Saturday, September 28, 2013

Catching Up....

It was a blog-fest for the travel topic, and now it's time to just get back to real life. 
Blimp rides on race weekend

We're back down to earth now; though everyone's still stunned that I walked off an Alp... 

The picture at right is a crummy one... The new Nokia is coming, people. Be patient. Anyway, this is the blimp floating around. We're near enough to the Chicagoland Speedway (located in Joliet, but hey - money buys names, right?) and we had the Big Race -- I don't know which one. I don't follow racing.

So I was driving home from work that Saturday and I saw this. They were giving rides on the blimp. Would be cool, I think! But not cool enough that I'd go anywhere NEAR that racetrack on a race weekend. Not a fan. 

I know the farmers are getting paid handsomely for renting out spots for campers, but I have no desire. 

The Garden

Well. Tomatoes are ok; not scarce but not overly plentiful. At least this year they have some taste to them.

Pickling cucumbers ARE COMING OUT MY EARS. We have 6 more, and then I think they're finally done. So I get to make MORE pickles this year. I might do a garlic-onion-pickle thingie just to shake it up. 

Carrots are coming in; lovely!! Roasted for Thanksgiving and juiced. Nothing like the plastic orange things you buy in the cellophane bag at Jewel. Oh, and one radish we forgot about... Wowza, I haven't even cut into it but I bet it's gonna be hot!

Of course, I could make Carrot Preserves. That could be interesting. It would go along with my Basil Jelly and Rosemary Jelly. 

I need to do something with preserves, but we haven't had time to turn around, much less grab berries or apples to do anything with. Fingers crossed (again, where am I finding 26 hours in a 24-hour day???) that I can maybe get something done in that line for Christmas. 

The Politics

Will everyone Get. Over. It. The Affordable Care Act is NOT mandatory health care. It's not "socialized medicine." It's a fairly limp effort at INSURANCE REFORM. And you know what? It's going to SAVE you money. 

I have news for people: when someone without insurance shows up at your local ER with a stomach bug, yeah, they get care. And guess what happens to YOUR insurance premiums and YOUR hospital costs??? They go UP. Sooooooooo - let's give EVERYONE a shot at getting decent insurance for a do-able cost. Betcha they don't clog up the ER... 

Holding the government hostage so that Republicans can "score points" against President Obama (because, after all, it was THEIR healthcare plan before HE adopted it - what's with the schizo behavior??) -- well, that's what the FOUNDERS didn't want. The Founders - those guys who are always shoved in our faces by the uber-conservative folks -- they didn't even want political PARTIES because they thought that it would lead to division. Hmpfh. Go figure... 

It's ridiculous. We have wars to worry about. We have kids and elders going hungry. Our "First World" country treats its most vulnerable citizens as bad as, if not worse than, a Third World country, and yet we can bleat in total ignorance that we are "The Greatest Country." 

Nope. Not till everyone has at least the means to get a decent standard of living. And that encompasses a job that pays a living wage; health care; availability of food... The $8.25 minimum wage isn't cutting it anymore. We have no jobs bill because the toadies have spent their time trying to repeal the ACA. There are too many neighborhoods where there's not even a decent grocery store. 

We have lots to do before we can, in good conscience, call ourselves "The Greatest Country" again. 

The Knitting

Fluffy scarf #1
So what possessed me to think that I could do seven (SEVEN) fluffy scarves for our choir gals??? I have no idea. But I'm plugging away. I've brought them to work, and will do them at work on my lunch break. They're mindless, but a tad frustrating because the yarn is roapy. No, this time, I didn't iron it. But I'm afraid I'll have to do it for subsequent scarves just to save my head when I pound it on the wall...

Oh, and our Zonta Club president asked us knitters to knit another one of these things as a possible door prize or auction item for our club. So of course I said yes... (sigh)

The baby sweaters are done. They still fit!!!! Yay!!! And I learned a cool seaming technique that results in no bumps. I may do these again, (a) because it's such a simple pattern; and (b) because I have some of the Encore left over and I can go wild with stripes. No baby looks ugly in a tiny little sweater, right?? Even if the colors are "out there" somewhere... And it's a good stash-buster. Any wool super-wash will do. 

I like the wool super-wash because it's warm; it's crisp when you knit it, and it holds the buttons nicely. And the pattern couldn't be easier - you can add length, you can leave the sleeves so that perhaps 1" or so is not seamed, to make a cuff. I have enough of the yellow and orange to make the front and sleeves (like, maybe down just past the buttonholes) one color and then switch so that the bottom half is another. I can stripe. I can do whatever I want! 

Avery Sweater
And the wool superwash is good because moms can just toss it in the laundry and it won't get felted or shrink. You don't even need to block this pattern. I think it's much easier than the Elizabeth Zimmerman Baby Surprise Jacket. 

I'm sorry that the completed picture is upside-down. Just squint a bit. The babies look adorable in the sweaters. I'm happy that they're able to wear them. Girl Baby will wear both soon because Boy Baby is a TANK. Looks just like his dad.

The Nephew Afghan... So I forgot that my nephew is getting married. Give me a break, please, there's been a lot going on... I got out the "8-hour Afghan" book and am doing a simple-ish tweedy thing. The colors don't look great, but remember, it's the Nokia phone and it's not the new whiz-bang camera... He will like it. The taupe is the approximate color of his living room, and the navy-ish color is at least the office, I can't remember. But anyway, he's got 2 black labs. I wasn't about to do a white afghan!! Encore again. Great stuff, washable and it holds a stitch pattern nicely. Big needles, so it goes fast. I have till about February, I figure...if it's going to be in time for a shower. 

