Category Archives: Travel

The Countess calculates her birthday

59. I’m 59 today. My life is 79% over. 69% if  my parents’ genetic longevity is any indication and I make 85 rather than the average life expectancy of 74.  I remember somewhere around my 45th birthday I figured I was more than half dead. These stats are even more sobering. I’m definitely gonna shoot for a quality extra 10%.

I wasted a lot of the 21550 days I’ve had so far. I don’t count times I spent sitting around doing nothing as wasted. I enjoy doing nothing. It’s underrated. But there are days or parts of days I wish I had spent differently, time that I wish I could get back and do over:

Time I spent waiting for a better time to do stuff I wanted to do
Time I spent trying to “do it right” in someone else’s eyes
Time I spent listening to people overexplain
Time I spent commuting
Time I spent cleaning stuff I didn’t need
Time I spent afraid
Time I spent angry
Time I spent trying to figure out how to make technology and machines work (see directly above)
Time I spent getting fat (I don’t really regret eating great food, just so much of it)
Time I spent putting up with bullies

I can’t do anything about these moth-eaten days behind me. And I know I have more wasted time ahead because overexplainers gonna overexplain and technology is going to keep being frustrating and mysterious. All I can do is figure out what I really don’t want to miss and get off my ass.

This awareness that time is relentlessly pressing me forward and downward is motivating me to try and set up this last 20%-30% of my life to be the best yet. 60 before 60 seems way too ambitious so I’m shooting for 6.

1. Do stuff with people. I have a really low tolerance for complicated logistics and would rather just stay home than try to work out a time and reach consensus on a place with a group of people no matter how much I love them and want to be with them. I’ve passed on a lot of fun stuff because of this. I really need to put on my big girl britches and leave the house.
2. Get outside. I really like being outside when it’s under 90 degrees. I like hiking and riding my bike and other outside stuff. I hate yard work but I have a yard and prolly need to do something about it. If it’s nice I might like going out there. I do have a spectacular tree in the back.
3. Better health and fitness. The next 20-30 years aren’t gonna be much fun if I’m achy and sick. Gotta get the weight off and take care of a few body maintenance things I keep putting off because I profoundly hate going to doctors and dentists. And back to yoga every day.
4. Learn Spanish. Super useful skill. My brain needs a workout. Plus, I get to go to Costa Rica to serve in March. I’m tired of telling myself I can’t do stuff because it’s just not my talent. I’ve been reasonably successful with a bunch of stuff in life that’s out of my wheelhouse. Time to take on one more.
5. Pursue my talents. I do want to keep developing the stuff that comes naturally. Lately I just color in those zen coloring books and love that, but I want to get back to creating and try out those pastels that are still in the box due to self-doubt. Writing might require a Stephen King word count approach. I love it when I do it but I don’t want to do it before I do it.
6. Local tourism. Every time I go somewhere new the world gets bigger and my mind and heart opens more. I love trips to far away places but there are a lot of places locally that I’ve never been or haven’t been in awhile. I want to try to do more local stuff on weekends. That getting out of the house thing again. Hardly local, but a couple of Texas places I’d like to see: Big Bend and Palo Duro Canyon.

So I’m out the door. Happy 59 to me.

Summer Vacay 2015 Pt. 2 Canyons

SedonaChurchHeading north from Phoenix, our first detour off Hwy 89 was Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona. We’d spend this half of our trip looking at God’s art and creativity. Much like Taliesin West, this little sanctuary is an example of human artistry inspired by and set in God’s creative endeavor. We didn’t have time to take in all Sedona had to offer but enjoyed the breathtaking drive up through Sedona’s red rocks up to the chapel.

Vermillion cliffsOn the way to Flagstaff, which sits at 7000 feet, the terrain changed from rocky red cliffs to mountains and evergreens.  Some friends from Ted’s Austin Symphony days live there now so we met for dinner and they drove us around a bit.  Our friends told us Flagstaff is a big ski destination in the winter. Ski Arizona? Who knew?

Grand Canyon driveFrom Flagstaff we headed to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The drive took us into the Kaibab Forest, over the Colorado River, and past alpine meadows.

We stayed at the Grand Canyon Lodge which is run by the National Parks system. I guess we should have expected rustic conditions but there was no AC. Fine at night but it was a little warm in the daytime since there was only one window and no breeze through. I’d recommend a cabin over a lodge room if you’re thinking of going in the summer. It’s not like we were staying inside anyway though.

