Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

Gallatin, MO
Goodbye to the sun for the last time in 2011.

For the past several years, on New Year's Eve, I've settled down before the fire with a glass of good champagne, and spent time reflecting on the changes brought by the year past, and what I hope for the new year.

This year I scarce know where to start.  It's hard to think what has not changed in my life this past year, and right now, I'm busy living the dream that carried me through the past few years of struggling against burnout at work.  I can't imagine what more I could hope for, for myself.  For others, it is easier - recovery from addiction, courage to leave a draining job, health for a daughter's friend, struggling with anorexia...

I started last year purposely seeking and focusing on the positive aspects of my job to avoid dwelling on the negatives that threatened to swamp me.  I wanted to sell my house.  I had a dream of taking some time to see some of the beautiful places in our country I haven't yet seen.

I ended the year with the house sold, the job behind me and four months of rest and sightseeing under my belt.

I've had time to notice the sunsets (and sunrises - though I'm generally too bleary-eyed to capture those with the camera).  I've met up up with wonderful friends, new and old.  I've been welcomed as a stranger at someone's Thanksgiving table.  I've met my first grandchild, and watched my son graduate from college.

I've run into a few frustrations, and unfortunately, didn't manage to leave uncertainty and doubt behind with my job.  There are days I wonder what it is I thought I was doing when I threw all the cards in the air and left home.  But then, I smile.  What's done is done, and I wouldn't trade the experiences of the last few months for the world.

A few more days, and I get to hit the road again.  Time to see what else there is to see in this new year.  Time will tell where the road goes - and how the chapter ends.

Does she find a great new job?  Does she linger jobless at the end of the summer and run out of cash?  Stay tuned!

Monday, December 26, 2011


Buckingham, Iowa
I know I'll never be part of the popular crowd thinking this, but my heart always begins its Christmas celebration at winter's solstice.

The busyness of the first part of December always distracts most of my attention from the shortening days, but then one day I wake up in the dark, and it's already dark again before 5.  While I enjoy the beauty of the holiday lights in the evenings, at the same time I pout because I can't manage to be about during daylight hours.  I miss the sun.

Then, just a few days before Christmas, the world turns.  Light returns.  The deep of winter's cold is still ahead, but my heart is cheered when, each day, the morning comes a bit sooner and the evening lingers a few minutes longer.

With the holiday itself, I have a love/hate relationship going.

I love the carols, and the memories they invoke of some of the best Christmases ever:  Of riding home after Christmas Eve mass, the car cold, but warm in my jacket.   The six of us crowded in the back seat of the car (the two youngest in the front with mom and dad), jumping with anticipation, eager for the gift opening which followed our arrival home.  We'd sing carols during the short drive home - as I got older, we sang in three part harmony.

These days, I love it when my family gathers from our scattered homes. But I mourn those who are missing from the gathering.  Some of the faces that made up my childhood memories are missing.

Thus this year, as I have for all of my adult years, I greeted Christmas with both a smile on my face and tears in my eyes; the joy in my heart competing with sadness.

May the season's promise of Peace come soon and very soon - to my heart, to yours, and to this battered world of ours.

Merry Christmas to all.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ah, Family!

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Sometimes, pictures speak for themselves.  I could type a lot of words and not describe the moment I managed to capture here on metaphorical film.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Goodbye to Mickey D's

Long ago and many years past, I picked up a bad dinner at Taco Bell.  It so upset my stomach that I haven't eaten there since.

I think I may have gotten a similar meal at McDonald's yesterday.

In the interests of healthy eating and lower salt, I haven't eaten there in years.  But on the way back from Joe's graduation, I decided to indulge.  With great anticipation, I ordered my cheeseburger and fries, brought them back to the car, and took them out of the bag.  I was SO disappointed.  I fear my more-or-less healthy eating patterns have destroyed my ability to appreciate fine grease.  I ate the food, but with none of the relish from years gone by.  ** sigh **

and then...  stomach cramps, nausea.  I've still been battling them all day today, subsisting on soda crackers, bananas and water.  The worst part is that my stomach is so upset that the thought of coffee - or caffeine in any form - is making it roil.  True sadness.

The good news is that it's already getting better as the day goes on.  We head to Minnesota tomorrow to celebrate Christmas - at least it's today that I'm sitting around groaning instead of trying to put up with it in the car tomorrow.  (Easy availability to clean restroom facilities is not to be overrated when dealing with such issues.)

We'll be leaving mid-day - which means we'll be able to stop at the Panera's in Ankeny, IA for dinner.  I'm glad they're there - it'll be a very long time before I look for the McDonald's arches again.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Missouri S&T, Rolla, Missouri
My son graduated from college yesterday afternoon.  I surprised myself by finding myself misty-eyed as the graduates marched in.  For some silly reason, I didn't think the ritual would move me.  The schedule called for a two hour ceremony, stretching across lunch.  The bleachers were old, hard pine, designed for shorter people than myself and the proud parents sitting behind me.

Somehow, once the 667 graduates filed into the gym, all that didn't matter.  I found myself praying that the school had lived up to its reputation; that they had done their job well when preparing these young adults for the challenges of the professional world they are about to enter.

