Somewhere in Nowhere

Somewhere in Nowhere Kentucky

It’s been a rough few weeks whereby I’d travelled to Maryland, New Jersey, and Kentucky. Then presented at the ISNA Education Forum and International Nanny Association conference, attended and wrote about the IFANCA conference and Pakistan’s Halal accreditation progress (those were positive experiences), but also suffered the loss of one of my brothers-in-law, and the near fatal infection that necessitated my son’s fiancée to be in the ICU at Loyola Medical Center for nearly two weeks. With my husband overseas for his sibling’s funeral and mourning, the rest of us stayed at the ICU with the family of our son’s fiancée until her release to home a couple days ago.

It was a lot of life, death, and near death to deal with, and at times all I could do was remember what my mother once told me. “There will come a time when you will need your religion.” My family has just endured one of those times when even though you muster all you can to battle against threats, fear, and fatigue, ultimately you realize that you can only rely on God’s mercy to make it all right. And thankfully, it will be again.

But the design of the events, the coincidences and timings, could hardly have been accidental. For when I study how benefits were oddly derived, albeit through suffering loss and the threat of loss, do I find myself amazed. For out of the metaphorical ashes do I perceive bonds forged, appreciation for what is essential, and a determination to hold tightly to what gifts I have been given from above.

There is also the reminder to live for now and avoid putting off enjoyment of what life can offer before I cannot see, travel, and do. For one never knows when one may be somewhere in nowhere again.

March On, March

credit-flickr-wm-horsburgh March On, March

“It’s a good day.” “I’m on this side of the grass.” That’s what Dad would say, even though the grass is more like a soggy brown mat with snow flurries presently gracing it. I miss my father, and it is the month he died two years ago.
While I try to stay positive, in what characteristically has been my least favored month, I’m pleased to see the return of the daffodils at Trader Joe’s. To me, that is one of the hallmarks of springtime coming soon.
This year has been largely void of the usual amount of snow, and wouldn’t you know it was the year we finally acquired a snow blower. Joke’s on us! With a very long driveway, I will keep it ready to blow until mid-April, because snow blizzards have still been known to dump on us then.
Various work projects get me through this arduous season, as I develop creative presentations using new audio and visual technologies for myself and my clients. Along with some writing and editing, I have a healthy balance of interesting prospects to carry me toward May, for which I am grateful.
My take on the current political situation is best illustrated by my husband’s experience today. About a month ago, we were invited to meet our son’s fiancee’s family at her graduation party. We were in our car, standing still at the entry to a small cul-de-sac, looking for a place to park, when another car reversed out of a driveway and collided with our rear panel. Fortunately, no one was injured, and we felt pity for the young driver. Wanting to help him, we’d suggested that we’d settle without police or insurance company intervention. But the boy’s uncle, who owned the home and who did not witness the accident, insisted that we call the police, so I did. The result was that the officer saw the evidence and issued the young man a citation. (Lesson: don’t always listen to your old uncle.)
As expected, the other insurance company sent us a check for damages, but then a court summons arrived in the mail for my husband’s appearance today. Not going to work was a burden, but it seemed that the young man took the advice of his uncle and wanted his day in court.
The judge asked him, “How do you plea?” The young man replied, “Wait!” “I want to tell you what happened.” His Honor stated, “No, you don’t.” “How do you plea?” “Guilty or not guilty?”
Not only did he have to pay the ticket, he also earned court fees. The judge profusely thanked my husband for his attendance and the case was closed.
I hope the young man learned what I want everyone to remember. We have systems. They guide and preserve us, and I am ever more pleased that Americans are once again taking an interest in their civic duties.
Ignorance, hubris, and apathy are the enemies. As long as we don’t indulge them, we will march on. March on, March!

Our Rocky Mountain National Park Adventure

20160826_133932 Something about mountains has always attracted me. The chance of finding a $112 round trip fare from Chicago to Denver could not be resisted, and so I’d booked myself, husband, and son to escape for four wonderful days of adventure. Our destination, Rocky Mountain National Park!

Thinking I was so clever to not book accommodations until our arrival at night in Denver, I’d calculated that every hotel would clamor for us to reduce their occupancy rate. Ugh! I miscalculated! Our arrival was technically in the wee hours of the next day, Wednesday, and all I wanted was a few hours of sleep in a motel before heading to the mountains. My smartphone apps wouldn’t let me schedule a booking and still leave the same day; and if I did, they were primed for my arrival after 3:00 p.m., not 3:00 a.m. My chivalrous husband wandered among five hotels inquiring about vacancies where we didn’t want to pay $230 for just a few hours of sleep. Another miscalculation.

While I thought that we’d take advantage of the fact that many schools were now in session and that there would be empty rooms, I forgot that University of Colorado was starting and Colorado State began the week before. Suffice it to say, we found a deal and slept soundly after grousing through something of a pre-dawn breakfast at Denny’s.

