Journey of Sorrows

It was very early Wednesday, the morning after the presidential election, when I journeyed to California. I awoke to news of the surprising and, to me, extremely upsetting election results. Joining that news was an email from someone close to us saying that his health had suddenly declined and he will not be with us much longer. My trip to California was to attend a family wedding, now it was also to be a journey to say goodbye to someone who is dear. I was shocked by an overwhelming sadness, and in the 90 minute drive to the airport tuned out the news and inattentively listened to an audiobook for distraction.

Checking in at the Midwestern regional airport seemed surreal, TSA-Pre was not operating so I had to unexpectedly submit to the unpack-the-bags-and-strip-down process while feeling the numbness of grief. The row of televisions in the terminal were all tuned to Fox News. I huddled by myself in a quiet corner, not knowing who about me was celebrating and who was mourning the results. The awaiting passengers were unusually quiet; I thought this must be how it was to be in an occupied territory, everyone trying to remain unobtrusive and saying nothing, not knowing who is with you and who is against you.

As we were called to board, Hillary Clinton was about to appear and make an address. img_7057All the televisions went black. Coincidence? As I settled into my seat, I overheard the woman behind me say, “It has started. I am over 60 and never been patted down before, they pulled me out of line and frisked me. It’s already started.” The woman was Hispanic. Who knows why someone is targeted for extra screening, I have been targeted more than once, but on this day her suspicion was not that she was randomly selected but that it was racial profiling. At the airport in Chicago it was quite the opposite, people were chattering everywhere, and everywhere people were expressing shock and surprise at the election results. When I took my seat on my connecting flight, the woman next to me was speaking Spanish on her cell phone. She hung up and said to me, “Guess I will have to stop speaking that language now.”

By the time I had landed, my phone was filled with text messages and my in-box with emails from friends and relatives expressing anguish with the results. People I met with on my trip all expressed shock, grief, and yes, even fear. In the days following I passed through what might be described as the stages of grief. I still cannot quite bring myself to resignation and certainly have not reached an understanding. I have to believe that most people share common values and hopes–that except for the extreme fringe–this electoral college win was brought about by a frustration with middle- and working-class stagnation and the notion that the peoples’ voices were not being heard. It is too much for me to believe that the bulk of these voters condone–let alone believe–the divisive and angry rhetoric that dominated this campaign. The only resolution I have reached is to do what I can do: support organizations that share my values, show kindness to those in my community, write letters to my elected representatives to express my views, and VOTE.

Joined by my friend Jamie, one of the first stops on my trip was to visit with my dear friend’s surviving sister. She had set aside yarn for me to pick up, she also had boxes full of crafts supplies and was looking for an organization to take it. We volunteered to take all of it, loading up Jamie’s car with boxes and bags to be donated. Before traveling to California I had identified 3 local groups that could use yarn, thanks to people who responded to inquiries on social media knitting boards. That evening, two days after the election, we found comfort in sorting the boxes and bags into appropriate piles for the donations. We sorted basic natural fiber yarns in heavier weights along with knitting supplies for students learning to knit in a local school district. We separated out the finest natural fibers for a senior center, thinking perhaps that seniors on fixed incomes would appreciate fine yarns–yarns they might not usually be able to afford–for their knitting project: knitting gifts to accompany Meals on Wheels holiday dinners. Finally, we sorted out all the textural and interesting yarns for an arts center for people with disabilities, thinking they would be perfect for weaving and crafting. The following day we made two deliveries and worked on arranging the third. It was healing to be able to do something for others, this was something positive that we could do and something that honored my generous friend’s memory.

The wedding was beautiful. It was also bittersweet given that my brother was no longer here to see his lovely daughter happily wed but, with the void filled by so many other family members, it was impossible to remain sad. I have never before seen a mother-of-the-bride and bride dance, but it was touching and seemed so very appropriate. There is nothing like family coming together to celebrate and share a happy event, no matter what else is happening outside the circle of loving joy.

Before returning home, I visited my friend with the declining health for what may be my last visit. We parted with a hug and an, “I will see you on your next visit.” I can only hope. As if there was not enough loss in the world, on the final day of the trip a friend received news that her brother had passed away. It was all and all, a journey filled with the sense of recent loss, old loss, new loss, and loss to come.

Awaiting my final connecting flight, I felt the full weight of sadness and sat silently in the waiting area unsuccessfully fighting off the cold virus that was overtaking me. After boarding, I dropped into my seat on the tiny commuter jet in the exit row across from a late middle-aged man. The flight attendant came by and, anticipating she would ask if we were ready and able to help in case of emergency, I looked up and said, “Hi, how are you doing?” She replied, “Not good, but do you know what makes me feel better?” I responded, “Visiting the exit row?” The man pointed to the empty seat next to him and said, “Have a seat.” She laughed and sat down, saying she would only feel better if we joined her in a song. And we did. The worst rendition of Let it Be ever sung, but the mood of the passengers shifted from sullen fatigue to relieved cheer. Waiting for our bags on the other end, I asked a young woman about the cute dog she was carrying and soon a large group of people were talking about dogs and this and that.

Perhaps it was a vivacious flight attendant, perhaps it was a cute little dog, but the journey that began at this airport days earlier in stunned silence ended in convivial conversation. In kindness given and in kindness shown, perhaps there can be something found amidst loss, a growing flicker of flame in the darkness.

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Change is in the Air

In less than one week we have had temps in the 80’s dropping to the 30’s (about 30c to 2c); change is in the air. What better time to have a knitting retreat than when it is time to change the closet over from light cottons to heavy flannels, from breezy sandals to cozy clogs, from sun hats to knitted caps, from cool fabrics in tropical brights to warm clothes in deep subdued tones. It is cozy fiber time: wools, cashmeres, alpacas, and silky blends.

I have attended several spring Knitting Pipeline Retreats–perhaps it would be more accurate to say late winter retreats–but had only attended one fall retreat before this. Up until this year the fall retreat had been known as The Cornerstone Retreat, named for a cute B&B that hosted the attendees in their meeting room and accommodated some of the guests in their cozy chambers. But as with the seasons change was in the air for the B&B, it was sold and the meeting room was acquired by a local shop for expansion. The Cornerstone Retreat is no more. This fall the retreat was moved from the cozy inn to a rustic camp and retreat center, only a half hour of country lane’s drive away from the Cornerstone Inn in Washington but a world apart. The Knitting Pipeline Cornerstone Retreat has became the Eagle Crest Retreat.

The Eagle Crest Camp and Retreat Center, run by The Salvation Army, is set in a forested and hilly area close to Upper Peoria Lake. Rooms are spartan by any standards, only the bare necessities: a door that closes on a room with a wall heating and cooling unit, some simple furnishings (bunk bed, double bed, dressers, a chair, and luggage rack), a sink with a mounted soap dispenser, a toilet, a shower, and some well used towels in assorted colors and sizes. My room had a mounting bracket for a hair dryer, but no dryer, and no amenities other than the industrial strength soap in a mounted dispenser. It was basic. Growing up where vacations were camping with 4 brothers crowded into a canvas tent, boiling water to wash dishes by the light of a flickering lantern, huddling by an eye watering smokey fire to chase the chill out, and sleeping on an air mattress that failed to hold air through the night, this was luxury by comparison. The summer camps I attended in my early years were better than a canvas tent, but not by much. Bunk beds in drafty cabins with showers and latrines a hiking distance from the sleeping quarters. Looking at it another way, comparing the retreat accommodations to the B&B with cozy quilts and jacuzzi tubs, was not quite as helpful as comparing it to my early camp experiences.

At the Cornerstone, the meeting room was poorly lit and not very large. The camp had a large, well lit dining hall filled with tables and utilitarian molded chairs. There was a comfortable corner with a few couches and cushioned chairs, in other words, the premium real estate. Because the room was larger, the retreat was able to accommodate more attendees. I was worried that having more people would change the character–that it would be less intimate–but we had enough circulation that in the end it was not an issue. Besides, it was fun to meet people who were “retreat virgins” and share in their excitement of attending their first knitting retreat.

If a disinterested someone were to ask me what one does at a knitting retreat, perhaps it could be summed up simply with knit, eat, chat, and sleep, not necessarily in that order. To an interested someone, all of that is true but I do have a bit more to add.

The fall retreat has been going a few years now, and those who have been going since the beginning return and renew acquaintances each year. These are the people who greet one another as old friends. Returning for the second time after having missed last year’s retreat, I recognized a few people from my first time and a few people from the much larger spring retreats. I came with two other people, so never felt at a loss, img_6988but even those who had never been to this retreat did not feel like strangers for long. After the business of checking in, it was not long before people laid claim to their bit of space and settled into spots to begin knitting. Conversations started up quietly among neighboring knitters, tentatively beginning with the simplest of starters such as, “Where are you from?” “What are you working on?” “What yarn is that?” Beginning as a low hum, it was not long before the room was awash in animated conversations combined with laughter, climbing to a pleasant rumble of happy voices.

We did have a schedule, followed loosely, so all was not just eating and knitting. You might say Paula Emons-Fuessle, who hosts the retreat, does not run a tight ship. It is more accurate to say that she quietly and graciously runs things so smoothly that it does not feel like a tight ship. Everything happens that is supposed to happen, but never at the expense of the relaxed atmosphere that can only be produced by being in the company of contented knitters.

The first evening we had a mug cozy exchange. Those who participated marked their cozy with their names, displayed them, and each cozy was assigned a number. For the exchange, we randomly drew a number, found the cozy with that number, oohed and aahed, then searched the room until we found the creator of our new cozy. Mine was a cute cabled cozy with buttons that had stitch markers attached, stitch markers that were put to work before the weekend was through. There was also a give-away table, a contributed snack table, and a winding station, each of which provided a gathering place to start or join into chats.

Two nights in a row we did show and tell. The first night we kicked it off with my local knitting group sharing our very different projects made with the same yarn. I anticipated a brain drain and had printed up a list with the names of patterns and yarns used in the projects I showed, but it would not have mattered if I had not done so. Those who were in front of the group holding up a sweater, shawl, sock, hat, or other knitted goodie and drawing a complete blank for the name of the project or designer were assisted by various members of the audience calling it out. Many of the knitters had amazing creations, all had good stories for what they were showing. Some had obstacles they had overcome, others had challenged themselves with something new, and some very clever knitters had taken a design and made modifications that suited their style and preferences. Presenters had an appreciative audience, and many new projects were put into queues and pattern favorites were added to Ravelry pages.

We had a formal class on brioche taught by Amy Detjen from Knitcircus Yarns. She arrived the evening before the class with bins of gorgeous yarn and had no trouble gathering volunteers to help carry it in from her filled-to-the-brim car. We all excitedly waited for the lids to be popped and as soon as they were lifted the bins were swarmed. Amy had a bit of an issue getting the internet connection for the sales, but once that was ironed out a lengthy line formed. Many bought kits for the brioche class, many bought gradients and/or sock sets that somehow found their way into their hands. The bins remained opened from that night throughout the retreat, the stacks of yarn dropped lower and lower in the bins as time went by. It was almost a relief when a yarn that was singing me a siren song disappeared. The only thing that saved me, and just barely, from buying the brioche kit was the reality check that I would not wear the class pattern; I would have to buy at least two kits to make the length I preferred. And yes, I did seriously consider that, but by the time I succumbed to the temptation I could not find more than one set with the combination I wanted. Scrap yarn was perfectly fine for learning the technique.

Amy was a good teacher and I think I got it; certainly learning it well enough to understand a You-Tube video if I revisit it in the future. I also learned the do-not-make-a-mistake-in-brioche lesson. As I read the pattern, I missed the YO for the brioche purl and thought I could just tink back one row but ended up having to rip back to the original set-up row. Especially nice for those who did invest in the yarn kits, Amy was on hand to offer guidance and fix mistakes well after the class was over. Those who caught on were also ready and able to help others with brioche as well as with any other knitting stumbling blocks that were encountered. Knitters are exceptionally generous with their time and patience when it comes to helping other knitters.

