Sunday, July 27, 2014

Down by the sea...

It's been quiet around here for a while. I've been on the road again.
The family and I just got back from a week at the beach on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.

Before I post pictures about that trip, let me explain a little of my relationship with the beach. My husband and I went to Hawaii on our honeymoon, to the island of Kauai, actually, and it was beautiful. Colors of trees. Scents of flowers. Sky. Sunshine. Mountains. Volcanoes. We watched fireworks from Poipu Beach. We saw an eclipse of the sun. Magnificent. And the beaches were fantastic.

At the time, however, I loved everything about the beach - except for the sand and the water. I'll let that sink in for a moment. So Steve would go out and lay on the beach and sunbathe. And I would stay in the room and wave to him every now and then from the balcony. Yes, it's true - I was inside our second floor hotel room in Kauai, Hawaii, reading trashy novels and watching soap operas on television while my husband, my brand new, remarkably understanding and patient husband, sunbathed alone less than 50 yards away.

Fast forward five years, we took Kristiana to Florida for a week. I was pregnant with Daniel. That trip I sat with them on the beach but never got into the water. I didn't want Kristiana in the water either, so she sat with me and we watched others frolic in the water. That was also the time when a seagull snatched my sandwich out of my hand, just inches from my face. What the what???

Five years later, Steve and I went on a cruise in South America which included a stop in Rio de Janeiro, where we sat on Copacabana Beach and once again, I DID NOT GO INTO THE WATER. There was something seriously wrong with me. I don't even think I put on a bathing suit that day.

Soon thereafter, we took our first trip to Puerto Rico, to an amazing resort called the El Conquistador Resort. That time I did go into the water. I loved it. And I looked back on those earlier trips and shook my head at my silliness and stubbornness. We went to that place in Puerto Rico three times. Then Costa Rica. Then Menorca in Spain. I was hooked on seaside vacations.

Then we discovered Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. The beach there is wide and flat and slopes gently down to the gently rolling ocean. The beach was packed with other vacationers, sunburned adults, pale faced children, vigilant moms, beer sipping older women, newspaper reading older men, families, people alone, walkers, bikers, runners - and there I was. Every day. Sitting. Watching. Reading. Taking photos. And even going into the water. The only thing that deterred me was the number of people emerging from the surf complaining of having been stung by jellyfish. As sand swirled vigorously below the surface of the water, seeing the jellyfish was rendered impossible.

On Friday, our last full day at the sea, I arrived at 9 am with Steve and Daniel. We rented an umbrella and two chairs (our umbrella fell victim to an assault by a brutish southerly wind the day before) and set up camp for the day. Steve went back to the rental house to work on his computer - poor baby - while Daniel and I sat and watched the beach come to life. Ninety minutes later, Daniel abandoned me for higher and cooler ground back at the house. Kristiana came to join me around 11:30 am and Steve arrived soon thereafter. (So much individual coming and going is made possible and sponsored by Peddling Pelicans, the bicycle rental company that we use when we are on HHI. Bike riding is one of the highlights of our time there - at least it is for me.) Steve stayed for a little over an hour and had to go back for more work. Kristiana returned to the house with him. Then he came back at 3 pm and stayed with me until 4:50 PM. Sadly, our umbrella and chair rental ended at 5 pm.

Did you notice what or who stayed constant in that account??? ME! I was at the beach from 9 am until 4:50 pm - and I didn't even want to leave then. I spent most of the time in my chair, I must confess, watching people, reading, journaling, eating and drinking. But I also went into the water, sat myself down at the water's edge and allowed the water to wash over my feet and legs. I was in heaven. Heaven in Hilton Head. When I thought back to my time in Hawaii, I had to laugh - I am now the person in our family who wants to spend the most time at the seashore. I've come a mighty long way. It was a glorious trip.

As the planet twisted and turned last week, as airplanes crashed and burned, as Middle Eastern neighbors bombed each other and North Americans tried to expel desperate children back over our border, I sat on the beach and marveled at the beauty of that island just off the coast of South Carolina. The quietness. The peace. The wonder. The bright sunshine during the daylight hours. The storms that rolled over us several nights during our stay. All was so very well down by the sea. I almost felt guilty for how wonder-filled our trip was. Almost.

