Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Listening to my past; loving it's in the present

It’s rainy. Off and on. And muggy, here at Jekyll Island campground, where they spray twice a week for mosquitos, failingly. 

Most of the campers pulled out early this morning because, well, because it’s rainy off and on and the mosquitos wear their bug armour well.

A few families remain, soaking in what might be the final weekend of the summer for the kids to be just kids and not students, too.

I’m sitting inside my RV, just lounging in the air conditioning. And that’s when I hear it.

My childhood. My past.

“Ready or not! HERE I COME!”

And I get very quiet. Pavlov. Shhhh. Don’t move. And, for goodness sakes, do not breathe.

I know it’s coming. Yep. It’s coming. "EEEEEKKKKK!” The high-pitched screech of discovery. Then the pounding of little feet zigzagging "home," dispersing leaves and broken branches, to where it’s safe.

I don’t look out. I just listen. Like to a radio show.

“I see you,”  a little girl says, so quietly and so closely, I think, for a flash, she’s talking to me. But then I hear giggles and another chase. 

Finally, I hear no more game. I peek outside and see two little girls:  a 5-year-old, all in pink, and a 10-year-old with a leg cast on walking around. Maybe they've teamed up to hunt for a hidden little boy I saw earlier.

When they find him, maybe they’ll play Tag, or Simon Sez or Mother May I. Red Light Green Light? 



Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Making memories

Sometimes, we do things more for the memory than the experience.

For instance, we’re riding bikes around Jekyll Island off the coast of Georgia and it’s lovely. But it’s suffocatingly hot. We swim through moisture thick air.

At home, we would NOT be riding bikes.

But we continue on here because, well, look at what we are seeing. We pedal under an umbrella of trees dripping with Spanish moss. And we pass a corral of horses all saddled up for a ride. To the left, through a break in the trees, we see dozens of herons taking flight. Up ahead, a fishing pier beckons us to visit, with its shade-offering roof, comfy benches and Atlantic Ocean vistas. Just above the pier, a flock of pelicans circle, broadcasting the presence of fish down below.

So, we park our bikes and visit the pier, where I see an older man teaching a little kid all about crabbing. About the rotting chicken that’s used as bait; about how long it’ll take to catch ‘em; and how to avoid those pinchers.

The kid stays down with the crab cages and the older guy (gotta be grandpa) comes over near us to check on some fishing lines they have in the water.

“You know you are giving that kid some great memories,” I say to this guy. He grins, gives me a wink and a nod. “That’s why I do this. Heck, I don’t even like fishing.”

He then reels in one of his lines and finds a small fish, a croaker, at the end. Quickly, he lowers it back into the water and moves down to check his other lines. He calls to the kid. “Hey. Come help me check these fishing poles.” He nonchalantly points to that line, the line he just checked. The one with the fish.

The kid obliges, picks up the pole and begins to reel. Then, he squeals. “GRANDPA! A SHARK!” he insists! “A SHARK!”

What a great memory.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Surprised by a smash-up

I’m sitting in the grandstand of the Ozark Empire State Fair in Springfield, MO, crossing two adventures off Our List.

(Our List is a bunch of things my husband and I want to do together as spectators, just the two of us, so we can leave early if we hate them.)

Tonight it’s Monster Trucks.

And Demolition Derby.

And so far, we’re not budging.

We’re loving the Monsters. And so is this crowd. A collective, raucous cheer rises with each crunch of metal, bounce of skyscraping wheels, deafening roar of unmuffled engines.   Allen and I are clueless. (Why did that guy win?) (Why is he doing donuts? Where is he going?) But we’re loving it anyway, absorbing the thrill  of the crowd, watching everyone leap out of their seats, punch the air, cheer on these trucks. Trucks with names. Barbarian, Outlaw, BountyHunter, TailGator and Smashosaurus (I kid you not).

And now, the Demolition Derby.

Four, six, no eight misshapen, ratty tatty cars grumble and sputter onto the field. They park, heads in, in two lines of four with their tails toward each other.

Someone drops a flag and it’s a go.

WHAT A HOOT! These little cars spit and spin, smash and push and wobble like Weebles. They dig in and grind their way into and out of pileups.      

I’m shocked at how much I enjoy this. Me. Non-combative me. Non-violent me. I’m loving the pounding these banged-up little cars give each other.

And my favorite? The one with a painted message: “Don’t Tell G-Ma.” HA!

Right now, G-Ma's sitting in the middle of the field, her rear end stuck under the tailgate  of a station wagon. Her wheels spin dust bunnies, but she's going nowhere. The other car’s trapped, too. Then WHAM. G-Ma’s  slammed from the side. (In unison, the crowd reacts: “OHHHH!.”) And WHAM,  she’s slammed from the other side. (“OHHHH!”)  And then she breaks free (“YAY!”) The crowd’s on its feet! 

The station wagon immediately plows into a third  car (metal flies; crowd: “YAY.”) Two cars sandwich a third.  (“OHHHH.”) And yet another loses its front bumper.  Someone lost a tire. (A cacophony of cheers  ensues.)

No one but me seems to notice G-Ma’s not getting her wind back. She coasts outside the action. And just sits there.

And now it’s over and a winner declared (a last-man-standing sort of win.) Wreckers, front-loaders and Bobcats cart off the sick and injured.
And now, it’s just G-Ma. She’s cooled down and her driver gets her running. Backwards. But on her own volition, she leaves the field. Backwards.

