Friday, December 02, 2011

Thanksgiving...a little late: I have a name

On Thanksgiving morning I slipped into the church about 10 minutes late, thinking, "It's a good thing I did not offer to read scripture this morning!"  Not exactly a thankful thought, but I was glad to be there.

It was a small group, as is usual for a holiday service.  Katrina was at the piano and accompanied all the hymns, and had a very nice piece during the offertory.   When did she grow up?

On November 14 we welcomed our grandson, Charlie John, into the world.  I sat and watched Katrina play the piano and remembered the look on Chuck's face as Ben told us the baby's name.  Thankfulness was certainly in my heart.

Katrina's mother and sister were seated in front of me.  I remembered Katrina as a little girl sharing her music in church, as many children do.  I watched her mother as I thought about Ben and Andrea choosing little Charlie's name.  I remembered choosing the names of each of our birth children.  I thought of the parents of our adopted children, and how they must have pondered names as they waited for those precious babies to be born.  I thought of Katrina's mother choosing her name, my parents choosing my name, my grandparents choosing the names of their children.

The choosing of a name seems to be so important when you are looking forward to the miracle of a birth.  It is the first gift you give the child, and you want it to be right.  You want a strong name, a name that the child will carry proudly, a name that will not cause ridicule, but will hopefully give the child an idea of how amazing and miraculous she/he is. 

I wanted that.  My adoptive children's parents wanted that.  My parents wanted that.  My grandparents wanted that.

I looked around the group assembled there and it seemed like such a simple thing, yet so profound.  We have each been given a name full of hope and promise.  We have each been watched with curiosity to see whom we will become. 

I watched Katrina's mom as she watched Katrina.  I saw her joy in the talents of her daughter and I thought of the hopes and the joy I have with all of my children.  I thought of how each of them has developed, is developing.  I thought of the joy I have in them as they express their talents, overcome adversities, learn new things, continue to become who they are.

And I thought of God, who did not choose our name but who watched us grow inside of our mothers, who has numbered the hairs of our heads, and who knows our sitting down and our rising up and our thoughts from afar.  Maybe God also watches with joy, with curiosity as to whom we will yet become, and with hope that we will become our best selves, the miracles God has created us to be.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Just a great day

This has been such a pleasant day that I just had to be grateful publicly.

I was wakened early this morning when Chuck slipped into bed after having been awake during the night for a while.  He said he'd been lying awake thinking about what an amazing woman I am.  Then he listed some things he was grateful for.  This isn't my usual way of waking up, but it was definitely a nice way of waking up.

Daylight savings time is over!!! 

The weather was so perfect today---bright, perfect temperature, very little wind.

This morning my adult class invited my 5th-6th grade class for breakfast.  This happened because my adult class is praying for my 5th-6th grade class and wanted to get to know them better.  My youthful class members came in very rambunctious this morning.  It looked to be a challenging day.  I gave them some instructions about expected behaviors at breakfast.  Then I gave them again, and again.  Finally everyone had been quiet long enough to hear the directions.  We went to breakfast, where each child teamed up with at least one adult for conversation.

While they ate and conversed a peacefulness spread over the room and I looked around to see everyone engaged and enjoying themselves appropriately.  When we went back to class, I gave them scrap paper for doodling while I told the story of the Ten Commandments.  Doodling seems to be a necessity for this very active class.  If their hands are busy they are more able to listen, and they did listen well.  It was a good class time, with appropriate discussion and thoughtful questions and comments from the kids.

Worship was great.  Ben, Dwayne and Jesse made a fine worship band and Anita had a good sermon

I got a nice afternoon nap after having Mennonite Weekly Review for lunch.  Then I began a baby blanket while Chuck chored and rode bike.

We had a great dinner at Applebees with Dad and Mom to celebrate their 58th anniversary.  We stayed at the table long after we were done because the conversation was relaxing and interesting.

Then on to a friend's home to sit around a fire outdoors and reminisce about Cookie with Dave and others who loved her.

It was altogether an exceptional day.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Take us with you

Yesterday afternoon we stopped by the funeral home during visitation for our friend, Cookie, who passed away on Monday.  Cookie's sister was just beginning to set up memorabilia from Cookie's life.  She had stacks of photos, albums, art, etc., and she enlisted our help.  It was such fun doing that, because we've known Cookie for so much of her life that I was familiar with a lot of the memories in a personal way.

One book caught my attention more than the others.  It was a scrapbook our small group had made for Dave and Cookie and Abra before they left for Chad.  We had filled our pages with photos, memories, and blessings for them as they left.  And I had written a letter.

Part of that letter was a plea that they take us with them along to Chad.  I wrote that this new adventure would change them, would cause them to ask questions and search for answers, would give them new perspectives, would help them define better ways to live.  I wanted to not be left behind.  I wanted to grow alongside them, asking the questions, struggling for the answers, gaining the new perspectives and wisdom.

