicles in the streets. The scene in the "early" morning is quite romantic looking actually.

The walk to the house is only about ten minutes and the only people that I saw were out walking their dogs and three people at a little cafe. I decided that I would stop at that cafe on my way back... didn't want to waste any time. I got there at about 9:10 and found out that everyone in Europe had the same idea that I did. Every direction I looked there was not another soul in the streets, no bicycles, no cars, no boats; just a mass of people extending a healthy two blocks from the museum. I might have braved it if it was only a line two blocks long, but it was more like a mass, a quarter of a block wide and two blocks long.  I figure if stretched out it could have extended eight blocks at least.


I am in Kirkham, England, and have given a few presentations now on a new valve. Folks here are very excited about the new product, which makes these meetings kind of fun.It's also nice that I can almost understand the local language.Has the snow all melted? People here have been asking about the storm on the east coast and I seem to know less about it than they do.

Last night at the Villa was very comfortable. Well over a hundred years old and well preserved it felt very English to me. They served an incredible dinner last night of cream of Broccoli soup, Cod fish and potatoes, and toffee pudding for dessert. Sounds plain, but the spices and presentation were amazing. Maybe it was just me as I hadn't eaten since Sunday but there was a lot of enjoyment in that meal. After that, two pints of Copper Dragon put me in bed early. Unfortunately, I only have a few more hours here in the UK before I have to fly off to Italy... but looking forward to being there as well. 

Do you know how I used to really like a southern accent, especially on a girl? I've traded in that fancy for country English. I can barely understand the severe accent here, but I love it.


Not much to report on Italy. We landed, had dinner, bed, and meetings until 8PM last night. Flying to Barcelona now and it's only 8am. Wonderful lunch yesterday at a very old looking restaurant waay out in the country. Homemade ravioli with fresh parmesan and a wonderful glass of Merlot. I will remember that. I would definitely gain weight here. Friendly people as well, but not as much English spoken here as some places. Business people have all been quite fluent so meetings have been easy. Also, every place has had English television until now. Many American shows, all dubbed in Italian.

(No e-mails from Barcelona as Stuart was just there for a day and working for most of the time. He did walk along the Mediterranean collecting shells and  he did find a minute to take a picture of himself with a statue looming over his head.  Upon looking at the picture he realized that he was standing directly under the statue of a naked woman, so he moved over a bit and captured both himself and the naked statue in a better composition.  I'll spare your eyes and share this picture of the Olympic fountain instead.)


This plane goes to US!!!!  I am excited to get home.

*We have reason to be cautious so my family have each chosen a fictitious name instead of me calling them things like " Spaghetti Man" and "Hobbit" here on the blog.  Except for me, I'm still Kate. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Until Death...

Kindred spirits, Anne would call them.  Two who complete each other, two who are together,  soul mates one cannot imagine apart.  I can count the kindred marriages I know on a couple of fingers and after last week, that count is down by one.

"You look so happy," Dave says as Stuart and I stand awkward and wordless before him.  I bend down to wrap my arms around him and wonder, Where is the good in this?  Where? A week before we bumped into Dave and his wife, Deb, down at the Famous Brands.  Deb glowed with good health and good news and for the remainder of the day we basked in the unexpected good fortune of meeting these old friends.  And now there is Dave minus Deb.  How can this be?

 "It is one of the mysteries of our nature that a man, all unprepared, can receive a thunder-stroke like that and live."  Mark Twain's Own Autobiography

"You look so happy." We do not look happy but somehow this remark makes sense because Dave has loved with his wife, his friend, over two decades and perhaps he finds a glimpse of their companionship in our reflection. Dave sits at a table in their bistro.  Their dream made good. He wears the marks of a violent parting.  A bruised face. A blue-black eye.   My fingers brush what feels like stitches on his left arm.  Broken ribs.  These tell the tale of how the one who was bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh was taken and he was left.  Someone else comes and we slip out to the deck blazing in the setting sun.  We are crushed among hundreds and hundreds of people, some friends.  We talk of making time for what is important, of making changes to make time, of what made that marriage stand out. And we all, all, are touched that one so vibrant, is no longer whole and here.

At eight o'clock a fork tings against a glass, a hush falls, pictures of Deb flash on a screen. Dave climbs on something and stands above the crowd.  He, who has been transformed by her, pulls an index card out of his pocket, twenty plus years compressed into scrawl on a scrap of paper. How can mere letters, sounds...contain, reflect this great love?  A thousand people hurt for Dave.  He gathers courage, says a few brief words, "motivated... good mother...good wife. To Deb" A thousand glasses are raised to a life well lived and to the one who loved her well. 