Riding with Steve

Riding with Daniel

Settled in for a long day by the sea

See these two little people coming in from the water?

We felt sad for the little girl as she had been stung by a jellyfish. She cried hard. 
Then she ran back into the water and played for several more hours.
Their mom explained to us that this was the children's first time at the beach 
so she didn't want to say that the pain was caused by an animal in the water.
They didn't want her to be afraid to go back in.

How wide is that beach?
How blue is that sky?

Family photo session...
Unsolicited photo session advice from a non-photographer -
 pick something other than dark shirts and white or khaki bottoms.
Be original!

Yours truly - reading, eating an apple, and enjoying myself thoroughly

The view from where I was sitting on another evening beach visit

I love when timing is synchronized...
This is a page from Spiritual Journaling, the book I was reading on the beach...
Ride the wave of breath...
(I read it as - Ride the wave of the beauty all around you)


Recently I read this post about the things that don't show up in vacation photos and stories. Amber is a pensive writer and shares her stories with vulnerability and depth. 

On this trip, the things that don't show up in my photos this trip are - 
* how grateful I was to be alive and healthy and able to ride the bike every day
* how often I wondered if perhaps this could be my last trip to HHI because I have no idea what life will bring my way in the coming weeks and months and years
* how grateful I was to be there with my whole family on what may be our last vacation like this. The children are getting older and a year from now, we will be empty nesters. They probably won't want to go back to HHI and hang out near the beach for a week. In fact, they made that abundantly clear this past week...
* how much I didn't want to hear my children complain about boredom and lack of internet signal strength
* how much I wanted to tell them about the vacations I took as a child, the many nights we slept on the ground in a canvas tent, not in a rental house that was more expensive for a week than our monthly mortgage payment

* how stressed I was feeling about preparing to give a workshop this coming weekend. In Spanish. At a women's conference. On the topic of being submissive women. Not a topic I chose, of course, but one on which I hope and plan to bring a different perspective than the one I grew up and have spent most of my life trying (in vain) to live up to...
* how often I thought of Doug, who is dealing with kanswer; and Kim, who was doing an Ironman triathlon; and Katie, who is pregnant with her first child; and Jena and Mani, who are planning their wedding; and those affected by the plane crashes and bombings that rocked the world last week, and so many other friends and family members and imperfect strangers going through the messiness and unpredictability and joy and wonder of life and the horror, devastation, and uselessness of death
* but most of all, India Arie's words came to mind over and over again. Every time I changed into and out of a bathing suit, stepped into and out of the shower, got dressed and undressed in front of the mirror in our bedroom, walked up and down the stairs, climbed onto and off of the bicycle, walked up and down the beach - almost on an hourly basis on certain days, I sang these words to myself:
"Breast kanswer, chemotherapy, took away her crowning glory.
She promised God if she were to survive, she would enjoy every day of her life."

And that's exactly what I did last week.
That's what I plan to do every day of my life -
here at home, in the car, across the ocean, or down by the sea -
I promised God and myself I will enjoy every day of my life.

PS. I cannot wait to get back to the beach.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Still thinking about scars

Yesterday I wrote this about my scars.
Today I've thought a lot about what I wrote yesterday.
I've been wondering about other scars.

Scars from surgery.
The little one on the bottom of my belly button from getting my tubes tied.
The four little ones on my abdomen from the hysterectomy.

Scars from shingles. Scars from pimples. Scars from shaving fiascos.

Scars from dislocating my hip when I was a baby - I tried to escape from my crib and my foot got caught on the top rail. A cousin found me dangling, head towards the floor, from the rail. I ended up in traction for a while, then in a half body cast - which is what left the scar on my ankle. I'm glad I didn't land on my head; if I had, I think I'd have a different set of scars.

Scars from physical falls I've taken and emotional falls as well.
I fell down four wet stairs at camp one summer, got my leg caught in the open space between the stairs, and gashed my shin down to the bone. Ouch! 

Scars from terrible decisions I've made and wounds I've suffered as a result.
Getting involved with men I shouldn't have been involved with.
Broken heart. Wounded ego.

Scars from terrible decisions other people have made, decisions that left me bruised and bleeding, literally and figuratively.
Lies told. Truths told. Truths untold.
Rejection because of the color of my skin.
Churches split. Families too.

