Thursday, January 25, 2007

I am Superwoman, with an umbrella no less. . .

I think by now you are beginning to understand that I was a tomboy and a daredevil all wrapped up into one. I was always on the cutting edge of, well usually getting cut or something equally harrowing.

Like when I was about 8 or 9 and a bunch of us kids were playing doctor. It was my idea to use real needles! The neighborhood parents frowned on that one, couldn’t really see why myself…

Or when I got the idea to ride my wagon down the slide on my swing set. Wow, it was cool, but I had to admit that the landing was a little rough.

I particularly liked heights, so if there was something to climb, a tree or a house, you name it, I climbed it. The backstop at the baseball diamond was a favorite. Do you know how far you can see from the top of one of those puppies? Far, let me tell you.

It stands to reason that if I liked heights, I would be fascinated by anything or anyone who could fly. I never missed the adventures of Superman; I lived for those exciting moments when he would stop being wimpy Clark Kent and would don his superman cape and hit the skies! Lots of kids really liked Batman, but he couldn’t fly, so he really didn’t fascinate me at all. I mean, how many times can you ooh and aah over the batmobile?

Oh, how I wanted to fly with Superman. I could just imagine it, zooming around everywhere; racing birds and planes, no one would be able to stop me. I could look down on the trees and on the mountains. I would daydream for hours about how my house would look from the sky, or my school.

So I became fascinated with how to make it happen. In school we studied Icarus and Daedalus and the myth soon became an obsession. I read and re-read the story of how Daedalus built the labyrinth in Mino’s for the Minotaur and then needed to escape so he built wings for himself and his son Icarus. He crafted them of feathers and wax and he told Icarus never to fly too close to the sun for they would melt or too near the sea because they would absorb the water and become too heavy. In the end, the wings worked and they escaped. But Icarus didn’t heed his father’s words and flew too close to the sun God, Helios and the wings melted and Icarus plunged to his death into the ocean.

Well, it had worked I told myself with all the logic of a ten year old. But where do you get enough feathers and wax I wondered. My mom wasn’t in the slightest bit helpful about it and I do remember threats about a sore behind if I tried something so silly. But I still wanted to fly.
And then I remembered Mary Poppins. She used an umbrella didn’t she - and that worked too! I didn’t need anything special for that, didn’t I have my own Monkee umbrella already?

They were building a new house down the street which was pretty high up and had the advantage of having a huge pile of sand below it. I eyed that set up for several days, wondering if it would work. I had some doubts, I mean, Mary was magic or something wasn’t she and I sure wasn’t. But it was too tempting.

So one evening after dinner I took that umbrella over to that half-built house in preparation to fly. There was a lot of controversy amongst the neighborhood kids about whether or not it was going to work. Both sides of the debate had ample and vocal supporters. A few of them even decided to bring their umbrellas along to try it too.

We stood up on top of the roof peak and opened our umbrellas in preparation to fly. Excitement was literally coursing through my body as we waited for just the perfect moment; that moment being while no ones parents were watching or driving by!

And then it was clear, so one, two, three and off we jumped. And down we fell, into the reasonably soft sand. Live and learn. I wrecked a perfectly good Monkee umbrella that day. But I didn’t dent my spirit a bit.

Years later when I was 19 I had a chance to jump off a mountain in Colorado. Of course this time I had a big kite attached to me. It seemed cool, not quite like Supermans' cape or Daedalus’ wings, but not bad either.

We jumped off that mountain and the wind caught the kites and we were lifted up, up and away over that valley far below us. The city of Boulder only a tiny spot to the east, we rode the drafts and I cried.

I was finally flying; not with the speed of Superman or the style of Daedalus, but on my own. The world was beautiful from up there.

God does wonderful work.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

My Pet Chicken. . .

Easter of 1962 I was 5 years old. At that time Wichita had a wonderful amusement park called Joyland. It had been here since 1949 and was certainly Wichita children’s favorite destination.

Along with a magnificent wooden roller coaster, there were lots of attractions for kids of all ages. School kids got to go there for play nights and at the end of every school year Joyland threw a scholarship party. You got so many tickets for A’s, B’s, and C’s and it was true incentive to get good grades.

One of the favorite things for the community was the Easter party each year. They had egg hunts and the year I was 5 the prize for taking part in the hunt and finding 5 or more eggs was a live baby chick.

I was thrilled – and let’s clarify that my parents weren’t. But I hunted those eggs and found my 5 and turned them in proudly for that chick. I was ecstatic about it, my very own chick, which I named Chickee. I was going to love it and take care of it and everything I promised.

And I did and that chick grew into a lovely chicken. It would follow me around the yard and run at us kids and we’d yell and scream in excitement. I thought that chick was the best pet any kid could ever have.

I didn’t understand why I couldn’t take it to bed with me at night – after all, my dog Pepper could sleep on my bed, why couldn’t Chickee? My mom patiently (and I’m sure more than once) explained that Chickee needed to stay outside, that she wouldn’t be happy in the house, but when you’re 5 you don’t really understand that. I did try to sneak Chickee in, more than once but I could never convince her to keep quiet and my mom and dad always found her and took her outside.

Of course, as she got older she was more prone to wandering the neighborhood. My grandpa C was designated chief chicken wrangler and there were times he had to look high and low for that chicken.

He had always lived with us, at least as long as I could remember and he was the neighborhood ‘Pop’ to everyone. He had lots of Native American blood and just had a different way of looking at things, especially nature. He taught me about rocks and trees and flowers, about the stars in the night sky, so it seemed perfectly expected that he be Chickee’s keeper.

One day, towards the end of the school year, Chickee was a few months old. I went off to kindergarten and when I came home Chickee was gone. They told me that she had wandered off again and that grandpa couldn’t find her.

I felt so sad and I remember crying so hard because I loved her so much. She had been my friend, companion and I was the envy of the neighborhood kids because I had my own chicken. I felt inconsolable.

Mom cheered me up though. She made my favorite dinner that night – fried chicken!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Forget the pancakes, it snowed last night.

I was around five years old, and snow had fallen during the night. To me, it was better then popcorn. Better still; my dad was home and it was the weekend. My sled was just asking to be brought out. Big, orange, and perfect for being pulled along the snow banks behind our home; I desperately wanted my father to give me a ride on it.

My mother however, had other ideas. Wouldn’t I stay and have some pancakes first? They would be done in about 15 minutes.

“But mom!” I replied, “I want to go now.”

Not wanting to disappoint me, my mother agreed that I could go; I simply had to be back in time for pancakes. My father was just as eager as I to get outside, and we ran excitedly towards the door.

“I will yell when it’s ready!” my mother called out as my father and I raced towards the gleaming mounds of snow that were so sweetly beckoning us.

Heaven! Never had the snow been so perfect as it was that day. My father and I raced excitedly up one hill and down the next. We completely lost track of time. My sled glided wonderfully across each bank, and I wanted to go faster, and farther with each passing moment. Into the woods behind our house we went, beyond the trees into the thickets. I was having the time of my little life!

Meanwhile, my mother had finished our pancakes, and had begun calling out for us to return to the house. Little did she know or realize just how far away my father and I were.

If she had, she might have given up. Yeah right. My mother?

My sled was stuck! My father had pulled me across an old fence that was hidden by the snow, and the bottom was jammed against it.

“Now don’t worry.” Dad said. “We will be going again in a second.”

I wasn’t worried at all. I was having a ball. The air was crisp, and I was overjoyed at simply being out in it.

POP! My sled was suddenly free and we were off. My father and I had a wonderful time that day. We talked and laughed. Neither one of us realized how much time had gone by. My mother’s best guess was an hour and a half. We were simply led to enjoy the snow in all its glory.

We ate cold pancakes that day, but didn’t complain a bit. After all, is there anything more special then being daddy’s little girl?

By Lynne

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Biggest Bang. . .

I had a strange and unusual fascination with chemistry sets when I was young. For several years in a row I asked for and received them for Christmas. They came with lots of different, relatively harmless chemicals and little books full of innocuous experiments such as making invisible ink and the like.

By the second year, the set I got was an intermediate one. Not too advanced, but it still had some great things in it. I had managed to turn several of my Barbie’s hair unusual colors and was eyeing Tiger, my cat, and wondering if I could manage to get him to hold still long enough to try an experiment on him. Mom frowned at that when I told her and said that green wasn’t really Tiger’s color (the latest results of the Barbie experiments were bright, vivid green) and I decided it probably wasn’t the best thing I could do.

When I was 12 and in 7th grade, I got a more advanced chemistry set that also had some electrical components to it. I was pretty eager to start that.

I made a clock that ran off of a potato and all sorts of other useless things. Then, one night I was watching The Brady Bunch and Peter had to make a chemical volcano. He made a really big one and I thought, I could do THAT!

There were instructions in the book to make an electrically triggered chemical volcano and so I sat out to gather the ingredients.