Nephew Afghan
The Charity Afghan...This was supposed to be my "sweater year" and I have yet to cast on a sweater for myself. The charity afghan is moving along. I have it mostly laid out, and I'm completing the last 4 squares. This was a round robin project; some crochet, some Tunisian Crochet, and some knitted. I'm going to assemble it, using crochet. We don't want to interfere with Howl-O-Ween anyway, so this is decent timing. 

Socks, scarves, etc... The Teal Socks are set aside for now. The Chandelier Lace scarf is my Sunday Knitting project. I'm just breaking it down to "what do I knit each day of the week" at this point. The lace scarf may or may not make it for Christmas, depending on what else goes on.

Stash-busting: I'm going to go through the totes in the basement and be ruthless with the acrylic. Lord knows I'll not be knitting with it anytime soon. Will be a donation toward our Prayer Shawl project at the church. I'm sure it'll come in handy, and I've been sitting on it for a couple years now. Time to make room -- either just room in the basement, or (go figure) more room for yarn.

The Estate

YAY, good news! We got an offer on the house. It looks solid, but I've seen closings fall apart the week of, so I'm not jinxing this one! It's below our appraisal, but not too bad. I think it's just better to get on with it. I don't want it to sit over the winter, and I don't want to have to pay out of my own pocket for vacant property insurance and the utilities. It becomes an "attractive nuisance" and we're too far away. I don't want a 2 a.m. phone call telling me the cops are there because someone tried to ransack the place. 

Charity afghan
Fingers crossed. The lawyer also said he is going to negotiate with the IRS. It will still wash out, and mostly still probably be "upside-down" but he feels like he should make the effort. Hope to get them to 50-cents on the dollar. We won't have an "estate" to distribute to the heirs, but I can't help that. Can't get blood out of a turnip. 

The Reading

I'm still plowing through the Jane Austen collection. I'm on "Emma" now. Emma gives me a pain. 

I read J.K. Rowling's "Casual Vacancy" which I think I mentioned. She needs to work on her adult fiction. 

I have "The Portable Faulkner" and I've started it. I've also started (twice!) "Sanctuary." Yikes, I'd rather re-read "Absalom, Absalom" -- I have a cheat-sheet for Sanctuary because I can't figure out who's who. 

I'm going to order some more Pearl S. Buck for my Kindle. I love her way with words. 

The Yoga

I'm almost done with training. Yay! One more weekend for the formal classes. A few more workshops, a thesis and I'm done. 200 hours is a LOT of work. 

I'm no longer teaching Yin; my own teacher wants the class back, and that's fine with me. I will be a happy student again. I will still be teaching on Mondays and subbing where I can, but that's fine. I already have a full-time job; I'd be happy with a light yoga schedule.

The Weight

Well, I put on 10 lbs. since my brother died. I have recommitted myself to getting my act together. It's stress eating, and coupled with (yay, FINALLY) what looks like menopause, my body's not reacting like it used to do. Used to be, stress eating and I didn't gain weight.

Not anymore!! Yikes... I can really feel that 10 lbs. and I don't like it. So, off we go again. 

The Holidays

Again, we are doing Thanksgiving the Sunday before. That's nice, because it just seems so much less hectic. We're going organic this year, and getting our bird from Three Maples Farm in Oswego. Check here to see what they do. I'm excited. Yeah, expensive, but I sent an e-mail to all working family: time to chip in, folks. For years, Hubby and I have been buying the bird, which is fine; we're not broke. But an ORGANIC turkey is lots more expensive and we've been doing the cooking for years now, too. It's time for the kids to pitch in - most of them are working and $10 won't kill any of them. 

Also, we can take the older great-nephew (not the one getting married --- the 3-year-old) to visit the farm and pet the goats. He'll love it. 

Most of the family does pitch in with the side dishes, but if I may be allowed a little vent, I have some relatives who find that the holidays are the occasion at my mom's house to sit on their butts and watch Hubby and I run like chickens. I have one relative in particular who thinks her only contribution is to come in, plop rolls on the counter and go sit down. Lately, that's not sitting well with me.

My MOM doesn't have to do anything. She provides the place, and frankly, she's slowing down even though she won't admit it. She's earned the right, as long as we are capable, to just have the opportunity to visit and not work like a slave. 

We cook because we like to, of course, and to blow our own horns: we're good at it. That gene, I inherited from my Dad. Our kids do the potatoes (3 ways, thank you) and my one nephew (the dad of the 3 kids) does a great job cooking, too. He's really good. My sister is improving, but she's not much of a cook. And one of the kids bakes, so that's cool. But otherwise, coming up with a salad and dressing isn't much of a challenge, if I may say so. 

Last year, it was kind of funny. Kid #1 and Kid #2 got in a huff...They see that we're doing all this prior to the event, and we're also Clean-Up Crew... So THEY get the nephews. They're all: "Hey, you - grab these dishes and bring them up. You, grab the garbage can. You, start stacking the chairs."

And amazingly (not really - who am I kidding?), they all just hopped to it. Well, you get a teacher and a welder taking charge, and everyone just falls in line. If they griped about it, they didn't do it within hearing range of our kids, because they'd have been told to "suck it up and deal with it. You ate, you help." 

OK, I think we're caught up. I know it was an overload of knitting pictures, but next time, I hope to have something more scenic to show you. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Random Musings on a Thursday...

Just because I'm kind of chasing my tail...

1.  Finished J.K. Rowling's "Casual Vacancy." Don't bother. I mean, I got it as a gift, and I'm happy I got it as a gift, because if I had purchased it myself, I'd have been sorely disappointed. 

2.  No, not because it's not "Harry Potter." I just didn't like it. Too much f-bomb, not enough story. Let's hope "The Cuckoo's Calling" is better. That's on my Kindle and in the loop to be read shortly.