Over the course of the retreat groups disappeared and took field trips to regional yarn shops or took hikes in the woods. My big adventure was to go along with a couple of others to the very little town of Washburn to get soap. Given that our only source of soap was an industrial strength soap dispenser next to the sinks, there was a demand for a milder and accessible shower option. I raised my eyebrows at one request for unscented soap, and little did I know just how little choice we would find at the Casey’s General Store. We found lots of snack foods, beverages, lottery tickets, and gasoline, but very little in regards to sundries: one bottle of men’s Irish Spring Bodywash and one 3-pack of Dial soap, definitely not unscented. We asked if there was a grocery store in town and the reply was well, yes, but it did not open at all the day before, would not be open until later that afternoon, and they did not recommend that we go there as everything on the shelves was past the expiration date. So Dial it was. Fortunately I was able to borrow a knife to cut it into chunks so it could be distributed to the many people clamoring for a soapy shower. A good strong scent was not unwelcome. There must be some geothermal activity near the well, the water in my room smelled of sulfur reminding me of the natural hot springs and the bubbling belching holes found in volcanic National Parks; an olfactory reminder of my tent camping adventures in earlier years. I once “took the waters” at Bath, but drinking that intensely mineral water once in my life was enough. I was happy to have bottled water and scented body wash, although the spouse later reminded me that people pay good money for the experience of soaking in mineral springs.

One of the retreat highlights was a little vendor fair with lots of lovely project bags. Amazingly–in spite of our pre-retreat yarn crawl and onsite market–I stayed within my budget, having put aside a set amount for splurges and spending no more than I had. It may not last long, I signed up for product emails from MariaElena’s bags and am sure to succumb not too far into the future. Temptation would have to wait, we had no cell phone coverage and spotty internet; although we could sometimes get online no one was receiving emails. Not that that is such a bad thing for a few days.

So what was it like to be at a knitting retreat? It was wonderful to renew friendships and make new ones. It was wonderful to be amongst people who share the joy of knitting, the love of fine fibers, and the enthusiasm to share their skills and experiences. Accommodations and fare would best be described as basic, but the time spent with others was platinum-level first-class knitting luxury. It could be enough to keep me going through the winter, the cold months between now and the next late-winter Knitting Pipeline “spring” retreat.

 

For those who do not know her, Paula Emons-Fuessle is a designer, podcaster, and has several instructional videos on You-Tube with links from her website. She hosts knitting retreats in Illinois, Georgia, and Main and will be co-hosting a knitting tour of Iceland with Amy Detjen next spring. She has two Ravelry threads, Knitting Pipeline and Knitting Pipeline Retreats.

A Kentucky Sampler: B&B Guns, Louisville, and Five is the New Ten

B&B Guns
Coming closer to Louisville, it was like the lawless wild frontier on the Interstate. The rain had finally stopped and the sun came out, as did many a crazed and impatient driver. I was following my tried and true 10 mile an hour rule, i.e., as long as one drives less than 10 miles over the posted speed limit one is both safe from the law and from all but the most impatient drivers doing brazenly chaotic moves to get around frustratingly slow moving cars. It did not work. On this day, cars were whipping around me like I was the proverbial little old lady out for her once a week Sunday drive. Not only did they zoom by me as if were standing still, drivers around Louisville on that day and subsequent days did crazy, unpredictable things: running red lights, turning right from left hand turn lanes, passing on the shoulder, cutting in front of others regardless of speed or distance, and creating situations that required attentive and defensive driving. It was a relief to finally navigate to and park at our B&B a bit before reaching Louisville.

Although our B&B was not far from recently built corporate buildings and office parks–including massive Papa Johns and Humana compounds–it was up a windy forest lined road and seemed to be in another time and place. It had originally been a farmhouse and, as with many B&B’s of a certain age, was charming and brimming imagewith antiques. Our room was a spacious and comfortable chamber one flight up and to the front of the house. The remote location was about a 10 minute drive to restaurants and a bit further to the Louisville tourist attractions, but it was a peaceful and quiet place located on acres of gardens and forest, a perfect place to end the day.

Many B&B’s feature magnificent breakfasts, and this B&B provided us with ample and fabulous food every morning, but our first breakfast was a bit out of the ordinary for reasons other than the food.

We had a coffee maker a few steps outside our room to conveniently make and have our coffee before spiffing up and going downstairs for breakfast. We were having our morning coffee and relaxing in our room–patiently perusing our email with the free but typically slow B&B wifi–when the spouse said, “There is a woman outside with a gun! Come look!” Well, every Wild West Shoot-em-up movie I have ever seen responds to guns with, “Get down!!!” not, “Come to the window and look!” If I could look out the window and see her, she could look in and see me. No thanks.

Happily shots were not fired and all was quiet when we went down to the formal and antique filled dining room, table elegantly set with antique Spode and sterling flatware. Two couples occupied chairs facing each other with an empty chair next to each couple and one empty one at the head of the table. A young couple was sitting quietly and stiffly but what I noticed first was the older couple across from them, impressively large handguns holstered at their hips. I know the game of musical chairs and was quick, I grabbed that empty chair next to the young couple–kitty corner across from the armed pair–before my shocked husband had a chance to step into the room and realize he was condemned to a breakfast sitting  alongside lethal weapons. We became the second stiffly sitting couple at the table and were soon joined by an elderly widower who sat at the head of the table, next to us and some distance from the pistols.

Guests all seated, the host came in and announced breakfast would be served shortly. The armed couple clasped their hands above the table, bowed their heads, and muttered their prayers. I could only hope they were not praying that their guns were loaded and their aim was true. The man was wearing a tee shirt that was top to bottom, back to front, and side to side filled with gun toting and gun loving NRA messages. It was not enough to wear his opinions, the conversation that immediately followed was dominated by his views with interjections made by his wife. The rest of us sat in stiff and restrained silence as we politely listened to him talk about his gun club activities, NRA participation, shooting skills, and various opinions and fun facts pertaining to weaponry and the God given right to use it. It is not an exaggeration to say that they were proselytizing, unaware perhaps that much of what they said did nothing to bring me closer to their point of view. I am not against safe, regulated, and responsible gun ownership. Marksmanship, skeet shooting, teaching gun safety, OK. But some of the other things, such as concealed carry, allowing guns in innocuous public places, resistance to regulation, ownership and collection of assault rifles and armor piercing bullets, and allowing young children to shoot are a bit harder to accept. Apparently they taught children as young as 7 to hold and shoot their own weapons, “…but we keep our hands on the weapons for younger children.” How much younger than 7 he did not say. I remember my daughter at 7, she was into rainbows and butterflies at that age; picturing her as a 7-year old clad in a pink and purple fluffy dress, white tights, ribbon barrettes, and a gun in her hands is utterly beyond my powers of imagination.

Our host came in to serve and asked, “How long is the NRA convention in town?” Fortunately, the response was that it was ending that day and our armed guests were checking out after breakfast. Eventually we asked a few polite questions, “How many people are in the NRA?” (Answer: about 5 million) “Will they have shooting in the Summer Olympics?” (Answer: yes, followed by details about the events), and the tension began to subside. The widower and I gently and cautiously began to guide the conversation to more neutral topics, talking about sites he planned to see in Springfield and sites he had seen on his travels. Somehow the topic of slavery came up, perhaps in our discussion of the Springfield Lincoln sites, and someone said, “Did you know the first slave sold in American was sold by a black man?” Our gunman said, “And they blame us for slavery.” Up until then I had kept my opinions to myself, avoiding any topic that could be perceived as controversial but–amazed by the comment implying the action of one black man erased the evils of slavery perpetuated by thousands of white slave owners–I politely replied, “I think there is plenty of blame to go around.” My widower friend came to my rescue and said, “I think we can all agree that slavery was bad,” and quickly changed the subject to more neutral ground.

The young couple said little, but they did say this was the first time they had stayed in imagea B&B. Trial by fire, it certainly was not beginners luck in their case. But they may as well find out now, a B&B is a roll of the dice as to who will be joining you. Sometimes it is an interesting group, sometimes a pleasant group, and sometimes it is a stiff and less than comfortable group, but there you all are, strangers sharing a breakfast table and attempting polite conversation. I come to breakfast at a B&B not knowing who and what I will find, but never have I felt the need to be armed amidst the scraping of silver and the rattle of plates.

Louisville Touring

After our breakfast adventures, we enjoyed a beautiful morning at the Falls of the Ohio River. The Falls of the Ohio are across the river from Kentucky, in the state of Indiana, and are largely responsible for the city of Louisville being where it is. The drop in the river at that location creates rapids that are impassible. Ships either wrecked or were halted at that location for sailors to portage their goods around the rapids. A settlement naturally grew up around the point that paused or ended those river journeys. The Army Corps of Engineers has since built locks, but the water dangerously tumbles and swirls in all directions on the Indiana side. Also of interest, it was where a glacier ended and there is a rock shelf dotted with fossils. The shelf is accessible to tourists with warnings to stay clear of the dangerous waters and signs posted prohibiting the gathering of fossils. Nothing prevented us from hunting and gathering fossils with our camera lenses, and we spent a great deal of time examining rocks and finding fossils.

 

After our visit to the Falls, we visited the Frazier History Museum which had a great exhibit on the Lewis and Clark expedition as well as one on the history of the Prohibition. With all the distilleries in Kentucky, prohibition was a very big deal in imageKentucky and it put a lot of people out of work. Apparently those who could continue to make “medicinal” spirits–and the doctors who were willing to prescribe it–did quite well financially, but many historical distilleries closed permanently or were reopened under new ownership when prohibition was finally over. We briefly visited the second floor, which had an extensive exhibit of guns and rifles as well as some knives and toy soldiers, but interrupted our visit to see a performance by a costumed storyteller. When we arrived the theater was filled, they put some chairs in the front for us and we settled in front row seats for the performance. Before beginning her story, the storyteller welcomed those who were with the NRA convention. Fortunately she was a really good storyteller and I got lost in her story about Norse gods, not thinking about all the guns that could be behind my back.

We found the Mussels and Burgers bar and restaurant and I had a huge bowl of huge mussels before touring the Louisville Slugger museum and factory. At the museum, imagewe bought our tickets and were assigned a time for our tour, leaving us plenty of time to look around the museum. A large group was beginning our tour just as we entered, and we probably could have asked to join it, but we contented ourselves with wandering around the exhibits and awaiting our turn. When it was time for our tour to begin, we were surprised to find that we were the only two on the tour. A nice young man patiently stepped through the complete tour, patiently pausing to answer questions and add some narratives. At the end of the tour we were treated to miniature souvenir Louisville Sluggers. We had been warned that the customized and personalized bats being sold were for display not for use. Although many usable as well as souvenir models were available for purchase, we contented ourselves with the little but free souvenir bats. I have since learned that they do not allow the souvenir bats in passenger’s carry-on bags and that the Louisville airport has a huge display case of confiscated bats. I imagine they eventually return them to the museum, rotating the same bats between museum and airport in an endless loop.

The following day we went to Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby Museum. A nice employee was entering the museum at the same time as we were and gave the spouse a pass; it was about to expire and she did not want it to go to waste. We got there just in time to join the historical walking tour. Our guide had lots of stories, history, and information. When we were by the track, he described the crowds, the different luxury boxes, the costumes, and the thousands who arrive first thing in the morning for a long day on the infield at the Kentucky Derby, a race that does not take place until the end of the day. Clearly the Kentucky Derby is Louisville’s Mardi Gras. In the museum we saw a movie about the Derby and wandered through some interesting exhibits, including an extensive exhibit on the recent Triple Crown winning American Pharaoh. The museum cafe offered a nice but not extensive menu, fine with us as it is better to do a few things well then a lot of things poorly; often the case in cafes that offer multi-page menus filled with multi-international cuisines. The spouse ordered a mint julep, complete with souvenir glass. I tried it. A little sweet for my taste but it went down so very easily. Hmm, I have mint in the garden, and now we have bourbon, there may be some hot summer day mint juleps in our future.