No one seems to care.

But me.

I silently cheer.

Because I’m loving this.

Friday, July 31, 2015

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets"

I’m in Ozark, MO, and I love seeing Jesus at work.

Not in words.

In action.

I’m at a Christian thrift store. When I walked in, two things caught my attention. First, this place is dirty. Dusty. Crammed with donated stuff, some of which is better suited for a community dump than a resale house. Second, the TV. It’s blaring from the back of the room. I’m guessing to show customers it still works.

 I walk toward the noise (because I’m nosy) and I hear laughter, not from the TV, but from inside the store. As I turn the corner, I see five men eating lunch, watching the TV. Something’s funny because they're laughing. One guy bounces on his chair because he’s so tickled.

It’s clear from their dirty, ill-fitting clothes, scraggily beards  and skeletal builds that three of the five men have fallen on hard times. The  other two guys are  clean shaven and well dressed. So my guess is they are not down on their luck.  Are they here to help those who are? 

I keep on shopping. The TV goes silent. And I watch the men file toward the front of the store, where they stop, hand over the video they’d just been watching,  and sing happy birthday to the woman behind the cash register. She smiles, waves them off, and they head out the door. All but one.  The bouncer. He’s a little lost. Just sitting on a nearby chair. Kinda edgy. Drugs?

It’s my turn to check out ($2 for beautiful silver earrings), so I ask,”What’s with the guys watching TV?”

“Oh,” she says. “They’re …” She hesitates … momentarily … then completes her thought: "volunteers. They come in to have their lunch.”

So, as I see it, this little Christian thrift store puts a few homeless men to work. Gives them food, a nice little place to eat and a chance to watch some TV. And then, when given the chance to brag about the good that’s being done here, they chose, instead, to show respect toward these men, to protect their integrity in front of a stranger.
Yep. I'm seeing Jesus at work.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Oh. So. Cool. In Oklahoma

As dusk approaches, the relentless heat of Guymon, OK, (a humid 103°) subsides, giving way to a breeze and  promise of a perfect night. A cool night. A sweet night.

At the drive-in. YES! The DRIVE IN!

We rerouted our trip East to dip down into Oklahoma because a little ap on my phone told me there was an RV park here. And that park was connected to a drive in.

Oh. So. Cool.

SO we’re sitting in our comfy chairs just outside our fifth-wheel, munching on movie-theater popcorn and drinking my home-made iced tea out of monster cups of ice I bought at the concession stand.

We’re watching a dozen kids play ball and swing and under the big screen, just waiting for dark. We’re watching a dozen or more cars trail in, then people file out, heading for the concession stand. Pizza. Hamburgers. French fries. Candy.

Oh. So. Cool.

We even have our dog at our feet.  On his own big pillow. And he’s  watching the kids. Smelling the air. Barking at a cat.

Oh. So. Cool.

Frankly, I don’t care that the movie’s so bad it’s painful to watch (“Pixels”) or that that  “cat" smells a lot like a skunk. Arnold’s back in the next flick (“Terminator Genisys”), we get free refills on our monster tub of popcorn and we can stay until they turn the lights out because we’re already home.

Oh. So. Cool.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

What a difference a crowd makes

The famous Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park.
We went to Mesa Verde today, a massive national park in the southwestern corner of Colorado. It has more than 4,500 archeological sites, 400 of which are cliff dwellings, where the ancestors of the Pueblo Indians lived. The Anasazi.


As big and intense as this park is, so are the crowds. Dozens and dozens of people milling about in orchestrated attendance. Old women like me complaining about their aches and pains, children eating candy and hopping around walls, Bubba-types with barrel chests pounding their way forward. Yes, chewing bits of hay.

Usually I love being in intense crowds. But Wednesday's experience at less well known  parks spoiled me.

Painted Hand. We hiked a circuitous mile to find this in the Canyons of the Ancients.
 Wednesday, Allen and I hiked ALL BY OURSELVES through the Canyons of the Ancients, across a rock mesa and discovered Painted Hand, a cliff dwelling hanging onto the side of a mountain. It was magical. I felt the heat of the sun. Listened to the birds. Imagined children at play, chasing turkeys and dogs. Men chopping away at the hardened earth to plant corn, squash, beans. Women, skinning a freshly caught deer, preserving the hides and bones for utilitarian purposes.

We strolled around and in and out another dwelling,  called Lowry, preserved and protected but not fenced off. We walked where the ancients walked.

At Hovenweep, a national park like Mesa Verde, but on a much smaller scale, Allen and I explored alone as well. We stood at the edge of a canyon  and surveyed the cliff dwellings, pondering in peace why these people moved into the mountainsides.  No one knows why.

Like I said, magical.

One of the ruins at Hovenweep National Park.
Today, I imagined nothing. And I walked in waves of crowds.  I caught a glimpse at the famous Cliff Palace  (see my selfie!), but I had to keep trading places with the crowds to be respectful.

We didn't even go into the museum to see the 25 minute film about the park. And I LOVE THOSE FILMS. But the crowds were daunting. We drove in. Then drove out.