Grand Canyon Angel PtI hiked two of the less demanding trails, Bright Angel Point and Transept, both of which begin at the Lodge. Neither is particularly long, but Bright Angel is a little steep. The altitude is over 8000 ft. which will take a toll on the lungs.

GrandCanyon7The Grand Canyon is vast, awe-inspiring, beautiful, teeming with life, full of story, full of breaths taken from a million awed mouths silenced by its splendor. Words are paltry tools to describe the experience of standing there on its rim.

We left the Grand Canyon and headed for Antelope Canyon, a slot Antelope peepholecanyon on Navajo land just south of the Utah border near Page, Arizona. To get in requires going through one of the Navajo tours, we chose Ken’s Lower Canyon Tour. The upper canyon is jeep ride and walk in (and more expensive), but the more adventurous lower tour requires climbing down ladders and squeezing through some tight spots. From the surface, parts of the lower canyon looks like a large crack in the ground. Ken is a photographer so our guide was trained to help us with our camera settings inside the sometimes dark and cave-like canyon. In many place only indirect shafts of light come through. The colors created by the light on sandstone are unusual and other-worldly. I’ve always wanted to visit this place and I wasn’t disappointed.

From Antelope Canyon we drove into Utah to Bryce Canyon. The BryceCanyonBottomterrain here is unique as well, filled with spherical spires called hoodoos, that look like big chess pieces randomly placed around the rocky terrain. I hiked  from Sunset Point on the Navajo Trail. Going down the steep switchback trail lived up to the trail’s “moderate” designation, but going back up was more than moderate for me. At 7500-8000 ft the uphill climb took its toll on my lungs but, this 50-something, out-of-shape woman made it back up even if I had to lean against the canyon wall gasping every 50 or so feet of the 550 foot climb.  Something about doing that built my confidence about tackling some metaphorical mountains I’ve put off climbing.
SaguaroThe variety in geography was most evident on our one-day drive back to Phoenix as we made our way back down the Grand Staircase of the Colorado Plateau, past the Vermillion Cliffs, and descended to an elevation where Sagauro Cactus took over the view. The Sonoran Desert’s 100 degree temperatures welcomed us back to Phoenix. We experienced so many amazing, unique, inspiring things on this vacation. Arizona

 

 

 

Summer Vacay 2015 Pt. 1 Phoenix

PhoenixHotThree things about our time in Phoenix. One. It’s hot in the summer. Hot. Every day we were there was over 110. Two. Everything is at least half an hour away from everything else. Three. Picking up old friendships is just like riding a bike. You never forget.

We spent a hot week  in Phoenix catching up with dear friends. Don and June. Their daughter Casie and our son Eric have nearly the same birthday so we’d shared parties and done life together when they lived in Austin (Yikes, twenty years ago!!). Though our visit hit at a rough time for them, June’s mom died two weeks before we arrived and they were closing on a new house, they graciously put us up and let us do life with them again for a week.

Barnes Dbacks gameSaturday we took in a Diamondbacks game at Chase Field with Don and June. Sunday we visited Open Door Fellowship Church in Phoenix. The pastors are authors of one of our favorite Bible study books, The Cure.

After that we met up with at restaurant and brew pub in Tempe to celebrate Father’s Day together Barnes and Herringsand finally meet their son-in-law Kyle and 9-month-old grandson Carter after following them through Facebook. Later in the week we cooked out at Kyle and Casie’s and took in a sunset parting with hopes they’ll all come to Austin sometime soon.

Taliesin West
Taliesin West

Since everywhere in Phoenix is a drive we narrowed down our touristy stuff to three excursions: Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home in Scottsdale, The Musical Instruments Museum, and the Phoenix Art Museum.

We started on Monday at Taliesin West which turned out to be so much more than the Wright’s winter home. It was home to the Taliesin Fellowship, a place for young architects to come apprentice with Frank Lloyd Wright. Much of the building was built by the apprentices who learned by doing. TaliesinWsculpture

Wright believed that creativity breeds creativity so he included music and dance as part of the training in order to teach architects about movement. Heloise Crista was an artist who came to sculpting through dance because of the encouragement, influence and mentoring of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship.

TaliesinWestApprenticeWhile the building itself demonstrates Wright’s usual attention to setting and detail in its design, the most inspiring thing about touring Taliesin West for me was the attention to the creative process that it represents, both in Wright’s personal philosophical vision as an artist and as a mentor. The Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture continues at Taliesin West.

BiltmoreAZAfter Taliesin West we headed over to the Arizona Biltmore for lunch. Frank Lloyd Wright collaborated with former student Albert Chase McArthur in the design of the hotel which opened in 1929.