Scars I've caused for other people, especially people I love.
Excessive criticism. Gossip. 
Lies. Exaggeration. Silence.
Isolation. Neglect. Abandonment.

Scars on the hands, the feet, and the side of The One who Died for us all.
By those scars, by his stripes, The Word says, we are healed. 
I am healed. I am forgiven. I am made whole.

All of which makes me think even more.
How many of my scars are the result of me trying to escape my crib, my home, my family, my life?
How many are the result of me not paying attention to where I am going, to what I am doing, to the conditions of my life, so I slip and fall and get hurt?
How many are caused by my hope that some person outside myself, some relationship, some thing I own will make me happy, fulfill me, and validate me? 
How many of these scars come from me not being honest with myself or others about who I am, who I'm not, how I feel, what I want or don't want, and what I need or don't need?
How will I put my scars to use in helping others to accept, embrace, and allow their own scars to help others be healed and whole and accept themselves fully?
When will I learn that these scars are not mine alone and not only for me?
How many scars will I inflict on myself and others going forward because I forget all the things I'm thinking about and writing about yesterday and today?
How often will my scars remind me of these questions and this wondering when I see them in the mirror?
How many scars and wounds can I and will I avoid in the future by being contented, being grateful, being attentive, being truthful, and being willing to acknowledge my deep needs and desires to The Only One who can handle the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about who I am?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

At Home in My Body

Yesterday I told a dear friend that I am more comfortable in my body these days than I was before kanswer. We were talking about getting massages and it occured to me that I could be uncomfortable or nervous about having my upper torso massaged since I am now boobless. When I thought back to pre-kanswer massages, I realized that I was more uncomfortable with receiving massages before I gave up my mammary glands.

I also realized that I would never have offered to show my bosoms to friends or family members, but I have no qualms about showing off my scars. These scars are evidence of a battle I won and from which I have emerged whole and happy. They are a daily reminder of suffering, strength, pain, hope and healing. I would never and could never wish kanswer, but these scars on my chest are a daily reminder of lessons learned and hope gained.

I have grown to love and appreciate my body more than ever. Why? Because this body has served me well. It has grown and shrunk, expanded and deflated, run and walked. This body has produced two human beings with souls of their own. It has endured surgeries, chemotherapy, outrageous heat, and tooth-chattering cold. It has carried me across oceans and rivers, into and out of, onto and off of boats, trains, airplanes, cars, and buses. This body has been hit by a car, bitten by a dog, knocked unconscious, fallen off bicycles, tumbled down several sets of stairs, and endured pulled hamstrings, broken toes, and fractured ankles (yes, the last three are plural!). But somehow, this body of mine has recovered from all that it has endured and serves me faithfully and without much complaint.

I used to spend a lot of time comparing my body to other people's bodies. I wanted her small feet. I wanted her long hair. I wanted her six-pack abs. I wanted her awesome biceps. I wanted her long neck.  I wanted her full lips and her perfect teeth. I wasted too much time not only focusing on the ways that other women's bodies were better than mine, but also criticizing many of my own physical attributes. Only recently have I come to accept that this body is the perfect body for me. This body is exactly the body I need for the life journey I'm on. I am more at home in this body of mine these days than I have been at any other time in my life. I am enormously grateful.

In a book I am reading about spiritual friendship, Anam Cara, there is a chapter about becoming friends with our senses and our bodies. In that chapter, there is a blessing for the senses and for the body.

May your body be blessed.
May you realize that your body is a faithful and beautiful friend of your soul.
And may you be peaceful and joyful and recognize that your senses are sacred thresholds.
May you realize that holiness is mindful, gazing, feeling, hearing, and touching.
May your senses gather you and bring you home.
May your senses always enable you to celebrate the universe and the mystery and possibilities in your presence here.
May the Eros of the Earth bless you. 

I hope and pray that each of us and all of us will find our way home to our bodies, that we will be more grateful for all the parts of us, and that we will stop succumbing to the temptation to compare our bodies with others. These miraculous bodies are worthy of gratitude, tender care, massages and love.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Thankful Thursday

So much to be thankful for this Thursday.
And everyday.