The instructions first called for a cone to be made. You could use chicken wire for the form and then paper mache over it to form the volcano. And I did that, and made a volcano that was about a foot high. It sat on an old kitchen table in the basement play room. My mom called it the mad scientist’s lair...

So I built the base or form and laid the initial wiring. What the instructions called for were small pebbles and sand, which sounded good, but then again, my volcano was much bigger than the 7 inch one in the instruction book, so I figured I needed some bigger rocks.

And of course that called for more chemicals. I didn’t know how much for sure, but exponentially I figured it must be a lot more, so I used all I had.

I got it all loaded up, base chemicals, rocks, pebbles and lastly fine sand and made sure my firing wires were ready. I was so excited I could hardly stand it, but the time was here, so I turned the battery system on and crossed the wires…

It started slowly, and I felt so disappointed. It fizzed a bit, then smoked a bit, then suddenly started to make a very alarming buzzing sound and the smoke got denser, a lot denser.

Then the spray started, sand spewing up, up and out of the top of the cone! Success I thought, for another minute anyway.

Then there was a very alarming whine and BLAM! Up everything went, pebbles, rocks, the cone itself. It blew completely apart and, as I looked upward, it had also blown a hole in the ceiling!

Smoke was pouring out of the room now, choking me and I ran for the stairs. Mom met me half way, having heard the explosion. She often said after that that it was too bad she didn’t have a camera handy to take a picture of the mad scientist—blackened face, hair standing on end and coughing like a fool.

When the smoke finally cleared and she could see the damage, she looked at the 12 inch wide hole in the ceiling and didn’t say a word.

Dad did however. I had to work off the money it took to fix the ceiling. And for some reason, they never gave me another chemistry set!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Thanksgiving 2006. . .

This year for Thanksgiving I decided to do things a little differently. As I get older, I am more conscious of our limited time on this earth. That started about 10 years ago when I began to do genealogy, tracing our family roots. It quickly became apparent to me that so much history had already been lost to us.

There are things we will never know about when Michel Hahn came to the US, not even the exact date. Or what prompted the move from Maryland to Ohio to Missouri by the family. Those stories are gone, lost in the layers of history.

I’ve thought about this for a long time, and then realized it was just as bad that our own family history would be lost as well. I remembered some family stories, but many would be forgotten, so I decided to write as many down as possible, so that some day when my grandsons and maybe their kids wanted to know about their great grandpa K and or great-great grandma C they would have those stories, some of them anyway.

This journal is all about that, telling those stories; stories of my life and the family that surrounds me, to preserve those memories.

So this year as we celebrated Thanksgiving together, I did something different. I purchased a white linen table cloth and some permanent sharpie markers. Each year, we will use a different color and will write a message or just sign it if that is what you want. Thanksgiving 2006 we used a blue marker to sign.

For the 4 little guys, we traced their hands and they wrote their names, except for the littlest little guy who at two, can’t yet write his name. Each year, in a different color we will trace their hands, so we can watch them grow. In a year of two they may want to add their own holiday wishes.

I want this tablecloth to be a tangible piece of our family history, that someday, when my daughter looks at it, it will be dear to her, to see messages from her grandparents and her mother, who won’t be here on this earth any longer. I hope it will comfort her and the boys and their families.

That what families do you know, we perpetuate not only the blood lines of the family, but the history and the stories. I hope that table cloth will survive many Thanksgivings and that 50 years from now, as they are looking at the first and second and third cloths that have been done, that they will recount the family stories and remember those who are no longer here on this earth.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Italian Gadabout. . .

I hadn’t realized how many people my daughter knew while we lived in Italy until we got ready to leave. Suddenly, people I didn’t even know were coming up to me and telling me how much they would miss her.

For me, those 3 years spent in Italy were a life-changing experience, but also for my daughter as well. The world was different there—we never had to worry about her safety or if someone would hurt her.

When we first got there though things were rough. We came from a society that was already starting to preach “Stranger Danger’ repetitively and frequently. Going to a place where you don’t understand the language and where people adore children was rough on her.

Italians love children and will come up to them in the street, or anywhere actually and touch their face or head and exclaim, “Bella bambina” or something similar. They speak rapidly and perhaps a trifle loudly too, in that age old way people have of speaking louder when someone can’t understand you. For a 6 year old, it was frightening and she would try to hide away from it.

For awhile, things got very problematic. She refused to eat Italian food, even her beloved pizza. Our normally out-going friendly child now wanted to eat only familiar, American food, which was hard because we were still living in a hotel at the time and there wasn’t really anywhere except for the NCO club to get American food.

But eventually, she began to feel comfortable with our surroundings and after we moved into our apartment, exploring our new found Italian world became very important to her. We lived in an Italian neighborhood and she had to go several blocks to find the nearest American kids to play with, so she would take out on her bike, stopping at practically gate along the way trying to chat in her faltering Italian.

As I said, the Italians love children and it was never a worry for me that someone would hurt her or abduct her. She had more freedom that American kids usually did. She rode her bike all over the neighborhood, including over to the little local “bar” which wasn’t really like an American bar. She could go in a buy Gummi candies, back before American kids even knew what they were. Gummi’s were available in every flavor and shape imaginable and her favorites were the little pop bottles.

Our Italian neighbors all knew her, and would smile and wave as we passed. I have to share a couple of things about those lovely people. They like big dogs, German Shepards, St. Bernards, etc. If it was big and barked, they probably had it. And they loved the name ‘Dick’ for those dogs. You could walk around the neighborhood and find a half dozen ‘Dick’s’. They pronounced it ‘Deek’ and it was charming to hear. We used to sometimes catch a bus to ride in to post and there was a Dick that lived in a house across the street. His owner said he didn’t like people much, but he loved my daughter and would bring her his ball to play with him every time he saw her.

Also, even though most of them lived in apartments as there were very few single family dwellings, they lived like it was a house. One morning as my daughter and I were standing out at the bus stop, one of your neighbors in a large apartment building was outside and he had several chickens out there with him.

He smiled and waved as we walked by and my daughter watched him closely as he grabbed a chicken, and then a small axe.

Oh oh, I thought.

We watched as he chopped the chickens head off and then hung it up so the blood could drain out.

She was standing there, holding my hand solemnly and I thought, how on earth am I going to explain this to her? At 7 years old, this is a tough time for her to see something like this.

“Momma,” she said, looking at what was going on over there very intently. He had repeated the procedure with another chicken.

“What sweetie?” I asked, dreading whatever her question was going to be.

“I bet those chickens are going to taste really good!”

That’s her, my dedicated little carnivore!

But perhaps, because she was so willing to adapt, to look at life from the Italian perspective, perhaps that is exactly the reason why she made so many friends there. She didn’t think anything was wrong with how they lived their lives and they could tell that immediately. She loved them, and everything about them, from the man who delivered our bread to the lady who worked on post. All of them told me how much she would be missed and several gave her small trinkets when we left.

I know those people touched her life and I hope that she touched theirs as well. I hope they remember my little Italian Gadabout with a smile.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Life is Precious. . .

My best friend is welcoming a new grand baby into the world today. The little miss made her entrance into the world at 12:45 a.m. this morning and is doing well. She is fortunate to become a part of a loving family who has waited with impatient excitement for her.

Birth is about the joy of life, of continued hope, of opening our hearts to another person. It is truly a miracle and a blessing, made all the more so by our human hearts which yearn to give and receive the love of the new addition. A new birth perpetuates life, in all the expected ways as well as a few that we can’t conceive of at the time.

Circle of life? Yes, but more than that really. She is the embodiment of her parents love, their lasting contribution to the future, not only of her family, but to the world around us.

Who knows what footsteps she will make on this earth? The paths she will tread and explore, the people she will touch?

The joy is life is the perpetual cycle: creation, gestation, birth, life and death. One life does not replace another, but only adds its own new layer to our lives, another memory, another joy. And while life itself sometimes hurts our hearts and souls, it also produces a kick that makes up sit up and take notice: that there is a new soul here, an invitation to discover who they are!

Welcome to this world precious girl!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Momma said there would be days like this!

Imagine a cold day in hell and you can imagine what the birth of my first child was like. I decided to do it naturally. (Hey, I was young ok!) From the beginning I knew that Jon's birth would not be uneventful. Call it a soon to be mother's intuition.

On the last day of February I went into labor. It started gentle, and went quicker then I expected. The weather was a balmy forty degrees outside, but inside it felt like it was eighty. I called my mom, and told her it was time. She started the 2 to 3 hour trip to get to me. I decided in the mean time that I would just relax and play the pain down to my husband while I waited. To this day, I am not even sure he realized I was in active labor at home until my mom got there and I finally lost it. We daughters sometimes tend to whine to our mothers at times like these. I was no different. I called my father as we were leaving, saying that we were headed to the hospital, and that he had better head out to us.