Tuesday Ted played TPC Sawgrass in Scottsdale with Don and Kyle. While the guys played golf I helped June go through a big bag of her mom’s costume jewelry. Of course I came away with some cool earrings.

On Wednesday we visited The Musical Instruments Museum, or The IMG_0829MIM, another monument to creativity. The desire to create music is so strong that all over the world for centuries people have taken available materials and fashioned them into musical instruments. I got a bang out of the gong. Only one per customer.

MIMUd15,000 instruments from nearly 200 countries are on display at the MIM. Visitors walk through geographically arranged displays wearing headphones to look at instruments while hearing them played. Among those instruments I’d never seen before but loved were the Ud, a Middle Eastern stringed instrument.

MIMSteinwayThere is also a musical history section which includes Johnny Cash’s black suit and guitar, John Lennon’s Imagine piano, and the first Steinway piano, made in Steinway’s kitchen.

 

MIMTedCasalsThen Ted saw Pablo Casals’ cello and the visit went to a whole ‘nother level. As a young music student Casals was one of Ted’s heroes. Ted’s teacher studied with  a colleague of Casals. Amazingly there was no glass or anything around the cello. We stood close enough to touch it as Casals music played through the headphones.

 

ArtMusJapMedRmThursday  we visited the Phoenix Art Museum. I’ve never toured a museum with a docent before. Our small group were treated to explanations about paint, techniques, style, history, etc. in a selection of works. She explained negative space using the pieces and their placement in this Japanese meditation space.
ArtMusGerome Our docent pointed out Jean-Leon Gerome’s Pollice Verso. Gerome did extensive research for his historical paintings, so much so that filmmakers came to museum to study this painting as a reference for creating scenes in the movie Gladiator.

The docent not only made the individual works more meaningful, but added to my sense of appreciation and wonder toward all the art I saw on my own that day, including the special exhibit on American Modernism.  I love finding a new artists I hadn’t noticed before. Now I really want to see more by Phoenix surrealist Philip C. Curtis whose works were featured at the museum.   Yayoi Kusama’s You Who are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies is a walk through light installation in a mirrored room. It was awesome. Creativity seems to be a theme on this trip.

After a week in Phoenix we loaded up our rental car on Friday and headed north to Sodona, Flagstaff, canyons and cooler weather.

Vacation June 2014 next stop Savannah

charlton street retreatWe used Homeaway to find this sweet little house in Savannah near downtown. I took a walk through the neighborhood to take in Savannah’s famous squares, a series of small parks throughout the city. Every one has huge oaks and honors a historical event or figure. Driving Savannah was a little more frustrating because of all the one-way streets and the fact that that the squares are positioned in the middle of streets so you have to drive around them. forrest gump forsythe parkForsythe Park is the largest park in Savannah’s downtown. It includes recreation areas, walking paths, art, rose garden, and lots of benches to sit and relax. Of course I had to make a pilgrimage to Forrest Gump’s bench.

More beautiful trees in Savannah
More beautiful trees in Savannah

 

We went down to River Street, a historic district with bars, restaurants, shops, live music, in historic buildings. After a good, but not remarkable, seafood meal we walked along the river as buskers played guitar or sax, and juggled for tips. We went on a weekday so it was relative quiet compared to the Austin nightlife we would expect to encounter downtown here. refreshmentTybee Island is a great little beach town minutes away from Savannah. The beach was pretty, clean, and full but not crowded. The waves we just strong enough to toss us around a little. After sunning and swimming we browsed shops and stopped at Wet Willie’s for some icy refreshment.

Pelicans at sunset near Tybee Island
Pelicans at sunset near Tybee Island

Later that evening week took a dolphin tour with Captain Derek. Dolphins are common in this part of the Atlantic. According to our guide its illegal to feed them but fishing boats sort onboard and discard trash fish overboard. Dolphins have learned that a good place to get food is in the wake of a boat, so dolphin tour boats stir up and wake and that attracts the dolphins. We enjoyed several sightings, the best was when we ran alongside another dolphin tour boat and three dolphins leaped between the boats in the large wake created by the two boats. It briefly occurred to me to take a picture but  focusing on recording a moment makes it impossible for me to feel fully present in that moment. For about five minutes the whole crowd on both boats were caught up in pure joy, hearts leaping with the creatures in the waves.  I don’t need a picture to remember the delight I felt in those moments. We also saw pelicans fishing and later resting at sunset.sweetgrass basket