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We finished our day at The Farmington Historic Home which is thought to be based on
imageplans designed by Thomas Jefferson. Abraham Lincoln knew the family and had stayed at Farmington for several weeks before marrying Mary Todd. Unfortunately the home was closed but the grounds were open and we walked around the lovely gardens. It had been a hemp plantation, a very labor intensive crop, and the family were slave holders. Lincoln observed the institution of slavery while visiting this plantation and it may have shaped his imageopinion of slavery and guided some of his future decisions. Across from the mansion
was a monument in remembrance of those subjected to slavery surrounded by rugged stone benches, a place to sit and contemplate the past. Although the house was closed, we could peek into the windows. It was a rather modest house for a plantation and the rooms looked farmhouse simple. In present day, the grounds consist of formal flower gardens and well ordered vegetable gardens.

We searched for other historical homes in the area, and found some interesting ones, but they were also closed on Monday. We could tour gardens of these homes, or we could go enjoy the gardens at our B&B. We chose the latter and ended our Louisville visit at the peaceful B&B. We had a perfect end to the day with our best imagemeal in Kentucky, discovering Brasserie Provence in a shopping mall.

Five is the New Ten

The following morning we had a nice breakfast and were joined by a retired doctor who lived about 100 miles south of Louisville. He was a weekly guest at the B&B as his barbershop quartet rehearses every Monday night in Louisville. He, and only he, joined us our second and third mornings and we had lively conversations both days. No discussion of guns, but lots of discussion about music and musical instruments. After an enjoyable breakfast of great food and engaging conversation, we loaded the car and set out for home.

The Interstate around Louisville was congested but speed limits seemed only a suggestion. I followed my rule of thumb, driving no more than 10 miles above the speed limit. Even with cautiously exceeding the limit, coming into, driving around, and leaving Louisville it was as if I were driving at a crawl. People zoomed by me and, worse, did unpredictable things requiring me to drive defensively and continually expect the unexpected. We made our way through a construction zone with shifting lanes and unpredictable traffic, finally making it safely across the bridge into Indiana. At last the road opened and, save having to get around a few trucks, the press of traffic lessened. I kept my speed between 60 and 65 in the 55 mile hour zone, less than 10 miles above the limit. I saw a police car by the center median and glanced down at my speedometer. Phew, it was under 65 but I immediately let off the glass and slowed to 60 as he pulled out. I was continuing to slow as he pulled behind me and put on his lights; I was genuinely shocked to realize he was pulling me over. He motioned for me pull off to the left by the center median, the most dangerous place to stop. When I handed him my drivers license and registration, I said I had been keeping my speed below 65. He insisted I was going 70. I was not, I know I was not, but he responded by putting the radar in front of my eyes displaying a “70” on the screen, falsely attributing it to me. He also told me he had been clocking and ticketing anyone who went even one mile over the 10 mile grace amount all morning. Nice guy.

I could dispute it by going to court or I could pay it. When I got home I read that I had a third option. It would be “forgiven” if I pay a fee that is more than the fine (money order or cashiers check only), send a copy of my spotless driving record from my home state (documentation fee $12), and complete a form to plead no contest to the citation. Then, if I behave for 6 months, it will be forgiven and they will not file the citation. My take is this, either he had a faulty radar, he was clocking someone else, or he saw out of state plates and saw an opportunity to take advantage of a tourist. It is, essentially, a random tourist tax by the state of Indiana. Even if I were to drive the many hours there and the many hours back to dispute it in court on a date of their choosing, it is my word against his. I was not going 70 mph but my knowing that is no proof in the court of law. So, the world is not fair a fair place and my vacation is costing me a bit more. But point taken, if radar guns add 5 miles per hour, my 10 mile rule has now become a 5 mile rule.

Not a pleasant end to our trip, but I have since gathered the documentation, completed the forms, paid the fees, and sent it Certified Mail with a self-addressed stamped envelope for the receipt. I drive a bit slower, and have already been dangerously tailgated and honked at going at or near the speed limit, but will try not to let one tourist fleecing alto-Kentucky speed trap overrun the memories of an otherwise enjoyable trip. Although it took me longer to get here than usual, it is good to be home.

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More about our Kentucky trip in A Kentucky Sampler: Lexington Softball, Fiber, and Bourbon and The Bourbon Trail and Beasts of Fiber

A Kentucky Sampler: Lexington Softball, Fiber, and Bourbon and The Bourbon Trail

Lexington Softball, Fiber, and Bourbon

We had journeyed down through Indiana and Ohio to Kentucky in the pouring rain and, after locating the Campbell House Hotel in Lexington, we stayed put until the next day’s fiber festival. We were surprised to find players, coaches, trainers, and supporters in blue and orange draped over all the couches and chairs in lobbies, lounges, and hallways. Our local university team had travelled to Lexington for a softball tournament and, like us, had come in from the rain. My rain washed University windbreaker fit right in with the color scheme. The roads and parking lot were covered in deep puddles and, after a harrowing drive with cars and trucks creating great blinding clouds from the water slicked pavement, we went into hang out mode too.

The hotel was comfortable, but older and not as soundproof as one would have liked with hordes of college students joining us. The athletes and their entourage were all quite nice and we enjoyed chatting with them, promising to go cheer them on if we were still in town when they played their next game. The guest rooms were painted a very dark charcoal, almost black, so although it was comfortable physically it did not seem all that inviting a room for kicking back and relaxing. It did pass my chair test though, specifically having a comfortable chair in the room to claim as my own (in addition to the desk chair that is always claimed by the spouse). Good thing too, with every other seating surface in the hotel claimed by the team, it was the only seat available.

We did not have the fortitude to seek out local dining establishments. Fortunately, our dinner at the restaurant was quite nice and the staff were very engaging. Nibbling on bourbon glazed salmon and surrounded by displays of bourbon bottles, we got into discussions with the staff about what makes bourbon bourbon. The servers did not know, but one volunteered to run to the bar and find out from the bartender. She returned, saying that the bartender had taken a course on bourbon and had rattled off more than a messenger could possibly remember. After being asked for a two sentence answer, the bartender had summed it up with: it has to be more than 51% corn based, aged in oak barrels, and made in America. More research was needed and between Google and Wikipedia we got some answers. The next morning we had the same servers for breakfast and updated them on our bourbon research.

As it was the day before, all lobbies, lounges, hallways, and even the restaurant were filled with athletes, coaches and supporters. Wishing the players good luck in their game on our way out, we set out for the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival and Bluegrass Classic Stock Dog Trials.

See Beasts of Fiber for a description of the fiber festival and dog trials.

Plans to tour more of Lexington were put aside, we decided to journey on towards Louisville after our time at the fiber festival and dog trials. Things we could have done in Lexington–time, weather, and energy permitting–included a visit to Mary Todd Lincoln’s childhood home and Ashland, Henry Clay’s plantation. But our stay there was brief and my impressions of the city are incomplete. I will say that, with its proximity to Cincinnati, the traffic congestion seemed out of proportion to a small city. I did not enjoy driving into and around the town and was happy to hit some peaceful country roads after the festival before returning to the Interstate for our journey to Louisville. In fairness, it is never easy to drive over wet roads in a pouring rain while listening for Doris, my Google Maps voice, to guide me through unfamiliar roads.

The Bourbon Trail

When pulling off the Interstate for lunch we happened to see tourist signs for distilleries and, as we were not in a hurry, it seemed like the Kentucky thing to do. When in Rome or, in our case, when on the Bourbon Trail…

Searching Google Maps after lunch we found a distillery that looked interesting and was not too far from the restaurant. It was interesting too, but it was not operational. Or if operational, it was not in any shape to receive visitors in spite of the sign stating it was reopening in spring of 2016. The road to the Castle & Key Distillery was a lovely windy forested road dropping down to a riverbed in Millville, a peaceful diversion from the fast paced Interstate and well worth the drive in spite of the facility not being open to the public. The complex was surprisingly large, beautiful, and impressive, although some of the 19th century buildings appeared to be crumbling with missing windows and vines were invading the masonry. It was a rewarding side-trip but it did not provide us with the requisite Kentucky distillery experience. Google Maps to the rescue, there was another distillery further up the road. We followed the windy and forested creekside road to our next destination, the appropriately named town of Versailles. How perfectly fitting to have bourbon in Versailles.

Woodford Reserve Distillery was the complete opposite of the Castle & Key, after being the only souls in sight at the first distillery we were eclipsed by the the crowd at the next. Parking lots overflowed their borders and stretched out into muddy fields. When we pulled into the complex, multiple flag men directed us away from the main parking lots downhill to a churned up, sloped, and mud-sloppy area to park; fortunately my faithful steed Hubie had all wheel drive to resist the tire grabbing muck. We parked, gingerly made our way up the slick slope, and were trying to find our bearings when one of the flag men hailed us, directing us to the visitor center and warning us to watch out for all the buses and their crazed drivers. And buses there were, several tour buses making the Bourbon Trail circuit joined by the distillery’s own tour buses. Streams of people were loading onto and off of these buses, following the directions of their barking tour guides. It was reminiscent of the border collies herding sheep at the dog trials we had seen earlier in the day. Do they hold tour guide trials?  These guides would have done well in competition, their tourists moved with purpose and alacrity.

We made our way through the crowds in the visitor center to the gift shop and asked the cashier where we might be able to taste the bourbon. We were directed to one of those cordoned, switchback-queues designed to hold long lines of people in a compact space and queued our way up to one of the several clerks behind a long counter. Although it was mid-afternoon, tours for the day, we were told, were sold out but tasting was available for $8 per person. Fine, I was not that interested in tasting–I have tried various spirits in the past and am not a fan of whiskey–but $8 for the spouse to taste was an acceptable price to pay for the experience. Or it would have been acceptable had they not insisted that I pay $8 too, regardless of the fact that I was not tasting. We declined. As we turned to leave, the clerk offered us a bourbon chocolate so our time in line was not entirely wasted. In a last ditch effort to have a bourbon experience, we returned to the gift shop to see if they had any smallish sized bottles for an equivalent $16 to pick up and taste on our own. The gift shop had only big and bigger bottles. Empty handed we once again pushed our way through the crowds to find our way back to the mud-slicked hillside parking. We serpentined our way out of the visitor center only to be delayed by another throng being herded efficiently onto a distillery-owned bus for the next tour.

As lovely as the setting was, it seemed set up to cram as many people as possible through the distillery experience while separating the tourist dollar from the tourist. I said to the spouse, “This is a boozeneyland.” It reminded me of the most touristy wineries in Napa Valley; those more interested in being a top tourist attraction than in sharing a love of their world class winemaking.

Our friendly flagman suggested that we take care walking down the hill to our car and that we make our way to the exit by finding a path going down rather than up. Good advice, the once grass covered slope was a slick muddy mess from the many tires passing over the rain soaked hillside. I backed out cautiously, mindful of not getting stuck in the mud or slipping into the SUV emblazoned with NRA stickers that was parked in front of me. As I guided Hubie through the most firm looking ground I could find to the exit road, we wondered if the Bourbon Trail had adopted the worst of the Napa Valley-type tourism. Leaving Boozeneyland and Bourbon Trail behind, we wound our way back country roads to the Interstate having not tasted a drop.