Now in the middle of the night before the funeral, I lie awake realizing that all along, even before I wrote that plea, they have taken us along.  It has been part of who Cookie is to be open, vulnerable, and not afraid to speak the questions or share the answers, not afraid to take risks, make mistakes, or make things right after those mistakes.

We were able to get as close to knowing something as anyone could without actually living it.  Cookie and Dave walked us through the loss of a child who died a month after her birth.  Bethany wasn't quietly laid to rest as someone who barely existed.  Because her entire life was lived in a hospital, her funeral was for all the rest of us, both a meeting and a good-bye.  This was in the days when infant deaths were mostly minimized...but not Bethany's death.  Through pictures and their words we got to know Bethany and her fighting spirit, how her tiny hands that could not move much could still move enough to fight the tubes hooked up to her body.  We grieved together, thanks to their decision to not hide their grief, and we learned alongside them.

They took us to Chad, to the confusion of figuring out a very different culture.  We heard about trying to practice Ramadan with their village, about trying to understand the very different attitudes toward possessions, and about living through real and immediate threat during a political uprising.  We learned how these things impacted their faith, and what they discovered about God in the process.

They took us to India twice and we learned about trekking, and the joy of getting to know students deeply through hospitality and personal investment in young lives.  We learned about how the clothes dry so slowly during monsoon that mold can be a problem.

And in the last year and a half we have learned about living with cancer and how to die well.

During the days when Cookie was still doing a lot of walking, but after the first hopeful chemo had lost its effectiveness, we took a long walk.  We spent the first half of the walk talking about cancer and facing death and what Cookie's body was currently doing or not doing, and what emotions she went through in the process.  We spent the second half of the walk talking about some deeply painful things happening in my life.  In that discussion, Cookie could see clearly some things I was missing.  She counseled me, based on similar things she had faced herself.  Her advice was clear and concise.  I was to do what I could to keep relationships clear.  I was to be honest about where I needed to change.  And I was not to take responsibility for things that went wrong that were not my fault.  It was OK if people didn't like me or agree with me.  After I had done what I could do, and listened as well as I could, then I had to let go of it.  My own sense of worth was not to be dependent on another person's judgment of me.

I asked her how she got to that point herself, and she lined it out for me from her own experiences.  She told me what she had learned, while protecting identities and being respectful of those who had disagreed with or judged her, and without giving away details of the story that were not hers to share.  She took me with her into something she had learned through her own difficult experiences.  For me that day was a turning point, and I'm grateful.

Since then she has continued through her blog, through her sharing in Sunday School, and through our talks, to take us with her.  She has, with Dave's help, taken us right to the doors of death.  I so wish I could know the reason for that smile as she crossed over.

In fact, I realized yesterday that I still sort of was expecting her to continue to take us with her.

Over the years in most cases, I'm slow to feel my grief.  Loss becomes real to me on a much slower time line than I observe in other friends.  I used to beat myself up about it, but it seems to work better to just accept it.

Anyway, I caught myself thinking the same thoughts I recognize from grieving the deaths of others...."if we can just get through the funeral, everything will be OK."  So these days have been preparation for a celebration of Cookie's life. And then everything would be OK, which in some small place in my brain, means Cookie will be back.

I wanted her to be healed.  We all did.  But at the end, none of us wished for her life to be prolonged.  Death was a release.  She is healed now.  That is real to me.

But it is real in an odd kind of way.  Yesterday I was thinking I could hardly wait for Cookie's next blog post.  I wondered what kind of pictures she would include.  Of course the thought was fleeting and I immediately recognized the silliness of it.  But I'm used to her taking us with her.  I will miss that a lot.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Good-bye Cookie

There is really not much more to say than what Cookie said herself in her post, "I Might Not Have To Die."  

She is gone now, as of this morning, and accomplished most of what was on her list and much more in terms of being the kind of person we all wish we were.  She will be missed.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Vacation #12: More changed plans

We got to Penn station on time taking the second cab who stopped. The first driver was a bit disdainful that we didn’t want to carry all those bags close to a mile. The second driver was quite helpful. We got to the station just a bit earlier than we had planned.

At Penn Station there was a long line for the ticket counter. Everyone looked a bit tired and somewhat in a state of worry/panic.  We joined the line.  It was hard to keep in mind that we had to just go with the flow.  What if the line took too long and we missed our train?  What if we had inaccurate information and there really were not seats for us on this train?  Thoughts can get a little dicey with lack of sleep and unexpected circumstances.  I could hear two women talking about whether they could get a wedding dress safely into the baggage compartment.  Wow.  What would it be like to be trying to get to your own wedding?

Our ticket agent was very helpful, and even spent quite a bit of time trying to get us a refund for the additional fees assessed on the changed tickets. I kept wondering what the people behind us in line were thinking as we waited at that desk for her to research options.  Was our delay costing them seats?  But then she returned.  No luck. But we did have tickets.