As we got into the car with my mother, I remember one song playing on the radio. A song by Chumbawumba in titled "You are never going to get me down." How appropriate I thought. Getting into the hospital was a blur, but I remember the nurse saying you are six and a half cm dilated and fully effaced. Lucky for me. Yeah, right. With every contraction my legs would go stiff and I repeated to myself, it will all be over soon. Even through the pain I still managed to say the words that would shock both my mother and my husband. “This isn't so bad, I want another one soon!" They certainly thought I was crazy, and maybe at that moment I was. It was shortly after that they ganged up on me and insisted I get drugs. (I will never admit that I was begging!) I now hate Staidol .It makes you way to groggy, and puts you to sleep. During one such episode, my mother quietly stated that I must be asleep. Not willing to admit I had be snoozing right through, I stated in no uncertain terms that indeed I was awake, and that they should quit talking behind my back. Ok, so I was touchy. Who wouldn't be right? RIGHT?

By this time, one of my labor nurses had been in to inform us that my doctor was on vacation, the on call doctor sixty miles away in a dinner meeting, and that they would have to call in to another city for a doctor. Did I forget to mention that I was in a small town hospital? Oops! I was eight cm along and I had no doctor.

By that time I had the need, not urge, but desperate need, to push Jon out. I knew instinctively that he was pressing too hard on the cervix, and my water had not even broken yet. I was yelling at my mom to get my labor nurse, who, in her infinite wisdom assured me that I was wrong. After the third call to her, she finally checked me. Without a word to us she practically ran out of the room. We never saw her again. It wasn’t until later that we discovered she had handed me off during the shift change.

The doctor from the other city arrived, and in his official tone, informed me that he would now break my water. Five minutes later there was still no gush of fluids. His conclusion, Jon was pressed so hard against my cervix that he couldn't break anything. I could have told him that!

Soon they cleared me to push, and push I did. An hour later, I still couldn't get Jon out. He was right there the doctor kept telling me. Look in the mirror the labor nurse said. I did try, and try, and try! Finally, two hours in, the doctor suggested a c-section, but I was opposed. I stated I can push him out! The doctor suggested we try a vacuum pump. Nasty business. Needless to say it didn’t work. He just would not budge. So, I agreed to surgery.

The doctor went off to prep his surgical suite, and I turned to my husband. I felt like a failure. I had known all along that it would come to that, but admitting defeat was never an easy thing for me. I was stubborn like my father and strong willed like my mother. I was crying rather hysterically. At a moment when I thought I could not go on, my father walked in. Now, it is important to tell you that like me, my father has mood eyes. The kind that change with your emotions. He walked right over onto the left side of my bed and held my hand. No words were exchanged, but his eyes spoke of deep caring and empathy. They were the clearest shade of green I had ever seen. It was my father that got me through those last few moments of waiting for the anesthesiologist.

Soon, I had my epidural in and was whisked off to the operating room. If you haven’t figured it out by now, mine was an unusually strange birth; what follows might shock you. As the nurses and I were rolling into the operating room, I noticed my husband putting on his paper scrubs, and being told to wait in the hall until they were ready for him. They were getting me onto the table when I discovered that I still had a lot of pain on my left side. I mentioned it to the anesthesia nurse, who simply started to put me under general anesthesia. She didn't even tell me that she was putting me under until I started to fall asleep. That feeling of drifting off scared me so bad I was screaming for my husband at the top of my lungs. I was so scared I was going to die that I needed him with me. My grandmother had died after surgery, and I was afraid I would be next.The anesthesia nurse kept saying my husband was not allowed into the room, but by then my labor nurse had arrived, and did some yelling of her own. He made it in just in time to hold my hand for the barest of seconds before I finally drifted off.

When I woke, my labor nurse was with me, saying I had a darling little boy. He must have been just as upset as I was she said. Jon came into this world yelling and had pooped on the neonatal nurse to boot. Jonathan was born with my husband in the room a mere two minutes after I was asleep.

Most of the following hours after that are a blur for me. I didn't hold my son till the next day. On that day, I walked with my parents to the nursery window. Inside was a tiny little angel getting his first bath. Remember I said earlier it was important to remember that my father had mood eyes? My parents were standing by the window, gazing in at Jon, when they turned to each other. My father’s eyes were a clear proud shade of the strongest blue; my mothers normally hazel eyes a shining green. All of the bad feelings between them had been left in the past. For a moment in time they were in complete accord. What followed was something I will never forget. My father said Jon was beautiful, and my mother agreed, holding his hand as they looked upon their first born grandson. I was the luckiest woman, wife, mother, and daughter in the world.

Posted by the woman formally known as “Boo Bear
An entry from my daughter!

My son Jonathan has always loved his food. Even today, he still asks for a "snack" fifty times a day; it's one of his innate charms. When he was a mere two months old we decided that we would have to start adding solid food into his diet. He was eating up formula at the rate of almost two cans a day!

The first of Jon's new foods was to be applesauce, and boy, did he love it. He would gulp it so fast you couldn't get it to him fast enough! My mother, bless her heart, discovered this on her second trip from Wichita to see him. I TRIED to warn her, Jon would set speed records for the fastest finish in the race to eat. As she sat down on my couch with an increasingly fussy Jon, I handed her the open container of applesauce and a spoon.

"Now mom," I said, “You have to be quick about this, or he will roll right out of your arms.”

She didn't believe me...yet. I never was sure afterwards who was the most frustrated; my son Jon, who was screaming at the top of his little lungs for faster service, or my mother, who was trying to feed him at the speed of light. All I could do was laugh out loud as I handed her his bottle, and waited for him to fall asleep from the food that he hadn't even had time to taste. When he was finally tucked into his little crib, I handed her a cloth for her clothes, which had the distinct odor of eau de applesauce, and a side of formula on them and asked," So, What do you think of our little Jon?" She pondered for a moment as she gazed down at him so peaceful in his bed, and finally stated, "My god, that kid can eat! Is he always like this?" All I could do was grin and answer "Yes!"

Monday, November 13, 2006

Tasha and the Bunnies. . .

My cat Tasha was a natural born huntress. If it moved she pounced and caught it. This included everything from bugs to furry critters of all kinds.

From the time she was just a kitten, she was fascinated by anything that moved and just catching it wasn’t enough. She would toy with it until she finally killed it, but she also seemed to need recognition for her deeds.

When she was about a year old I lived in Colorado, in the Springs. There was a window that didn’t have a screen on and Tasha would come and go as she pleased. It was convenient, so I never worried about fixing it. It was 1977, so our world was still a little less intense and laid-back then and an open window wasn’t such a big thing.

One night around 2:00 a.m. I rolled over in bed and my hand touched the floor. I moved it and felt something warm and wet, so I reached up and turned the light on. There was Tasha, sitting there proudly with a half-eaten bird in front of her. I was her sacred offering to me, which I rejected, much to her dismay. I don’t think she ever forgave me after that and when I got married a couple of months later, she was his cat from that time on.

When we moved back to Wichita, she again shared her world with Tiger, my yellow tabby. Tiger didn’t know he was a cat and when Tasha would bring him little ‘gifts’, he was lay his ears back and move away, obviously disgusted by the wet, dead things that Tasha would bring him. Whether she was looking for approval of her hunting skills from the elder cat or she did it just to disgust him, we’ll never know.

Our neighbor across the street raised bunnies. He had a pretty secure fencing system so the bunnies didn’t live in hutches; they just hopped around his backyard. It didn’t take Tasha long to discover them. In the mornings my mom or dad would go out into the back yard and pick up baby bunny carcasses, throwing them away to dispose of the evidence before the neighbor could discover them.

He would come over and comment that some ‘damn neighborhood cat’ was getting in and killing his bunnies. But he knew that Tasha would never do it, he said. But he sure did want to know which cat it was.

My parents were appalled by this, and didn’t know what to say to the neighbor. Finally, it got so bad that the neighbor decided to move the bunnies to his brother’s farm in Medicine Lodge. He asked my dad to help him move them and my dad, feeling slightly guilty told him that he would be glad to help.

They loaded bunnies, into the neighbors’ station wagon. Lots and lots of bunnies, around 60 actually. The bunnies weren’t in cages, just stuck in the back.

The last thing my mom saw as they drove down the street was bunnies going wild in the car, hopping on the dashboard, over the seats and my dad trying to keep them off of his head!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Motorcycles and Mistakes. . .

The women of my family have a unique relationship with motorcycles. Combine us and a motorcycle and it spells trouble.

When I was 13 my uncle in Enid, Oklahoma owned a motorcycle shop. Flashy Suzuki motorcycles appealed to the wild side of many people and business was booming for him. When we would go to visit my dad’s family in Enid, it usually involved a trip to the shop so my dad could check out what was new.