Tonight I am especially grateful for -
* my family, my children, my husband
* watching World Cup competition together (Poor, poor Brazil)
* sitting and laughing with them at the kitchen table
* the four of us going to TCBY last night and laughing at one silly thing after the other
* coming home and having each of us go to our "respective corners" for alone time
* my husband's ER (entertainment room) - some might call it his "man cave"

* the sweet and ripe fruit and vegetables that summer brings to our table
* especially cherries, grapes, watermelon, nectarines, mango, pineapple, and blueberries
* and romaine, baby spring mix, spinach, and basil
* the juices and smoothies I can make from those lovely treats
* sale prices at Harris Teeter and continual good prices at Trader Joe's

this morning's green apple and romaine juice - yum!

* this exhibit of photographs at the Mint Museum. I've seen it twice and may try to get back there one more time before it leaves in ten days
* this post on marriage and "the iceberg in the living room" - spoke to my soul
* Momastery's entire "Messy, Beautiful Summer" blog series

* my amazing circle of friends - neighbors, relatives, writers, artists, pastors, men, women, young people, older people, rich people, poor people, other moms, other homeschoolers, other seekers of life and love and laughter, other church members.
* sacred love. sweet tenderness. deep connection. tears of joy and of sorrow. shared stories.
* a dear friend's pregnancy that is going well - she has a very cute baby bump

* planning her baby shower with two women I love and adore

* good test results - she doesn't have kanswer. she has breast kanswer but it didn't reach her lymph nodes. hers is benign. he has lymphoma that is treatable. 

* Anne's recovery from back surgery and the complications that followed
* a long walk and an even longer talk with my beloved adopted daughter, Beka
* a movie date with Heather, good movie, even better company

* the time we spent with Jill and Bill and Gemma and their three Great Danes at their house in Norwalk

* the "salad pizza" Jill made. Herb crusted pizza dough baked with mozzarella and parmesan cheese and olive oil - after it was baked, she topped it with a well-dressed salad. That pizza was even more delicious than it looks!

* time spent with my writing group, three women I've known since 1998

* wandering with them around the property of Weir Farm
* breakfast at Valencia Luncheria with Susie, Pamela, and Judy

* delicious Dulce de Leche coffee to start the meal

 * this woman's sense of style

* steel cut oatmeal with flax seeds, banana, walnuts and maple syrup at Le Pain Quotidien in Greenwich Village... which reminded me of my time spent at LPQ in Madrid last fall

* the Doughnut Plant on 23rd Street in Manhattan - our visit to that shop confirmed that I DON'T LIKE DONUTS! I didn't think I liked them but I was willing to try gourmet donuts. I was not impressed.

* our visit to Mood, the fabric store made famous by one of our favorite reality shows, Project Runway
* the fabrics we found there
* the wonderfully friendly and helpful staff who helped us
* the sewing projects I've been able to create lately - tunic tops, dresses, scarves, skirts (not that I need anymore clothes, but I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the process of sewing my own clothing)

* these awesome leggings I found in Madrid last October

 * the gift card that allows me to indulge in matcha green tea lattes at Starbucks

* Katherine's collection of crosses

* This saying above the door at Weir Farm and the beautiful sentiment of being contented at home

Sunday, July 06, 2014

This is not my story, but I'm gonna tell it anyway

She woke up on Thursday morning to an empty refrigerator and freezer. Children to feed. Herself to feed. Nothing to offer the ones she loves most. No food.

She got dressed and headed off to community college where she had to take a test in her algebra class. As she took the test, she hoped that no one around her could hear her stomach grumbling.

After the test, someone in her class told her about a hospitality room where she might find something to eat. She went there and was given a few crackers as well as the suggestion that she go to an office nearby where she could get information about where and how to get help. She filled in a form. She answered questions. She was given a referral that would allow her to come to Loaves and Fishes to get food for her family. The woman who gave her the referral said she was getting the last opening for that day.

She wasn't my client, so I am not the one who walked with her through the pantry. When she was done choosing her food, she slowly packed it all into plastic bags, but she didn't leave. She stood with her cart of food for a long time. She said she was waiting for her ride.