Then we waited again.  We joined the crowd sitting on the floor surrounded by their bags.  There was a seating area, but it seemed to be an area where tickets had already been checked.  We did not fit that category.  

Occasionally a train number would be called and we would jump and check our tickets, and then realize it wasn't ours.  Finally it was ours and we joined yet another line for the train. 

The first leg of the journey we were lucky enough to find seats together for the four of us. We changed trains at New Haven, Connecticut, and sat near (but not with) each other until the train became more empty. 

While we rode, Chuck began talking to me about our plans.  He was ready to reconsider the plan for staying in Vermont, so that we could try to get Tim to orientation more closley to on time. The new plan depended upon two things. We needed to be able to get an affordable rental car that would be easy to return in Chicago. It would be nice to be able to get a train from Chicago to Newton leaving Chicago at 2:45 pm on Sunday. 

As soon as we pulled into the station at Springfield, Mass. Chuck started looking for a place to check into rental cars while I went to the ticket desk to try to change our Chicago-Newton tickets back to Sunday.  Hertz was $250 for one day.  Nope.  The ticket agent could get us on the Sunday train, but we couldn't book until we had a car, so the ticket agent quickly found us the phone number for Enterprise.  $25 for one day.  Could that be right?  Would they take us from the car rental site to the train station for that price?  Yes?  Take it!

Becca was waiting on us to get all this figured out and noticed a young couple with British accents trying to find a way to get to Burlington, Vermont.  As soon as she realized that we would not be filling their car back to Vermont, she offered this couple a ride as far as White River Junction.  

Then Becca and Joseph took us to Enterprise.

We got a Ford Fusion from Enterprise and we added a gps to make Chicago easier. We were promised that we would be able to drop the car off at another Enterprise and be given a ride to the train station. The price was amazingly cheap, even with the upgrades, in view of the fact that we were going to be putting 900 miles into the next 24 hours.

We said good-bye to Becca and Joseph, and then had lunch at McDonalds so we could look at the route online. Then we set off. I slept for a while in the back while Chuck drove and Tim got the gps set up. We’d only had tiny amounts of sleep since the day before so we traded drivers as often as we needed to and took turns sleeping. The gps always showed the miles to the next turn and the direction of the turn. You could know well ahead of time where to place yourself among the lanes and when you could relax and just drive without worrying about missing a turn.

We had supper at a Taco Bell and continued to drive until around 12:30am. We used the gps to get phone numbers for motels and made a reservation at a Motel 6.

After sleeping four hours, we quickly got back on the road. I drove until we were nearly to Chicago and then Chuck took over. Again the gps was pretty helpful nearly all of the time. We called Enterprise to find out the location closest to the train station. At first we were told that there were no open locations and that we would have to drop off the car at a closed location and find our own ride back to the station.  That caused a fair amount of consternation, since we were counting on that ride to the station.

Chuck was driving during that phone call and I was on the phone.  So he would give me a question to ask and I would continue to try to find a way to make this all work with the main office for Enterprise.  Finally we did find a location that would open early enough to help us, and was within a mile of Union Station. We were to call after 9am to make the arrangements with that place.

When we called we could never get a person, so we decided to just show up. That was complicated.  The gps could not find an address matching the one we had been given.   We tried other methods of looking through the streets of Chicago to try to find an intersection close to the rental car site. Then we tried to drive there. At that point we had to rely on our wits more than on the gps because the tall buildings were blocking the information flow to the gps. We found the location, got breakfast at the Einstein Bagel restaurant next door, and then were taken back to Union Station.  

The Enterprise employee was kind of a cocky rich privileged college grad (was that judgemental?) who seemed to not be too interested in making things simple for us.  He made us wait quite a while before giving us a ride, even though he was free to go.  Then he dropped us off at Union Station as far as you could possibly get from the entrance we needed.  But it was a ride.   That was what we had been promised---a ride, not necessarily a great ride.

We called Darrel Gascho, the leader of Radical Journey, and left a message.  Then we settled ourselves outdoors along the river next to the station. Tim was expecting to be picked up by 11:30am. Our train would leave at 2:00pm. 

Later we found out that Tim’s rides would not be so early because the hurricane had changed other people’s travel arrangements as well. We expected that he would be picked up shortly before we left on our train. We settled into the food court and found an outlet to charge Tim’s phone. Chuck and I took turns adding notes to Tim’s book.

Then it got close to our boarding time so we called again. They were still delayed and would be at least another hour. We had to leave Tim sitting alone in a corner of the food court with his laptop and phone and suitcase.  We said good-bye to Tim and headed to the train. That was a long lonely walk.

Boarding the train was an adventure. There were several families on our train, and one mom with three daughters had a huge quantity of luggage. Chuck leaped forward to help them while I pushed our bags along through the line by myself.