The next day had us barreling through from Aurora to head northwest toward Westminster and Boulder. I’d heard so much about Boulder and found basically a college-town annexed to something like Naperville, IL. But we did not linger; instead we thought to not take a chance at sleeping with the bears, we headed to the area by Estes Park, very close to Rocky Mountain National. As we rubbernecked with joyful squeals and pointing fingers at the terrain, I managed to find mention of $109 rates for cabins and lodge rooms at the YMCA of the Rockies. We set our GPS and headed there while noting other prospects for lodging if we came up short.

The YMCA of the Rockies was impressive! Several buildings dotted the huge property at the foothills to the national park. We found our way to the Administration Building with the tall flagpole and Old Glory looking impressive against an unusually dark cerulean blue sky. The doorway featured a sign stating that we were at about 8000 feet altitude. Its deck was timbered, and I saw some tall, wooden hiking poles leaning against the exterior wall. Inside, was a rather large fireplace and decor that I’d describe as upper crust rustic. Behind the registration counter was a very pert young lady whom I approached and made my case. “Hi! We’re from Chicago, don’t know a thing, don’t have reservations, but here we are. Help!” Apparently, she was a recent hire (from New Jersey) and summoned her supervisor, a woman similar to my age and curiously very much resembling a former neighbor.

She greeted us, and I repeated our circumstances. The woman was a godsend. She took us under her wing, told us all the options, and didn’t blink when we emphasized the word “cheap.” With that, I also told her that she looked, sounded, and had the same mannerisms of my neighbor Lisa. She laughed and said that other people have told her she has a doppelganger, but that in fact her name was Lisa. Only Lisa was from Oregon. To that I gushed, “Oh, I have another friend from Salem, Oregon who now lives by me!” Crazy how us chicks can do that, right?

Anyway, Lisa set us up in a lodge room away from the ruckus of youthful campers. Blissfully quiet was the setting for our room with one queen and two bunks. We each had our own bed to give relief to what would soon become sore feet, joints, and muscles. And the room had a 3/4 bathroom. And breakfast! It overlooked green forest and hills with residences lucky enough to live so close to this paradise. Bookworm that I am, I’d quickly scanned all the literature that outlined the variety of activities available to us, most at no additional charge! There was volleyball, guided hikes, archery, tennis, mini-golf, arts & crafts, and other programs for outdoor education enthusiasts. Quickly, we snarfed down some snacks we’d picked up at Walmart along the way from Denver, and then we headed to the national park.

Just antecedent to the park’s admission fee hut, was the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center where I did the same, “Hi! We don’t know nuthin'” script. A helpful ranger took us under her wing and outlined a few detail maps which would give us guidance to hike trails that were adequate to tire our son who was eager to try his luck at a pre-Himalayan experience, but that would not result in coronary collapse on our behalf. Back in Chicago, we had been pretty active in biking and golfing in recent years, but we just have not been able to carve out enough time this year due to work. She suggested the Bear Lake Trail as a warm up and then to approach the nearby route to Emerald Lake. Also, as luck was truly on our side, she mentioned that the usual $20 entrance fee was only enforced this day, but that the next days’ fees were waived as a celebration of 100 years of the National Park Service coincided with our visit. Yaaas!

We paid our fee and drove to the parking lot of the Bear Lake Trailhead, took a few pics, and then started to search for the trail’s start. But my husband halted, looked somewhat uncomfortable, and told us that his heart was racing. I took off my Fitbit and put it on his wrist. He was about 100 beats per minute. Then I noted that I felt strained, but not overly so. We took deep breaths, and proceeded with caution as we each monitored our physiology. The trailhead ranger station had a sign posting the elevation at 9400-something feet. Our wonderment and curiosity of this new environment was mixed with some reserve lest our naivety cost us our lives.

Bear Lake was an easy, almost lateral traverse. Then it was time to do the Emerald Lake route, which would take us past Nymph Lake and Dream Lake, over 10,000 feet. Knowing our youngest would want to venture at his quicker pace relative to our’s, we suggested that he go on ahead. After we walked and paused, and walked and paused to breathe, it started to rain. I’d packed three umbrellas, but our son was out of sight. Fortunately, although it was chilly, we did not think it was threatening. However, walking with umbrellas through the trails and hearing a bit of rumbling thunder afar was making it a bit more exciting.

Nymph Lake was a pleasant surprise, as it was covered in lily pads. It reminded me of my Uncle Ben’s place  on Lake Osterhoot in Michigan. He’d had a summer place on the lake where we’d visit when I was a child. Dream Lake was long, narrow and, as is everything in the park, it was picturesque. We saw people of all ages, several well into their 70’s who were getting along just fine, as my husband and I tempted fate with our unconditioned, urban-dwelling, flatlander attempts at real mountain hiking. We were in surreal heaven, but it may have been oxygen deprivation. Finally, we saw our son approaching us on his descent; he’d seen Emerald Lake and encouraged us to continue the quest to witness the beauty of it. People along the way said it was worth it, so we persisted as three umbrella fortified pilgrims.