One visit there, my uncle had a new cycle in and my aunt decided to try to ride it. She was 25 and had never ridden a motorcycle before and got on and things went great, until she got to the stop sign at the corner. She sat there for a minute, waiting for traffic to pass and then she revved the motor up, cranking it a bit too much. The handle bars rose straight up into the air; it was the most fantastic wheelie I have ever seen! My cousins and I applauded and cheered and my uncle and my dad ran out there to her, pulling her hand off the accelerator and set the cycle back down. Wow, it was exciting we thought.

My mom gave it a try later and managed to head straight for the storage building at the side of the shop. Unfortunately for mom, a telephone pole sat about 2 feet from the building. There was no place to go but into the building or between the pole and the building. Logic took over and she headed for the gap!

She made it—almost. Unfortunately there was a large square piece of concrete foundation jutting out from the building. The rear tire clipped it and over the bike and mom went. Luckily neither was hurt too badly, but she never got on one again.

I wasn’t that smart though, as if you didn’t already know that. A year of so later my uncle got a little Honda 100 in for a trade and he and my dad worked out some deal for it. I was ecstatic when it came home with us. Until my dad informed me that since I was only 14, I couldn’t ride it on the street. With all the wisdom and aplomb of a 14 year old I protested my head off. He won the battle and I won’t go into the gory details. It still smarts.

We lived on a corner and had large yards surrounding the house. I could ride it anywhere on our property I wanted, but if he caught me off of it, no more motorcycle!

I agreed, but thought that was so stupid, not to mention an embarrassment. What if my friends saw me riding around the yard like that? What I didn’t realize of course was that they were envious that I even had the cycle to begin with.

I would zoom around the yard, looping from the north side, across the front around to the south side. It was actually pretty far; as I said it was a large yard. Large enough any way that when I went to the south side and rode back, a minute or two had passed. And right in front of me was my dad’s brand new company car that he had just picked up. A ’72 Chevy Malibu, its light blue metallic paint glinting in the sunlight.

There was no time to swerve, but I hit the brakes as hard as I could and at least slowed down a bit. A very little bit. I left a pretty good dent in the driver’s side door, but otherwise I was okay. So was the cycle, to my father’s consternation.

I got grounded from the cycle for a week over that, but trust me, I was back up on it after that, finding new ways to torture and maim myself.

The next incident came when, zooming around from the south yard again I looked up and found that my grandpa had set the sprinkler up to water the trees in the front yard that he had planted a few weeks before that. Not so bad I thought as I went to the left. But somehow I lost control of the cycle and laid it down on its left side. I was still hanging on to the handlebars, and giving it gas. It was digging into the earth, dragging me with it. Over a rose bush.

I had scratches from the top of my thigh to my knee, all on the inside of my thighs. Of course, the skin is the tenderest there!

I was screaming and mom and dad and grandpa came running out there and saw me sitting on the lawn, glaring indignantly at the vivid scratches which were bleeding a good deal. I looked up at them, tears of outrage streaking freely down my face.

The Honda had died when I was no longer giving it gas and I stood up, trying to decide what to do when I looked down and saw bright red drops of blood dripping onto the white paint of the cycle. Instead of kicking the darn thing as I wanted, I picked it up and put it into the garage and silently went into the house to wipe the blood off of my leg.

I was disgraced. I didn’t touch the bike for a whole week.

It wasn’t the last injury I got from it, but that’s another story!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Vicenza. . .

For three years I was lucky enough to live in a small Italian city called Vicenza. Steeped in history and magnificent architecture thanks to among others Andrea Palladio, the city was a rich tapestry woven by the wonderful people and places of that city.

Vicenza was about half way between Verona on the west, the city made famous by Shakespeares’ tale of Romeo and Juliet and Venice to the east. It also sits just south of the mighty Dolomite Alps, towering grey mountains full of majestic beauty. Different from my beloved Rockies, they were no less beautiful.

Vicenza is in the Po river valley, a fertile and lush farming area, but it also is close enough to the Adriatic Sea that the people ate more seafood than anything else. In Vicenza, you rarely saw the tomato based sauces so prevalent in southern Italy, usually, when they used sauces they were a cream base. Due to the farming, vegetables were plentiful, but pasta was still their favorite staple food.

The Italians in northern Italy, where Vicenza is don’t resemble our normal pictures that we carry around of what Italians look like. They are small and slim generally and blond and fair skinned. Being so close to Austria and Switzerland, this is understandable. They are very friendly there and the only problem with that was that they thought that US Army personnel had lots of money, or ‘molte soldi’!

Still I loved that city and treasured each day I spent there. One of my favorite places to visit was Monte Berico, which was a scenic overlook to the city. We would go up there and spend the afternoon, looking down on the city, laying on the balustrade in the warm Italian sunshine and feeling at peace. The view from there was glorious.

To the north was the Dolomites and when you looked down at the city you could see the cathedral or ‘duomo’ as Italians usually call them, its copper roof long ago turned a pale turquoise from oxidation. The duomo sat on the Piazza dei Signores, or Plaza of the Men and was surrounded by shops and city buildings. There was a large sidewalk café there where my daughter had her first Italian gelato, or ice cream, wonderfully rich and creamy, so different from American ice cream.

An interesting historical item about Vicenza is that part of the ancient road called the Apian Way still exists there. It's only a small piece, but it is pretty cool when you consider how old it is.

In the downtown area also is the Teatro Olimpico, a fabulous place to visit. It was once used by Napoleon and Josephine as their palace and you can actually sit in their thrones and have your picture taken if you are inclined to do that. One of the most fascinating things about it are the statues that are everywhere in there. They are all made of paper mache, and they looked as good as any that I saw made of marble. But one of them was a bit different—it had a hole in the knee. It seems that Napoleon didn’t believe that they were made of paper and so he ran his sword through it!

That particular statue stands in the auditorium which has the most unique staging system I have ever seen—the stage has 3 city streets on it with doors that open into shops. The shops are actually dressing rooms. It gives a deeper dimension to the stage, but I couldn’t help but wonder what they did for productions that didn’t need streets! Teatro Olimpico also has the distinction for being the oldest surviving indoor theater in Europe, as it was built in 1584.

Everything seemed to be any adventure there, from trying and succeeding in finding a Chinese restaurant and the thrill I found the first time I walked into the Calzatura Fabrico—shoe factory! Almost every woman’s dream, let me tell you!

I often found it puzzling how the Italians took it all for granted, but then I do the same thing where I live. I think that is an inherent trait in humans, we ignore what we are surrounded by everyday.

I have taken away so many grand and wonderful memories of this city and the people I met there that I will never forget. But then, I don’t want to ever forget them. I try to never let those memories slip from my ever forgetful mind, but they will live on in the pictures and stories I tell.

Friday, October 27, 2006

I Bet We Can Sit On These. . .

One of my daughters’ favorite family stories involves our frequent fishing trips when I was a kid. Almost every weekend, weather permitting we went fishing in Atlanta Kansas at my dad’s uncle place. It was exciting making the trip out there because we always passed a wide patch in the road called ‘Smileyburg’ and the name really tickled me. Rock creek ran through my great uncles land and evidently it provided some good fishing. He also owned the most beautiful creature I had ever seen, a gorgeous horse, aptly named Red, because of the color of his coat. I coveted that horse and wanted to ride him more than anything, but only got to once, when I was a bit older and Red wasn’t quite so wild.

The fishing was pretty good out there at Rock creek and dad tried in vain many times to get me to take an interest in it, but I didn’t like it. My dad and I had discussions about that. Maybe I just really didn’t want to sit still long enough because there was always something else to do, skipping stones, exploring, swimming; the creek was a paradise for a kid. But I think the real reason I didn’t like to fish is because the one time I caught a fish, it had swallowed the hook and my dad and grandpa really had to work hard to get the hook out of its mouth.

I watched this solemnly as they tugged and twisted, eventually cutting the barbed end off the hook to get it free. I stood there and watched and felt horrible for the fish. Dad told me they didn’t feel it, but I wasn’t sure. I knew I would feel it if that hook were in my mouth! From there after, when they would try to get me to fish I would retort, “I know I wouldn’t like having that hook in my mouth and I don’t think the fish does either!” I still feel that way.

By far my favorite thing to do out there was swim. It was pretty shallow most of the time and this one place on the creek where we would go had a sort of cove along the side, and it was a natural swimming hole. As an only child, I loved it when friends would come with us and one weekend I got lucky with a couple that mom and dad were friends with came out and brought their 5 kids with them.

Normally, I had little tolerance for these kids. Our parents played cards often and when it was late, we kids would have to go to bed. All five of them went to sleep in the same way; they banged their heads against the wall. Not terribly hard, but loud enough that even as another kid, I found it weird and distasteful.

But this was different, it involved swimming and so my tolerance was high. I could forgive many things when swimming was involved. My mom always told me that dad had me swimming before I walked. I don’t know if that is really true, but I’m surprised I don’t have gills I love water so much.