After boarding, the conductor made several announcements asking passengers to bring their small luggage to the overhead racks so that there would be enough room for the larger bags. Only a few people followed this suggestion, and the conductor began bringing bags upstairs herself. Then she moved quite a few to to the overhead storage in the lower level seating area. Finally she made another announcement, letting people know that since they did not come to move their own smaller bags, she had done it for them. If they could not find their bags later, they should not panic, but just keep looking. They would be around somewhere.

She made her announcements about this train and then came down the aisle to check on people. There were two older women near us who spoke only Spanish. The conductor knew only a little Spanish and Chuck offered her his dictionary. Then he tried to help with some of his own Spanish and the ladies enjoyed him.  By this time the conductor loved Chuck.  He had been so helpful with the luggage and was now rescuing her with the Spanish.

I got out my new skein of sock yarn and set up for winding it to a ball. The Spanish speaking women got very excited, because they were crocheting. We spent a lot of time trying to explain to each other what kind of things we were making, and they taught me the method they were using to crochet the tabs of aluminum pop cans into quite interesting purses.

In the observation car I met four women sitting together knitting so I began a conversation with them. They had been at a Stitches conference near Chicago and were on their way home to Laurence, KS. We talked knitting until it was their time to go to the dining car for supper. Chuck joined me in the observation car until our time for dinner. We were seated with a couple from England. She was a public health nurse. He was a retired navy officer. We really enjoyed visiting with them while we ate. Chuck ordered a southwest chicken scampi, which he traded with me when he realized how spicy it was.  I ordered a pasta with marinara and eggplant, which was delicious.

We went back to the observation car and talked until it was dark. Then we found our seats again. I worked on this journal and slept.

In the morning, early morning, we arrived in Newton and in our broken Spanish, said good-bye to the women we met on the train.

Of course, as many people already know, plans don't quit changing.

The hurricane moved into Vermont, where we would have been staying, had we not changed plans.  We would have arrived in Chicago much later than we hoped because of the floods.  Trains took a while to get back to regular service.  We were glad for Chuck's determination to look for a rental car.

Also, it was good to be in car with Tim on that last day of travel.  Being alone in a car provided a lot more options for conversation, and that was good for me.

Two days before Tim was to leave the United States for Bolivia, Radical Journey decided not to send the team to Bolivia.  The Bolivian government had not been honoring visas for MCC, and the team had used MCC to get their visas.  The Argentinian church in Buenos Aires welcomed them for a week and a half while they obtained Paraguayan visas.  The Paraguayan Mennonite church scrambled to find jobs and host homes, and welcomed the five young people with open arms.

Tim's blog is on the side bar: Bolivia Blog 2.0 (Paraguay version).

There.  The vacation story is told and I can get back to current life posts---if I can find the time!

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Vacation #11: Plans Can Change---Empire State Building, Ellis Island, Mets Game

By Friday morning we had begun hearing little bits about Hurricane Irene approaching land.  There was one tabloid type newspaper in the corner market that had something fantastic about how NYC was being evacuated.  I didn't believe it because our hotel staff had not mentioned anything like that to us.

This was our final day in the city and we had a full day planned.  We had originally not planned to see the Empire State Building because it was pricey.  However, we walked past it several times because our hotel was so close to it.  It began to look more and more appealing.  And its story had been in that New York City documentary, so we knew a little bit about it already, which made it even more appealing.  We decided to go.

First we stopped at a restaurant nearby for breakfast.  Chuck and I had gone for an early morning walk and found this place.  It was part grocery, part health food restaurant.  It didn't seem that large but you could get anything there.  There was a buffet with a huge bowl of yogurt surrounded with smaller bowls of many different kinds of fruit and granola, and other things that go with yogurt.  There was a hot cereal area.  There was a grill where you could get any kind of omelet, breakfast sandwich, pancake or waffle you could think to ask for.  There was a coffee bar.  There were not always prices, but the prices of the breakfast sandwiches were very reasonable, so we brought the kids there.

The other prices were not so reasonable, because the yogurt with fruit, etc. was charged by the ounce.  But it was so so good.  There was an eating area upstairs and we tried to get internet there unsuccessfully.  Unsuccessful internet was kind of the routine for the trip.

We dropped the laptops back off at the room and headed for the Empire State building.  They have a pretty good plan for the way they sell their tickets.  There is a room with a maze of that kind of tape stuff that you go through when you are in line.  It had lots of people in it, but it was moving fast and it didn't look too daunting.  When you got to the door....there was another room with tape going back and forth full of people waiting in line.  I think there was a third room as well.  Finally you get to the room with a back-and-forth tape line that has actual tickets for sale in it.  Chuck and Tim had gone ahead of us to buy the tickets, so Becca and I could skip that last long tape line.  While we did that, we noticed a man carrying a large purse with a dog in it.

Beyond the ticket line was the security line.  This was more serious than airport security.  They x-rayed our bags, and we walked through scanners.  Chuck had a pocket knife that he had to give up.  Tim's bag was checked twice.  Then the security person said that she could see something large and round in his bag.  "Yes," he responded.  "That is my frisbee."