Continuing on our way to Louisville we saw a tourist sign for a distillery and historical site in Frankfort. We dithered for a moment and, given that we were not on a schedule and had no place we had to be, we brought up Buffalo Trace Distillery on Google Maps and followed voice instructions from Doris over the river and through the woods. We dropped down a small drive to a huge brick complex alongside the river and found our way to a paved parking lot with plenty of spaces available. The rich, almost smokey smell of fermenting spirits hung in the air as we began our walk around the buildings. A little table beneath an umbrella displayed a “check-in here” sign and we held onto our wallets and prepared for the worst. Two very friendly ladies invited us to join an hour-long tour that was just starting. Mentally seeing dollar signs, we declined and asked if it was possible to just taste. She responded that it was and asked how many tickets we needed; our response was not “two please” but “how much?” Surprisingly, there was no charge. The tickets had a later time, giving us about twenty minutes to wander about, but the price was right.

The tasting area was on the second floor of the visitor’s center and had three large bars. One tour group was just finishing and another arriving at the main bar and we prepared for another crush of bourbon breathed humanity. We showed our tickets and were directed to the third bar where a smaller but ever so lively group was tasting. When it was our turn, we were surprised to find we were the only two scheduled at that time and, best of all, were hosted by a very friendly and knowledgable bartender. He confirmed our newly acquired Wikipedia knowledge and added a lot to it.

Although the wafting smell of whisky throughout the grounds was heavenly, I do not have a taste for whisky nor do I have a desire to acquire one, but this was Kentucky and we were in an award winning distillery. Our first taste was of the basic Buffalo Trace bourbon, aged 8 years. We were instructed to taste the bourbon in 3 sips: the first sip would taste strongly of alcohol, the second also of alcohol but with a bit of flavor coming through, the third sip would be the tasting sip. He was right, the first sip knocked me over with a boozy blast. Either I had killed my tongue by the third sip, or there was truth to what he said, and it did seem more flavorful. Then he had us taste a sipping bourbon, aged 10 or more years, and it was much smoother to my exploded taste buds. We concluded with a bourbon cream, basically heavy cream and bourbon, to which he added a bit of old style root beer for a boozy adults only root beer float. Our parting taste was a bourbon chocolate; now that I liked at first bite and definitely did not need three nips to get there.

This time our trip to the gift shop was not restricted to tiny bottles and we left with full bottles of the basic bourbon, the sipping bourbon, and a box of bourbon chocolates. No doubt the spouse is envisioning sipping fine bourbon by the fireside, imagebut after eating those chocolates and having the nice bourbon glazed salmon the night before, I am envisioning culinary explorations. I may have to wait a year or so before I can dip in without the spouse protesting the use of fine bourbon for the pot, but the staff assured me that bourbon lasts indefinitely. Eventually his interest will wane or his back will be turned; sooner or later the bottles will gather dust in the bar and be ready for a trip to the kitchen.

I may never develop a taste for bourbon in my glass, but I could certainly learn to love it on my plate.

Next up: A Kentucky Sampler: B&B Guns, Louisville, and Five is the New Ten

Beasts of Fiber: A Day at the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival and Bluegrass Classic Stock Dog Trials

On a rainy Saturday in Lexington, we ventured out to the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival and the Bluegrass Classic Stock Dog Trials held in Masterston Station Park for a day of beasties, fleeces, fibers, and gizmos.

Traveling with an uniKNITiated muggle to a fiber fair is a very different experience from going to a fiber event with a fellow knitter. Long leisurely hours of petting fiber and oohing and ahhing over colors and textures was not an option. However, we did find lots of animals–just about everyone likes animals–including alpaca, goats, sheep, and rabbits and the camera wielding spouse had a good time with the beasts of fiber. There was not a lot of visitor interaction with the penned animals but they did have ongoing sheep sheering demonstrations and sometimes animals were outside their pens and available for holding or petting.

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For those more interested in seeing how things work than in admiring lovely skeins of yarn there were lots of gizmos: hand crafted or precision machined equipment developed for carding, spinning, weaving, skeining, hooking, and knitting. I found we could linger a bit in a gizmo rich booth to discuss form and function, adding an engineering slant to our visit. Looking at yarn was a brief pet and a quick mental note for me, never spending too long standing in one place and risk pushing my partner’s patience.

One booth had floor looms available for hands-on instruction. It was rather fun and, unlike spinning that would produce even more yarn for my stash, a loom would do the opposite. Weaving would consume fiber much faster than knitting it. Something to consider; the estimated years to work my way through my stash might exceed my lifetime. The question is, would my beneficiaries prefer legacy stash or woven placemats? The most basic two-pedal floor loom was over $1000 and, although I considered it and took their business card, that is a lot to spend for a one-day-I-imagemight-like-to-do-this whim. Still, I may keep my eye out for used looms or opportunities to borrow one. There were also beautiful hand carved yarn bowls in lovely smooth woods that tempted me. There were beautiful ceramic ones too, but being a bit of a klutz I think wood might be more practical than ceramic. For my wish list, I might consider that a yarn bowl would fit under a Christmas tree more easily than a loom and would certainly be a better fit for Santa’s budget.

The one thing that moved from wish list to shopping list was a Strauch swift. I had seen them on the Woolery site and they looked nice–and looked tempting–but trying it at the Strauch Fiber booth convinced me that it is a must have. I love my Strauch winder but it can be fussy, a bit like an Italian sports car. When it winds smoothly, there is nothing like it for zip-zoom creation of center pull cakes, particularly with large or heavy skeins. But when it is not winding smoothly, the yarn falls off track and imageit can quickly go from firm cake to free form mess if not caught and remedied right away. From my visit at the Strauch booth I learned that a jerky swift is the enemy, a precision crafted one with ball bearings and made in a choice of beautiful woods is the answer. When I tried winding with both the Strauch swift and winder, it ran as smoothly and swiftly as a freshly tuned Italian sports car. There will be one in my near future.

We did find many interesting crafts besides knitting, even one that we could both could find interesting that combined bicycles and fiber. The spouse might want to keep an eye on his bicycle wheels in case I got imageideas, or I may have to keep an eye on my fiber in case he does. A vendor from Sweden brought some traditional pelts that were sheep fleece on one side and painted skins on the other. Not only were they very unique and beautiful, they would be the perfect thing to hunker down with on a cold winter’s night. Or so I thought until I asked the price. Unfortunately, with a price tag over $1000 USD they were not throws I could leave about, not the practical relax, munch popcorn, and watch TV lap blankets of choice. Made from traditional Gotland sheep, these were heirlooms. We also saw rugs, artistic felting, a hand spun skein competition, and lots and lots of raw and hand-dyed fleece.

I headed towards the exit with a firm determination to get a precision made swift, an interest in a loom and wooden yarn bowl, and an appreciation of many of the fine imagecrafts but I was empty handed. Halting at the exit gate, I returned to one of the many friendly booths who’s yarn had stayed in my mind, A Yarn Well Spun, and selected a pair of socks, some assembly required.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and think the spouse did too, if not quite so much. Although I did not spend the time carefully perusing the yarn vendors–as I would have done had  I been on my own or with a like-minded partner in crime–I was impressed with what I saw. The fiber vendors seemed to be mostly small independent businesses, there were not many displays of large company’s name-brand yarns. It was a special treat to see so many unique hand-dyed and hand-spun fleece and fibers on display. There were also a lot of natural undyed fibers that were beautiful in their own way. Although I got more of  a big picture view of the festival than my usual putter and peruse visit to this sort of event, I saw many interesting and wonderful things in the moderately sized festival. I am so glad to have had the opportunity to attend.

The festival provided continuous shuttles between the fiber fair and the dog trials. It is difficult to describe just how huge the competition area was for the trials, suffice to say that when each dog was released on one end, the sheep on the other looked like little dots. Everything we know about dog trials we learned from others sitting in the bleachers with us. In other words, this is what we understood to be the rules.

Briefly, when it is their turn, the handler and the competing dog stand by a pole until they are given the signal to start. Meanwhile, very far away a horse and rider and an imageofficial dog who works for the organizers bring three sheep out to a spot in the pasture. The competing dog is released while the rider on the horse and official dog withdraw. The dog races from handler to cluster of sheep, skirting the perimeter of the pasture so s/he can sneak up on the sheep from behind. The dog must herd the sheep to a set of gates and bring them through the gates, bring them to another set of gates and herd them through those, return to the handler, separate one sheep out from the other two for a set amount of time, and herd all three of them into a little pen. The handler, meanwhile, issues all commands using a whistle. Once in the pen, the competition is over but the dog can then proudly herd them toward a little pasture outside the field of competition where they are greeted by a second “official” dog. The official dog brings the befuddled sheep into the final enclosure. The dog has eleven minutes, and if s/he does not finish, the official dog is sent out to end the run and bring the sheep to the outer pasture. This is humiliating for the competing dog. Each dog starts with 100 points and points are deducted during the course of the run. It is both a judged and a timed trial.

The first dog we saw completed the course in less than 11 minutes and had around 60 points. The second dog took off running at great speed and got the sheep to the first set of fences fairly quickly but did not complete the run before time was up. The third dog we saw really struggled, perhaps s/he was a young and less experienced dog, and had not successfully brought the sheep through the second set of fences when the official dog came out to gather the sheep. The competing dog upped the energy level, as if saying, “I can do it, I can do it, I CAN DO IT!” An increase in energy failed to convince the official dog that the little guy was a mighty sheep herding beast, the look the official dog gave him said, “Out of the way puppy, watch how this is done.” As the official competently and quickly herded the sheep to their new pasture, all the while ignoring the other dog, the little guy continued to run around them as if s/he was the sheep master. The next dog we saw did much better, doing all the elements and almost completing the run but was about a minute too slow. The last dog we watched completed the elements and beat the clock.

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We just watched a few dogs, and would have stayed to watch more were it not for our rumbling bellies wanting lunch and our travel plans for the day. We were fascinated by the use of the whistle. The sheep were so far away that we could not imagine how the dog could hear the whistle when s/he was at the furthest point from the trainer. The different tones signaled the dog to stop, crouch, move the sheep right, move the sheep left, and so on. It was only afterwards that I thought, wait a minute. How does a dog know left from right? People struggle with that concept, think of how many times we have all heard, “No, the other left hand.”

We were also impressed by how well imagebehaved the dogs were as the hung around the area waiting to participate. Most of all, we were impressed by dogs knowing what to do in such a huge open space. We wondered where they were able to train for such a thing. Unlike the Sheep and Fiber Fair where the spouse good naturedly wandered about for my sake, I think we both enjoyed the dog trials equally.

It was an interesting day with beasts of fiber.

Next up, our travels in Kentucky.

A Sunday Overstuffed with Stuff

Market Stuff

Once a month there is a grand gathering of goods at the Third Sunday Market, loads and loads of stuff. In the winter there is a smaller indoor market in this location, but in the warmer months the Third Sunday Market is both indoors and out. The scale of this event is huge, sellers crowd 120 acres of event center which includes two cavernous indoor spaces, permanent outdoor pavilions, temporary pavilions, and open space for an overflow of vendors with pop-up tents, trailers, tables, or just a claimed space to strew their array of goods on the ground. I have never made it all the way through, there is just way too much ground to cover and far too many goods to see. Rain or snow or shine, this place is stuffed with stuff.

Sunday was a sun day, also a wind day and a cool temperature day, but a good day for putting on some woolens and taking a drive. At the farmer’s market one of the vendors had mentioned that she would be at the Third Sunday Market the following day, fortuitous because I never manage to remember both that there is a market and that it is the third Sunday at the same time. To be honest, I had already forgotten all about it the next day when the spouse mentioned it. By the time we had breakfasted, bundled, and readied ourselves to go it was not an early start and cars were parked out in the supplemental to the supplemental parking lot when we arrived. Knowing people always come and go, we optimistically ventured into the closer parking areas and luckily found one spot hidden in the sea of cars. We hoped our luck would hold as we embarked on our treasure hunt.