Rolla is an engineering school - over 80% of the graduates are in one engineering discipline or another.  The twin threats of global warming and ever-scarcer resources loom large on our horizon.  These are the people the rest of us are depending on to figure out an response to the threats.  They will design and build us more efficient buildings, cars and airplanes.  They will search out how to use new materials when the supply of the familiar ones runs short(er).   They will figure out a way to do all this without further upsetting the fragile balance of the ecosystem. 

Congratulations!  Go get 'em!  and, Godspeed...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Good and the Bad News Is...

St. George's Island Florida
The good and the bad news is that there is nothing wrong with the brakes on the camper van.

The mechanic checked them and all the related systems - and pronounced them all good to go.  His theory on the long stopping distance is that because the van has ABS only on the back brakes, it was working properly and keeping me from skidding to the side - but also increasing my normal stopping distance.

I figure there's a lesson or two here.  I've been careful about my following distances, from here on out I will be even more so.  And, if I'm going to drive the van, I need to head south.  (Go south, young woman!)  Which was the original plan anyways. 

I've enjoyed being back in Kansas City.  I know where the stores are, and where things are within the stores.  (It gets tiring to always have to search the store to find the cereal aisle.)  I've almost completed my Christmas shopping already -  my favorite places to find gifts have not disappointed me.  I've been meeting friends, catching up with their lives while enjoying the food at my favorite restaurants.  I'm looking forward to going up to Minnesota for Christmas, and to my son's college graduation this coming weekend.

All the same...  I'm not ready to stop traveling yet.  There's something wistful about the stripped down camper van; the bedding and anything that might remotely freeze are safely tucked indoors until I get back on the road.  I miss the stream of new and beautiful places.  Fortunately, I don't have to face anything I don't want to just yet.  My journey is paused briefly, not stopped.  Soon...

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Spent the last few days mostly lounging about.  A lot like my usual life these days, except that I'm doing it in one place instead of moving about in the camper.

My original plans for the week got changed abruptly when I tried to do a hard stop in the camper van last Tuesday.  I didn't hit anything, but it took me a full city block to get it to stop from 40mph.  Granted, two of the wheels were on spotty ice, but the other two were on clear pavement.

It scared the bejeezus out of me.  Once I got safely back to where I'm staying, I decided I'd stay here until I could get the brakes looked at and fixed.  I'd hate to push my luck.

Since the shop was able to fit me in on Monday, I'll be able to get back to plan next week - right on schedule, actually, since I came back to town a bit earlier than I'd originally planned.  So much for getting ahead of the ball for a bit...

My hosts have been busy with the usual round of work and pre-Christmas doings, so I've mostly tried to stay out of their way, and to be a little helpful.  In between exercise and reading (two of my favorite ways to pass the time these days), I put up the tree and a few other decorations, did a bit of cleaning. 

With the shortest days of the winter upon us, I've been grateful for good company, light and warmth during the long evenings.  Peace...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Baby, It's Cold Outside...

Dinner!  Gallatin, MO
And the birds need to eat a LOT to keep themselves warm.  I entertained myself for a good while this afternoon, just watching them take turns at the the feeder outside the window.

I love the cardinals.  He always comes first, to make sure it's safe.  She follows to eat her fill.  Often, while she's eating he'll be perched in a tree or bush nearby, watching for danger.  They take off at the first sign of a disturbance.

I love the sparrows.  They come in a flock, landing here, there and all about.  Some perch in the bush next to the table, some hop on the ground, some eat - they trade off, back and forth until everyone's gotten a bite, then take off in a flurry of wings.

For a while, one of the smallest birds in the bunch held the table.  It was funny to watch because he was so busy guarding the seeds from all comers he really didn't get a chance to eat much before his reign was abruptly ended by a blue jay.  Nobody messes with the jays.  Fortunately for all, they don't stay long, and the others seem to figure that he can have his moment.  They just patiently perch nearby until he leaves.

Now, what had I planned to get done this afternoon again????

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Kansas City, Here I Come!

Mississippi River, Memphis, TN
I'm going home.

I'm not tired of life on the road, but I'm ready to start getting ready for Christmas.  And I can't go shopping while I'm staying the camper van, because I have no place to put anything I'd buy.

I'm going home faster than I'd originally planned because the weather's turned to freezing.  When I tried to turn the valves to run the camper in winter mode, they didn't want to turn, and when they did turn, they started to leak.  I tried to get them fixed in Memphis (I thought it would be fun to spend a few days there, checking out the city), but the dealers there were all busy.  So, I called one I knew of in St. Louis, and they were able to fit me in, so I came on up. 

Turns out that when you install a valve in a truck and then don't turn it for eight or nine years, it tends to break when you put the channel locks on it to get it to turn.  Go figure.

They'll get me back on the road sometime today. And since I'm already in St. Louis, I might as well head on back to Kansas City.  I have some good friends willing to put up with me there, since I don't actually have a home to go to.  And I'll be able to go shopping and start thinking about Christmas.  Just 24 shopping days left, you know...