Oh, I am GLAD YES GLAD lots of people love the national parks like I do. I just wish they'd show their love on different days.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Life on the road

Al taking pictures during a barrel racing competition at our campground (a county fairgrounds)

That's Lily (our Wildcat fifth wheel) next to our truck parked in a campsite at the Jerome County Fairgrounds in Jerome, Idaho.

Oh, the transient life.

Today marks the two-month point in our journey. We left home May 19 and it's now July 19. 

Many things go right. Many things go wrong. But we're used to that.

This week, for instance. We arrived at the Jerome County Fairgrounds in Jerome, Idaho, on Sunday. It's a great deal. $10 a night for water and electric hookups.  That means we can shower daily AND do dishes, too. Yay!

On Monday, a monster RV pulls in, backs up and smashes a utility pole. There goes our water. Boo.

He offers to go buy us lots of gallons of fresh water; sweet man. But we have plenty on board.

So, we shower every other day and use paper plates. No problem.

He leaves the next day and we have the place to ourselves. We tour, bike ride, enjoy the serenity.

On Wednesday, dozens of horses and people converge on the fairgrounds and we enjoy a free night of team cow roping. What fun! Yay!

On Thursday, the maintenance workers warn us we might lose our electricity, too.  Boo.

No problem. We have a generator.

Well, we don't lose our electricity (YAY!), so we head  out for dinner (rainbow trout)  and a scenic cruise on the Snake River.

When we return, we break our refrigerator door so it no longer locks. Have to use a rope to keep it closed until we can get it fixed. Boo.

We notice some motorcycles at the fairground. Within 24 hours, the fairgrounds is peppered with them. A weekend convention of the Christian Motorcycle Association. Great people. Kids for the dog to play with. Yay.

Saturday morning, more horses. This time, free barrel racing. Yay.

So life on the road for us is unpredictable. Mostly unplanned. And fun. Lots of hurdles, but we always find slicky slides and carousels.

We have a little more than a month to go in this journey. We leave here tomorrow. 

Where we go depends on which way our wind blows when we head out.

(Update: It blew us down to Moab, UT, for lunch and on to Cortez, CO, to visit Mesa Verde National Park.)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Rutted in history

The half-circle at left is a modern road. The historic ruts are perpendicular. I think.
Can't tell if I'm gullible or humbled to be standing here, on a windy hill, staring down at deep ruts in the mesa. And digging deep down into my heart to believe these ruts were made by the wagon wheels of pioneers who suffered amazing tragedies while following the Oregon Trail in the mid-1800s.

I close my eyes and try to imagine men, women and children pushing their wagons, tugging on their horses' reigns, working their way up  these  steep canyon walls, hungry, cold, ill.  In her 1849 journal, "A Woman's Trip Across the Plains," pioneer Catherine Haun wrote, "It  was not an unusual sight  to see graves, carcasses of animals, and abandoned wagons. In fact, the latter furnished us with wood for the campfires as the sagebrush was scarce and unsatisfactory."

I DO believe Haun was there, on the trail. My problem is believing this is the trail. Right here in Hagerman Fossil Beds, a treasure of a national park in Southcentral Idaho. The fossils that make this park famous are the oldest ever found from the genus Equus (horse, zebra).  The Hagerman Horse might have  migrated over the landbridge into Asia before the Ice Age. But it was here first.

I have no problem believing the horse was here, or the sloth or the mastodon or the more than 200 species of plants and animals who lived here 2.6 million years ago, whose bones document their existence. Hard, fossilized evidence.

It's just that those ruts ... They  perfectly align themselves with the route of electric lines heading up the same hill and connect with a main highway. I close my eyes and can see big trucks with poles getting stuck in the spring mud. Making those ruts. Maybe a few years ago. But not wagons 166 years ago.

My husband's bought this historic tale. He says I'm looking at the wrong ruts. Look over there, at that rut, he says. The one filled with tumbleweed. And he's standing there, staring at that rut, drinking in the concept, the misery. The landmark essence of what occurred. Right here.

He's aghast at my suspicions.

Still ...

Friday, July 17, 2015

Making friends in the Magic Valley

Marce and Lester, great friends

We’re sitting on a tour boat on the Snake River in Idaho, sipping great coffee as the storied 1000 Springs area unfolds before us.

Look! Up there! Waterfalls erupting from the canyon walls. It looks like the mountains are weeping. And those birds! Mud swallows by the thousands. Flocks of black and white ducks? Gulls? Pelicans? Not sure.

Sadly, the “stories” of this area are mine to discover elsewhere, because the tour boat captain's not one for talking. Much.

I expected a narrative from him. All I get are notes. 
Until Lester sits down.

Lester and Marce, his long-time friend and fellow Berkeley graduate, are part of the Road Scholar group on this tour boat with us. They sat in the rear of the boat until the sun got too hot, then asked to join us in the shade.

From this moment on, Lester entertains with his non-stop stories, about the time he was asked to be an astronaut, got to meet John Glenn, but then turned down the opportunity. Or about bunking with a general in Vietnam. Or writing a supply acquisition order signed off without comment by McNamara himself. Or how his cousin was appointed ambassador to Finland, simply because he spoke Finnish.

And on and on. He then recites lengthy beautiful passages from "Kubla Khan."

Marce says little. She just grins as Lester tells his tales. She lightly touches his upper arm now and then. Probably when the tales get too tall.

Doesn’t matter.