We always had to wear life jackets out there to swim if one of the adults weren’t swimming with us, which I was highly indignant about. So this one time I got to thinking about those life preservers. They were the old bright orange type that went around your neck and had straps that fastened around your chest and waist. I got to looking at them and somehow the idea came to me that we could sit on them to float if we tied them around our butts and legs.

The other kids were up for this adventure too, so we did it and headed out to the water. Please note that not a single parent had paid any attention to us, even as we waded out at this point.

As we awkwardly walked out into the water, first one pair of legs, then 5 more turned upside down in the water. The life jackets had turned us upside down!

My mom and the other mom had looked up from what ever they were doing to the sight of 6 pairs of legs kicking wildly in the water. They rushed out there and grabbed two kids at a time and pulled us out, yelling at us like crazy.

A couple of those wimpy kids were crying, but I had the time of my life. What I hadn’t understood of course that it might have been the last time of my life. All I could see was that we had an adventure and a couple of those kids were crying like babies!

Sheesh. . .

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Gifts from God. . .

Gifts from God come in many different packages, from rainbows to spiritual rewards, God and Goddess work miracles all the time, if we are only astute enough to recognize them.

Often times, I have to admit that I fail to see them, unless they are obvious anyway. Or maybe I just don’t think of them as being gifts from the Gods.

My daughter is a gift and so are my 4 grandsons. But so is my son-in-law. I see this hard-working young man as a blessing to our family and therefore—a gift.

He is amazing, always willing to help out, generally without complaint and I know that I can always count on him. I am awed by his determination to take care of his family, whether it is working double shifts or trying to start his own business on the side.

I know that he has many dreams for his life and his boys’ life, but he is so often caught up in the mundane day-to-day happenings that those things are often forgotten, or pushed aside. I hope with all my heart that he learns to find time for those things too, because in the long run, they are what sustains you and makes you feel as if you accomplished something in this world.

He is one of the finest men I have ever had the privilege to know and I am grateful that God gave us the gift of him in our lives.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Foggy Night Drive. . .

Certain times of the year in the San Joachim valley in California were, by many standards literally fogged in. But the hardy local Californians were used to it and went on about their business as usual and newcomers usually learned to adapt quickly.

It wasn’t unusual to hold your hand out 6 inches in front of your face and not be able to see it. My dad, who made the drive to Castle Air Force base around 5 am every morning got used to the fog pretty quickly. The California drivers had a rather unique system; they would drive down the middle of the lanes on 4 lane roads, in order that the striped lines were directly in front of the car. On two lane roads, it was a bit trickier; they would hug the right hand side of the road. Since there weren’t any curbs, at least where we lived, this usually didn’t present many problems.

My mom didn’t drive as much as my dad did in the fog, but every now and then she would get caught out in it. She hated it, but she coped pretty well really.

One evening we were at my aunt and uncles house, just my mom and me. The fog started rolling in heavily, billowy and thick clouds that made the world seem invisible and muted practically all sound, making the world almost like a huge cocoon.

Mom decided we had better leave before the fog got too thick, but by the time we left it was too late for that, and she realized we would have to just creep home.

My aunt and uncle didn’t live too far from us, only about a mile and most of that was rural, no other houses until you were closer to ours. We got down the road by their house with no problems, but the fog was so thick we couldn’t even see the almond orchards on the left.

We made the left hand turn that would bring us down the road by some houses for a short distance and then we would turn right off that road for a half block and then another right and we would be home safe, on Jennifer Court.

We were driving along that road, inching our way actually. We couldn’t see any street lights and didn’t even see any other traffic, until right in front of us we saw a car, parked crosswise across the road.

Mom made a comment about “What on earth?” and swerved around the car and continued on. Then, we saw a mailbox. It was sitting squarely in the middle of the road! Mom slammed on the breaks and stopped the car. We both scooted out the car and started looking around. It was then that we noticed that we were driving right down people’s front yards!

These days I love foggy nights. Maybe because they bring me just a tiny bit closer to my mom. . .

Monday, October 16, 2006

I’m Eating What? . . .

My dad is the adventurous sort, whether it’s a ‘short cut’ on a trip or food, he’s game to try anything. And game to get me to try anything!

I started when I was about 5. We were in a little Mexican restaurant my parents liked, munching on chips and salsa. There were mirrors running all along the wall where the booths were and there was only 1 other person in the restaurant, a guy sitting a couple of booths away, sipping a beer and eating his own dinner. It was pretty quiet in there and the guy evidently heard our conversation and was watching in the mirror to see what would happen.

My dad was sitting there with his bowl of hot salsa. I had been dipping my chips into a bowl of mild salsa. I watched him eating his salsa, which looked a lot different than my own.

“What’s that, daddy?”

“Salsa, just like yours,” he told me.

“It looks different. Is it hot?”

“Nah, it’s good. Here try some.”

I dipped my chip into his salsa, really saturating it good and popped it into my mouth. Fire, my 5 year old mouth was on fire!

The guy had taken a big drink of beer, and while watching my face turn bright red, he spewed his drink of beer all over himself he was laughing so hard.

My mom yelled at my dad, but I was okay and in fact I decided I really liked the hot stuff—in limited quantities that is.

But so started a scene to be played out many times over the years, with rattlesnake meat (I thought it was chicken), mountain oysters (yummy, that was beef), escargot, frogs legs (they really did taste like chicken, fishy chicken that is) and all sorts of other things. He always managed to get me to try what ever it was, either by cajoling me or even by acting like nothing was different.

You would think I would have learned.

A couple of years ago I was over at mom and dads and he was munching on some kind of sausage. It smelled okay and he asked if I wanted some. Okay, I said, I’ll try it.

It had an unusual taste. And a pretty tough consistency, chewy, very chewy. The more I chewed the worst it seemed to get and when I finally swallowed it, it left a funny taste in my mouth. Not exactly bad really, but just . . . different. There was kind of a greasy coating left on my tongue, which isn’t necessarily unusual with sausage.

“Like it? Here have another piece,” dad offered.

“No thanks,dad.” One piece was definitely all I needed and I was still trying to finish that one.

“You sure, this is great stuff,” he told me, taking another hunk for himself.

I don’t know, maybe you need dentures to chew this stuff, but I knew I wasn’t going to have anymore.

“Our friend Richard sent it to us. He bought it in Alaska,” dad said, smacking his lips.

Uh oh, I thought, waiting. I was finishing the last small bit I had; trying to get it chewed enough to swallow down.

“Its bear sausage!” dad announced, laughing wickedly.

Gulp! I looked at him, hoping I was going to keep it down.

That’s my dad! I wish he could be around forever. I also wish I would learn!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Ice Cold Sno Cones. . .

I loved our years in California when I was a kid. It was a pretty temperate area, mild temperatures most of the year. Each season had something memorable about it. In the autumn and winter we would have terrible fog or maybe great fog depending on your point of view. My mom always recalled when I would go out to catch the bus in the mornings and it would be so thick that I virtually disappeared 5 steps away from her.

“Goodbye baby,” she would call out, a bodiless voice in the fog. “Have a good day.”

“Bye mommy,” I would answer.

While she loved hearing my little voice through the fog, it would sometimes make her cry too. She wasn’t sure she always said, but it was poignant.

But summer time in Delhi, California was glorious! A kids dream really. Warm and sunny almost always, but the best part was that we had a Sno Cone jeep that came around.

In Kansas, we had the Popsicle man that came around each day, but in Delhi it was so much better! Any flavor you wanted, delivered right to your street everyday for 10 cents.

My friends and I would gather in eager anticipation to await the arrival of the Sno Cone man. We would talk about what flavor we would get that day. I loved the root beer flavor and the raspberry, but cherry was great too! The only one I remember not liking was banana.

Oh the joys of those Sno Cones! After we had bought our choice for the day, we would go sit in someone’s yard or on a porch and eagerly devour the treats. The paper cups would usually become soggy and collapse, dripping down you arm as you sipped the syrup from them. Sometimes the ice would stay in one hard ball and you had to squeeze the Sno Cone to break it up. Inevitably that sent ice and syrup scooting up out of the cup and you’d try to catch it.

Those were simpler days and a simple and delicious treat made them all the sweeter. What I wouldn’t give for one right now! I think I’d choose root beer.

Monday, October 09, 2006

And The Vet Said, Perhaps Tiger Would Be Happier With a Different Vet. . .

I loved my cat Tiger desperately—and so did all the lady cats in our neighborhood, right under the bushes in the front of our house. By the time he was two, there were many little yellow tiger cats running around our neighborhood. We don’t know that they were all from Tiger, but we had our suspicions.

Mom decided one day that it was time to take Tiger to the vet to have his romancing capabilities curtailed. I didn’t really understand what that meant, but mom explained and I wanted to hide Tiger away so they couldn’t do anything like that to him. I was 12 by then and understood the facts of life, but still it seemed awful!