3.  Knitting: The Nephew Wedding Afghan is underway. A variation on the Encore 8-Hour afghan. Not stellar, but nice colors (taupe + navy) and it's working up quickly. Honestly? Love the nephew. Not a fan of fiance, but that has nothing to do with wanting to do a quickie afghan. What it has to do with is that I'm just overwhelmed and "simple" is just about all my brain and knitting can handle right now.

4.  Taught yoga 3x this week, and almost had a 4th class, except I can't be in 2 places at once. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday... It was a lot of yoga, especially on top of a regular full-time job, plus my "new job" of Estate Stuff... Next week, it's another 3-class week, but that's because I'm subbing for the Tuesday night instructor.

5.  Estate Stuff: I thought I was going to work on that a little bit today, but I left the folder at home. Brought the tote.... I did get the home insurance stuff e-mailed though, and the first installment of that bill in the mail. 

6.  ANGRY. Just. Plain. Angry. How can a grown human be so irresponsible??? If the house doesn't sell in 1 year, I'm out $2,300+ -- because I have to have the property insured according to probate laws, and he didn't bother to insure it after he bought it. I'm just mad. I'm tired of excuses; I'm tired of "he didn't get a lot of breaks." Frankly, he DID get a lot of breaks; and he got more chances than most of us in the family got. And I'm paying for his lack of sense. A vacant home insurance policy costs a lot more than a policy for a home that's occupied, but there's no way we're renting it. I need to sell it, and that's that. I won't get repaid for that. I just have to suck it up. But how much more do I have to suck up?

7.  I have to re-do my sugar detox. All of this has made me jump headlong into the Edy's Slow-Churned. My own fault. I should be turning to yoga, not the ice cream...

8.  Speaking of yoga, our training is done in October!!!! I have one seminar to pick up in April, and I'm seriously considering one in November, but I have to see (a) the cost and (b) the particulars. I also have a Sanskrit workshop for November. 

9.  My final project will be a video on "Yoga for Hands." Since Kid #1 has complained that his hands are bothering him and he's in a profession (welding) where you usually have repetitive-use injuries along with the usual banging up of the hands when working with hot torches and metal... I thought that might be a good idea. Hubby can help me with the video part; all I have to do is come up with a sequence and a 20-minute script. That should be simple. 

10.  Both dogs are entered in the John Nelsen Moosedog Rescue Fund Howl-O-Ween contest. Voting starts October 1. It's a slow year this time around: we only have 4 entries, and it's really close to "start to vote" time. This is their biggest fundraiser, so I'm hoping we can get some interest - in dogs entered (we'll take cats, too) and in votes gathered. For a buck a vote? Who could resist??

11.  Just when I thought it was over, Hubby says, "Oh look...more cucumbers."  There are at least 8 more cucumbers on our vines. So - have to think up one more pickling recipe. We have a bunch of dill spears left, and bread/butter. And enough relish for Wrigley Field for when the Cubs get to the World Series. (Yes, it COULD happen...) They're too big for gherkins, but maybe sweet pickle chips?? We'll have to see. There's at least one more canning in there before the vines fade. 

12.  Where I'd rather be right now....  
Exit to Cote d'Azur

Saturday, September 14, 2013

On the 10th Day, They Flew...

August 18 - Geneva - to - Chicago

(Note: Pics here will be miscellaneous pictures from the stuff we uploaded - you haven't seen these yet!!)

Listening to the a.m. news. Who knew? Today is the New Year if you practice Zoroastrainism... The religion founded by the prophet Zorathustra. Apparently, you must be born into this religion, you can't convert. They had a nice piece on it on the BBC morning broadcast. Seems like a very peace-loving bunch. 
Trusty "Mildred" -- BMW Urban

Our last day here. There's a haze on the mountain. I'm on my second cup of tea in our room, looking out the window. It's the Holiday Inn Express in Geneva, spitting distance from the airport. Nothing fancy, but serviceable and it made an excellent "home base" for the past 4 days. 

Out our window, it's not terribly exciting close-up. There's a train track. Just on the other side of the track is a small grey brick house with one window we can see. That window is bordered by a barn-red set of shutters. and the house looks like it's got an old slate roof on top, in dark brown. It's surrounded by lots of big trees, but we can see a little stone outbuilding and there's a table in the back. It's got a red-checked tablecloth, just like you'd see in your typical bistro, and there are 6 chairs canted along the sides of the table to keep the cloth on - looks like they've used it frequently for suppers outside. Cozy, but a bit too close to the tracks for me!
The "infinity edge" pool at Eze - overlooks Med

Directly out the window, we can see a lot of high-rise buildings decorated with large blocks of color - one has a huge swath of yellow, one has brick red, etc. Kind of bringing a little pop to otherwise institutional-looking buildings; not keeping them just that stark concrete-grey. And it looks like we can see Mt. Blanc. It truly does dominate the area, even though we're pretty far from it - that's the only reason I believe it's Mt. Blanc - anything else would be too small. 

The sun is touching the mountain, and those mountains closer to us are still in the shade. Not a horrible view for an inexpensive hotel! We'll leave for the airport about 9 a.m. local time, clean out Mildred and say goodbye to her, and get our money exchanged back into US currency. We did use our credit card a lot more than we thought, but honestly didn't buy much. We have to visit customs, then a plane flight where we actually GAIN 7 hours. The wonders of the dateline, right?
Olives in Eze

Overall, it seems that the various cities we've seen are more aware of, and use "green" technology. Lots of solar panels not only on businesses, but on private homes. Recycle bins located prominently alongside streets. However, unpleasantly, there are also refuse bins located outside some restaurants...not what you want for a dining experience, in my opinion! The really available and reasonable local transportation system is good; even if you don't read the language, the maps are clear enough for the most part, and you can find your way. There are lots of bike lanes, rental bikes (where Ritchie D. got the idea for Chicago's "Divvy" program), and the cars are mostly smaller.