"You can't take that," she stated very firmly and another guard came to help her.  Tim removed the frisbee and they give him a strip of plastic with a number that they tore off the top of a bag.  They shoved the frisbee into this bag and told Tim he could claim it later.

While we were going through this process, the man with the purse/dog came up to the the body scanner.  We heard a guard say, "You can't bring that up here!"  The man just as loudly proclaimed in impolite terms that the guard did not know what he was talking about.  He COULD bring the dog because he had purchased his ticket in front of the building from a man who charged him an extra fee for the dog and assured him that the dog WOULD be allowed.  The guard repeated, "You can't bring that up here!"  And the man increased his impoliteness.  We didn't wait to see that one end.

Now it was time to stand in a long back and forth line for the elevators.  On the way we could look at exhibits telling about the building of the Empire State Building.  That was pretty interesting!  But the line after the exhibits was still pretty long.

And then an offer was made to use the stairs to go up the last 6 flights in order to avoid that line.  We went.

As you would expect, the view from the top is pretty impressive and we have the photos to prove it.
the top of the Empire State Building from the top of the Empire State Building
looking down on the Chrysler Building

In the lobby in front of the wall facing the front door of the Empire State Building

After we got back down and took these pics, Chuck and Tim went to reclaim their items and then back to our hotel to pick up our umbrellas while Becca and I went back to the shoe store for some Tom's shoes for me.  Tom's shoes are pretty popular.  They were out of the black in my size so I opted for a darker shade of brown, and they are quite comfortable.  We got done in time to meet Chuck and Tim at the subway station.

Ellis Island is where the immigrants came through before entering the United States.  There documents were processed, health checks given, and people either allowed in, kept for a while for health to improve, or turned away.  I wanted to be able to look up family members who had immigrated in the 1870's and the 1920's, so we had made some calls to get names and dates of immigration.

Battery Park is at the southern tip of Manhattan.  Close to the water is Castle Clinton, which is an unimpressive old building with not many windows or beautiful architecture to draw anyone's attention.  Tickets for the ferry to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty are sold inside of Castle Clinton.  The line wound quite a distance around the outside of the building, so we found our way to the end of the line.  As soon as we arrived at the end of the line a loudspeaker announcement was made that no more tickets would be sold for going inside the
Statue of Liberty that day.  People could visit the island it was on, but they could not go up inside the statue.  A group of people left the line at that point so we were moving.

Castle Clinton

We ate crackers and cheese and dried fruits while we waited.  It really wasn't a bad wait, and then we were inside the Castle Clinton and found there were many lines available for buying tickets, so that went fast too.

Security for the ferry was again more strict than airline security.  Even the clasp of my barrette set off the metal detector.

The ferry ride was nice.  I was worried a bit at first about seasickness, but it wasn't a problem.  As we got farther from shore the skyline of NYC became so much easier to see.  The absence of the World Trade Center towers was conspicuous from this view. 
In this picture there is a building being built  that is about half as tall as one of the World Trade Center towers.  It is in the plaza where the WTC used to stand.  That building will eventually be taller than the WTC.  Also in that plaza are the lower buildings with greenish tops.  Somewhere in between all of them is the memorial with the giant waterfalls in each of the basement areas of the two towers that fell.

The farther we got from shore, the closer we got to the Statue of Liberty, which is as beautiful as you can imagine in the bright sunlight.
Becca and Tim on the benches of the upper deck of the ferry

Ellis Island

While we rode the ferry, and heard the conversations of those around us, we kept hearing more about Hurricane Irene.  One impressive fact being discussed was that the subways were going to close at noon the next day.  At this point we were still unaware that except for 9/11, the subways had never been shut down.  But the predictions for the storm hitting land were that it would arrive after our Amtrak trains were safely out of the city.

As we neared Ellis Island, an announcement was made that Ellis Island would be closing a bit early in order to prepare for the hurricane.

We entered the building and a priority for me was to find out where I could look up our ancestors.  Unfortunately, for that day, they were not allowing anyone to make any more searches because of the early closing.  However, they assured us that this was better for us anyway.  We could have access to all the same documents online for free at home, whereas at Ellis Island there was a fee for doing a search.

Chuck was beginning to wonder whether the closing of the subways meant that trains would also not run.  Becca's train was scheduled to leave in the morning but the rest of us were not leaving till mid afternoon.  Becca called Amtrak.  They assured her that our trains were still running and that we had nothing to worry about.

We continued to tour the building but there was an undercurrent of worry about how things would play out with the storm.  Also, it seemed that Ellis Island did not open until after most of our ancestors had already arrived in the United States.  The stories of the building were compelling, but I wondered how I would be able to find out more about our stories.

Finally I asked some staff about where people went through immigration before Ellis Island was open.  Castle Clinton was the place.  That dark, windowless building that we came through without paying much attention to our surroundings was where our ancestors set foot in this country.  It seemed more like a prison than a welcome.