The stories have nothing to do with this beautiful part of the world, called the Magic Valley. But they color my world magnificently, because Lester (who’s been a doctor, a geologist and a fighter pilot, and is 90 years old) tells them. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

A historic meeting

Muir's signature is third one down. Not sure about the others. 

There’s something special about holding hands with history.

I stand here, inside this little lumberjack museum in tiny Pierce, Idaho, staring at this block of wood. So desperate to reach out. To flatten my hand on the name carved into it. J.H. MUIR.

John Muir. One of my idols. A man so in love with nature even his wife lovingly tossed him back outside into the hills  to replenish his soul. He understood the need to maintain our waterways, our prairies, our mountainsides as living monuments to the planet that sustains them. He was the quintessential conservationist whose advocacy of all things natural led to the creation of the National Park Service in 1916. 

And he battled the logging industry, weary with the raping of the land, the wholesale pillaging of great forests. So it’s ironic I’d come this close to shaking hands with one of my tree-hugging heroes inside a museum dedicated to an industry that takes those trees down.

Or is it?

This  little museum, called the J. Howard Bradbury Memorial Logging Museum, obviously honors my hero, too. Because it chronicles the logging industry in Central Idaho, an industry that has evolved to understand the need to replenish the land, to replant in numbers equivalent to what’s taken. To conserve.

 I suspect when a lumberjack felled the great tree and found the famous signature, he, too, felt he was holding hands with history. 

And saved the piece to honor the man.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Meager beginnings

This little mound is of historic significance.

I’m staring at a mound of rock and dirt, maybe 50 feet at its highest. It’s nothing to look at. Just volcanic rock thatched with brittle-dry grasses and weeds. It’s quite small. Nothing spectacular at all, nestled in the shadows of magnificent rolling and folded hills just outside Kamiah, Idaho.

But it is important. Historic.

It is the Heart of the Monster, the birthplace of all human beings, the last of which were the Niimiipu, translated as “The People.”

We know them as the Nez Perce, translated as Pierced Nose, so named by French Canadian fur traders in the 18th century, who actually confused them with another people who pierce their noses. The Niimiipu didn’t. Still don’t.

For the past two weeks, we’ve camped on land owned by the Niimiipu, and engaged with multiple sites historic to The People, sites maintained by the Nez Perce National Historic Park. The park includes 38 sites in four states —  Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington — and follows The People’s trail.

Along the way is this beginning, the Heart of the Monster, this little chunk of land I walked a half a mile in 114-degree heat to see.

It’s so unimpressive. Nondescript.  If I didn’t know the story.

It reminds me of another unimpressive chunk of significant history, Plymouth Rock. Been there? It’s laughably small, big enough for one person to step foot on. I know that story, too.

I think of that rock and this mound and the ironic connection. Historic.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Discovering racism on the Gold Rush Highway

The history placards inside this historic Idaho building tell of how the land it is sitting on was stolen from the Nez Perce. http://www.history.idaho.gov/pierce-courthouse

Hate saddens me.

I’m enjoying the historic Gold Rush Byway, a winding 49-mile road that takes me up the mountain from Greer, Idaho, into Pierce and Weipee. The scenery excites me with vistas of beautiful stands of pine, clusters of wildflowers and fields of low-growing wheat. Roadside placards quench my thirst for knowledge of how Lewis and Clark survived their arduous journey. I learn they’d died without the generosity and intelligence of native people, of the Nez Perce. 

Then I run smack into the hatefulness of yesterday.

Signs, tiny museums and a diorama along the route document how it took about 70 years for the White man to befriend the Nez Perce, then infiltrate the area, steal from them, chase them away, kill them. 

About 70 years after the Nez Perce nursed the Lewis and Clark expedition back to health, provided shelter, horses and canoes, the now-famous Chief Joseph uttered in defeat “I will fight no more forever.”

I also discover (on the backside of an info board … you’d miss it if you weren’t curious) that the White man here hated the Chinese, too. They even lynched some of them, popularizing a hanging tree as a symbol of their “success."

So this beautiful journey I’m on saddens me. It is steeped in 1) a love of money (blinded by the potential riches from gold); 2) arrogance; 3) thievery; 4) murder; 5) lies, lies, lies.

Yes. Yes. All battles for dominance have a victor and a loser.

I am saddened by the way the West was won. Because hate saddens me.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Peeling judgment off my eyes

Rodeo grounds. Breakfast in the building center; church in the bleachers at right. 

 Parade down Main Street (real City Hall)
I opted out of a rodeo yesterday because the small townish rodeo grounds (in Kamiah, Idaho) made me chuckle.

A good wind might turn to kindling the few wooden structures serving as viewing stands and concession stand.

And the rodeo parade prior was just as small,  maybe three blocks long. About 50 scattered people  stood roadside and cheered the three rodeo queens, the Model T, a couple a dozen horses sparkling with glitter, a fancy buckboard and some pink-shirted cowboys. Oh, and the hit of the parade, the pooper-scooper (the announcer let us all know this guy does great outdoor odd-jobs and is for hire.)

Nope. This rodeo is just too small for us (non-cowboy Easterners.)

Well, today, I’m opting back in.