The day came for Tiger’s trip to the vet. He didn’t handle riding in a car well at all. Those were before the days of carrying cages and stuff. If he got loose, he would run frantically back and forth in the Plymouth station wagon, peeing from one end to the other. Naturally, this was not popular with my mom. So we would wrap him up in heavy quilts, mostly to avoid the frantic claws trying to get loose.

We got him there without too many problems, but as soon as we got him into the vet’s office he let up a yowl. He knew this was the place where they poked you and stuck things up your rear end and he sure didn’t like that. Of course, had he known what was coming, he might have been glad to offer the vet his rear end.

They took him away and told us we could pick him up the next afternoon. I watched him go away peacefully in the assistants’ arms and a tear rolled down my face. My mom took me out for ice cream and explained yet again that this really was the best thing for Tiger, how his life would be better, etc. I wanted to believe her, I did, but it just didn’t seem right.

The next afternoon we went back to get Tiger. The vet told us he had done well, and that he would need to come back in 5 days for the stitches to be removed. He was a very subdued cat on the trip home, and we just assumed he wasn’t feeling very frisky.

When we got home, he got out of the car and walked right up to the house, didn’t even pause at the bushes like he would have before. My mom started talking about how much things were better already and what a good thing this was for him.

Inside the house, we all settled down in the living room. Tiger went and ate a little and paid a trip to the litter box. He came into the living room sat on the living room floor and with his paw, he started exploring and it didn’t take my smart kitty anytime at all to realize that something was different!

His paw was frantically patting the area where the stitches were, and he wasn’t finding what he was looking for. He laid his ears back and stared at my mom. It made her a little uncomfortable, I could tell. He KNEW!

He did seem to recover quickly and on the fifth day we took him back to the vet. He was actually pretty docile, which was unusual, but we were thankful that the ride to the vet wasn’t as frantic as it usually was. Inside the office though he started grumbling, that low growl that cat’s sometimes do when they are really unhappy.

We got into the examination room and the assistant looked him over quickly, scratched him behind his ears and said he looked great, but that the vet would be in soon. We waited for him and I was standing by Tiger, who was still upset and sort of shivering, hair standing straight up on his back.

Finally, the vet walked in, and for the next few minutes chaos and destruction reigned. Tiger, spotting him coming into the room leapt from the table and attached himself firmly to the doctor’s leg. He then proceeded to climb the vets’ leg, using all his claws, slowly until he got to the vets crotch.

Both front paws grabbed the vet and his teeth sank in, deeply. I remember the red staining through the vets white slacks, at first just little specks, then bolder spots.

I had the bad behavior to laugh and the vet was screaming “get him off” and my mom was yelling at me “get him off” and I was laughing. Hard, very hard! I can understand it from my mom’s point of view now—was she supposed to try to open that cat’s mouth and get it off the vets business or what? She probably remembered how he had looked at her the first day back and thought she might be next.

I finally went and pried Tiger’s mouth off of the vet’s genitals, still laughing too hard to be embarrassed at the situation of tearing and crushed flesh. But I did get him off, and the doctor backed away cautiously.

“Mrs. K, perhaps Tiger would be happier with another vet. . .”

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Trials of the Travelers. . .

Part 3

As we watched the conductor thumb through the pages in his book, we became more and more concerned. Our eyes shifted between one another’s and watching the conductor. If this train didn’t stop in Venice, it probably would cross the border into what was then communist Yugoslavia. We were dependents of U.S. military personnel. That would mean crossing a border without proper papers or permission to do so. That would get the government involved and probably wouldn’t have been pleasant.

“Ah, bene, bene,” the conductor finally said after about a millennia had passed. He held the book out and pointed with a finger to an entry that read “Venezia, arrivo 20:47”.

Whew! We thought. But what kind of conductor didn’t even know that the train he was on was going to Venice? We never knew the answer to that question, but at least we were on the right train!

The rest of the train trip was quiet and uneventful and when we pulled into Venice station, we were back in the land of cold and rain. It was dark as we looked out the glass doors of the train station and we didn’t have a clue where we would stay the night.

We were standing there discussing some possibilities when an ancient little Italian man came up to us. He was about 5 foot tall on a good day and looked particularly frail. He was wearing a very nice looking navy blue blazer that was a bit worn at the cuffs and white slacks and a white captain’s hat that had a navy blue band around it that read “Hotel Olimpia”.

“You signorina’s looking for place to stay”, he said in heavily accented English. “Hotel Olympia, molto bene, very good. Special price for you”.

My friend and I looked at one another, trying to access the situation. On one hand, we didn’t have a clue as to where to stay. On the other hand, we didn’t know this guy from Adam. On yet another hand, he was offering a solution.

“Let’s find out where this hotel is,” I tell my friend. She is busily looking around the train station for some help.

He understood what I said and started gesturing out the door and pointing to the left. “L'hotel è 1 blocco giù questa via il a sinistra,” he said, indicating the hotel was just one block to the left. I felt pretty good about that, but my friend wasn’t so sure.

“I know exactly where he wants to take us,” I said. I was so tired and cranky by this time that I probably wouldn’t have noticed if he led us to a box to sleep in. “Look, if he tries to take us anywhere other than where he told us, we can come right back here,” I told her.

As I stated before, he looked pretty feeble to me and I was sure that if he led us astray we could take him.

“Prezzo molto speciale, appena per voi,” he kept repeating, gesturing us toward the door. Very special price, just for you.

My friend finally nodded yes, but it was a very reluctant yes. Her eyes told me that if anything happened to us, she would kill me that is after whoever else got through killing us. I had to laugh, which didn’t really help any.

When he realized we were going to follow him, before we could stop and think he grabbed both of our duffel bags and started striding toward the door! Those things were heavy and here was this feeble little man hefting them without even breathing hard! We had to step lively to keep up with him.

True to his word though he led us to the Hotel Olimpia, which was exactly where he said it was. My friend sighed in relief—a huge sigh in fact. I laughed at her and followed the little man into the hotel. All these years later, after being shaped by today’s society I get chills thinking about how trusting we were. Ok, make that how trusting I was!

The Hotel Olimpia was a very interesting place. The registration desk was in a beautiful foyer. This building was probably at least a hundred years old, relatively young by Venetian standards, and had gorgeous woodwork and paneling. There were the requisite potted palms in the corners and we could see and very nice dining room to the left. Which was closed. And we were hungry.

The very special price turned out to be about 30 mille, which at the time was about 40 dollars American. That was a great price. After signing in the book and getting our key, the little man again grabbed our bags and started down a hallway to an elevator; a very small and somewhat rickety looking elevator, which didn’t really look capable of carrying 3 adults and two huge duffel bags anywhere.

When we got off the elevator on the 4th floor, he led us down the hallway and we crossed over into another building. This one was really old. Still clean, but definitely worn, from the carpets to the paneling, age was telling its own story.

He came to a set of double doors and unlocked them for us. Inside was a small, neat room with two small twin beds. Hey, it was better than a box!

We gave him a tip and he left us. We decided the first thing on our agenda was something to eat, since we hadn’t taken time in Florence for lunch and we were starving. It was around 10:30 at night, and other than a few clubs you had to know the location of (and we didn’t) we knew it wouldn’t be easy to find something to eat.

We started off on our exploration of possible eateries. Along the way we ran into two American college boys who were getting ready to catch a water taxi out to the isle of Lido, where there were lots of casinos. They tried hard to convince us to go with them, but frankly we were just too tired. They did take us to the place where they had just eaten. It was a small place, sort of like a sports bar. We sat down at an empty table, which wasn’t hard to find since they were all empty. There were red-checkered tablecloths draped over the tables and drippy candles lighted and burning softly in the center of each table. We realized as we looked around that we were sitting in a tourist place, but we were so hungry we didn’t care.

We each ordered a hamburger, fries and a coke. They tasted about as good as a worn carpet, but they were reasonably warm and filling and cost 35 mille, more than the hotel room! But when we left there, it had stopped raining. The air was still cool and sort of misty, and we looked out over the Grand Canal and watched a vaporatto, Venice’s’ equivalent to a city bus system chug down the canal toward its next stop, the Rialto Bridge.

The Grand Canal is almost magical; teeming with every type of floating conveyance, motorized or not. The smells of Venice, particularly the Grand Canal reminded me of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Redolent and pungent with the smell of fish, water, and wood that has been exposed to the water for a long time; it was a smell that was pervasive, intense and for some reason made me feel so alive. Yes, there were undertones of rotting fish and vegetation, of sewage and heaven only knew what else. You either loved the smell or you hated it, there didn’t seem to be any middle ground where the smells of Venice were concerned.

We walked slowly back to our hotel, meandering along the street that followed the Grand Canal. Farther down the canal in the opposite direction the Rialto Bridge was visible, brightly lighted and we could hear music coming from it, something lively and we could imagine people dancing to it. It was 11:30 on a Thursday night and we were in Venice, Italy! Life is amazing.