We paid our $6 admission and were treated to a new temporary pavilion along the border fence. After walking past the first pavilion we rounded a corner to a view of permanent pavilions, trailers, and pop-up shelters as far as the eye can see. I tried to take a few pictures to show the size and scale but would need a camera drone to do it justice. For anyone interested in tracking their number of steps, this is the place. Hours and discoveries stretched before us.

Regional Differences: What “Mid” adds to “West”

When I lived in California I went to many flea markets, antique fairs, and antique shops and collectives but I see things at Midwest antique shows that I never saw in the West. My theory is that stuff has been lying about in family’s attics and barns longer here than there. Or, perhaps it is more accurate to say different stuff has been in the attics and barns.

Originally inhabited by indigenous tribes, California was settled in the 18th century by the Spanish. Father Junipero Serra helped establish Spanish settlements along the coast as his order built missions from San Diego to Sonoma, each approximately 30 miles, or a day’s journey, apart. Haciendas were established, which were large but sparsely populated land grants. Later Russians arrived in small numbers in the northernmost part of the state and were joined by larger groups of Americans arriving via ship and wagon trains and by Asians and Europeans arriving via sea routes; arrivals from everywhere increased dramatically after gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in 1848. After briefly becoming a self-proclaimed republic in the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846, Alta California was occupied by US forces during the war with Mexico and was admitted into the Union in 1850. Earlier on, American settlers began populating the Midwest in the late 1700s and Midwest states entered the Union late in the eighteenth and early in the nineteenth century.

It was not until the Transcontinental Railroad connected the continent in 1869 that the transportation of people and their stuff to the west became less long and arduous. With more modern methods of shipping, stuff arrived to California from all over the world but back in the day–before railroads, trucks, container ships, UPS, Amazon, and eBay–things came by wagon train or ship; there was not much room forfrivolities and favorites in creaking wagons scaling mountain passes or storm tossed ships rounding the Horn; only the most necessary and the most treasured items made those journeys. Meanwhile, Illinois became a state in 1818 and a lot of everyday and utilitarian stuff people had back then is the same stuff we are finding now: old crockery, cooking utensils, farm implements, quilts, battered toys, and all manner of functional things have been discovered in attics and barns. Collectables from the 1900’s and beyond are probably pretty much the same in both locations, although California has the Asian influences, the Gold Rush era, the Barbary Coast era, the Golden Age of Hollywood, and the age of tech to contribute to its sources of stuff, the earlier everyday homespun Americana is definitely easier to find in the Midwest than it is in the West.

That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

Stuff Indoors and Stuff Outdoors

Each of the open-sided pavilions had two long aisles of vendors and each pavilion had outdoor vendors extending from both ends and beyond. Pathways separated impromptu shelters and booths in the open areas. There were two enclosed indoor areas, one large auxiliary building and one huge main building. We decided to do the outdoor areas first and wander the more comfortable indoor areas at the end of our visit.

In the wide open expanse of the market, the wind indiscriminately blows dust on everything. The elements, and the often helter-skelter arrangement of too many goods for too small a space, make the outdoor shopping a bit of an adventure. Dusty collectables laying in the dirt or jumbled on tables are definitely diamonds in the rough; it takes a patient eye and a little imagination to recognize treasures buried in dingy clutter. It can be a bit of a gamble, often I have had an idea of an item’s potential but will not really know what condition something is in until I have had a chance to take it home and clean it. Even if it is not in as good a condition as I had hoped, just about anything looks better in an orderly home environment than it does when left outside like detritus in the dirt. There is a risk but the payoff could be a great find for a lot less money than can be found elsewhere, often for less than in the indoor area and a lot less than in other shops and collectives.

The indoor area, particularly the huge main building, is more orderly and usually the place to find the more valuable and rare items. The indoor market runs year round and the open air market only during the warmer months; the indoor vendors may be more established in that location. Still, it is best not to assume anything and it is time well spent to look inside as well as out. Bargains are found in both locations–I have found some great things in the indoor area–but I think it is more of a challenge to be out in the cold winds and swirling dust–or in the humid heat, the pouring rain, or whatever weather is served up that Sunday–trudging up and down aisles and paths enduring nature’s whims while looking for hidden treasures.

Prepare for Stuff

There are so many different types of things, so many areas to explore, such a quantity of stuff, it is all overwhelming. I have never made it all the way through the market, and that is with doing just a quick walk through; I do not stop and pour over every table, booth, and display but pause only at the ones that catch my eye. Even with strolling at a steady pace, my senses quickly become overstimulated and my eyes become like a cartoon character’s pin-wheeled spinning orbs. After my first visit I learned to go with a mission, to search for something specific. My advice would be to have one or two items in mind–an art glass vase, a bedside table, a pastel quilt, a toy truck, a garden ornament, an Elvis painting–anything that will provide some focus for your eyes.

Sunday was an impromptu journey and I was ill prepared. Few vendors, if any, will take credit cards. Some will take checks, but cash is the currency. I had some cash in my wallet left over from the farmers’ market the day before but did not have much and did not have my checkbook. Worse, I broke my own rules and did not get something in mind until after we had passed by many displays. With nothing in mind I quickly lost my mind. It all became a blur.

Stuff You Can Find

The question should not be what stuff you will find but what you will not find. This is the perfect place to find quirky, unusual, or rare treasured items for house and garden.
There are things to be found that I did not even know to look for. When we were walking down an aisle in the auxiliary building I saw a very large covered basket. Thinking I was talking to the spouse I murmured, “Yikes, that basket looks like a imagecoffin.” A woman walking nearby overheard and, rather than being offended by myoffhand remark not meant to be heard by others, laughed and agreed with me. Together we got closer to examine it. Sure enough, it was a wicker coffin. I replied, “Now we know you can find anything at this market.” The vendor joined us and offered a deal on the slightly used coffin. I have heard of used car salesmen, but used coffin salesmen? He had acquired it from someone who had found it in his barn. The original owner was the third generation on his land and did not know much about it other than it had been used by those who had come before him. Obviously it was not used for burials but for laying out the dearly departeds for visitations. As unique a find as it was, I could not think of a good place or purpose in my home for a lightly used wicker coffin. However it did bring one thought to life; so many of these items had their own story. Sadly, most of the stories are lost; all that remains are artifacts lost in a sea of dust covered stuff.

What can be found? There are toys.


Furniture


Collections such as salt and pepper shakers, clocks, steins, and of course corn.


Knickknacks and knackknicks.

Couture

Garden Gagaws

Repurposed items

Stuff I Found

Wall-eyed as I was, I did find stuff. We walked the perimeter of the outdoor pavilions and started with the furthest one. At the end of the first aisle I saw a table full of baskets and thought of the clutter of knitting accessories that seem to gather around the chairs I sit in. My mission, from that point, was to find some container to corral the clutter. Surely I should know by now that buying an organizer will not make me imageorganized, but this was a quest for focus not a quest for self realization. The baskets were handcrafted in the USA by Longaberger, they are viewed by some as a collectable but by me as an organizer. Most of them were less than $20 but I did not want a collectable basket so much as I wanted a clutter corral to collect my clutter; there could be other options–less collectable perhaps–but for less money. A bit further on I found another Longaberger basket and would have been happy to stop right there had it not been for the extra zero on the end of the price tag, $60 when I would have happily paid $6 or even $16.

At one of the indoor vendors, I found a little chest of drawers that had probably been a jewelry box. The bottom drawer was smaller than the the top two and I asked if the space behind the drawer was supposed to be a hiding place. We later discovered a little hole in the back of the chest and figured it must have been the place for a little music box. The woman asked her father, who looked to have been on this earth far longer than the little chest, about the empty space. He said he did not know why there was a space but offered it to me for much less than the marked price. Big enough for knitting stitch markers and darning needles but small enough for a chair side table, without a second thought I bought that little clutter corral without bothering to make a counter offer.

Thinking back on the baskets and realizing they were a good price after having seen them marked much higher elsewhere, I made the spouse hoof it back to the furthest outdoor pavilion for a second look. I found two fabric lined baskets with lids and asked how much if I bought them both. He dropped the price a bit, giving me a price for the two that he said was less than I would be likely to find elsewhere for a single one half the size of either. He was probably right, but once again I accepted the price without a counter offer.

There is much to be learned about bartering, but not from me. The only thing I can say in my defense is that I did not pay sticker price for any of it. Admittedly I have a long way to go before I have any credibility for advising about bargaining, but I have at least learned to have a comment or question for the vendor to open the door for negotiations and give them an opportunity to offer a just-for-you lower price. For some reason it is awkward for me to hold a marked item and ask, “Can you do better on this?” but not uncomfortable to ask, “How much for both of these?” or “Can you tell me a little bit about this?”

Happily my purchases cleaned up nicely, a little dusting and polishing and I am pleased with my new stuff. And in spite of my subpar bartering abilities, I think they

were good bargains. Now the hard part: to use the organizers to get organized, round up that clutter, and herd it into my little clutter corrals. Hmm, sounds like something I would do in the West, not the Midwest. Perhaps I need to find something bigger to corral my new clutter corrals, my next stuff quest for the upcoming third Sunday. Yippie yi yo kayah.

Note: Whilst I was doing all this shopping, the spouse had a look see with his video camera. He did not come home with any stuff, although he was very interested in finding the nearest restaurant for lunch after all that walking. We found one with 4 stars on Google Maps, Cousins Restaurant and Lounge. I would not recommend it. Not all Midwestern food is bad but sadly some of it is heavy with an emphasis on quantity at the expense of quality. I had a chicken soup that was so thick and gloppy it could hold my spoon upright and a salmon sandwich, listed as a salmon BLT but with no B unless it was B for burnt patty. More research is needed for restaurants in this area. Could be another reason to return for more stuff…

Third Sunday Market Stuff In Moving Pictures

Detained in East Berlin Aftermath: Travel Insurance Limbo

I made it home safely from my travel and travails, described in great gory detail in Detained in East Berlin, but my journey was far from over.

I was ever so careful to purchase travel insurance for all my flights, but all I bought was a false sense of security. The school of hard knocks taught me many things I did not know about travel insurance, things I would never have known had I not tried to use it.

When I learned that I would be unable to return on my originally scheduled flight and found that I would not be able to change–but could only cancel–my reservation on Air Berlin, I realized my only recourse was to make a claim against the travel insurance. Even with a doctor’s note indicating that I would not be able to fly for medical reasons, I would have to make a new booking at the current and much more expensive last-minute fare. I was told all this by an Air Berlin agent in an indifferent too-bad-for-your tone. Their callous attitude, and inflexibility if I needed to change again, turned me away from relying on Air Berlin for a way home.

Allianz Travel Insurance Purchased through United Airlines

As things seemed uncertain, I opted to use miles on United to book my return; award travel can be easier to change. I made a reservation in exchange for some miles and odds and ends fees. On the booking page there was an option for travel insurance that, given my circumstances, seemed like a good idea. Not surprisingly, I did have to change the reservation and incurred more fees and had to use even more miles. When I returned home, I submitted the claim with a doctors note indicating why I needed to change my reservation along with supporting documents showing all my subsequent expenses. I will give Allianz credit on one point, they did send me a letter promptly within weeks after my claims submission. Unfortunately, the claim was denied for what they claimed was a pre-existing medical condition defined as “seeing or receiving treatment for or had symptoms of…” within 120 days. What you read on the United booking page does not make clear the massive restrictions on these policies. After subsequently reading their 20 pages of fine print, I really had to squint and search to find that exclusion. Yes, I should have read it throughly before purchasing, but I still felt the travel insurance option is misleading as seen on the booking page. It still is not clear to me if the 120 days is from the time of booking or the time of travel, probably both. I have also found out that, even if my claim had been honored, that award miles have no monetary value and I would not have received any compensation for the loss of miles.