Ted played his second bucket list course, Hilton Head, while I took a Gullah Heritage Tour in my quest for the sweetgrass basket my mother-in-law requested. She collects baskets and asked for one before we left. From an anthropological perspective the Gullah tour was very interesting.  A man of Gullah descent described how the culture was preserved for centuries only to virtually disappear over the last fifty years after the island was connected to the mainland by a bridge. While there are efforts underway to build historical replicas of Gullah homes- we stopped and looked at a couple of historical markers that will eventually be part of the attraction- but the tour basically involved driving around and looking at current modern homes of Gullah families. There were a few preserved buildings but the best thing about the tour was information rather than the sights. I expected to see some craftspeople and buy a basket for my mother-in-law but there was only one guy at the museum making baskets and his were several hundred dollars more than the ones I passed on at Charleston Market. I probably should have done more homework on this one.

The best place we ate in Savannah was Lady and Sons, Paula Deens restaurant.  I had the best chicken pot pie I’ve ever eaten. It’s big, has flaky, and, of course, buttery, crust, and is chock full of chicken and veggies. Ted had the buffet. Because we were willing to be seated at the bar, we didn’t have to wait too long. We ended up having great conversation with the bartender and a couple of waiters. The restaurant has a friendly, casual atmosphere and everyone seemed to be enjoyed themselves. We did.

We left Savannah heading for our friend Tim’s wedding outside Atlanta. Charming. I think that’s the best word for Charleston & Savannah.

 

Vacation June 2014 First stop Charleston SC

Charleston Highlights

Beachwalker Park, Kiawah
Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island SC

Beachwalker County Park on Kiawah Island After a day of travelling, I spent my first real vacation day at an almost deserted beach. My fellow beach walkers respected one another’s space, walking along the shore in silence, at a distance. I walked just at the water’s edge on the hard, brown sand so that each wave rushed up and covered my feet with cool surf. Eventually the signs on the beach warned  of a current and prohibited swimming.

Crab
Horseshoe Crab shells

I walked on until nobody was walking ahead of me and all I could see was sea and shore. As I spread out my towel to sit down, I noticed the remains of some strange looking crustaceans.  After posting a picture on Facebook three friends identified these horseshoe crabs. Either someone has a sense of humor or these two may have some tragic love story in the crab universe.

On the first day on my summer vacation I usually have a pajama day and sit around the house all day to enjoy some alone time. This year I took my pajama day at the beach. Silent. Peaceful. Breathing in and out in rhythm with the waves.

While I was at the beach Ted enjoyed a round of golf at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, one of his bucket list courses. I met up with  him for drinks afterwards on the back porch of the club house and watched rain come in over the ocean.

Chez Fish. On the way back to Charleston we stopped at a place called Chez Fish.  It looked pretty unassuming, there were a good number of cars in the parking lot, and we were hungry.  Everything was a-mazing. I had a pan seared flounder with some veggies and potatoes that were perfect. I expected great seafood on the Atlantic coast and this turned out to my favorite eatery of the trip…and we ate at some great places.

The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon. This building has a history dating back to the 1670’s. The newly written Declaration of Independence was read for South Carolina citizens to debate revolution, and yes, George Washington did some military and presidential business in these very walls. Ironically in the shadow of this same building where important documents like the Declaration and Constitution were adopted by SC, a slave market operated on its grounds. So many influential lives and events touched this one place.

Old provost exchange and dungeon SC
Dungeon of Old Provost Exchange, Charleston SC

It’s basement served as a prison for Blackbeard and other pirates.  Patriots and Redcoats were held there during the Revolutionary War and Union soldiers and runaway slaves during the Civil War.

The support arches in the dungeon were constructed by hand and are still holding up this building hundreds of years later.  I found this space more beautiful and fascinating than the more opulent spaces above it.

The Charleston City Market on the corner of Broad and Meeting streets which has operated as the site of a public market since 1639. The market is like a very large, very nice flea market. Artisans sell baskets, jewelry, chachkies, clothing, and foods. It was fun walking through and looking at amazing art and amazingly tacky art displayed side by side.  I regret not buying a Gullah sweetgrass basket Ted’s mom asked us to bring her one and they were plentiful at the market but I figured I’d buy a basket on the Gullah tour I’d scheduled on Hilton Head (my excursion while Ted played another bucket list course.) Who knew Gullah crafts were dying out on Hilton Head? Not me. At least not before the tour I would take days later.