One feature of the cars, at least for Mildred: when you're at a stop sign, they "go to sleep." They go into an econo-mode and when you let off the brake, there's a little "jump" as the revs come back up. It's a little weird. 

Dismay at all the graffiti - not even the good Bancsy stuff you'd see in London, but just gang-ish slogans and that sort of stuff. Even in the rural areas. They really go pretty far out to deface a barn. 

People walk. A lot. More than we do, for sure. Yes, everything's more packed together, but even if you might think they'd hop a bus, I saw lots of folks on their way home from work, carrying a market bag and hustling down the street heading home. 

Yesterday, in Annecy, the "restaurant row" theme was plentiful in the old section. Actually cheek-to-jowl - you take 1 step from one table and you're likely to be in the next restaurant! Check out the link I posted for the live performance of the amazing street musician. 

In the canals in town: you could see the bottom!! You can't say that at home. You can
Silencing Victor Hugo in Lyon
probably walk on our canals with the amount of refuse and pollution! 

Impression of Geneva: At least the area we were in was busy and slightly grubby. Granted, we're at an airport hotel, and there's no un-congested way to get anywhere, but it's really, REALLY easy to screw up and not be pointed in the direction you wanted to go. Luckily, Mildred was extremely adaptable, and not once did she suggest that we "make a legal U-turn" in the middle of town! We've been through the downtown several times; not a tourist area but not anywhere appealing anyway. Definitely found the "working" section of town. Good for people-watching but the traffic was insane. 

Translating speeds from km/hr to mph is not my strong suit, but it seems as if we were moving FAST compared to what we do at home. On the "motorways" (as opposed to "highways") we were hitting the limit of 130 km/h (about 75-ish mph) and still have people fly by you as if you were standing still. Normally, it was 100-110 (about 60-ish?) and that held true in the tunnels, too. On the mountain roads, we usually were at 70-90 (about 55-ish) but Hubby said that a few of those turns were "posted speed limits WAY too fast" and he's used to driving in mountains! You can tell who is and who isn't, that's for sure. When they're zipping along and cutting lanes, they usually haven't a clue - or they have a death wish! The ones who know what they're doing slow down in spite of the posted signs, and they stay in their lanes!

The speed signs will say "130" but there's usually a graphic above them with a rain cloud and "110" - and they post signs telling you that you're on video. You don't see many cops - but we did see the speed changes on-the-fly as traffic situations changed. It's very interesting. On the off-ramps there are usually 3 speed changes in quick order, not like our "45 mph" sign. 

Wondering how Hubby will adjust to the big green Ginger, the Ford Explorer after tiny little Mildred the BMW Urban! 
Some of the 700+ steps in Lyon

10:02 a.m. - Said goodbye to Mildred and navigated customs and security. Whew - the rental folks already had her damaged headlight on their records! In the airport, you don't have to remove your shoes. No full body scan, but I was pulled aside - my Medic Alert bracelet or the screw in my thumb must have set something off. I was actually frisked by a very nice female officer, showed her the scar and bracelet and she waved me through. We board about noon.

11:25 a.m. - on the lane. Exit row over the wings. More leg room than I have leg! I can't even prop my legs against the bulkhead because I'm too short. Still astounded at people trying to shove big bags into tiny overhead spaces. You really have to check the bags, people!!! 

2 p.m. Geneva time - about 7 a.m.(ish) Chicago time: What culinary genius decided that chicken and green beans as a main course needed a cold green bean salad??? Not a horrid meal; just an odd combo. We're trying SIL's "no jet lag" pills. We forgot about them coming over. I hope they work. 

3:10 p.m. - Nuts. My Kindle ran out of juice... Glad I have knitting. We're about half-way through this leg (we land in Montreal before we get to Chicago). The flight from Montreal to Chicago should be swift. 

Geneva to Montreal is about 3800 miles. Montreal to Chicago is about 800 miles. It's -72.4*outside, according to the display. Brrrrrr. 

There was a smaller jet that just whizzed past us off the left wing. Hubby took pics - it's really odd to see one that close. 

We landed (THUD) in Montreal, got off, walked half-way to Toronto, check passports and then we had to be interviewed by Customs. I bought some lavender in Provence and they "hit" my bag. Only trouble was: it wasn't my bag that got pulled up. It was Hubby's. I must have had an honest face -- the customs guy x-rayed Hubby's bag and just let us through. 

Eating "dinner" because my watch (which I didn't change from Geneva time) says it's 9 p.m.
Long haired cows in Reichenbach
even though in Chicago, it's only 2:15 p.m. We have a 2-hour layover here, then we board for Chicago. 

Lucky me: got wanded again by security. It seems to be my fate, I guess. In Montreal, they had Hubby remove my Medic-Alert. They then decided it was because I was holding my passport and the electronics in the passport were setting off the buzzer. They let me through anyway. I must have looked harmless...and jet-lagged!

5:15 p.m. Chicago time: on the puddle-jumper to O'Hare. It's starting to hit me that I have been awake a VERY long time; considering my body is still on Geneva time. We've got about an hour to go till we land. Had some tea; want to try to get my body clock regulated.

Funny airport story: we get off the plane from Geneva and this little old French lady gets off. We sit in customs. The little old French lady is there. We go through customs, get something to eat and go to the gate. Yep, Little Old French Lady. As Hubby goes to get a candy bar, she and I have an entire conversation about the flight from Geneva to Montreal, the customs situation, and how she's visiting her daughter down at U of I... and she's speaking French - I'm speaking English. Did you ever have one of those experiences?? Turns out she's on this same flight, obviously, and she was a few rows ahead of us. As we left, we hoped that enough Air Canada folks would be around to make sure she got to meet whoever she was meeting. 