When we got back to the Olimpia, we went up to our room with the intent of taking hot showers and crawling into bed. My friend gathered her toiletries and the towel that is provided by the hotel and headed off to the shower room. She was back a minute later and said the door was locked. I asked her if someone was in there and she said she didn’t think so. The wing of the hotel we were staying in was pretty deserted. They probably didn’t have too many others willing to pay the “very special price, just for you” as we did. Actually they were probably just more prepared.

We wondered if maybe you needed a key and so we went down to the lobby to ask the desk clerk if you needed a key. No, he told us, no showers after 10:00 pm. It might disturb the other guests!

We reluctantly went back to our room, resigned to crawling into our beds feeling worn and icky, which we did. It was very quiet in our wing, and if there were anyone else in it, we certainly couldn’t hear them.

The doors to our room swung out toward the hall. There was about a half inch gap between them. We laid there in bed laughing about that, how secure we were. About that time someone else came down the hall, to use the restroom which was across the hall. The slight movement of someone walking down the carpeted hallway made the doors rattle and move! All we could do was laugh. We felt perfectly safe, but it gave us something more to laugh about the Hotel Olimpia!

The next morning we got up to a bright, sunny day and we got our showers taken and our bodies, as well as our spirits felt renewed. We went down to a lovely continental breakfast, (coffee, hot chocolate and rolls) and then found out that we could check our bags at the train station for the day while we explored Bella Venetia! So we headed off to the train station, checked our bags and went to the vaporatto station right outside the train station to buy tickets to take us to the end of the line and from there we planned to walk our way back to the train station.

We got seats in the front of the vaporatto which was fun. Usually you would just end up standing somewhere in the middle or back of the vaporatto. It took awhile to get out to the last stop, before the vaporatto goes out to Lido that is. There are always lots of cruise ships docked there at the 4 star hotels around there.

We wandered around to Murano glass and browsed at all the lovely glassware on display. We strolled through the small, ancient streets of Venice; some so small that only one person at a time could walk there and you had to bend down to go under balconies. We visited lots of little piazzas and enjoyed the sound of life without the normal sounds that invade our world without us really being aware they are there.

By around noon we were in St. Marks square, which was full of people and pigeons. My friend is petrified of the birds and I took so much delight in making noise which made them take flight around her and had her screaming, but mostly with laughter. We had been told that there was a Wendy’s hamburger stand right off of St. Marks square, so we found a policewoman and asked for directions. It wasn’t too far and we chattered in anticipation of an American hamburger!

Unfortunately it wasn’t, American I mean. It looked like a Wendy’s hamburger, but it really didn’t taste like it. The fries were wonderful, but as is typical in Italy, cooked in olive oil, so they didn’t really taste the same either. Even the frosty was different, but we had a good time anyway, chatting with some school girls from Australia.

We finished our lunch and started back on our journey to the train station. We wandered in and out of small shops, stopped for an afternoon soda in a trattoria and finally got back to the train station about an hour before the train, exhausted, but really happy. We hopped on the train and relaxed for the next hour until we got back to Vicenza. Our families were there waiting for us and we were so excited to see them. But as we left the train station, we looked at one another and thought of everything that had happened the last 4 days, of all that we had shared and even with all the funny, almost scary things that had happened, we knew we were so lucky to have experienced it all!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Trials of the Travelers. . .

Part 2

The Hotel Michelangelo Panorama was in a very old, probably historic building off the Piazza SS Annunziata. Its main clientele were American college students, but it really wasn’t a hostel. The rooms were spacious, which sort of made up for the bathroom. But at least we had a bathroom in our room, as at least at that time, many hotel rooms (other than nice ones) didn’t have bathrooms in them. We had to laugh, there was a shower in it, but you had to stand in a small “hip” tub. If you stood back from the shower spray far enough to do any good, you were slipping on the slope of the tub. How anyone could possibly find that comfortable we just couldn’t figure out!

K and her mother had plans that evening so my friend and I were on our own. We didn’t imagine that we could get into too much trouble wandering around the streets of Florence on a Thursday night!

The city was alive after sundown, vibrant and busy with evening shoppers out and about. We could smell wonderful things cooking in restaurants and little kiosks. We stopped and bought pieces of fresh coconut, which is very popular with Italians, savoring the chewy sweetness. Kids rushed around buying chocolate and gelato, their giggles were captivating and delightful to hear. Street vendors were out hawking every type of good imaginable and unfortunately we looked too much like tourists. We got very good at saying “No, grazie” as we walked down the street. The area we were in was alive from the voices of people, but was strangely quiet otherwise. There were no cars in that area, as happens in very old areas in Italy. The streets are very narrow (remember that when they were first created there were no cars) and are called “walking streets”. One of the habits or traditions of Italians was strolling arm-in-arm before or after dinner, laughing and greeting acquaintances and meeting new ones. They are a very sociable society and it was always fun to be out amongst them in the evening.

My friend and I stopped often to admire things in shop windows or on tables on the sidewalk. We bought fresh, hot calzones and ate them as we walked. It was wonderful to be strolling without our bags in tow!

We came across the de Medici palazzo and marveled at the architecture of the palazzo, built in 1444. The original buildings were still standing and looked to be in very good condition. You could almost imagine you were in 1444, except for the electric lights shining through the windows.

The de Medici was a very powerful and influential family in Italy from the 13th to 17th centuries and produced 3 popes during that time. As we looked at the palazzo, the wealth was very apparent. The palazzo offers tours during the daytime and the courtyard is said to be quite lovely, but we left it that evening and wandered on our way, and didn’t return again.

We finally made our way back to the hotel around 11 pm and dropped gratefully into our semi-comfortable beds! It had been a totally lovely day and we were looking forward to meeting our friends for breakfast before going to some museums.

Morning came all too early, but K’s mother had a small balcony off of her room and we sat for awhile and enjoyed the view, as well as hot chocolate and rolls for breakfast.

After that we all went to the Accademie Galleria to see the statue of David. Yes, there are many other precious and inestimable works of art there, but somehow, they all paled after you have seen David.

He is very high up on a base, probably around 6 feet. But even so, you can still see him clearly, details that seem almost impossible when you consider that he is made of marble. Veins appear to pulse with life, muscle and skin that looks real enough to touch. His face and hair are so finely done that it takes little imagination to envision your hands touching it, how it would be warm and thick and curly as your fingers slipped through it. Pictures simply cannot do him justice.

We left our bags in K’s room at the hotel and agreed to pick them up by 5 that evening in order to catch the 6 pm train to Venice. Then, saying goodbye to our friends we sat off to find the Uffizi Museum.

The Uffizi used to be (centuries ago) the city offices for Florence and now house a vast museum with room after room of priceless art treasures. I was determined to find Bottecelli’s Birth of Venice, which has long been a favorite of mine. We wandered the day away, visiting room after room. Finally about an hour before we needed to leave, I found her and she was breathtaking. The painting, by Sandro Bottecelli was painted in 1482, at the heart of the great Italian renaissance. It was much larger than I had imagined and I was intrigued by the tiny brushstrokes that made the painting seem so flawless. I leaned closer and closer towards it to get a better look.

An Italian man standing next to me tapped me on the shoulder and started talking to me in very rapid Italian which I had a hard time following.

“Scusi signora, siete appoggiandosi a iete appoggandosi a vicino al’immagine e vi resolerete fuori degli allarmi!”. He was gesturing at me and the painting, trying very hard to tell me something.

“Signora,” louder and more emphatic, “l'allarme, l'allarme si spegnerà! Andrà fuori di voi è troppo vicino!”

I listened to him and all of a sudden a couple of the words started to make sense. I thought vicino meant in the vicinity of, and allarme could only mean one thing!

I took a step back and looked up at the top of the painting and noticed for the first time some type of framing system around the painting. An alarm system! He had been telling me that I was standing too close to the painting and was about to set off the alarm!

“Grazie così tanto signore, molte grazie!” I said, realizing how awful it would have been if the alarm had sounded. Can we say Italian jail, polizia, and a whole lot of panic?

I was very shaken up and took one last, appreciative look at the painting and turned around to find my friend, who had seen the whole thing, but hadn’t heard what was said. I had of course expected there to be alarms at the museum, but it hadn’t occurred to me that there would be alarms on individual paintings. I explained to her what had almost happened and we talked about it sporadically and giggled a bit as we finished looking at the other paintings in this room.

All too soon it was time to go pick up our bags and get to the train station. I paused for a moment in the door way of that huge room to gaze one more time at The Birth of Venus. It is a spectacular painting and a sight I will never forget. I gradually turned away with a sigh and we left the Uffizi. Maybe it seems silly that one painting could touch you so much, but it did. I have seen one of what I consider the most exquisite paintings of all time and it left a mark on me. Yes, I saw paintings by DaVinci and Raphael and Renoir that day, but none of them touched me like The Birth of Venus.