My Cowboy breakfast
This morning, we attended a Cowboy Breakfast inside that small wobbly rodeo grounds. We sat next to real (mostly non-talkative) cowboy-hatted Idahoans. Watched moms and dads giggle with their kids. Enjoyed catching grins from pouty teens being cajoled by grandfather types. Loved the hominess.

We sipped some great coffee.

Sixteen people served the 21 of us seated around the u-shaped table, constantly offering up plates heaped with perfectly fried eggs, ham slices with a brush of caramelization on both sides and beautiful pancakes I’d wish I knew how to make.

And now, we are sitting in the rodeo bleachers attending Cowboy Church.

Cowboy Church.

Worshipping the Lord at the rodeo grounds
Preached by a real cowboy. Talking about bullriders such as Freckles Brown and  Lame Frost and Dalena the cutting horse who went up against a “red and white limousine bull” and won. He talked about labels (cowboy, bullrider) and performance (beating out a bull) and how none of it matters when it comes to God because we are saved by His grace alone.

So now this rickety rodeo doesn’t feel so small. Because we got inside, looked around. (A book and its cover, right?)

We’re heading back at 1 to watch the show. And, yes, the viewing stand wobbles a bit, but so do I.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A big yet little girl

Betty and her classmates are singing to me.

They're singing "Thank you, teacher. Thank you for teaching us today. We will see you again tomorrow." They hold their hands up toward me prayerfully,  as a sign of respect.

 But Betty, 14, doesn't say she will see me tomorrow. Instead, she sings she will see me five days later, on Monday.

I ask her why.

"It's the 100-day celebration,"  she smiles. All the children smile when talking to me, a volunteer teacher at their school, ABCs & Rice (a place for less-privileged kids to learn English on a full belly.) Every last one of them is polite. Kind toward me.

I ask, "Celebration of what?"

"My father. He died 100 days ago," she says, adding, "so we honor him with prayers and food."

And then she burst into tears. And she falls into my arms, sobbing. I met her two days ago and already my heart hurts for her.

It's so hard for me to see her so broken.

Because she's my superstar Cambodian.

Of all of the children in my class, Betty has what it takes to excel.

During my first day on the job, she asked me why I was in Cambodia. Why I came to her school to teach.

I told her I wanted to learn about the Cambodian people and culture, something best learned by living it, not just looking in.

"OH!" she exclaimed, then jumped up and sprinted away, only to return pronto with two 8-by-10-inch booklets, one about Khmer food and the other about the culture.

She and her classmates wrote both booklets, she said, as a way to make money to finance a school trip to the beach.

One costs $10. The other $15.

"But if you buy both, it's $20."

I'd say she's a born leader. Intuitive. Self-starting. Brave.

So having her cry on my shoulder reminds me she's still a child, but one with great potential.

(If anyone reading this wants to help Betty and her classmates go to the beach, email me. The booklets are in English, mostly. I think they need $800 more for their trip.)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Beautiful Cambodia

Life is familiar yet different here in Cambodia.  In this tourist town of Siem Reap, the people  speak English and spend US dollars. However,  they also speak Khmer and accept Reil, traditional Cambodian currency.

People love their dogs, but not as pets. They guard their homes. Not from other people, but from ghosts.

These are  a very superstitious people.

The town percolates with cars, buses, motorbikes and tuk-tuks scramble shoulder to shoulder, four across on a two-lane road. With no road rage.

Most of the people are young, 35 and younger. And they hold their elders, what few there are, in high regard. In a place of honor.

Beautiful Cambodia's people smile a lot at me. And bow. They engage with me as a person of importance. They lost an entire generation -- the one that would be the grandparents --to genocide, starvation, revolution and war.

So they honor the aged. At 60, I am old to these people. And the show me much love and respect.

I am so honored. Thank you, beautiful Cambodia.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The lap of Cambodian luxury


've been waiting for months for this journey.

I've been preparing for the poverty. For the less than stellar accommodations I'd be living in for 2 weeks. For the fish and rice I'd eat each day.

For two months before I left, i went to the Y to improve my stamina because I would be biking 20 miles daily to a school/farm to volunteer with the kids.  I'd be living in an dormitory, where my room would be 40 steps up from the road and the Internet access  another 40 steps up.

Well, here is my reality.

I am living at the Bou Savy Guesthouse,  in the lap of Cambodian luxury.

I'm sitting here writing on a well appointed veranda a few steps from my simple yet lovely room, 15 steps up from the road.

The morning breeze plays on the surrounding palm leaves like a piano. I hear roosters and a combination of bells and woodwinds faintly entertaining from a distance temple.

My veranda overlooks a palm-lined swimming pool (pictured) surrounded by green, two-tiered umbrellas and maroon cushions atop wooden lounges. To my left, workers wearing crisply laundered  uniforms prepare for our morning meal.

Which is not fish and rice. Unless I order fish and rice.

I will order from an extensive menu designed to attract tourists coming to visit Anger Wat.

Poverty surrounds me. But it does not devour me. Where I live, anyway.

In a few hours,  I will enter poverty where I work. But there is no bicycle. Saven, my own chauffer, awaits to drive me  to work for the next two weeks in an open-air taxi called a  Tuk Tuk.

As I said, I sit in the lap of Cambodian luxury.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Dining in Bangkok

I came halfway around the world because I love Thai food.


The mission projects I serve on take me to Cambodia and Vietnam. I chose to begin and end my journey in Thailand solely to eat sumptuously of the most  authentic Thai food in the world.