I can't remember if I mentioned it, but what did surprise me was that we saw NO wildlife in the mountains. The one marmot that was visible, I couldn't see because I was in the middle of the gondola going up the mountain! Only saw the birds. Hubby says it's because of all the people. The wildlife came out early and left before the humans started to arrive.

7:30 p.m.:  HOME!!! Hubby survived driving Big Ginger the Explorer, we came in and were MOBBED by the dogs. 

Mail's stacked up; dogs excited; plants are dry. And I'm bushed. 
Dandelion on Le Brevent - Chamonix

POST-SCRIPT: MEDICATION STORY... So my sister did a phenomenal job saving my rear end when I miscounted my heart meds. She went to Fed Ex, got about half-a-ream of paperwork done, we coordinated where to send the package, and tried to get one of the cardiologists to write a justification of need in case the package got held up somewhere along the line... And she was telling her doc this saga.

The doc looks at her and says, "Why did you do that??" Sis says, 'Because that's the procedure and Doc X never called me back - the jerk.' 

Her doc says, "All your sister had to do was show up at a local hospital's ER with the prescription bottle. They know what the medication is. They'd have filled it for her at no charge."  

Sis says, "Where were YOU when I was trying to get all this done???" 

On a fun note, see the pics - they're kind of random, but I figured everyone would like to see Mildred after all I told you about her. The infinity pool was fantastic. Did you click on Victor Hugo to see his surprise? And look -- even on the top of a mountain, there's a dandelion! 

Looking at the journal now... I have about 1/2 the journal left. Guess we have to go on another trip so I can fill it up, right? 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Back to the Trip...

August 17, 2013 -- Annecy, France
Swans on the lake

So we're back to our regularly scheduled travel blog... Sorry for the detours, but sometimes they happen.

Here's the link, just in case you're all about spoilers, and you want to look at EVERYTHING. Be advised: it's a LOT. I mean ginormous, humongous, over-the-top, etc. So if you want MORE, MORE, MORE, that's where you'll find it.

Today was a trip that was kind of extemporaneous. We knew we weren't going to make it to Eiger, given the dicey weather and all. So we looked to Rick Steves for inspiration. His suggestion was Annecy - pronounced, AHN-szee. We'd passed the off ramps for the town several times; one is for the tourist area and one's for the "downtown business" area. Rick Steves suggested the tourist exit and gave us a general idea of the town.

But it was not what I expected on several levels. We kind of guessed at where to park, got Mildred in a very tight spot, and then started walking. We followed the curve of Lake Annecy till we came to somewhere that looked appropriate.  Here's what the journal had to say:
View of downtown Annecy

10:15 a.m. - Waiting to depart on a 2-hour lake tour. Practically empty boat, which is fine with me! The park in Annecy is beautiful and we did a little side trip down through some streets. After our trip 'round the lake, we'll see what's next. 

As it's our last day (the 18th will be the Big Travel Day), we're trying not to "do" a lot. I could spend most of the day here (as I recall, I was perched on a park bench) and head back in the afternoon. We'll see what the weather holds, too. 

We're at a dock, and the tour boats leave regularly. The town is more than picturesque. The park is lovely and we got some lovely shots of the birds, etc. 

We're on the boat now, and traveling at about 13 knots. The water is so clear! More green than blue; the guide says it's a natural lake, formed from the last Ice Age. I'll be transcribing lots of factoids, so this will be a long-ish entry...but I hope it intrigues you. 

The lake is 27 sq. km. long, 3.5 km wide and 82 m deep. Water skiing is the thing, apparently. There's a slight haze by the hills across the lake; very smooth ride. On the eastern side of the lake is a mountain that's 1300 m up. It's a bird's eye view of the lake and Mt. Blanc, which is a pretty big deal. 

We briefly pull up at various stops; this tour boat is also rather like the city bus system. If nobody is at the stop waiting to get on, and nobody needs to get off, we just keep breezing by. 

Being on the water is so peaceful. Gorgeous breeze keeps you cool & you don't feel the sun. When it's been about an hour, I'll duck into the shady area...You almost don't know which way to turn your head as the taped guided tour starts up.

Have to get a city map...

Coming toward Mt. St. Bernard. There are 3 peaks and a 12th century chateau in the foothills. Tons of paragliders! This chateau has been in the same family since the 12th century. We're infants... There are some beautiful gardens as we pull up to the pier. Tons of lavender and just BUCKETS of petunias in window boxes. 

In so many places, we see familiar flowers, but they're huge. The climate is perfect to truly grow dahlias to dinner-plate-size. I've seen them in catalogs, but now - there's a 9" dahlia sitting right in front of me! The lavender is easily 5 feet high. My lavender at home barely tops 1.5 feet and has sparse blossoms. This stuff is covered in the blossoms. As we're docked, you can look off the side of the boat and see the bottom of the lake. It's crystal clear. 
The Palace Hotel

As we round the lake, we see an old hotel, which our taped guide says is The Palace. It's right on the lake - no yard; you just have a small patio and then the water. It was very popular in the 1920s-30s and has been totally renovated. The guide says it's "exquisite" in terms of the quality of the hotel and restaurant. 
Roc du Chere

We're coming up on a building that looks like it grew up out of the lake - a nature area, if I'm making out the French right: Roc du Chere - a nature preserve since 1977. Over 560 species of flora and fauna live there because of the micro-climate of the island. Among the animals are black kites and peregrine falcons. There are 2 caves - one of which goes 30m into the rock. The rock goes into the lake and down about 48m. It's sheer rock walls from the side we're on. I'm not sure how exactly you GET on this island, but from what it sounds like, it's not for the casual tourist. It looks like one might have to be air-lifted in and out. The caves are interesting, and there are boats and jet ski folks around it. 

Our next view is of the Abbey of Talloires - from the 18th century. Apparently, the artist Cezane stayed here. Looking at the dock, many of the boats appear to be hand-crafted - they're small and beautiful. Hubby is taking video and pics - these pictures are all him for the lake tour. 