Yes, I felt foolish for not having read their terms–in the 20 pages of fine print–before clicking the purchase button, but given my circumstances and state of mind at the time, even if I had read it chances are I would have blown right past the exclusion without understanding the implications. Still, thinking I am a person with some amount of comprehension, I had to think that it is a bit deceptive to sell this product without at least a bulleted list of exclusions, an “about” pop-up with basic facts, or some sort of warning that coverage is denied to people who have medical histories, injuries, or illnesses over such a long span of time. With that in mind, I wrote a polite letter to United relating my concerns. I am happy to report that not only did they write a nice letter in response but they also deposited the miles I had lost as a result of the change into my account.

Sadly, airlines are so fee happy and, assuming they get a nice kickback from these travel policy purchases, they are not likely to change their selling tactics. Lesson learned: read the fine print or research and purchase travel insurance on a site that allows travelers to compare costs, restrictions, and exclusions.

Three weeks after I returned from Berlin, and before I had received the letter denying my claim, I had flights to France via Frankfurt insured with Allianz. They were flights of fancy, as I flew with the naive belief that I had coverage at that time. They too would have resulted in denied claims had my ear not healed sufficiently to fly. Fortunately, although I was still healing, I was medically cleared and able to fly. It would have been a rude surprise to get one claim denied on the heels of another.

7-Corners Travel Insurance Purchased through Air Berlin

When I first learned I could not return on my original Air Berlin booking, I immediately notified the travel insurance company, 7-Corners, that I would be unable to travel on the flight. Within hours I got an email response giving me a link to the claim submissions form and quoting the allowable time span in which I would need to submit it. Within a week of my return, I replied to the email with the completed the form and the scanned supporting documentation. A few weeks passed, no response. I resubmitted the claim, attaching the claim form and documentation, to a web portal link on their site. This time I got an email response stating the claim was being processed. I finally heard back several weeks later, a letter dated in late December saying my claim had been approved for a little over $500 and that a check would be sent separately. There was no explanation as to how they arrived at that amount but no worries, I assumed an accounting would be included with the check.

Nearly 3 weeks after I received the letter but no check, I called to inquire about the claim. After a span of time spent in choose-from-the-following-options-and-please-hold limbo, I spoke to a representative who told me that they did not do any tracing of checks until they have been missing for at least a month. Okay, fine. I waited to see if it would turn up but put a note on my calendar to call two weeks later if it did not. It did not.

A couple of weeks after my first call, I ticked away more time in the choose-from-the-following-options-and-please-hold limbo before reaching an agent who was very pleasant and seemingly helpful. She researched it and said a check would be mailed but, as it was Friday afternoon, the check would not go out until Monday. She even offered to call me on Monday to let me know the check had been sent. No call, no check.

A couple of weeks after my second call, I invested still more time in the in choose-from-the-following-options-and-please-hold limbo. This time I reached a representative who listened to my story and put me back into the hold limbo as she transferred me to someone else. Once again I related my story, and once again I was told that the hour was too late to do it that day but the check would go out the next.

A couple of weeks after my third call, I wrote a letter relating my story and the dates of my phone calls. No response.

Three weeks after my third call and one week after my letter I filed a complaint with my state insurance board. Another lesson learned, travel insurance is not regulated by the state insurance board. They wrote a nice letter and recommended I file a complaint with the state attorney’s office.

Well, I thought, time for a new tact. I searched the Air Berlin site for contact information to file a complaint with them, given that I had purchased the policy on the Air Berlin site. All I could find was a portal to submit a complaint with a drop down selection box to target it to one of the various subgroups of their operation. None of the options was a good fit, but I selected the one that seemed to be the most promising. My immediate response was an its-not-my-problem-not-my-job message. I responded that I had purchased this policy from them and, if it is a bogus policy, they were the ones who sold it and collected the money from me for this questionable product. He bumped me to his supervisor who initially had a similar not-my-problem-not-my-job response. Again I used my “but you are the agent” argument, and I received a response that was a bit nicer but he said that they were not the correct group to handle this complaint. He included a link to file my complaint. The link was to the original portal where I had filed the original complaint. I wrote back to him saying as much and asked for the proper selection to make on the drop down list of subgroups. I also indicated I was willing to write a letter if he could provide a physical address. No response.

Around this time, someone recommended reaching out to a consumer travel advocate who has appeared in several major newspapers, the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune to name but two. Christopher Elliot not only writes articles but he also has a site Elliott.org with articles, forums, contact information for executives at companies, and a portal for submitting travel complaints. I went to their complaint submission page, and within a day an advocate had contacted 7-Corners on my behalf. She recommended that I follow up with the Better Business Bureau if I did not hear anything within the week.  She also checked in on the progress of my complaint over the next couple of weeks. They do not take on and advocate for every complaint, but for anyone who has a valid grievance, I cannot recommend them highly enough.

Having found the Elliott.org tab that listed business contact information for executives, I found an email address for an Air Berlin executive in Germany. I wrote him an email explaining my frustration with the product that Air Berlin had sold, attaching all my email correspondence from the earlier Air Berlin complaint. No response, but perhaps a coincidence.

A couple weeks after my letter and a few days after my email to Air Berlin and the contact made on my behalf by the advocate at Elliott, a received a voicemail message from an ombudsperson at 7-Corners. I dialed the number and amazingly reached her directly, being spared the usual choose-from-the-following-options-and-please-hold black hole. I politely recited all the various calls, letters, and complaints filed. She said that just that day my letter to 7-Corners had reached her desk and that she had begun investigating it. And, just that day–such a strange coincidence–she had discovered that the check had been mailed that very morning.

Well, dear readers, I leave it to you to decide. Was it the consumer advocate’s contact, the Air Berlin executive following up with them behind the scenes, or my calls and letters? I held on to the precious direct number, the get out of jail free card from choose-from-the-following-options-and-please-hold dungeon. Happily, I did not need to use it. The check arrived, no explanation of benefits awarded in my claim, but a check that was deposited into and accepted by my bank. Perhaps, given the time, the frustration, the annoyance, and the effort, the amount received was not worth the time I put into it. But then again, as a matter of principal; it was a fight worth fighting.

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Travel Insurance, Is it Worth It?

From reading forums on the Elliott website, there are brokers and websites for comparing policies. There are also many tales of denied claims, so knowing what you are buying is so very important. Death, injury, illness, family emergencies, and life happens;  it is up to the airline, cruise line, car rental company, resort, or other travel entity to show kindness or not. Reservations that are non-refundable, non-changeable are made and paid for at your own risk. Pay ahead of time, pay less than you would for a changeable reservation, and gamble that life events do not intervene. Sometimes a travel company will be understanding, sometimes they will not. I suppose my lesson learned in this is twofold, 1) insure only if the financial risk is way more money than I can afford to lose and 2) know what I am buying.

If I do purchase trip insurance again, you can be certain it will not be from clicking a purchase button on an airline reservation page.

Memorable Meals: Lunch in Lyon On a Cloudy Day

On Friday the 13th of November 2015, Paris was viciously attacked by terrorists. On that day we were grieved by the events, we were also packing for a flight from the states to France amidst the uncertainty of closed borders and increased alerts. On the 14th, we flew to France via Germany. Our flight from Frankfurt was delayed as all passengers were individually screened by a quartet of German police at departure and by French police doing passport checks at arrival. We arrived to a somber country in the midst of a three day mourning period. Even after the days of mourning had passed, we saw increased vigilance, armed policemen, museum and monument closures due to lack of security officials to guard the most visited places, and impromptu memorials set up on town hall steps in villages, towns, and cities.

We also saw something else. The French being the French, carrying on as always, doing what they do day to day. Egocentric perhaps, but we felt that by not cancelling our trip–which many tourists did in the immediate aftermath of the attack–that we showed our solidarity simply by being there and engaging with the French people and their culture in spite of everything. In truth, there were moments when we forgot the somber atmosphere in which we moved about, but for the most part the weight of that horrible event accompanied us wherever we went. Hearing Ma Vie en Rose performed was an emotional moment, and with hearing it the thought occurred to me that no matter what befalls it, France will always be France. We were privileged to join France in her time of loss and uncertainty, we gained certainty in who they are and always will be.

Lyon, as with other cities, towns, and villages, had flags rolled up–their version of flags at half mast–at their Hotel de Ville [city hall] and the steps were filled with candles, flowers, and offerings in a makeshift shrine. This was not the only time Lyon has felt oppressive fear and loss. We visited the Resistance and Deportation History Centre, a reminder of another black period Lyon endured. The Butcher of Lyon once held sway here and many people did not survive that occupation, those who did will never forget. We visited tiny alleyways and hidden streets in the old town, once of use to the French Resistance. But, for all the reflective and somber sites, Lyon is a showcase for what it is known for, food.

While it can be debated which city or region boasts the best cuisine, Lyon certainly embraces a reputation for gastronomy and producing Michelin star chefs. As with any city in France, there are restaurants that would cost more Euros than what we could get for selling our first born child combined with her college tuition. Still, when in Lyon dining out seemed the thing to do. A group of people who were on our river cruise, a couple we knew from another trip and one we had just met, joined together for a meal to remember. The couple we had recently met had done research and graciously extended the invitation for us to join them at a restaurant known for training great chefs, including Paul Bocuse. The restaurant, La Mère Brazier, was founded in 1921 by Eugénie Brazier, the first woman to receive three Michelin stars. The current owner of this now two star restaurant is chef Mathieu Viannay. As we were to discover, he has kept the classic and quiet feel of the iconic restaurant.

We had walked all morning and, with a help of a little city map, found our way to a quiet side street on what seemed to be the edge of the city center. We were warmly greeted and taken upstairs to a semi-private dining room, just one other table and that table quite a distance away from us. The friends we had met earlier are food lovers, our new friends were less experienced but no less enthusiastic. One gamely tried pâté for the first time, and having decided once was enough left more for the rest of us to enjoy. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but as course after course came out those extra servings of pâté laid a base of rich food we had better done without.

Every course was small, very small by American standards, but the sheer number of them added up to a belly that felt like it had just endured a Thanksgiving feast. By the time the soufflé came, a crispy cloud with a foamy, warm, moist, delicious interior, we were wondering where to put it while at the same time unable to stop eating one of the most delicious things ever to be carried by spoon to mouth. And spoon it I did, mouthful after mouthful, and still there was much of that massive crispy cloud confronting me. When one after the other of us put our spoons down and admitted defeat, we pushed back a bit from the table and stared balefully at our partially eaten soufflés knowing we were done for the day. It was at that moment that our server came to the table and said firmly, to our utter surprise, “No, you are not done yet.” Every last person at the table was stunned and horrified, our faces a mask of confusion and fear. The mark of a fine restaurant is providing an enjoyable and satisfying dining experience for the customers, and this was a fine restaurant intent on making their guests content. The server, marking the look of horror in our eyes, released us from our fate of confronting still more plates. We were let go with a round of coffee and a shared plate of chocolates, none of which we could eat but a few of which we nicked for later.

With the magic of a wonderful meal, our group was convivial and relaxed as old friends by the end of the long lunch. After our extended time gathered about the table, we walked a couple of miles to our temporary travel home, a slow trudge back with a full belly. It was the best thing for us after our encounter with Lyon gastronomy, to walk it off. And what an encounter. The service throughout was attentive, courteous, and informative. The ambiance was quiet, elegant, and classic. The food was as fabulous as it was abundant. The tab, albeit in the category of splurge but not at the cost of a first born child, was worth every Euro for the experience we had and the memories we keep. This day, as with other days on this trip to France, was under the cloud of resolve, vigilance, and grief following the recent horror in Paris, but like the everlasting clouds of beautiful soufflés, France is and will be France.