Then suddenly she burst into tears. I rushed over to her and asked what was wrong. She said that she had just received a text informing her that her daughter was in the hospital having a miscarriage. She kept trying to stop herself from crying while saying that she needed to pull herself together so she could be strong for her daughter. She said that she didn't want her daughter to see her cry. She needed to be strong for her.

I handed her tissues and listened. I hugged her and prayed with her. I also told her that she didn't have to be strong for her daughter. I told her that it is okay to be weak and to cry and to let her daughter see how sad that made her. I told her that tears are perfectly appropriate at a time like that and so was grief and sadness. After all, her daughter is only 18 years of age and had recently returned from running away from home. She had been gone for three weeks, and when she got back, she revealed that she was pregnant.

We talked for a long time. She cried. I cried. We hugged several times. Then I went outside with her and waited with her in the blazing heat. We talked some more.

She told me about wanting to get an associate's degree in human resources so she could support her family. She talked about her classes and some of her classmates. She also hoped that by going back to school at the age of 48, she would inspire her son, who had dropped out of high school and was now living with his girlfriend and their child. She was a giddy and happy and proud of herself as any new college co-ed.

Occasionally her chin would start to quiver as she remembered her daughter's situation again. So I would lean in again and rub her shoulder. She soon began to repeat a thought that has been a mantra of mine for years - "It's gonna be okay." "Everything is gonna be alright." All shall be well. All shall be well. I agreed heartily.

She said, "I'm so glad I came here today and met you. Thank you for praying with me. Thank you for waiting with me. I'm sorry I took you away from your work." I told her, "Working at the pantry is not only about the food. It's about the people. It's about the people."

Later on, I had a bizarre thought. The Bible says that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to God's purpose. I thought, is it possible that she woke up hungry on Thursday morning, went to school for her test, crossed the campus for crackers and ended up coming to the food pantry so that we could meet, so that I could hear her story, cry with her, pray with her, and then we could both be blessed by our time together?

Then I wondered: Why did she have to go through all that? Why does anybody have to wake up to empty cupboards and empty stomachs? How is it that there are so many hungry people in this world and in our nation, especially where there are also so many people who eat so much more than they need and others who waste more food than they eat? I do not know the answer to those questions.

But I do know this - I know that serving at the Loaves and Fishes pantry is one of the most satisfying, joy-producing, heart-opening things I do every month. I know that the people I meet there are some of the funniest, kindest, most grateful, most interesting people I meet every month. I also know that my life is richer and my prayer life will be deeper because I met that beautiful, strong, hopeful, tearful, anguished, messy, funny, determined woman this past Thursday afternoon. I hope I never forget her.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Love was in the air!

The reason that Kristiana and I made the two-week trek up north was to attend the wedding of my dear niece, Raquel. Sure, we wrapped June 20th with a week of visits before and another week after, but we wouldn't have made the trip at all if she weren't being joined in holy matrimony to her best friend and the love of her life. 

I've known her since before she was born. Unfortunately, on the day she was born, I was in England. But as soon as my feet hit American soil again, I rushed over to my brother and sister-in-law's house to meet her, to see her sweet little face, and to hold her in my auntie arms. She has been a beauty and a bundle of energy and a perveyor of sweet smiles since the earliest days. Thanks, Otis and Joy, for giving me such a fantastic niece (and two awesome nephews as well).

My daughter and I arrived at her house an hour earlier than I told her to expect us. I felt a little guilty about getting there so early, but I wanted to see some of the bridal preparations. Look at that happy and beautiful face. 

Her mother, Joy, is on the left, and her sister-in-law, Monisha, is on the right. 
Looking gorgeous in their purple dresses. 

I think she was happy. What do you think?
Some people have said we look alike.
I wish I were as beautiful and happy and joyfull as Raquel is.

She and her beloved, Jay, were married at Studio Square in Queens, New York.
While we partied upstairs, there were hundreds of people downstairs
watching World Cup Soccer on a huge screen.
 Apparently, just as Raquel and Jay finished saying their vows,
a goal was scored and a great cheer rose up.
I didn't hear it, but someone else on my row did.
Perfect timing.
There was a lot to celebrate.
Big goals scored, big dreams come to life, big promises made.

Jay is a first generation immigrant from Poland. He is, in fact, the only member of his birth family who lives here in the States. Some members of his family watched the ceremony via Skype and as soon as the ceremony ended, Raquel and Jay greeted them via computer. Ain't technology grand sometimes?