Just as we approached, the rain lightened up and we peered at the saddle between two crests where the sun was beaming white behind clouds and the rain could have been mistaken for snow. Emerald Lake was dark; but as the rain abated, we saw the hallmark color slowly reveal itself. Little gophers came scurrying out again to play by our feet, and other travelers posed for pictures to capture the memory of this beautiful sight. Once again, the rain picked up as the sun shone; and I craned my neck, pivoting to try to find a rainbow, but the mountain formed a screen which would not reveal one this day. We felt the chill of moisture plus altitude, and descended.

Later that night we explored nearby Estes Park and ravenously consumed whatever we could to re-energize our bodies. Back at the YMCA of the Rockies, I crawled into bed with a headache that persisted all night…altitude sickness had struck. The next morning, my husband went to breakfast and brought some back to our room. Upon his invitation to eat, nausea roiled my innards and I lost water and Propel, and even got the dry heaves. The guys went hiking and I went to bed. I just wanted to sleep and stop the misery I’d felt.

At peace with them on their merry way, I knew that my son wanted to attempt the summit of Flat Top Mountain (12,324 ft.), and before he left I rattled off all the mountaineering safety rules I could recall. After awhile, I startled when I heard thunder from my bed. I checked my weather app and saw a small thunderstorm with a red zone approaching where I thought he’d be then. Quickly, I’d texted my son and husband to take cover, get down out of the treeless alpine altitude, but there seemingly was no decent cell service from Sprint! I prayed, and I called my daughter who was on vacation with her husband at Mackinac Island to pray for his safety. I can’t tell you where my mind went…worry…intense worry. No contact with either guy.

I hobbled out of bed, dressed, tried to drink an ounce of water with some coffee powder, and the headache disappeared. Tried more, and I was feeling better about 3 p.m. Within minutes after that, the door flung open and there they were. My tears and emotion poured as they excitedly told me about their day. My son had taken numerous videos, even recording the whiteout that occurred on the summit. He did receive my text. That is when he also saw the little critters making a heck of a lot of noise and scampering toward safety. He took that as a sign and bounded out of there as fast as he could, and good thing he did. He conquered the mountain.

The next day, we headed out for more hiking, all of us. We did about twelve miles and ascended again to about 11,000 feet, but this time we had no problems. What beauty we found at Alberta Falls, and we explored a spur from the Flat Top Mountain trail toward Bierstadt Lake and beyond. Finally, we’d had enough and thought to exit toward Denver in order to catch our flight early the next day. But what a treat it was to find a deal at the Marriott in Broomsfield where we could enjoy the hot tub before our flight and the chance to reminisce about our adventure.

Next target: Glacier National Park!

 

 

 

The Greatest Power

Green hummingbirdAmid the horrific headlines bringing distress over Syria, continued subjugation of the Palestinians, vituperation and bullying of immigrants and minorities, and environmental and economic dangers, it is time to acknowledge the greatest power in the universe.

Recently returned from Costa Rica, one of my children shared divinely inspired photos and videos of their adventures to the Pacific Ocean, Arenal Volcano, and the cloud forest of Monteverde. Awareness of the vitality in nature struck a contrast to the fragile, artificial urban environment we call home. The disconnect with the greatest power in the universe has led to greed, arrogance, violence, despair, and predatory injustice. Many people are drowning in depression, drug and alcohol addiction, and mind numbing pastimes in order to cope.

As the NFL draft picks are taking place in Chicago, my husband noted the high degree of commercialization and profiteering he has witnessed. It is with apperception that I find parallels with ancient Rome when corrupt aristocrats led the ignorant and impoverished people to be placated with bread and gladiator events, which were meant to quell potential rebellions. We are being “entertained” so as to not rebel against the sources of our distress, and “others” are being cast as scapegoats to account for the common man’s plights.

Such contrasts are apparent. We try to educate to promote critical thinking; yet, our media feeds us predigested sound bytes and program our expressions. Several pop celebrities debase humanity’s morals and seduce us with false confectionary-like goals of fame, fortune, and public affection. The majority of presidential candidates offer us two-faced lies and demonstrate ill manners with aplomb, while we educators try to promote virtues like honesty, mutual respect, fair play, and honor. It is vexing how convoluted society’s values have become since my youth. Yet, with reference to history, I am not optimistic, but I seek refuge from the greatest power in the universe.

This power has given us capacity to decide and act, and I choose to resist by exemplifying virtue, reliance on my own senses, prayer, and diligence to keep aware of corrupting influences for myself and my family. I believe that if we work as a tribe for goodness, regardless of nationality, religion, or other polarizing divisions, we have a chance to live on our own terms as one identity-Humanity.