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Detained in East Berlin

I began to write this some months ago, but sometimes things are just difficult to revisit. Not much more than the title and the link to my trip theme song sat in my drafts folder in all that time. Spring cleaning season, I have to either finish this or delete it. I went back and reread emails I had sent to friends during this time to help recall all the details in my attempt to write this. It is still a struggle. “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more” (William Shakespeare, Henry V

Theme Song for a Travel Adventure

Often things do not go as planned while on travel. When the unexpected happens it can lead to unique and memorable travel experiences. Often though, the most interesting travel stories are the hardest to experience. The reward for surviving a bad travel derailment is a good story to tell; a story of unexpected circumstances, obstacles to overcome, and the heroes and villains who helped or hindered the journey.

Pharmacies in European countries tend to be knowledgable and helpful, they are usually staffed with pharmacists who have enough English fluency to understand the issue and make the appropriate suggestions. They certainly can address the usual travelers’ problems of digestive disruptions,  jet lag induced cold viruses, foot blisters, and even the occasional welts from insect bites. My international medical care has been that little cross sign, sometimes green, sometimes blue, sometimes red, but whatever the color, that sign lights the way to relief. Until this trip.

We had arrived in Berlin on a very early Saturday morning and checked into our apartment. The apartment was centrally located by the U-bahn and tram lines, which was great for getting about but not so good for the sleeping through the night-long commotion. Sirens went off all hours of the night, trams rumbled by, and even 6 floors up we heard crowds of jubilant people going by on the weekends. By Monday evening I had a sore throat that progressively got worse day-by-day but had no other symptoms: no fever, no fatigue, no stuffiness, just a sore throat. Other than visiting the pharmacy for progressively stronger throat lozenges, I pretty much just carried on. Thursday night I developed conjunctivitis and on Friday night, as I was walking home from dinner, suddenly–and without warning–my ear felt stopped up and painful. In the night amidst snap, crackle, and pop fluid began to drain out. A ruptured eardrum without even having a cold? I had heard of precision crafted German driving machines, but this powerful German crafted virus was a first.

My second Saturday was a tour of clinics with my daughter, and thank goodness for her. I would have been completely lost without her translating skills in both the language and the culture. We went to a clinic that she knew would be open on Saturday, and they were, but they would not see me because they did not have the specialists to treat my symptoms. They sent us to a hospital on the other side of Berlin which, with transfers, would be an estimated 40 minute tram ride. I had withdrawn 300 Euro for medical expenses, so with all that Euro in my pocket we decided to splurge on a taxi rather than negotiate trams.

When we arrived at the hospital clinic, not easily found on a huge campus, we waited our turn to check in with the receptionist. After only a few minutes wait, I was relieved to find she spoke some English. Between my daughters German skills and the receptionist’s English, we were able to communicate. They would see me for a prepayment of 300 Euro. I did not have 300 Euro, I had 300 Euro minus taxi fare. When she gave me the option of 100 Euro on a credit card, offering that option as if it were a bad thing as compared to paying cash, I whipped out my Visa, failing to show any reluctance to use a card over cash. With a 100 Euro prepay on a credit card, a scan of my passport, a scan of my insurance card, and my daughters local address for any additional billing, a flurry of papers were printed, stamped, and inserted into a folder. We had our ticket for admission.

We were told to go to another area and hand the folder to a nurse. The clinic area was a confusing sea of people but we quickly realized that nurses were identifiable by their blue uniforms. None of the nurses spoke any English. My daughter cornered one, handed him the folder, and they spoke at length while I stared uncomprehendingly. When they finished, my daughter guided me to the waiting area and told me to get comfortable. As the other clinic had said, I would need to see different doctors for my eyes and ears, neither of which were at the clinic but were on their way.  There were about 10 people ahead of us and they estimated a 3 hour wait. With that much time stretching before us, my daughter left the mobile phone restricted area to make a call. Fortunately, it was not as long of a wait as three hours, and even more fortunately my daughter returned moments before they called my name. Even if I had recognized my name as pronounced in German, which I did not, I would have found all subsequent directions incomprehensible.

We saw the eye doctor first, a very kind young woman with very good English. She gave me a complete eye exam including vision and pressure exams. She pronounced a virus but gave me a prescription for antibiotic drops, drops to reduce the irritation, and orders to go out and enjoy Berlin as I felt up to it. Then it was back to the waiting room for doctor number two.

Doctor number two. She had her back to us as we entered, turned around suddenly and in a clipped voice said, “I am Doctor so-und-so, what is your problem?” A little intimidated, I meekly gave her my rundown of woes while she roughly poked and prodded with no warning as to what she was going to do. She jammed a metal tongue depressor into my mouth so far back and so suddenly that I gagged. And can I tell you how high I jumped when she unexpectedly stuck some sort of vacuum contraption in my ear and turned it on without warning on my inflamed eardrum? Then I mentioned I was flying home on Monday. Without hesitation, she proclaimed “No! No flying. You do not fly for two weeks.” My daughter and I had a look of horror on our faces. Two weeks. It did not seem likely we would have a pleasant doctor-patient discussion, but nevertheless we did try. She would not rescind her no fly order but eventually did say 1 week if I get clearance from an ENT. She wrote out scripts for Amoxicillin, a high dosage ibuprofen, and nose spray along with the diagnosis and a no-fly order for the airline.

In Germany, pharmacies close at 2:00 pm (or 14:00 as they say in Europe) on Saturday and do not reopen until Monday. At this point, it was about 2:30 and I had a fist full of prescriptions from the two doctors. The hospital staff knew of one “after hours” pharmacy at the Hauptbanhoff, the main train station, on the other side of town. Once again we dipped into the stash of Euro and ordered a cab. At the train station I got my fistful of prescriptions filled and, along with some probiotics, a hot water bottle for comfort, and silicone earplugs to keep water out of my ear in the shower, the total came to 106 euro for the 5 prescriptions and extras, payable on a credit card. It gave me hope that the final clinic charges would be as reasonable as the pharmacy’s.

We finally collapsed in a Vietnamese restaurant about 4:00 (16:00) to have a comforting noodle soup for lunch. Only then did we attempt to track down the spouse and deliver the news that I could not fly home on Monday. He had been at a Greek restaurant that afternoon where they had dropped a glass full of ouzo in front of him and had refilled it at every opportunity. We were grateful for those generous pours of ouzo for when he came to join us he took the news quite well. As my return was so uncertain, we decided that he would fly home on Monday as scheduled and I would follow as soon as I able.

I had no worries about the return, I had purchased insurance. But nothing is ever that easy. Even with a no-fly note from the doctor, Air Berlin would not change my return. I could cancel and apply to the insurance for the balance of the unused portion of the ticket, but a return would involve booking a brand new reservation at current (last-minute) costs. If I had to change again, which was a distinct possibility, it would be rinse and repeat. All this was related to me by an unsympathetic and officious Air Berlin Agent. Fortunately, I had miles on United and was able to bypass Air Berlin and book a return on Lufthansa 10 days after my originally scheduled flight, splitting the difference between 1-2 weeks. Just to be sure, I purchased travel insurance in case that ten days out Tuesday was too soon.

The apartment owner was very kind;  I could stay in the apartment until the following Thursday morning, but another group was arriving so I had to find another place to stay. At my landlord’s suggestion I checked  Home Away and my daughter checked Air B&B, eventually we found another place to stay on nearby Schönhauser Allee. My daughter and her German (and German-speaking) boyfriend talked to various doctors offices and found an ENT who would agree to see me in spite of not having German health insurance. Once again, her having a local address (and fluency) saved my bacon. For the most part, everything had fallen into place.

imageMonday morning early the spouse boarded a cab for the airport, shutting the door on his vacation and leaving me behind in an empty apartment. Meanwhile, my daughter had put off all her appointments and responsibilities the prior week for her parents’ visit. She had no time during my additional days and, other than a couple of late afternoon outings, we saw each other every evening for dinner, and sometimes even that was rushed. I am fine spending time on my own, and even traveling on my own. However, I was completely deaf in my left ear and it was very disorienting trying to interpret sound.  I was fine in a quiet environment but when I went out amidst the traffic and city noise my brain had trouble processing the sounds, it was all a dizzying auditory confusion. Not that I could understand German any better with two ears, but the city noise itself was an incomprehensible jumble. Other than the times I went out with my daughter I spent quiet time indoors, reading, knitting, and resting. I always pack enough yarn and projects to outlast a zombie apocalypse, but this time I did so much knitting that even I had to buy more yarn.

Although I had packed for the forecasted mild weather, I had thrown in a wool jacket and a couple of light shawls as an afterthought. By now the weather had turned from temperate autumn to pre-winter chill. I had to buy hat and gloves but otherwise managed in spite of packing for warmer temperatures. The first apartment had a washing machine and I could wash my just-a-short-trip supply of clothes, giving me more use out of what I had brought. My resources were a very tiny washing  machine and a drying rack; it took a few days to get through my suitcase of warmer weather clothes but in addition to getting something unseasonable but clean to wear it gave me something productive to do while serving my sentence of solitary confinement.

My most difficult day was Thursday when I had to change lodgings.

On Thursday I had to check out of the first apartment, cross town to see the ENT Doctor, and check in to the next apartment with nothing timed to do any of that smoothly. My landlord kindly offered to hold my luggage and to let me stay until it was time for my daughter to pick me up for the doctor, well past the usual check out time. The new place could not let me in until late afternoon, although my daughter arranged to meet the agent earlier to pick up the keys and drop my luggage, I would be homeless from the moment I checked out until late afternoon.

The staff at the doctor’s office spoke only German but the ENT spoke English fluently. She was very nice when she delivered more bad news. I could not be released to fly for several weeks unless I got an eryngotomy–a procedure to open the eardrum and release the pressure–and flew within 72 hours of the procedure. She could schedule it at the earliest the following Tuesday. Tuesday, the day I was scheduled to check out of my second apartment and fly home. Once again, I would have to change return reservations and find a place to stay.

We had lunch, returned to apartment number one, picked up the luggage, went to apartment number two, dropped off the luggage, went to a cafe around the corner from the new apartment, and I bid my daughter goodbye as she rushed off to another appointment. Deposited at a table by the window with a cup of ginger tea, I was left onimage my own. With more than two hours before I could get into the apartment, I sat a solitary figure as rain fell from gray skies, hearing little and unable to understand what little I did, drinking the cup of tea slowly to fill the time. I had no internet access in the cafe and, although would be anxious until it was sorted out, had no means to undo and redo my travel arrangements. It was a very sad and lonely moment, a moment in which I could have let the wave of self-pity wash over me and carry me away. About an hour in, I gathered myself–stepping out of the wave of self pity that had by now had reached past my ankles–and found a local grocery store to buy supplies for my lunches, breakfasts, and tea times. Comforted by doing this small action, I walked slowly towards the apartment in hopes that I could settle into my new place when I arrived. The key turned in the lock, the apartment was silent, cold, and empty but ready for occupancy. The Internet was working and my devices connected as I walked through the door.

When we had dropped the luggage and picked up the keys, on the pretense of making sure I could connect with the Internet, I had connected and quickly sent an email to the manager asking if I could add an extra day’s stay. We could not stay to get an answer but a positive response awaited me when I returned and opened my email. Accommodations were now taken care of but flight reservations were not quite so painless.

Now less than a week away, the number of miles needed for flying on Wednesday had skyrocketed. Phone calls on my international plan are very expensive, so I rang the stateside spouse on FaceTime and asked him call United to see if there were any other options. His response? “I can’t do it right now, I have an appointment for a massage.” Such are the perils of remote communication, he, keys in hand, ready to head out the door, mind on his mission, and caught unexpectedly by a ringing phone; unaware of my internet-less gray-skied ginger tea afternoon with the many hours of disruption, uncertainty, and isolation all the while unable to take action and fighting back self pity. Although not at the forefront of my thoughts and feelings, a low hum in the back of my mind looped the fear of the upcoming and intrusive medical procedure. He, in his on-the-way-to-somewhere state of mind, did not know anything of my day.  Still, hearing, “I am late for a meeting” would have been a less bitter pill to swallow than something about a massage in the midst of that difficult day. Speechless, I disconnected while I still had a small fragment of stretched nerve intact to stave off a meltdown.