There's a nice beach here and several restaurants. The Royal Family (of England) has also visited here. As I write this, a tandem glider goes right over the boat and lands in a little park area. Not sure I'd be good with gliding over the water, even if it is clear and not too deep. It's that whole not-being-able-to-swim thing...
Church in the canal in downtown

We stopped at Angon and took on more passengers. Hint to self: if you don't know where you're at, you might want to look at the dock - the name of the stop is pretty clear!! I noticed a lot of people wearing Birkenstocks, and a wide variety of outfits on women of every generation. Yep, some "mutton dressed as lamb" but I'm assuming they've either got great self-confidence or a Magic Mirror stashed somewhere. People watching...

We now leave the Big Lake and go to the Small Lake. There's a gorgeous jump-off for gliders and you can see the entire lake from that vantage point. I moved in out of the sun for now; I was right - it was about an hour and I started to feel really warm. I must be nuts, because as I watch, I'm thinking, "Oh yeah - I'd parasail from here!!" Oy. 

People bring their bikes on the boat, as well as luggage, strollers, etc. Rick Steves says Annecy is a great place to bike, and I can see that. Biking around the lake would be cool. Annecy is located right next to Albertville, the site of the 1992 Winter Olympics. 

Our next stop is Bout du lac. Tons of people to get on here. We're back on the near side of the small lake and we have about 1 more hour to tour. The air smells of water and mountains. That sounds silly till you've inhaled here. Odd combo, but it's at the same time crisp and most, clean and spicy - all in one breath. Hubby's still out in the sun snapping away and using the GoPro. 
Looking back on the big lake

There's an ancient-looking cottage on the lake with a satellite dish sticking out the side - an anachronism, right? The houses here are a mix of "really old," along with "slightly old," and "built new to LOOK old." 

On the little lake, the water is more blue green. Some houses are so close, you wonder how much water they get if the lake gets really wild. Or doesn't it get wild? It's breezy on this side of the lake. The houses are either timber or in creamy shades of stucco - the shutters are pops of color, in primary shades. One white ultra-modern Mies-like box is right above a more traditional chalet! 

As a side note, my Lewis pen apparently did freeze on the mountain. It's working just fine now! I look up from my journal to see a church tucked up the hill behind houses. 

Coming up on Duingt (not sure of that spelling) - the place Rick Steves suggests that you rent a bike from and drive back to the main parking area. Heck, we're not sure we parked in the main parking area!

Parent and 3 little girls at the dock. All the little girls are remarkably uninhibited, considering they're just in bathing-suit bottoms. They're all quite tan, and I sense a little hesitation from the oldest girl, kind of like she knows that pretty soon, she'll be a "big girl" and lose some of that freedom. 
15th century castle

The water at this pier is absolutely crystal clear. No hint of color, and you can see the sandy bottom. People enjoying swimming and playing in the water. As we move on, I see an old castle and buildings - the camera is running but our taped guide is quiet. Hang on, she's started up again... We're going back on the big lake. The castle was actually the subject of a painting by Cezane. The castle is from the 18th century; the peninsula on which it sits is privately owned. The tower (and you can almost hear the taped guide sniff disdainfully) is only from the 19th century. 

The guide tells us that there's a pennant on the water marking the site of a small island, but I don't see it. 

I do, however, see ANOTHER castle. This one is from the 15th century; and this section of the lake is the most "ancient." It used to be a fishing village; a very small town, the smallest of the towns ringing the lake. 

Wowza... The boat lurched and the engine gunned. And now I see why. Some idiot in a speed boat cut our big tour boat off. This boat is 50' long... I'm not sure how you don't see that at nearly noon. The horn was blown, the captain was quick to swerve and the idiot speedboat driver survived. 

Along the western side of the lake you see acres of reed beds. They're ecologically important, not only for the lake itself, but also for the fish and fowl who lay their eggs and hide their young in those beds. 

They have paddle boats you can rent, and the boats have slides - of course, you'd want to slide into a hugely deep lake... It would probably make more sense if either of us could swim. 

Next stop is St. Jorioz (pronounced San JOR-EE-OH) - a beach area. It would've been nice to have brought our bathing suits, now that I think of it. But we had no idea, Rick Steves included, that we should have done that. Clouds are starting to build at the north end of the lake, but so far, they're merely "pretty" and not "threatening." 

We're coming toward the oldest beach, where the river joins the lake. The town is one that goes pretty far inland. I could totally come here for a week. The water changes color dramatically as we near the beach. Oh, our taped guide says the guy who invented bleach lived here. Also, she mentions that this is a big downhill and cross-country ski area. Olympians train here. 

We're coming into Sevrier (Sev-REE-Ay). Very green water. The color of peridot. The first mate, a small stocky woman, heaves the gangplank at every pier and shoves the ropes around as if they're no more than clothesline. 

Once again, Notre Dame is not just in Paris or Indiana. From Lyon to Annecy, there's a Notre Dame somewhere in town. 

Moving along at 13 knots, my hair is getting a "styling" and we can see the swans and ducks along the shore. We're in the Savoy area of France. They drink the lake water; and our taped guide says this is the cleanest lake in France, if not Europe. Given the clarity of the water, I'd have to agree. The drinking water is drawn from below the 27m depth. And they have an active fish-breeding program; the building is ugly, but the science is apparently good and doing good work in the area. 

As the tour ends, our guide points out the Cathedral of Visitation - the steeple, at 72m  - is the highest point in town. The contemplative order which founded this cathedral still exists and the area is not open to the public. But the presence of the cathedral gives you a sense of timelessness and security. To know the Good Sisters are praying must be comforting to the residents. 