So,  here I am, sitting on  the hotel veranda, awaiting my first taste of Thailand.

Here it comes.

Andi I  am shocked.

My authentic Thai breakfast is, well, unlike any food I have ever eaten. My courteous innkeeper (he calls me Mrs. Madame) serves up his best impression  of an American breakfast: two fried-to-the-death eggs, a slice of lunch meat (ham?), toasted Wonderbread and two uncooked mystery-meat hot dogs.

And instant coffee. And Tang. Remember Tang?

My innkeeper and two friends  dine two tables away. I glance at their plates. And salivate. Rice. Peas and either fish or potatoes swimming in a green gavy-thick sauce. Probably curry.

Envy colors my moment.

I get a second cup of instant coffee (better than the first). And realize my innkeeper served his best impression of  authentic American food to satisfy his American guest.

His authentic kindness and courtesy replace my need for the food. And I feel blessed. And then plan to eat elsewhere tomorrow.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Setting up a dental clinic in Haiti

I went to Haiti in January, to a remote  village with no running water, no electricity. There is so little food, most of the people are malnourished and many of the animals are near starving. (Blog posts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 about the experience.)

It broke my heart to see such poverty. All week long, I played with the children, talked to the people and learned from them what they want in life: Better infrastructure, schools, jobs, food, more access to medical care.

I felt useless all week. I could not feed the children. Nurse their wounds. Create jobs. Build houses.

They also wanted access to dental care.

YES! I can do that. With your help.

 I've created a bang-up big-time fundraiser (Sept. 21, 2014) to establish a dental clinic for Desab and nine other villages that dot the mountainside. It'll serve 6,000 people.

I can't do alone. I need  your help. I need you to donate $5, $10,  $50, even $500 or $1,000 to Stone by Stone, a Liverpool, NY-based non-profit with a 501(c)(3) standing. This makes the donation tax deductible. 

If you are within driving distance of Cazenovia, NY, that's where I'm offering a splendid, authentic Haitian buffet along with a gift shop of beautiful Haitian wares and a self-guided tour of a private mansion that overlooks the lake.

It's 2 to 5 p.m. Sept. 21, 2014.

And it costs only $50 to get in. A potion of that $50 is tax deductible, too.

Think about coming to dine at our table. Or just make a flat-out donation. 

You can donate through Paypal and also at our Website (it loads slow) that has more information about the project and an area to order tickets to the Haitian Table.

Hope to see you there. 

Our Menu for our Haitian Table

2 to 5 p.m.
Sept. 21
Hillcrest "Jephson" estate in Cazenovia, NY

Sos pwa: Traditional red beans and rice

Pork grillot

Kreyol chicken
Fried plantains

And we'll have tropical fruits and fresh lemonade.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Animal sightings

photo by Julie Rumo

A car flashes its lights at us.

We don't know why.

We think maybe our lights need to be on. We lost track of time. Is it dusk? 

We're heading down a country western road in Idaho (maybe Wyoming) somewhere south of the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park. We're laughing, singing and engaging in mindless car-safe horseplay. We're laid back, At ease.

We've just spent four filled days looking for grizzlies, elk, mule deer, bison, moose and gray wolves, our eyes burning into the mountainside, woodland and watering holes, praying for a least a glimpse of these magnificent animals. (God answered YES on almost all accounts.)

Now we're just kicking back in the Ram truck, late in the afternoon on a day when rain sashays with sunshine, treating us to a watercolor sky against a western range backdrop. We leave the national park system behind, and are now on the open range.

No fences.

The highway cuts through honest-to-goodness ranch-like grazing land.

And now this car passes us, blinking its lights.

We don't know why.

We round the bend and immediately see cattle, mostly mommas and babies, roadside. They crowd the shoulder. A few stand out into the road (the other lane.) 

We slow down, nearly stop, roll down the windows and bellow and moo until all the bovine stare at us. We scare a few of the babies, who jump backwards. A few quake where they stand.

Around the next bend we see more of this roadside attraction. We resume our bellowing and mooing. A momma backs up immediately, taking her two startled babies with her. We laugh. Lots.

But darn, we forget to blink, to help out the next guy. To warn him or her of this potential collision with the open range of the not-so wild West.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The good wait

Reason 748 why traveling with friends is so much fun.

We are in an RV repair shop near Ocean Shores, WA, because our new-to-us fifth wheel's braking system failed. So we have to wait a while for repairs.

Usually, while waiting for repairs, I'd lease up the dog and go for a walk, then return to wander around the repair shop, read posters on the wall, flip through repair manuals. Yawn a little.

Julie, the mom of the three boys traveling with us, had other plans.

She grabbed a lawn chair and her tanning lotion and set up on a rocky/grassy area to catch some rays. One of her boys set a chair up for me, then headed off to play with his brother. THEY walked to dog.

I joined Julie. In a chair. In the sun. And just chatted. 

So the waiting became fun.

Oh, and the repair was minor. An electric line spliced long ago had rusted loose. New line installed.

We're good.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Stepping out of myself and into a tidal pool

I borrowed this picture until I can download my own.
I'm standing on the edge of the Pacific Ocean at Ruby Beach at low tide. Because we (well, really THEY) want to explore the tidal pools.