This scene scars our hearts, Stuart's and mine, and motivates us to love and live better, today. And maybe, for us, this is the ray of good. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Autotape Tours

When I was a kid and my siblings were in the thick of learning safe driving skills, one of them rolled the van. The van with the automatic transmission and the windows. Our only vehicle. We all payed for that error in the form of the replacement vehicle. A navy blue stick-shift cargo van that had windows only in the places where it is customary for a cargo van to have windows. My dad had it customized; he added in a few rows of seats in the cargo space and pronounced it fit for our annual family vacation. The eleven of us loaded up and headed to Gettysburg. Mom and Dad enjoyed the view; the little ones wrestled in the middle seats and we teenagers in the back griped for a good share of the trip. The griping appropriately reached its climax on the Gettysburg Battlefield. Mom and Dad, long on enthusiasm for history and short on wisdom for vacationing with a carload of teenagers took our nearly windowless van...on an autotape tour of the battlefield. With time (twenty years), that tour has become a favorite family joke.

My kids have been sick for weeks and I joined in about six days back. The coughing and exhaustion are clinging to this family like barnacles. Today, I got sick of the sight of us and decided we could be wretched in the car just as easily. We headed to Gettysburg in Racinante, our fully windowed Suburban. ( She is doing her best to live up to her name. The driver's side door handle broke off in my hand from the inside on the outgoing trip and now the children have to let me out. )

I popped into the battlefield giftshop, picked up the autotape tour cds and we were off. The kids got out at various monuments because they couldn't help themselves. Monuments beckon exploration. Towers and rocks need to be climbed. They coughed when they got out of the car and stopped when they got back in. Luckily it was a light tourist day and I kept the "cacoughany" away from the other visitors. We made it through about ten stops on the tour and ended with Little Round Top. I would have stopped earlier because I was starting to get lightheaded but Charlie had been asking to climb Little Round Top since we got there. And he packed a jackknife so he could whittle up a handy weapon when he got there. (The knife never left his pocket.) We accidentally drove by the monument for the 14th Maine but it was one way and I was in no shape to go around again. Next time.

There were ten stops to go on the autotape CD and these we listened to on the way home. The kids got a chuckle out of the incongruent landmarks which made the return trip bearable. I wonder if in twenty years they'll look back on this day and say, "Remember when we were miserably sick and Mom made us go on the autotape tour of Gettysburg." Guess the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree.

The observation deck on Oak Ridge.

Our dog, Henrie, pays her respects to Sallie, the 11th Pennsylvania mascot who died in battle just three months before the war ended.

Charlie on the long awaited Little Round Top. Gouveneur Warren is in the background.

The view from Little Round Top. I've been to Gettysburg a few times since the "Cargo Van Incident" and I am always struck by the panoramic views of the battlefield. The lay of the land is dramatic...almost stagelike. It does indeed feel as though it is hallowed ground.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Cold Spring

There is illness in the house, a hacking cough deep in the chest, a general lethargy. Six of us are inflicted. One is healthy. One has a weird rash. It's nerve wracking but there is some humor mixed in as well. These chuckling scenes played out in quick succession and begged to be recorded in pixels. I broke out the camera to dwell on the joy, minimize the pain.

One coughs and the healthy one cowers. Let's hope he stays healthy, he's on a plane in the morning.

Synchronized coughing on the sofa designated for the plague.
This needs a skull and crossbones.
Sign on a bedroom door. It should really hang on the front door.
And this. Whatever this is. We're going through rolls and rolls of the stuff.
Ah, well. March in the Northeast is made for colds and misery. Who are we to escape unscathed?

Saturday, February 19, 2011


John put pencil to PSAT this fall. He blacked in bubbles concerning interests and majors. He scrawled address and now the owls come. They drop beakfuls of college literature into our mailbox. John outgrew watching for the owls a long while back. He was happy to leave that to Claire and Faith and Charlie. Most of our mail is his these days so again he watches. Charlie and Faith and Claire are not happy with his meddling.

John has a routine. Count the envelopes. Slit them open. Separate response cards from letters. Read the letters. Return letters to envelopes. Drop by websites of interest for a visit. Share gleanings from the daily dozen with me. "Mom, Bill Watterson went to Kenyon... Mom, I kind of like the University of Rochester. I can design my own major. There are no specified requirements." For a boy who thinks, lives outside the box, this has appeal. "Maybe I'll major in English or Mathematics. Maybe both."

We're in the midst of a shift in this life we dance. I pause on a toe, wait to see where he leads. Offer counsel, bite my tongue. I have a front row seat to new confidence, diligence, expanding horizons. From here the view is heart stopping. And it is fine.

A recent school day. Do all boys tackle every lesson in a clump??