We disembark and start walking. We decide to have lunch at La Bastille - truly a hole-in-the wall along a street where, if you're not careful, you'll be at one restaurant and your table-mate is at another - that's how close the businesses are! You're all crammed in together. This place has regional food and frantic waiters... who use their cell phones to take orders, since they apparently have a state-of-the-art point-of-sale software program! We're stuck at a table which is in the main traffic lane for the servers; we can see the dessert station, the gal whacking at loaves of bread; the outside; the counter where they place the orders...It's a beehive of coordinated chaos. There are SINFUL dessert plates, the inevitable peach iced tea, and local cheese plates. Hubby has the local perch and I have a Savoy dish that's basically potatoes au gratin with ham. The cheese they use is the local stuff. I did take a pic with his phone of the menu so I could recall what the dish was called, but I do remember laughing and saying, "You realize we're paying tourist prices for what is most likely a peasant dish they ate when there was nothing else!" It was delicious. 

As we walked around the town, we saw an ice cream shop called Glaces Perriere and a sign on the street called  Pont de Perriere - I mentioned that it might be a regional difference in spelling of our last name. On this bridge, we not only saw shining-clean canals, but we also saw an awesome street musician. Looked like he needed a bath, but everyone actually stopped and listened as he pulled out his guitar and played the most amazing classical guitar music. Too late, I noted that he had CDs for sale for 10 euro... Like an idiot - I should have gone back to get a couple. 
Street musician

3:05 p.m. - we started back. We were warm and ready to just head back to chill out a bit. Only 2 wrong turns and 1 u-turn - we took a quieter drive back to the hotel. Hubby took Mildred to get gassed up prior to turning her back in. We were alarmed to note in the parking lot that she acquired a ding in her headlight on the passenger side and a small scrape! Yikes! WE didn't hit anyone, but they're crammed so closely in these parking spots, it wouldn't surprise us if she got clipped. People don't seem to have the possessiveness of their cars that Americans do. A car is just a way to get somewhere. 

We get to the BBC channel in the hotel and watch the mess in Egypt. Hopefully, we'll let them sort out their own mess. We're not the world's conscience (given our own situation), nor the police. 

I'm in the Bar Express of the Holiday Inn Geneva, because the room isn't ready yet (we're on the 5th floor, and they hadn't gotten there yet). We have to print our boarding passes for tomorrow. 

On consideration, I could split a vacation between both Annecy and Chamonix. Oh, and (a) we should have worn shorts!; (b) it hasn't rained, though the clouds are building; and (c) I think I have a little windburn from the boat. Hubby's face is a bit more red, too. 

View of a row of restaurants
On the way back to Mildred, I stopped and put my hand into Lake Annecy, and it was lovely! It would have been great for a short dip. Also, during our walk through town, a very rare occurrence happened.  A bully-breed dog took on an Akita. They were both walking down the street, on leashes, coming toward each other, and the bully tore into the Akita. Who didn't back down. It was swift; the Akita retaliated, and no blood was drawn. The bully's owner didn't have good control of his dog. The Akita owner did. Both dogs were separated, and several of us went to the Akita to ask if he was hurt. Give credit where it was due: the bully's owner was VERY upset and asked if he needed to give the Akita his information so that he could pay for vet bills if necessary. Thankfully, nobody was hurt, and the bully got a mouthful of fur... That is the only altercation we ever witnessed between dogs in the entire trip. In Annecy, there are more northern breeds; obviously the weather is more conducive, because the other dogs we saw were "pocket" dogs... Oh, and there was a gorgeous Irish Wolfhound strolling along one of the bridges in Annecy. Lovely gent. I suppose that since they actually get winter here, the northern breeds make sense. I just wonder, in these tight quarters, where one would be stashing either an Irish Wolfhound or a 120-lb red and white Akita!

4:50 p.m.: Packing up. Hubby's working on how to pack some of the art work we have that we'll be bringing home. Several lovely prints from Provence and Mt. Blanc, and we don't want them smooshed. I've got just about everything packed, and my clothing for the morning laid out. Now, just chilling and watching TV. 

(You should go on the link for the pics of the cathedral and even more of our trip...)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

First Memory: 9/11

I confess, I wasn't going to write this. But there are some compulsions you just go with. Here is my most vivid memory of 9/11.

Standing in horror watching the TV at the convent where I was working and hearing the president of the Congregation on the loudspeaker calling us all to the chapel.

Fighting an almost atavistic impulse to just go home and try to "feel safe" again. 

Standing in the chapel with almost 100 nuns plus about 30 lay employees, tears universally streaming down our faces, male and female. 

Looking at the faces of the elderly nuns who were surely as stunned as all of us. God knew that many of them were old enough to remember other horrors that humanity has perpetrated on itself for generations - watching them pray with an intensity that I don't know I've ever felt before or since.

Feeling as if something -- I wasn't sure what -- had just been yanked out of my soul. 

Knowing that nothing - NOTHING - would ever be the same again, and feeling a fear deep within myself at what this would mean for my kids - and everyone's kids. 

The cloud graphic? I don't know why; I just know it makes me feel peaceful. And God knows we all need peace now. Now. And always. 

Monday, September 02, 2013

An Epiphany...

We interrupt the travel blog to bring you The Epiphany.

No, not the one that occurs after Christmas. This one was the one I had at 3 a.m. or so this morning.

Yesterday, we did the clear-out and clean-up of my deceased brother's house prior to getting it sold, since he died intestate (without a Will) and the house needs to be sold so that proceeds (if any) can be distributed to heirs. I say "if any" because, like 99.9% of 49-year-olds, there is some debt. But that's not the epiphany.

Yesterday was wearing, both because it was hotter than heck, and because you work like crazy to clean out; you find out more than you'd like about a person. You see things you wish you could un-see. You note the pathetic brevity of a human life, made even more so by the fact that he died just shy of his 50th year -- in the year 2013 -- of a heart attack. 