“The truth has arrived, and falsehood will vanish, for falsehood always vanishes!”               –Al Isra’, (The Night Journey, 17:81).

First Snow and Family

IMG_1529 First Snow and Family
When the first snow of the season arrives, we pause to take in the beauty, and reflect on happy memories; then we remember how much we dread driving, shoveling, and tramping through its aftermath

I realized my kids were adults when they too matched my pattern of thinking. Now that the long driveway is shoveled, I recognize another habit of mind. It is gratitude for a warm house and someone to share it with, ample food, indoor plumbing-even though the water is initially very cold now—and appropriate clothing for this weather. My mind wanders to refugees and homeless folk who are suffering from the elements and so much more.

The world has been in a frenzy, which rose to an especially high pitch with events in Beirut and Paris, and my work has been cathartic and distracting me from depression over blatant hatred, ignorance, and violence. I’ve been immersed in research, editing, writing proposals, working on websites for a variety of clients in business and education sectors.

This snow made me pause, regroup, reflect, and commit to getting the people in my life back to top priority status. I feel bad to have had to delay visiting a small relative to celebrate a birthday, but first I need to schedule some parent time with my husband and our children because like the first snow, they don’t last for long.

The Ferry Pilgrimage

IMG_1355 Following a hot (literally) and happy time with extended family in Amman, Jordan this August, I relished a reuniting of our own children and their significants at Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo, Wisconsin. It has long been our favorite sanctuary for over 30 years, and we consider it our family’s mecca because it offers the best hiking anywhere around the mid-west, in our estimate. With 500 foot bluffs, and a mile long lake which restricts motor craft, we longed to return this past weekend after the Labor Day crowds evaporated and we could revel in nearly exclusive ownership of its charm.

Leaving Illinois gives relief, as we notably live in what has become termed the most stressful city in the country. But we elate when along our route we take the free ferry over the Wisconsin River at Lodi. The ferry crossing is brief, as it holds only 16 cars and traverses to the other shore in less than 10 minutes. Waiting for the ferry lends us time to breathe and enjoy the view of water and greenery. Sometimes we see folks fishing, we check out their motorcycles or bicycles, and we tend to see people dressed in casual gear from all walks of life. Yet, everyone seems to have appreciation for leisure, and we anticipate hiking, swimming, campfires and laughter. Old times are shared and new stories are generated.

Another aspect of our trips is that no matter what our accommodations, whether they are tents, cabins, or motels, we have always found decent, friendly, and welcoming people. Over the years, we have lent or borrowed access to other’s charcoals, water toys, volleyballs, and have felt safe to leave camping gear unattended while we enjoy the trails. There exists an unwritten honor system which I hope will always be, even for future generations.

I have succeeded in cultivating an appreciation for witnessing the genius of creation and healing power of nature in my own family. I trust my progeny will transfer that into theirs.

We cross the ferry to return home; as the sun sets, the magic fades and reality returns. But we have the memories…

Choosing Heaven or Choosing Hell

Quote

photo 4 With my middle son’s return from Italy, where he toured this summer as an English language camp tutor, and daughter’s beautiful wedding day stresses resolved, I picked up The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis for a brief leisurely read. Don’t construe anything by the title; all is well on all fronts, but my son happened to spend some time in Narni, where Lewis derived his title for The Chronicles of Narnia. Therefore, it seemed appropriate to peruse this book which was required reading for my youngest son’s recent English course.

Evil can be undone, but it cannot ‘develop’ into good. Time does not heal it. ~C.S. Lewis

This quote caused me to pause my reading and finally stop the endless chase of to-do’s in order to write. I have to admit that nearly every day I think of writing on so many topics and observations; but with my mind always thinking of the next (you insert the number) things to do, I have not taken the time to record my thoughts until now.

Passion, expectations, conflicting cultural protocols, and a sense of being victimized by a grave injustice has flared much discussion and analysis within my household. And although I feel we are nearly at a point of resolution, I have pondered and taught my family that when bad things happen we should look for the good.

I believe, based on long-term observation, this to be true. Yet while C.S. Lewis may be accurate that evil its self cannot be good and that time does not make the wrong right, I have found that good can still grow from what evil has seemingly destroyed.

We humans have a fitrah, a primordial directive that expresses itself through acknowledgement of the Creator. We have potential to be the best that humanity can aspire to, and we also have the prospect of being the worst of creations. However, the capacities of free-will and intellect can differentiate us from other creations and give us the ability to choose our response to threats and injustices. It is in how we respond that we find who we really are, and evil gives us the path to perdition or Paradise. For now, I’ll seek peace and tranquility within my book so that I don’t lose my soul.

If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell ~C.S. Lewis