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Doll Baby

In September I went to a local fair with a fellow mama, I with my five mediums and she with her four littles. She coughed a bit through the art exhibits and the animal displays, and in November a surgeon slipped scalpel between ribs into lung. The cough is cancer. Body and life sliced open; sewn back together, different than they were. Grace pours down and friends, family pour in to pick up the pieces...laundry pieces, meal pieces, soul pieces. My family gets a piece too.

A red-headed toddler comes to us early on Monday mornings while his daddy works and his mama mends. We get to keep him until dinner time and we savor the moments. His father hands him to me when I am in my pajamas and some days I hand him back still in my pajamas and I remember, This is how it is with little ones.

The Doll Baby comes, takes charge, teaches my children lessons they've forgotten. Twelve years we had babies in the house and they who just were babies, who have spent a lifetime surrounded by babies, don't know a thing about taking care of one. Mondays are our best school days! We learn life. Babies put everything in their mouths. Most of the time this is okay. It's baby school. That's how they learn. Move the dog food out of reach, though. One animal cracker at a time. Pull the diaper tabs tight. Runny noses usher in new molars. Grab another tissue.

The Doll Baby can EAT! Everybody helps with the feeding.

Even Charlie, who was meant to be a big brother. Charlie, who still has a bit to learn about feeding babies.

See? I don't think the Doll Baby has ever been this messy in his life. He kept squeezing his sweet potato hands together, looking at them, then looking questions at me. What is up with these hands?

Peek-a-Boo is more fun when played with a herd.

There he is!

Cardboard Tube Cannon, a most fun game. The Doll Baby stuffs a ball into a cardboard tube. Claire squeezes the tube and the ball shoots over his head. Children neglect school books to watch this game. Again! Again! Finally the Doll Baby flops down on the carpet, ball in hand, two fingers in his mouth. Whew! What a workout! I scoop him up, kiss soft cheeks and tuck him in for the afternoon. He closes his eyes, breathes sweet baby breaths. I stand by the crib. Time slows. Babies do that, you know. Slow time. It's a wonder.

A mama gets cancer, God pours grace and in the fire there is joy.

- If you are a pray-er, please pray with us for the Doll Baby and his family. His mama still has some months to go in getting through to the healing side of this story.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

In The Year of Our Lord, 2010: A Review

In October of 2009, we move for the fifth time in fifteen years. And in January 2011 we are still settling in. 2009-2010. That dash is a crazy blur. Daily, I tell the kids, "Don't get used to this. It's about to change." (Usually referring to what cupboard we keep the peanut butter in or where we hang the coats but the truth is, we have lived in CHAOS for many, many months.)

We move to what might be the homeschooling capitol of the world. These wunderkids speak three languages, and memorize Shakespeare and fit dancedramasoccer between co-ops. Is it okay if my kids only speak English? Their mothers pick a hundred quarts of blueberries and make strawberry jam and ask me if I garden. Does pulling up roots count?
(One of about fifteen trees that we ripped out of our new quarter acre yard)

I dig through our boxes for math books, dig through our boxes for pencils, dig for notebooks. Start school at noon, finish at two, drive five kids to dance, sit in the car for two hours until they finish. People ask me my philosophy of education. First I think, Is survival a philosophy? And then I think, I've forgotten your name. What is your name? Unpack a box, shuffle furniture, paint something. Find a doctor, find a dentist, find a grocery store, find a church. Again.

We buy a house. A fixer upper.

Undersized and featureless in the front, Oversized and European in the back or it would be if it had window boxes instead of pink brick and blue shutters.We put the fridge in the living room because it won't fit in the kitchen and we leave it there for a year.

We take down emergency lights in the dining room (and every other room. R2D2s, we call them.) We unhook the panic button over the bed but not before our realtor summons emergency personnel. We scrape away faux wallpaper windows from under all the emergency lights.

We remove wallpaper and walls...

...and take a jackhammer to the living room.

Stuart travels to Brazil, to Sweden, to Mississippi, to Texas... I mumble goodbyes and hellos under the covers in the dark. We care for parents. We eat in the basement, wash dishes in the driveway, cook on the grill in July and in December.

I pull into McDonalds for the twentieth time and think back to the days of schedules, menus and order. Menus, schedules, bah! Frivolous things for people whose calendars and crockery are not in a jumble on the basement floor thirteen months after a move.

The children grow...and grow. I look at the babies in my blog header and realize a photo update is long overdue. John is six inches taller than me and three sizes larger than he was this time last year. He's old enough to drive. Faith looks me in the eye. Charlie reads and plays the piano. Time marches on and is not recorded here. Maybe in the year of our Lord, 2011, I'll come up for air.