The ferry
As we left Ellis Island
Becca and Tim enjoying the ride back to NYC

The guy with the sagging pants who was kind enough to match his shirt to his boxers!
After Ellis Island we were scheduled to go to the Mets game in Queens.  Chuck really wanted to go back to our room to pick up our train tickets, but the rest of us wanted to get going to the game so we could have a chance at seeing the opening pitch.  Chuck acquiesced.

Mets stadium is on the far side of Queens, so it was one of the longer subway rides.  The subway stops right in the parking lot of the stadium, so that makes it easy to go to a game.  We had a bit of confusion about whether to buy tickets before or after security, but finally we were seated in the nosebleed section and watching the game already in progress.
Citi Field, where the Mets play
The stadium was really not very full at all
Chuck in the empty stands
There were some things that needed taking care of back in Kansas, so I left the game to make some phone calls, and ended up missing the whole first half of the game.  Chuck came to check on me just as I was finishing up and we bought supper for the others.  We haven't attended many major league games so I was unprepared for the cost of food inside the stadium.  But it was a very very good hot dog! 

As soon as Chuck finished eating he called Amtrak again.  He didn't come back for the rest of the game, and finally I went to check on him.  Our train was cancelled.  If he would have had our tickets with him it would have been much easier for the ticket agent on the phone, but Chuck was persistent, and the ticket agent was sympathetic.  After much time spend searching through using our names instead of ticket numbers, and then checking status of other trains still running, Chuck managed to get us all on a train leaving NYC at about 7am.  We would get to Massachusetts near noon, but then no other trains would be running east that day at all.  Monday was the first day we might be able to get a train to Chicago, which meant Tim would arrive at orientation 2 days late.  We would have to spend a couple of days in Vermont with Becca waiting for the trains to run again.  But at least we had tickets out of New York.

After the game we needed to book motels and figure out our plans.  This is when the non-existent internet access became very frustrating.  We took our laptop to the tiny lobby of the motel and could not get a signal there either.  We asked at the desk.  They seemed incredulous that we would try to get a signal on first floor.  The signal was good from second floor to the top of the building.  We explained that is was not good in our room on 6th floor.  They reiterated that the signal was very good on the 6th floor.  We could see that it was stupid to argue this one out and we went upstairs to second floor where we parked ourselves in the hallway next to an outlet.

We had a signal.  We booked the Super 8 in White River Junction, and also looked at other options.  Taking a bus from there to Chicago for the three of us was too expensive.  Renting a car was not appealing because we were so tired and it was a very long drive.  But it was hard to decided that Tim would miss the first 2 days of orientation.  We went to bed tense and did not sleep well.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Vacation #10: Rain

We had been told by several people that it was wise to go early to buy tickets for a play in New York.  We never thought to ask what time would be considered early.  So Chuck and I got up around 7am, puttered around a bit, and eventually made our way to Times Square.  So far, so good. 

It wasn't raining.  We could see the building where the tickets were sold.  There was no line.  No line at all.

When we reached the ticket building we found that ticket sales began at 3pm. 

On our way back to the subway we passed a cart with giant muffins and bagels, rolls, juice, and coffee.  We bought a few things to share and went back to our room for breakfast.  While we ate breakfast it began to rain.

We did not bring umbrellas because with the wind in Kansas, we just don't use them much.  We checked at the desk and umbrellas could be bought at the corner store a half block away.  Chuck was the hero who ran to buy umbrellas.

Then we set out for Grand Central Station.  It is a big place, with many things to buy or eat and lots of people to watch, but we didn't really want to spend the day shopping and eating.  Tim was interested in the planetarium at the Natural History Museum, so we figured out how to get there on the subway, and set off.
The Planetarium.  The large sphere in the window is where the planetarium shows are presented.
We saw a presentation on the origins of the universe, narrarated by Whoopi Goldberg, and saw several exhibits before going back to Times Square to buy those tickets.

There was a line.  It was raining.  We stood in line in the rain for over an hour and debated which show we wanted to see.  Two of us had already seen Wicked.  Some of the more popular shows, like Spiderman, and Book of Mormon, were sold out.  We kind of narrowed it down to Billy Elliot and Anything Goes.  There was a bigger discount for Anything Goes.  The music is by Cole Porter, which I thought Tim might enjoy, and it premiered on Broadway in 1934 with Ethel Merman in the lead role.  I hoped that a play that old would not have much that was offensive in it.

When we had our tickets, we hopped back on the subway and back to the Museum to get a little more exhibit viewing out of our ticket price.  When the museum closed, we walked around in the area to choose a restaurant for supper and settled on a sandwich place nearby.

Then back to Times Square for the play!
tickets and playbill

 This time we were the right kind of early and managed to be near the front of the line for the play.  The doors had not opened yet, and it was still light outside, but it felt exciting.
waiting in line by the poster
Chuck in line
and the lovely Becca
 It wasn't long before we could go in and take our seats.  Having nothing to compare with, I was impressed with the theatre and our seats.  We weren't at the very front, but we had good seats about half way up and a little to one side.  Tim did not sit down until he had gone to check out the orchestra pit.  Much nicer than the pit at NHS!  Musicians were already warming up.