I don't like tidal pools, where trapped murky water imprisons unseen critters that slither through a  dense cover of algae. No matter where they are.

These tidal pools connect Olympia National Park to the Pacific on the outer edges of the state of Washington. I am here with my husband, Allen, our dog, Jacob, and four-sevenths of the Rumo family from Cicero, NY. Three of the four Rumos with us are little boys, ages 9, 9 and 8. They and their mom want to play in the tidal pools. So we head down the hillside to do so.

I plan to sit at the edge and just watch. And hold my nose. But mom immediately heads back up the hill to the restrooms, leaving me -- the tidal pool hater -- to watch the boys.

We wait. I look out toward the Pacific  -- way far away because it's low tide, its waters ebbing from huge barnacle-covered rocks. Then I look back to the boys, killing time until mom returns. Kicking sand.

I sigh. I know what  have to do. I have to overcome my loathing of  murk and slither to begin these kids on a great sea adventure. "Come on, boys," I yell (hiding my disgust), and head for the nearest rock.

I look back. They follow. I look down, no murkiness. The damp sand is clean. The water cool. No smell.

At that rock we find a world  populated with sea stars, anemones, brine shrimp, sea worms, barnacles and dozens of other lifeforms. They live in water so clear I can see individual grains of sand. The vivid oranges and purples of the starfish accent the black and white muscles, the yellow lichens and green anemones. They boys giggle, dance about, point, even climb.

It's a beautiful world unlike any I have explored. No yuck or muck.

When mom returns, we explore more. For hours. So  I guess it's true. That sometimes you have to put your preconceived notions aside, suck it in and just do it, go out on a limb. Because that's where the fruit is.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Thank God for good neighbors

Finally, we reach Seattle, where all our kids and grandkids live.

And it's time to back into our campsite in a crowed campground as tight and manicured as any residential street in the big city just south of us.

We picked this place, Pleasant Lake RV Park in Bothell, WA, because it's so close to all the kids and grandkids who live scattered from Seattle (30 minutes  away) to Woodinville (10 minutes).

It's our first back-in in our new-to-us 30-foot fifth wheel. And it's tight. Very tight.

So we give it a go. And stop. Then we go. And stop. Then we go. And stop.

We just can't do it. It's like threading a needle with twine. From the side. Without light. Wearing a blindfold.
Then, we meet the Harley guy (he's wearing a Harley Davidson T-shirt).

He's camped in lot that mirrors ours  in a monster fifth wheel (40 feet?) he's got perfectly tucked into the pines. He steps out his door. And watches.

I yearn for his help.

"It's our first time" I say, which I think is gentler on our confidence than throwing myself at his feet and crying out for help.

"No problem," he responds, in a drawl so slow and so southern I think of molasses.

He lumbers over to Allen, who's behind the wheel and beginning to sweat, and issues soft, low and slow continuous directions and confirmations:

"Turn the wheels left. Pull forward. Turn the wheel right. Back up. Keep turning the wheels. Turn the wheels. Stop. Now you gotta swing 'er ass around. That's right. Now rock it back an' forth. Yup. Doing good. Doing good. You got 'er in." 

And then he's gone.

And we're home for the next four nights.

We meet the nicest people while on the road.

I hope this one's around when it's time for us to leave.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sometimes it takes a kid ...

It's all a matter of perspective.

We're on our first journey with another family (a mom and her three kids; read her blog at jrumo5.blog.com) in our new RV, a 30-foot Wildcat fifth wheel we've nicknamed Lily. 

The first three nights, we call Walmart home. On the fourth, we book into a campground in Bozeman, MT, giving us a chance to unhitch Lily. Something we've done only once.

After a few minor glitches (I still read the directions step-by-step), we successfully separate Lily and our truck (kids named him Buck the Truck), and set off to explore Bozeman.

It's morning now and time to reconnect, to stitch together that RV umbilical cord to make us  a 50-foot moving machine.

I'm driving, having to eyeball the top of the hitch receiver in Buck's bed with the hitch on Lily's front end. I'm backing up slowly, slowly, slowly, and CHUNCKCLINKCLUNK. Perfect. We're connected. Yay!

I drive Buck forward slowly and I hear Allen in absolute meltdown. "STOP STOP STOP," he screams. And he keeps screaming unintelligibly. 

I slam on the brakes, leap out and LOOK! Lily has come unhitched and she now sits crammed jammed on Buck's tailgate, causing it to bulge and buckle.


We grab my instructions. Nothing. We did nothing wrong (other than nearly destroy essential fifth-wheel equipment).

So we have to have another go at it, with Allen at the wheel. CHUNKCLINKCLUNK. But then a MAJOR CWANK! Allen pulls away slowly and Lily follows, like a lamb after her shepherd. Success. 

He stops, leaps out to examine the damage. Yep. The tailgate bulges and the top is scraped and gouged. It's awful. But it works, so we get on our way with sullenness as well as Lily in tow.

Here's where perspective fits in.

Kenley, our 8-year-old, quips, "Think of it as a birthmark." 

"What?" I ask.

"The damage. It's a birthmark."

YES! Kenley is brilliant. It's our first journey in Buck and Lily, so the damage is a birthmark.  Damage to treasure. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

A different kind of market day

Haiti Chronicles Part 9

I am in Desab, Haiti, on the last full day of my visit here as a volunteer with the non-profit Stone by Stone. And I'm excited. Because I've been promised a market day in Cabaret.