Inhale. Exhale. Think.

To solve the phone problem, I put funds into my Skype account so I could call a landline number. I crossed my fingers, took a deep breath, and called United. It worked. In that cold, rainy, nightmarish, all alone moment, I reached the kindest and most helpful person at United reservations. There is nothing quite like finding kindness when all you expect is indifference, especially at a moment when it is as welcome as it is needed. I watched the minutes tick by–all the while hoping my Skype would not run out of funds and disconnect me–but she stayed with me through exploring options, connecting with the frequent flyer desk to cancel the Tuesday reservation and redeposit the miles, and finally withdrawing the miles and funds needed for booking the new flights. Another $25 fee and more miles, but she booked me on a Business Class flight through Munich on Lufthansa for the following Wednesday, a flight that left Berlin at a reasonable hour and reached Chicago early evening. Someone had an appointment for a message, and I had a reservation for business class.

After spending most of the day without having internet to update my reservations, only to be told to wait still more hours when asking for help, I had finally resolved the final piece of the puzzle with the help of an unlikely stranger. Relieved, I brewed a cup of tea and selfishly ate a good portion of the cookies from Vienna that my daughter’s boyfriend had brought back for us to share, enjoying every bite. Thoroughly relaxed by now, I emailed the reservation details to my family. The spouse initially responded with a couldn’t-you-get-something-that-arrives-earlier-in-the-day response but he rose in my estimation by following up with a suggestion that we book a hotel by the airport. After my arrival we could have dinner, rest up, and make the long drive back home in the morning. He also came through by booking a local ENT follow up appointment for me on Thursday afternoon. Thankfully, I had not eaten all the cookies and he was duly rewarded with their crunchy goodness and my appreciation.

Although most of my remaining days in Berlin were spent on my own, and mostly in the apartment, my daughter and I did get some “bonus time” together. I did what I could to not be an imposition while she fretted and felt badly about leaving me, but she had so much to catch up with and I was completely sympathetic. In truth, the quiet time to rest and recuperate was probably for the best. But when we could get together it was very nice. It is so rare that it is just the two of us. Our outings together were special moments that I will remember fondly, the happy outcome in spite of all the rest.

My daughter picked me up and went with me when I got the procedure on Tuesday. She had a calm, stoic demeanor but the grip she had on my hand betrayed her fear for me when the doctor began the procedure. It sounded awful to get my eardrum opened but really the worst of it was the injections of Novocain into the ear. Not only did I get a feeling of relief but I also regained some hearing. It was not so very bad. Still, to have it over and done with, and to be able to hear again, was a great relief. The long journey home was ahead of me–and it would not be easy–but I was released and free to go. The doctor told me to keep the ear open by periodically plugging my mouth and nose and blowing, which created the oddest feeling and the weirdest noise imaginable, something like a kazoo I was told. The noise must have bewildered fellow passengers, but I followed orders and subjected them to it.

Thankfully the journey home was uneventful. My daughter stayed at my apartment the final night and came with me to the airport to get checked in. I was so nervous about the flights, and it was uncomfortable but I made it through. A doctor friend recommended chewing GoldFish crackers for take-offs and landings; swallowing while eating opens up the ears better than chewing gum apparently. I found some tiny bio German crackers to substitute for the GoldFish and faithfully nibbled them for all ups and downs. Playing my built-in kazoo helped when the pressure became too much.

Staying at a local hotel was a great idea. I was so stressed about take-offs and landings that I had barely enough energy to collect my bags and negotiate customs, it was time to put an end to the day. By the time we checked in nothing sounded better than a shower and a warm bed and the spouse did not have to turn around and drive another 2-1/2 hours after having driven up to the airport; it was a good plan and worth every penny.

With a good night’s sleep behind me, a follow-up with an ENT in front of me, we at last loaded the car with out of season clothes and headed for home, back to Wenig Haus auf der Prärie, the Little House on the Prairie.

Memorable Meals: Thanksgiving on Île de la Cité

As mentioned in the Thrill is Gone, I am temporarily restricted to a bland diet and determined to soldier through to better days. In the meantime, while I may not be able to indulge, my memory is free to enjoy memorable meals of the past. One of our memorable meals was a Franco-American Thanksgiving on Île de la Cité.

Traveling in November is a roll of the dice, but if our number comes up it is a great time to visit Europe; the sites, museums, and restaurants are a bit less crowded and everything a lot quieter and peaceful in the soft winter light. A bit risky, but it can be a wonderful time to travel if Momma Nature and the Travel Gods are on our side. While late November can be one of the busiest travel times of the year in the states, Thanksgiving is virtually unknown in Europe save for ex-pats and the people who are lucky enough to befriend them. Likewise with shopping in November, no crowds before Thanksgiving rushing to markets and grocers, no crowds after Thanksgiving sprinting full speed ahead into the Christmas rush. It is a quiet time in Europe, a bit before the Christmas markets open and long after the summer tourists have returned home.

One November we joined with friends and found a wonderful apartment on Île de la Cité overlooking the busy Seine and Hôtel de Ville. Centered in the middle of the most touristy of Paris, we had wonderful places to explore in all directions–and we did–but one of our favorite things was to sit at the window and watch the boats go by from the early morning commercial river traffic to the busy tourist boats that drifted by throughout the day, the dusk, and into the twinkling lit darkness of evening. It was the perfect place to take a break for lunch in the middle of the day, we were never far from our local home for a simple luncheon with a remarkable view.

The kitchen was small but our dining table was quite large, a bit challenging for cooking but a perfect place for entertaining. With plenty of seating at the table we were able to increase our number with an assortment of guests, our nephew who was studying in Paris that year, our daughter and her British friend who joined us from Germany, and finally a chef acquaintance of our friends, who happened to be in Paris with his daughter and a friend, completed the guest list.

With a challenging kitchen–very limited counter space, tiny refrigerator, and a small oven–we had to plan our feast accordingly. We were familiar with the local wine, produce, butcher, and cheese shops in the neighborhood but we needed more selection than could be found in our immediate area to create a Thanksgiving. We branched out to other neighborhoods looking for oddities.

Not trusting I could find canned pumpkin and condensed milk in Paris, I brought a couple of cans with me along with some decent knives; one is less likely to find good knives in a rental apartment than cans of Libby’s pumpkin in Paris. Not surprisingly, the kitchen–although fairly well outfitted–did not have pie pans. No problem, we were across from a large BHV department store and not too far away from cookware shops in Les Halles.

We found fabulous cookware and housewares departments in the BHV, and did pick up a few things, but not pie pans. To say we picked up a few things fails to relate how perplexed we were shopping in this store. We had a total failure to communicate, and not just with the language. We gathered our goods and stood in line for the cashier waiting to check out. When we reached the front of the line, the woman would not ring up our purchases. Our French was not good enough to gather more than the emphatic “No” and we were quite at a loss as to why she refused to sell us the items we had gathered. It was not until we found a salesperson on the floor who had enough English to explain the proper way to purchase our goods that we were able to have any success. Our instructions were to leave the goods in the department, have a salesperson on the floor write a ticket, take the ticket to the cashier, stand in line (again), pay the amount on the ticket, have the ticket marked as paid, return to the department where the goods remained on the shelves, find the salesperson and give him or her the ticket, wait patiently as he or she collected the goods and wrapped them for carry-out, and finally, after all that, would we be able to leave with the goods.

We wandered through a cookware shop with a large baking section in Les Halles, but no pie pan. Surely, we thought, the very famous Julia Child recommended shop, E.Dehillerin, would have pie pans. E.Dehillerin did have about every type of cookware and bakeware one could imagine, including pots big enough to seat all of our guests, but no pie pans. It was a multi-level, floor to ceiling treasure hunt that turned up many a treasure save the one we were looking for. Sighing with the thought of all those disposable aluminum pie tins hanging in displays in the states, I belatedly thought how easily a couple of aluminum pie tins could have joined my cans for the transatlantic journey. Well, this was Paris so citrouille tarte it would be.

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E. Dehillerin

Having resolved to make a tart and giving up the pie pan search, I realized we that while we had a tart pan we had no pastry making equipment. We would not mind searching  La Grande Épicerie de Paris for pre made tart shells but were fortunate to find a smallish supermarket nearby that had “bio” savory tart pastry in a roll, similar to the Pillsbury pie crusts found in the refrigerated section in grocery stores at home but made from all natural ingredients. It was pretty close to as good as we could have made if we had counter space, pastry boards, mixing bowls, and rolling pins. Heavy cream, no problem. Our plans and ingredients for pumpkin pie, or rather tart, all present and accounted for.

The produce store nearby was good but selected our produce for us, it was strictly hands-off and all transactions took place in French or by pointing and holding up fingers; a bit difficult when one has limited French and a long list of produce to purchase. The first time in the shop I had learned the moment my fingers reached for a tangerine that I had done the unthinkable. My husband entered a few minutes later and began to reach for a piece of fruit and I cried, “NOOOOO, don’t touch it!” just in time to prevent another international incident. The produce store we found in Saint Germain was a bit more relaxed and we could select on our own produce or get assistance. There we found a bag of Ocean Spray fresh cranberries and as soon as I had them in hand, an assistant was by my side helping me find everything on my laboriously translated-into-French shopping list. He even asked how many stalks of celery we needed for our stuffing and tore off just the amount we needed, no leftovers to worry about shoving into that tiny refrigerator. Sage was the problem as my translator had given me the translation for a wise guy, not an herb, but he stuck with me until we figured it out and we eventually found it.

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, we saved bits of baguettes from our meals to put toward the stuffing and had our plan for bread cubes. With the help of the produce man, we now had celery and sage, which left ground sausage for the stuffing. It is easy enough to find stuffed sausages of many varieties, but bulk sausage was not so easily found. We were able to find bulk sausage at the butcher next to the produce market. They quickly recognized why we were shopping and tried to sell us a turkey. It was tempting, until I remembered the size of the oven. They did, however, have a rotisserie filled with golden juicy chickens turning round and round. Even better, the slow roasted chickens were situated over roasted potatoes, potatoes which were probably already well laden with butter but now saturated with juices from those chickens. There is always mashed potatoes and gravy at this feast, but those flavor enriched potatoes erased all thoughts of that tradition. Our dinner shopping was complete, save a bit of shopping for wine–anything but a challenge in Paris–and fresh bread pulled from the oven hours before the feast.

On Thanksgiving, we sent a crew out to pick up chickens and potatoes while we made all the trimmings, rotating things in and out of the small oven beginning with our pumpkin tart-not-pie. We baked our stuffing in broth after cubing the saved bits of baguettes and tossing them with the sautéed onions, celery, sausage, and sage. Yes, we learned, baguettes do make wonderful bread cubes for stuffing. We cooked up some cranberry sauce with a bit of freshly squeezed orange juice and prepared haricot vert with mushrooms for our final side dish.

We had a lot of wine at the ready, and as every guest also brought wine, many bottles of regional French wines were opened, passed around, and enjoyed. Having a guest chef in the mix turned out to be an excellent idea, not only for the quality of wine he brought but also for his expertise in carving those chickens up faster than we could open a bottle of wine.

With the view of the Seine visible through the windows, we sat down to a memorable feast. Although missing a few of the traditional dishes and family back in the states, it was not lacking in the things that Thanksgiving is known for: beloved family, good friends, good food, good wine, and the thankfulness to be in this place, at this time, and sharing it with these people.

Photo credit for many of the photos to the spouse (everyone has a job in the kitchen, someone had to take pictures while the others planned, shopped, and cooked).