While we waited, we read the playbill and discovered a young actor from Wichita, KS was in the production.  That was fun to find out.  Joel Grey was also in the play, whom some may remember from the play and movie, Cabaret.

Soon the overture began and Tim recognized a piece they had played at Bethel Music Camp.

The play was such fun.  Of course we should have expected this, but we didn't---there were no so-so actors or singers! 

The play had one unplanned good laugh.  At one point the set malfunctioned and the actors began to laugh.  They managed to do quite well at getting through the scene, but it gave us a kind of personal look into the workings of a play.

After the play we headed back to the subway.  Earlier in the day there had been a conspicuous police presense at this particular subway station.  There were some officers with full body armor and massive guns, and a supervising officer with them.  They seemed to be pretty calm, but watchful.  By the time the play was over, there was not the same kind of security.

The subway between Times Square and Grand Central Station has no stops in between those two locations.  Grand Central Station was fairly near our hotel, so we had been on this train several times.  This was the one train where more than once someone used the unbroken ride to promote a cause.

A woman talked about homelessness and asked for donations.  A mother preached the gospel.  A young man sang a simple song about Jesus and asked for donations.  A couple of guys had a sort of comedy musical act and asked for money if we thought they were entertaining.

But after the play, the entertainment that caught our eye was in the station.  We could hear a hammer dulcimer playing duets with an electric guitar.  Back when Ben still played dulcimer he sometimes talked about what it might be like to busk in a subway station in NYC.  We had to take pictures.

We heard a lot of music in different subway stations throughout our days in NYC.  There was classical, reggae, folk, and more.  I really enjoyed this side of the city.
Tim waiting for the subway

Chuck and I waiting for our train
 When we got back to the hotel the tv went on and the movie, Saving Private Ryan was in progress.  Tim needed a haircut yet before he began Radical Journey.  We spread out a couple of my sarongs on the floor to catch the hair and I cut his hair while the others watched the movie.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Vacation #9: Brooklyn Bridge, WTC site, Veselka Restaurant, Times Square

The second place that we wanted good weather for was the Brooklyn Bridge.  We wanted to be able to walk across that historic structure.   When Tim was being homeschooled during his grade school years, PBS had a seven part series directed by Ric Burns on New York City.  If you can get it at your library, it is worth watching.  I was fascinated by nearly any history program, but this one was special.  Tim loved it too.

Soon after that, Ken Burns did a documentary on the Brooklyn Bridge, which we also watched.  Tim, with the help of some of his siblings, constructed a lego version of the bridge, complete with actual suspension holding up the deck of the bridge. 

That year for Christmas, the person who drew Tim's name gave him a poster of New York City.  I think that was just a year before the 9/11 attack and the World Trade Center dominates the sky line.

So our plans for the rest of the day included walking the Bridge, seeing the WTC site, and then eating Ukranian.  More about that later.

Tim in front of the support closest to Manhattan.  Chuck and Becca in the background.

Becca taking pics of Manhattan skyline.

Manhattan skyline

The bridge has lanes for walkers and bikers and there were a lot of people on the bridge.
We only walked across from Manhattan to Brooklyn and then took the subway which goes under the river back to Manhattan.  On both sides of the bridge there is an area around the massive suspension supports that has information about the bridge.  As you move around the support structure there are signs that tell the history of the bridge, the way it was constructed, and interesting trivia.

The bridge was designed by John Roebling, who was injured in an accident while surveying the site in preparation for building the bridge.  He died ten days later of tetanus.  His son, Washington Roebling, took over the task of building the bridge.

In order to have a firm foundation for the bridge, sand and sediment needed to be removed from the bottom of the river in order to reach the rock layer below.  Large boxes, big enough for several men to work inside of, were lowered with the open side down, into the river.  Air was pumped into those boxes in order to displace the water and then the boxes were sunk to the bottom of the river.  The pressure of the air inside the boxes had to be high in order to keep the water out so that the men could steadily dig out the sediment.  In those days they did not know how slowly to bring the men out of that pressurized environment in order to avoid getting air bubbles in their blood stream from coming back to normal air pressure to quickly.  The result was a disease called Cassions disease, or the bends.

Washington Roebling was a hands-on builder and he contracted this disease early in the building of the bridge.  He became home bound.  He and his wife, Emily lived in an apartment that overlooked the bridge site, and Emily took over the day to day operations of the construction while Washington watched from his window.

On the support that is closest to Brooklyn, there is a large bronze plaque in memory of Emily's contribution to the building of the bridge.