You realize that, in the case of a sudden death, someone (or in this case, several of us) descends upon your home, decides what's trash and what's either treasure or can be sold - and the great majority of everything we own, quite frankly, is trash. 

My mom was stunned at the trash in the back alley. All she said was "Oh my God." Yeah, that's a life that someone lived, reduced to trash that will be hauled away. We loaded up 4 vehicles with stuff that we had to go through; the few things that could be sold; stuff that needed to be returned (work uniforms, etc.); stuff that needs to be handed over to the kids... all that. 

And as I look around my office here, I wonder. What will happen to all of this? This is "stuff I really need" - at least I think so. But the kids? Not so much, probably. Who will go through my books? What will happen to the guitars (though I already know the answer to that one)? And what about my yarn stash? The CDs? We have boys; nobody's going to be clamoring for my evening bags or fighting over my craft stuff. 

Anyway, I wasn't sleeping this morning. Again. And I was pondering, because I met one of Bro #2's friends yesterday. A very soft-spoken guy, and I had to wonder. Bro #2 and I didn't get along; let's just get that out of the way. It was difficult to hold a civil conversation for more than a few minutes. 

But at his wake and funeral, the 3 remaining siblings heard about his "kindness," his "empathy," his "dedication to his job," and "how much we all enjoyed being around him." 

Really? Who is that guy and why didn't HE ever show up at family events? Why did WE get the loudmouth, bigoted, ignorant jerk who once said to Kid #1, "That long hair makes you look like a hippy fag - I'll cut it off for you" as he grabs him by the ponytail. For what it's worth, Kid #1 had (and still has) gorgeous hair, even when it was down to his shoulders. And for the record, when it got slightly below his shoulders, he cut it off and donated it to Locks of Love. So there.

And for what it's worth, I told him that if he ever laid a hand on my kid again, he'd draw back a nub. Kid #1 told me later, "It's ok, Mom. That just him." 

Anyway, who was that guy? Why did we not know him? We saw evidence that, in spite of him being somewhat of a ne'er-do-well, he was trying to get his life together. Maybe the Big 5-0 was staring him in the face and perhaps he felt some urgency. Bro #1 told me the other day, "You know, if maybe we'd had another 5 years, we would have FOUND that guy everyone was complimenting. But our brother died before WE could find that guy."

Was that guy always there, but we didn't notice? Well, that guy may have been there, but we didn't get a chance to see him. It was all bluster and bravado, and his oldest kid was (and is) the same way. Everything was always a contest. Always one-up, always bigger, badder, nastier.

And then, at 3 a.m. or so it hit me. 


Rather, the LACK of college. Between me, Sis, and Bro #1, we have EIGHT college degrees. Out of all the grandsons, 3 of them have at least a Bachelor's degree. Between us - the siblings - there's a nurse, an engineer, and a double Master's Degree manager. For what it's worth, I win the tally on "the most diplomas." But either way.

It was college. Bro #2 barely made it out of high school. For a while, he was a cop. That's a totally honorable profession, of course, but due to circumstances lost in the mist of memory or just Not Talked About, he left his police job after about a decade. 

But the rest of us went to college (as adult students paying our own way, but nevertheless - we went). I think that perhaps the bravado and bluster were coping mechanisms because he felt that he wasn't "up to our standards." The pecking order is, pretty much, that I'm the smartest one, Bro #1 is next, Sis is a very close #3 -- and then there's Bro #2, a/k/a "The Baby."  At least that's how it's perceived. 

Frankly, Bro #1 and I think that Sis beats us...She's a nurse, and really, for all the "smarts" I have, I barely made it out of high school Chemistry alive. I think it's totally awesome that she can save (and has saved) lives. I also think it's amazing that Bro #1 builds experimental airplanes. Me? I can write and I have a really good memory for stuff that nobody else either sees or chooses to store in their brain; I'm also pretty good at leading people and having disparate groups of people play well together. There are the usual things that can't be quantified that I do that nobody else in my family does, but as far as straight-up academics, THAT is one thing I can do really, really well.

And I believe that Bro #2 was distinctly uncomfortable. Maybe he felt like nobody valued what he did. Maybe he felt like he was dumped on as a child. Maybe he felt like all of us were successful and he wasn't, nor was he likely to be. Maybe - just maybe - he felt like he had to be a jerk to get any attention, because we truly can be a loud and obnoxious bunch when we get together. As the youngest in the family, might it have been that he felt that in order to gain ANY attention, he had to be a snot? 

I don't know. I will never know. But I think I'm on to something.

I still have a lot more work to be done; there's a whole big recycle tote with paperwork in it. I have to go to the bank tomorrow to set up the estate account. I have a few things that I have to document and file away. Stuff needs to be cataloged on the balance sheet I'm doing. I have to check with a Realtor to get the house up for sale. I have to chase down a bank account (evidence of which we found yesterday). Mail is transferred to my house. I had to put the utilities for the house in my name. We're missing a garage door opener and a car title. 

It's a mess. 

But within that, I have to say this gives me a good impression, if I didn't already have one, of the brevity of life -- and what happens when you leave it unexpectedly and someone else has to clean up the mess. 

I'm not saying that there's a "perfect" departure. Even the most organized among us will leave some little mess when we go. There will always be clean-up. But this? This is a really large undertaking and I am feeling the pressure to "fix" what I really can't fix. It is what it is, and honestly? It ain't pretty. 

But I'm going to do the best I can. Because that's how it's done. I know we didn't get along. And I'm not sure that extra 5 years that Bro #1 wanted would ever have begun to chip away at over 40 years of idiocy. But I will do this so that his kids get whatever little bit they can, and I can at least leave his final affairs tidied up as best I can do. That's all I can do for him now. That's all that's left.