The proud auntie and cousin got our turn in front of the camera. 

Love was in the air - and the wine and the food and out on the dance floor as well. Early in the reception, the emcee asked all the couples to join Raquel and Jay in a dance to celebrate not only the newlyweds, but also their own love. Gay and straight. Young and Old. Male and Female. Black and White. Asian and Latino. They were out there, dancing, smiling, hugging, kissing, whispering in each other's ears, and basking in the joy of that beautiful evening.

Just before cutting the cake - or was it after? -
the two lovebirds were asked to stand back to back.
(Isn't it cute how she's holding his jacket?
That girl is IN LOVE!)
The emcee said, "I hope this is the first and last time that you two 
turn your backs on each other."
Well said.

Then he went on to say something dumb about how the size of the piece of cake Jay cut
would reflect on the amount of authority he would have in his house.

There was a table at the reception with photos and mementos of family and friends who have passed away. There was my daddy's handsome, sweet, much missed face. I'm sure that if he was looking down from heaven, he was smiling, right alongside Raquel's maternal grandmother, Ida.

Thanks, Raquel and Jay, for a great party.
Thanks for your joy and laughter and hope and obvious lust for each other.
Thanks for reminding us that love and marriage, commitment and romance still matter.
Thank you for inviting so many people with so many stories and so many connections to you and so much excitement to celebrate your nuptials.
There was indeed love in the air.

We wish you both nothing but the best.
When the tough times come, and surely they will come, trust each other and rely on each other.
Trust in your family and friends, and rely on us too.
Most important of all, trust in God and rely on God.
None of those things, none of those choices, none of those people will take away the challenges.
But all of those things, all of those choices, all of those people, and all your faith will give you the support and strength and hope and the companionship you will need in order to endure the difficult days ahead.
May your love grow and your lives be full of everything you've ever dreamed.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Keeping it Real: Happy Anniversary to me and my sweet man

Twenty-four years ago, he did this.

Can you read it?
When I read it, I cried. 
Of course, I cried.

He hit it out of the park with that proposal.

That's what we looked like then.

Twenty-three years ago today, we did this.

First came love.
Then came marriage.
Then she came along and needed a baby carriage.

Our first church photo album picture.
(Did you know that some churches make photo albums for their members?)
She has been photogenic right from the start.

On the occasion of our tenth wedding anniversary, 
I got back into my wedding dress and had new photos taken.
The kids were able to keep it a secret.
Steve was very surprised.

Twenty-three years of marriage. Mostly good times. Much laughter and travel and love and joy and fun with each other and our children. No one makes me laugh like my husband.
Some difficult times as well. Tears shed. Misunderstandings. Miscommunication. Lack of communication. The deaths of both of our fathers. Illness. Fear. Loss. No one makes me mad like my husband.

After four and a half years of dating and twenty-three years of marriage, more than half my life, I confess that I still love this man of mine. He still loves me. I still love the life we share - most of the time. (Just keeping it real, people. Keeping it REAL!)
Who knows? We just might last another twenty-three years.

Happy anniversary, my dear Steve. Thank you for everything you have done for me and been with me and given to me. I look forward to everything that is yet to come. I do love you. 
"And I will love you so for always." (This is the song he played when he proposed and was also the song we danced to for our first dance at the wedding reception.)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Home Sweet Home!

My daughter and I returned from a two week road trip last night around 7 pm.
Eleven hours of driving from Princeton, New Jersey yesterday.
Great conversation with my dear Kristiana. She asks great questions.
Music. NPR. Books on CD.
Fruit and water and crackers and corn chips.
Confederate flags on motorcycle helmets. Other motorcyclists pulling mini trailers.
Car accident ahead of us. Near standstill traffic for about 15 minutes.
Trucks wandering onto and off the shoulder of the highway.
Traveling mercies up and back and everywhere in between.