When we returned to Manhattan we decided to walk over to the site of the World Trade Center.  The area was completely fenced with no visual access because they did not want people to see the memorial before its opening a couple of weeks later.  We did go to a memorial store front that had exhibits with the story of 9/11 and drawings of the new memorial.  People were very quiet in there, surprised by the strength of emotion that returns so readily even after ten years.

Becca's friend Katelyn had told her of a Ukranian Restaurant, Veselka, near that area.  They sold pierogi, or vereniki, but different than the vereniki that we are accustomed to.  They had seven different fillings available.  You could order a plate of them in any assortment of fillings you chose, so Becca and I both ordered all seven. 

There were potato, sweet potato, sauerkraut and mushroom, arugula and goat cheese, spinach with cheese, cheese, and meat pierogi, served not with ham gravy, but with grilled onions, applesauce, and sour cream.
Becca's plate

Chuck also ordered pierogi, but skipped the arugula/goat cheese flavor, and Tim had beef stroganoff.

Following our meal we began to think about the next day.  There was rain in the forecast, so we thought we would do some indoor activites culminating with a play.  We'd been told that cheaper tickets are sold on the day of the performance in Times Square.

I wanted to see Times Square at night when it was not raining, so we went there after supper to scout out where those cheaper tickets would be sold the next day.  Times Square is like nothing I've ever seen before.
whole buildings lit up with moving advertisements and messages
 There was one place we walked where everyone was staring at the same building and taking pictures.  I was hoping that it wasn't something awful that they wanted to capture.  It wasn't.  There was a camera somewhere that was doing a live feed of the crowd on to the lit side of the building.  They were taking pictures of themselves projected on a building in Times Square!

Tim getting some pics.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Vacation #8: Walking in NYC---Central Park

Sorry about the delay in posting.  Our internet was out for several days and I have been watching Luke and Aaron while Laura begins a new job, and I'm obsessively knitting a sweater for Luke in any spare minutes.
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In the months leading up to our big trip we had thought quite a bit about what we wanted to squeeze into the three days in New York.  Now we were looking at weather to see how to organize our time.  Wednesday looked like a beautiful day, while there was rain in the forecast for Thursday.  We decided to try to get in most of the outdoor, walking activities on Wednesday.

Our breakfast was mostly some foods we had brought with us, along with orange juice from the corner market.  We did not get an early start.  This is vacation, after all, and we had stayed up late watching movies.

We needed to plot out our subway routes.
Our map and 7-day passes went with us everywhere.

First on the list was Central Park.  But before that was a trip to a nearby shoe store.  Becca was in the market for some Tom's shoes, had done her homework and found a store within a few blocks of our hotel that sold them.

Central Park is 2.5 miles by .5 miles, so even though we walked around in Central Park for 4-5 hours, we did not see everything.  It was great, though.

One thing we did not understand about Central park is that it is surrounded by a big stone fence and has limited entrances.  We came out of the subway, walked a few blocks to the park and came to an unbroken wall.  Apparently we turned the wrong direction, because we walked quite a distance before we found a gate and entered the park.

It was fascinating right from the start.  We crossed a wide, street size paved bike/roller blade/running path, then crossed a strip of grass and then a street size cinder walking/running path.  There were many people using these paths.  There were bike tour groups, people with dogs, numerous nannies.  How did we know they were nannies?  Because of nationality differences and obvious dissimilarity to the children in their care.

We saw the reservoir first, which also had a running path around it.  We also saw the sheep meadow where we could have returned to watch a movie in the park after dark.  There was an Egyptian obelisk, given to Central Park, with hieroglyphics on all four sides.

It was a big obelisk.
We had our lunch near the turtle pond where we also enjoyed watching a heron fishing.

At the turtle pond
texting at the turtle pond

pointing out the heron
the heron

There was a family at the turtle pond with a very active son who dropped his camera more than once.  They were patient, though, and no one got upset, even when it fell into the water.

Central Park is a location for many scenes from movies, and one of the most popular locations is the bow bridge.

Bow Bridge, with a wedding group and a photographer surrounded by other visitors to the park.
Chuck and I at Bow Bridge
Tim at Bow Bridge
We went through Belvedere Castle.
the view of Turtle Pond from Belvedere Castle
We saw the great lawn, the tennis courts, the baseball diamonds, and the lake with its many rowboats.  We treated ourselves to Ben and Jerry's ice cream bars from a vendor.  

A highlight was Strawberry Fields, an area dedicated to the memory of John Lennon.  Near the 'Imagine' mosaic was an old hippie who took it upon himself to tell everyone how to behave at the memorial.  Chief among his instructions was that if you are getting your picture taken with the mosaic, you are required to make the peace sign.

He harassed quite a few people who were getting their pictures taken.  Sometimes they acquiesced and held up the required peace sign.  Sometimes they held it up until he walked away and then quit.  Some ignored him completely.

We also walked through the mall before leaving Central Park.
 That's more than enough for tonight.  You need to know that more than half of the pics in this post were taken by Becca and borrowed/stolen from her facebook photo album (with permission).  Thanks, Bec!