GRACEAlpha-Tography is a shop near the Market where we met John Laukaitis, a photographer who takes pictures of architectural features that look like letters of the alphabet and creates unique art pieces. We designed and bought one as a souvenir to remember the amazing buildings and gates we saw. More than that, it reflects our focus on God’s amazing spiritual message.

Angel Oak branch
Branch of the Angel Oak near Charleston SC

The Angel Oak is located a just a bit out of Charleston on John’s Island. Age estimates range from 400-1500 years old. It’s massive and its branches twist in every direction. I think I saw Treebeard’s elephant cousin.

This whole region is full of beautiful spreading oaks hung with Spanish moss. Their branches arch across the road like a tunnels.

Charleston tea
Spreading oaks at Charleston Tea Plantation. Tea garden is on left side of the road.

Charleston Tea Plantation. Speaking of old plants, we toured the nation’s only commercial tea plantation and found out that tea plants can live as long as 600 years. Some of the tea plants we saw were planted in 1799. We saw the harvesting and processing machines. They stop processing at different points to produce white, green, oolong, and black teas. Of course we sampled and brought back a tea ball and a tin of mint tea.

Charleston bridge
Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, Charleston SC

The greatest adventures often happen when things go wrong.  We were supposed to take a tall ship tour to look for dolphins and see Fort Sumpter, lighthouses, etc. but it was cancelled. I was kind of hoping we’d go out in the rain.  I like seeing places in the rain.

We got soaked, went back to the hotel, ordered pizza and watched the World Cup, so the day wasn’t a total loss.

These were my favorite Charleston experiences. We spent five days there then headed to Savannah.

 

 

 

10 things I want to see before I die

Northern-lights-in-Canada-006 (2)The Northern Lights. This picture was taken in Canada. I think seeing them in a forest would probably be my favorite viewing spot. Cold, quiet forests with tall trees inspire me already. Adding colors in the sky should satisfy my wonder-lust. I can probably combine this dream with destinations in Iceland or Scandinavia, which are also in my top 10, but viewing it from a forest is part of my vision.

Antelope Canyon, USA 2Antelope Canyon, AZ This is a canyon on Navajo land near Page, AZ. The only way to see it is to pay for a tour, which doesn’t thrill me, but there is nowhere else like it and just looking at rock waves on a sea of reds takes my breath away.

Cliffs of MoherThe Cliffs of Moher are the Princess Bride’s Cliffs of Insanity. These sandstone cliffs are on the southern end of Ireland not far from Kilkenny where my grandfather Lowry came from. The water against the cliffs cause some unusual formations near the bottom. I want to see Kilkenny and Dublin as well.

Skaftafell ice cavesSkaftafell Ice Caves are in Iceland. I realize after looking at the previous pictures I may be assembling a natural version of a box of crayons. This place is absolutely fascinating. Being from such a warm climate I can’t even imagine the feeling of being inside this cold blue ice. The picture reminds me of that tingly cold feeling excited anticipation causes inside. Iceland has some amazing landscapes. It may seem odd for this to be so high up on the list, but from what I’ve seen in pictures I think I would love being there.

niagara3Niagra Falls is one of those places that I look forward to hearing as much as I look forward to seeing. The power of the water is amazing and I want to experience it in person. I’d like to visit Toronto after seeing the Falls. I’ve never been anywhere in eastern Canada and I’d like to check it out as well.

Castle in the alpsCastle in the Alps I want to see the Alps and want to visit an authentic medieval castle. Bavaria, Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy. I’m not specific on this one. I’m leaning toward Switzerland or Bavaria.

romeRome is full of history. After Paris, which I’ve already enjoyed, Rome is the European city I most want to visit. And Rome is just the beginning. I’d like love to eat and drink my way through Venice and Naples too.

Scandinavia, preferably on a Viking ship – and I don’t mean a cruise liner is one of my dreams. I have always loved the Vikings – I guess the way some little kids like pirates. All the pictures I see of Scandinavian landscapes draw me in. I also love the style, architecture and mythology of that region. I want to go.

Machu PIcchuMachu Picchu in Peru inspires mystery. After teaching mythology the lives and thoughts of ancient people fascinate me.

Patagonia2

 

Patagonia is a region at the tip of South America in Argentina and Chile. This picture is part of the Tierra del Fuego archepelago in Chile. The whole place is a wonderland. Plus my favorite wine comes from Argentina so that’s another plus.

Next 10 – if I win the lottery or something: Edinburgh, Santorini, Boston, Prague, Great Barrier Reef, Maui, Tokyo, Barcelona, Carribean, New Zealand