We caught a taxi back to the hotel and I guess I should say here that after the first experience on the bus in Florence, we always took taxis around Florence.

The trip to the train station was uneventful, but we were both quiet, reflecting I suppose on our trip to Florence. It was an amazingly beautiful city, full of cultural splendor and to Americans, whose society and architecture is relatively young, it seemed so old, but in the best of ways. Life seemed a little slower, although much more constant. People enjoyed life and one another more there it seemed, taking pleasure in each other, not what they owned or could buy, not what their neighbor had or status symbols. It was all about how you lived your life.

We got to the train station in Florence and I went to the window to purchase our tickets to Venice while my friend stayed with our bags.

“Ho bisogno prego di due biglietti a Venezia.” I said to the clerk at the window. Two tickets to Venice, one more day of our tour, then back to Vicenza.

The clerk gave me the tickets and I thanked him. I looked up at the large board that listed the trains and tracks and departure times. I didn’t see Venice listed on it.

“Scusilo ma dove è il treno a Venecia?” I asked the ticket clerk.

He looked at the board and said “Budapest”.

“No Budapest,” I stated. “Venice!”

“Si, si,” he impatiently explained. “BUDAPEST”. In the universal way people have, he spoke a little louder so that the American girl could understand!

Shaking my head I walked away from the window, wondering if this could be right. I explained the situation to my friend and we decided that it was probably correct, that the train was going farther than Venice, so we headed to the right track and boarded the train.

It was pretty crowded, but we finally found a compartment with enough space for us and our bags and settled in for the 2 ½ hour trip to Venice. The train got underway and we both stared out the window as Florence slowly faded away. The conductor came along to collect the tickets and we gave him ours.

He took them and looked at them for a moment, then did a double take and started muttering, whether to himself or us we didn’t know.

“Venezia, Venezia,” he said as he reached around and whipped a book out of his pocket and started flipping through it. “Hmm. . .”

We looked at each other. Oh God, we are on the wrong train. . .

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Trials of the Traveler’s. . .

Part 1

The third year that I lived in Italy my best friend and I decided to take a trip. We had been in Italy long enough that we figured our Italian was good enough to strike out on our own. We planned a 4 day trip to Pisa, Florence, Venice and then back to Vicenza.

We boarded the train at 5:15 am on Wednesday morning, two semi-zombies too tired to be really excited yet. As the train started on its southward journey, it was quiet at that time, but with each stop, more and more people boarded the train. Italian trains other than the locale (pronounced low-call-e) have compartments that you sit in as opposed to open seating. Each compartment will hold about 8 people comfortably and it was always fun to see who your compartment mates would be.

In Padua 4 women joined us in the compartment. I believe they were sisters and a mother and were going to Rome. We spoke a little bit with them, telling them about our trip and what we hoped to see. Conversation lagged a little bit and they talked quietly amongst themselves, casting curious glances at us. Finally, the one who seemed to be the youngest of the group asked us if we watched Dynasty and Dallas! They were fans of the shows and wanted us to give them the scoops! Unfortunately we didn’t know a thing, but we chatted good-naturedly for awhile longer until the train got to Bologna, where we changed trains for Florence (to Italians it is Firenza) and finally to Livorno, Italy, about 30 miles west of Pisa.

Livorno, Italy

It was mid March, and the weather in Vicenza was pretty mild. Where we lived in Italy was pretty temperate as a whole, although our first Christmas there we got
a small amount of snow, which hadn’t happened for about 10 years. There were a few palm trees there which were funny to see the snow on. So when we left Vicenza, the weather had been clear and balmy. When we got off the train in Pisa, close to 300 miles southwest of Vicenza it was cold and blustery and raining! No, we hadn’t thought to bring umbrellas, we were lucky to have jackets.

We were planning to stay at Camp Darby, which was supposedly right outside of Livorno. It was actually about 20 miles. You had to have a car to get there. We had no car.
So we ended up staying in Livorno after schlepping around for 2 hours in the cold, blustery rain. We wanted to see Livorno as it was on the Mediterranean Sea and pretty historical. We found a small hotel and collapsed there. But the room was cold—in Italy, depending on where you lived, heat was only allowed for so many hours per day. For instance in Vicenza, the city we lived in, we were allowed heat for 12 hours a day, at a temperature of 60 degrees between October 15 and March 1. Since Livorno was farther south, we knew it was futile to even ask.

We went out to grab a sandwich for dinner and then went back to the hotel room and buried ourselves under blankets and shivered the night away. But, just like in fairy tales, the next morning was perfect; sunshine and blue skies. We checked out of the hotel and found a little café and had breakfast, and then still carrying our bags around with us, we caught a bus to the Mediterranean Sea, which was a lovely blue. We walked along the sea wall and watched the tiniest little waves that either of us had ever seen sweep ashore. I took a whole role of film just trying to catch a good one and never succeeded. And it didn’t smell like the ocean either. I finally went down some steps and actually tasted the water (dumb I know) and it didn’t taste like an ocean either, not salty at all. But still we loved it, and enjoyed the time immensely.

We took a bus to the train station and caught a train to Pisa. About half way or so there we saw Camp Darby. If we had only been paying attention on the trip past it to Livorno, we would have saved ourselves a whole lot of trouble, that’s for sure!

We were so excited when we got to Pisa! The leaning tower was beckoning to us and we could hardly wait. We caught a bus headed in the right direction, (again schlepping our bags with us) and rode around the city. At one point we could actually see the tower off to the west of us and knew that as the bus looped around, we would be there soon.

The tower was bigger than we expected and it really, really leaned. If you go up and stand on the side where it leans towards you and look straight up, it is difficult to not feel a slight sense of vertigo, since the tower seems to be leaning drastically from that angle. We didn’t climb the roughly 1,100 step to the top as we did have our bags, but it was an awesome experience just to be there.

We had some good fortune about mid afternoon. We met an American girl, K, who was a college student in Florence. Her mother was visiting her and they were enjoying Pisa that day as we were. The day was turning out to be spectacular, with the bluest sky imaginable, sunny and warm. As we chatted with her, she asked where we were heading next and we told her to Florence. She told us she knew somewhere we could stay, so on the afternoon locale train, we left Pisa behind us and headed to Florence, the city of flowers.

We got our first real view of Florence as the locale train snaked through the hills above Florence from the west. The view was spectacular. It was early evening and the sun was behind us, casting a rosy glow on the city, and the river Arno in the distance with its bridges was an alluring sight. Farther to the east mountains ringed the city, green and verdant, with red-tiled buildings everywhere we looked.

At the train station we followed our guide and went out to the bus stops, to catch the number 7 bus to the Piazza SS Annunziata where the Hotel Panorama Michelangelo was located. What was wonderful about this location is that it was across the square from the Accedemia Galleria, where the original statue of David was located.

It was around 6 in the evening and space on the busses was at a premium. Carrying the large duffle bags we had with us made it even more difficult, but we all managed to squeeze onto the right bus. It wasn’t too far our friend told us, so everyone stick together she said which was easier said than done.

The Italian transportation system cannot be beat, whether you are on a train or a bus. The price is right and people actually use it, daily. Italians are not shy about using it either, remaining good-natured amidst all the jostling and maneuvering that it takes to get on the bus, find a place to stand, then actually get to the door when it’s time for your stop. Which I wasn’t quick enough to do.

My 3 friends made it off and before I could get to the door, it folded itself closed and the bus jumped forward. I remember looking at my best friends face as the bus pulled away. Her face paled as sheer panic washed over it. I couldn’t even have told you the name of the hotel at that point, or the piazza where it was located, and we hadn’t made any kind of contingency plans for something like this.

I smiled and waved and started thinking, Ok you have to remember where this bus goes next so you can follow the route back!

An older Italian gentleman watched what happened and immediately started pushing me towards the exit door.

“Dal senso lasci la donna passare,” he said, telling them to let me get to the door.

“Scusilo che sono spiacente,” I said as I made my way to the exit door, apologizing to everyone I bumped into with either myself or the bag.

As the bus prepared to make its next stop, the man was furiously giving me directions. “Vada diritto per 2 blocchi quindi giri a sinestra,” he told me, indicating with his hand to go straight back along the street, then turn left 2 blocks from where the bus was now.

“Grazie, mille grazie,” I told him as I made it out the door. In true Italian fashion, the bus passengers started cheering and waving and pointing down the street. I waved back and gave them my biggest smile as I headed off down the street.

When I got to the place where I needed to turn left, K was coming down the street in my direction to meet me. Even though I felt pretty confident about finding my way back, I was relieved to see her. We walked back the rest of the way chatting and laughing about how my friend had gotten so panicked about the whole thing.

We met up with the others and after lots of hugs made our way around the corner to the piazza and the very welcome site of our hotel. Nothing ever looked more inviting.

But our adventure in Florence was only beginning!