I've heard all week about the dirty, cramped conditions at market, about the animals sold as food. Well, I'm used to the ever present dirt by now. And I understand the animal-food thing. So I'm excited to windowshop on another people's culture.

I wait by the Toyota Land Cruiser ready to go. Silly, giddy. To market. To market.

Soon, others arrive for market day: Fenel, the medical clinic's administrator, is to drive. Three of the Stone by Stone board members -- Nicole and Adam Pitzer and Julie Rumo -- pile into the truck, too. They have business to attend to in Cabaret, a brief introduction to another non-profit then on to market. They promise.

Three other men pile in.

I didn't expect the three others. I've met them, but none are from Desab. They are all leaders from other mountain villages, all members of a cooperative designed to co-manage services on the mountain. I guess they're going to  market, too.

So we rumble and tumble down the road better suited for animals than trucks. We pass families waiting for a cock fight to begin, both people and donkeys overloaded with goods going to and from market, and goats and chickens scrambling to get out of our way.

We end up at Jason and Ginger Lovan's house in Cabaret, where we see four (maybe five?) more co-op leaders sitting on a wall at the entrance to a seriously tight driveway. We park, spill out of the truck and are joined by those other leaders who follow us into the house.

Unexpectedly, we're in the midst of a formal meeting of the mountain's nine-village co-operative. This is no meet-and-greet.

Ginger who, like us, expected five and not 12, scurries to provide more seating, reposition fans and offer fresh, cold water to drink.

We all settle in, for a very long meeting we didn't know was going to happen. And at that moment, I feel something big is about to happen. I sense Desab's world might be changing.

Because this ministry, called King's Cross Ministries, wants in. They want to work alongside Stone by Stone to ease the economic hardships of the mountain villages. They are just two people, but they have huge hearts for Haiti and knowledge of available resources. 

And they have great ideas to share, ideas that can bring more goats into the mountain villages, turn chickens into profits,  introduce a cash crop where food won't grow, and work cooperatively with the schools in Desab to offer much needed secondary education.

They even want to plow out a part of that treacherous road to stop erosion. Wow.

These two people, who live just down the mountain, have great plans. And, until this moment, until this very meeting, they had no idea the co-op of leaders existed. And now they can work with those leaders. And with Stone by Stone. I feel an undercurrent of excitement. I see village leaders smile, nod.

I sit, listen and take notes and accept there'll be no market day today. But that's OK. 
Final Haiti Chronicles Part 10: The hopes and dreams of Desab's people

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Unusual foods, extraordinary flavors

Elimene did most of the cooking. Here's she's making
coconut milk from a fresh coconut.

Haiti Chronicles Part 8

Quietly, discretely, Adam leans toward me and holds his spoon up. "Do you see what this is?"

I look. It's a round piece of something on his spoon. I don't know what it is, but it came from a delicious bowl of chicken stew made from poultry butchered and cleaned just hours earlier in Desab, a mountain village in Haiti, where I've lived for the past few days.

"Look at it. Can't you see?" No, still can't.

Then he turns it over in his spoon and I see, immediately. It's a little skull. A little bird brain that's been boiled right along with the peppers, dumplings, coconut milk, plantains, taro root and potatoes Elimene prepared as a special gift to say "thank you" for wedding pictures Julie took the day before.

Adam Pitzer and Julie Rumo are board members of Stone by Stone, a small non-profit working alongside the villagers here to get a medical clinic sustainable, without outside intervention. This week, we're here to paint the medical clinic, sort out donated medical supplies and build a trust with the people so they can believe we are serious about working for them and not instead of them.

Our cook rubbed these fish with
 oranges and lemons, then
 marinated them for a day or more.
Adam asks me to keep our discovery just between us because, I guess, of that trust we are trying to build. No problem. I'm living without running water, without electricity, sleeping in a concrete room visited by at least one tarantula and a chorus of crickets, where two Haitian men sleep on the floor to protect us (I don't know from what). So eating homemade, delicious, indigenous food is a great gift I treat with humble respect, even if it yields  surprises.

This big pot of mais moulin (sweet
corn meal) simmered uncovered
for an hour.
And it does, on many fronts (although none as unusual at the chicken stew.) We enjoy goat  stew, coconut rice with congo peas, a fish stew for breakfast, a flavorful pumpkin soup I'm told is a special New Year's meal, carrot and eggplant stew  over mais moulin (a sweet corn meal), a banana soup and red beans and rice. 

I take notes on all of the meals and actually become a pest in the kitchen, asking the women to show me how they cook. But they do. Graciously. I take copious notes. Snap pictures. I want to recreate these delicious, unusual meals. They are just that good.

So I think I'll have a dinner party, some time this fall.

And not just any dinner party.

I want to organize a fundraiser for Desab, preparing and serving food the way the Haitians do (minus the skull). Maybe even write a small cookbook. I'd like to serve up enough goat stew and banana soup and sell enough cookbooks to pay for a kitchen inside the clinic.

I can dream, can't I? Details to come.
This little pot of goat meat simmered for
two hours. Goat is tough, like beef stew,
unless cooked a long time.
Haiti Chronicles Part 9: The men of the mountain unite for an exciting future