The first stop on our journey was after 12 hours of driving from Charlotte towards Massachusetts.
We stopped at one hotel and were told that they had several smoking rooms 
and one non-smoking room, but it had no air-conditioning. No thanks!
We got back into the car and Kristiana called two hotels to see if there was availability.
First one - nope. Second one - incompetent woman on the phone. No luck there.
Next stop - the Hyatt House in Whippany, NJ.
The man at the front desk said they had two room suites available for $199 a night.
Gulp! But I was tired of driving, so we reluctantly said, "Okay."
After a few seconds of staring at his computer monitor, he said they had no more two bedroom suites, but they had one bedroom suites available for $139. Not ideal, but definitely better.
After a few more seconds, he said they had no one bedroom suites, but they did have a two bedroom available after all - and he would only charge us $139. Awesome!

Separate bedrooms and bathrooms - felt like a gracious and spacious apartment.
I love a good deal and a well appointed hotel suite kitchen.

The next day we stopped in Norwalk, CT on our way north.
This is the house we lived in from 1997 until 2002. It's for sale again... 
So many good memories flooded back for me and Kristiana as we walked around and took photos.

One good Norwalk memory was of the year that Steve planted the three trees behind me. 
He strung Christmas lights on them that Christmas and every year thereafter.
When he planted them, they were shorter than us. 
I love seeing these signs and symbols of the passage of time and growth.
Apparently time flies whether or not you're having fun.

In Northampton, Massachusetts, we ate at Hinge, a lovely little restaurant, 
and were taken care of by a delightful waiter named Cobbie.
He was so polite and funny and informative that Kristiana said, "I bet he's from the South."
She was right - he was from Texas and has lived in Georgia and North Carolina for a while.
Hinge makes a fantastic black bean burger.

Kristiana and I travel well together. She's a great conversationalist but doesn't mind silence.
I wonder where she got that from.

Then we went to Amherst, where we met and had a lovely visit with Jena and Mani. 
Here we are sitting at their kitchen table enjoying breakfast and conversation.
I wish we'd had more time with them... someday I think we will.

There will be more stories and photos from this trip to come.
In the meantime, gratitude flows through my heart and mind today.

I drove more than 2,000 miles on this journey - no flat tires, no accidents, no tickets, no dings, no scratches, and no break-ins. 

We took the train from Connecticut into NYC this past Tuesday and had an absolute blast walking and shopping and eating and people watching and eating and walking some more. No losses, no pickpockets, no mishaps at all. 

We spent time in the homes of seven dear friends and family members - all of whom took impeccable care of us, walking with us, talking with us, telling stories and listening to ours. They fed us and ate food we brought. They gave up their bedrooms and couches and towels and sheets and so much food and drink for us and to us. They let us do laundry and raid their refrigerators. They drove us places and allowed us to drive them crazy.

The inspiration for the trip was Raquel and Jay's wedding. She is my niece and the youngest child of my oldest brother. We had a fantastic time celebrating their love and their union last Friday evening. We got to ride in a limo from my brother's house to the venue, thoroughly enjoyed the ceremony (even though the minister forgot to tell the congregation to sit down, so we stood up for the entire thing), ate and drank and danced and then were driven back to my brother's house sometime after midnight. The following morning, my sister-in-law, Joy, made us a fantastic breakfast and sent us merrily and contentedly on to the next stop on our adventure. 

The weather was fantastic the entire fortnight of our journey. We drove through a few light sprinkles on the trip home yesterday and hit torrential downpours when we were a mere ten minutes from home, already on the streets of our beloved home city. 

Thanks, many thanks to all the family and friends who hosted us and fed us and laughed with us, who told us your stories and listened to our stories, who showed us their love and generosity and hospitality. You made it an awesome trip. Thank you, thank you, thank you. 

Thanks, Jena and Mani
Dinah and Seth,
Kathy and Katie,
Christy and Emma,
Kevin, Karen, Alexa, Brandon, Danielle, and Zoe,
Otis and Joy,
All the family and friends we saw at Raquel and Jay's wedding,
Damele and Carlton,
Bill, Jill, Gemma, and Simon, Gideon, & Lucy (the last three are their THREE great danes!)
Will and Judy,
Susie and Pamela,
Cliffe, Sharon and Stuart,
Val and Sheldon,
and Cathy. 

Thanks be to our trusty Hyundai Sonata - that made the trip flawlessly.
Thanks, Steve, for taking care of the house and the boy and the beast while we were away.

It was great to hit the road and great to get back home.
Home sweet home!

Thanks be to God!