Dancing and Laughing My Way through the World

I love to travel. If it were free and time was of no concern, I would be gone most of the time exploring. People have asked me many times why I like to travel. I have a standard answer: I love to see the natural beautiful sites, meet the people, taste their food, and hear their music. If there is one thing I have learned through travel, it is that most people are very nice, loving, caring and helpful, no matter where you go. I have also learned that no matter where you are, people like to IMG_9829have fun and enjoy themselves, and as a traveler we are also around other happy travelers. It is the perfect recipe for fun!

Before you travel, you will hear old stereotypes like the people in a particular country are rude to Americans, or that the people are cold and don’t like tourists. I have found none of those stereotypes to be true. If I smile at people and I am polite, they are polite and smile at me. It does not matter what country I am in, if I try their food and compliment them and try my hardest to speak at least a few words of their language, they are appreciative and assist me with my terrible pronunciations, and it usually ends with smiles all around.

Recently when I was in New Zealand and Australia we were in contact with many locals, but also were visiting many of the tourists sites that were also being visited by Japanese and Chinese tourists. Many of them were young people, and particularly there were several groups of college age girls traveling together. Of course, like our kids of the same age, they were constantly taking IMG_1786selfies, so I started photo bombing their pictures.

I would jump right into the picture, right before they took it and would smile like I was with them on vacation. Well they loved it. They instantly erupted in laughter and insisted that I come in on another picture, so it was not blurry and they would reposition so I was in a better spot and would take more pictures. Sometimes others would ask me to be in their pictures too, feeling left out. I did this so often I started joining in and I would say to them, let’s take a family picture. At which point they would all smile wide as they could and would be so excited by my saying that we are all family. They would smile and laugh and we would take a nice picture together. I even got a hug from one of them.100_3200

I talked with some Chinese children at a sheep farm in Australia where we were able to pet the sheep dogs. The children were grade school age and the first question they asked me as we were petting the sheep dogs is whether I had a dog in the States. I told them I did and showed them a picture of Yogi with his Mohawk haircut, at which point they cracked up in giggles and they started pointing and showing their other friends, my crazy looking dog. I asked if they had any pets and they only had fish tanks among them, but would love to have a dog. It was a brief, but fun exchange.100_3210

In Australia we ate a lot of delicious seafood, and we had porridge for breakfast, which is one of the best cooked oatmeal’s I have ever tasted, but we also had to try vegemite. It is served in restaurants like jam in small containers, except it is made from left over brewers yeast and is loaded with vitamins. It is an acquired taste especially with its beer on the tongue aftertaste. Now beer can be delicious, but this is served at breakfast. Those Australians are a hearty bunch.

100_3192We have tasted foods and drinks all over the world. We had pastries with meat in New Zealand, drank Blue Lagoons in Iceland, ate alligator in Florida, pizza in Italy and we ate pork hocks with the locals at a small bar in Frankfurt Germany. We sat at a large table and attempted our best to speak enough German words to get by. They all laughed and luckily spoke English with us. We discussed our families and where our travels would take us next. They told us more about their town and about their plans to visit the States at some point and we laughed the night away.

100_3190When our kids were growing up, we went to Mexico a number of times and even though the kids were young at the time they were always willing to try the food. They loved the fresh fish and they ate salsas every day. We also danced to the music that played every night after dinner, and we went to bed tired and happy. The kids learned to talk with the people and respect and appreciate other cultures. We also had a family vacation to Nova Scotia where the residents had a heavy Scottish accent and ate pizza with hamburger and shrimp on it, but no cheese. Interesting and the kids ate it and seemed to like it. They still talk about the cheese-less pizza with shrimp.

Mex03I travel to experience other possibilities and to learn about the world. James Michener is known for saying: “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people you might better stay home.” He was so right. The people I know who have and do travel a lot, love the diversity of people and their customs and tend to respect others, no matter how different from ourselves. When you talk with people around the world and eat their food and dance to their music, you not only have a wonderful travel experience, but you create family wherever you go. You touch others lives and they touch yours in a way that changes you forever. Laugh, eat and dance your way around the world and you create a world where we can all be family and have connections that survive long after the vacation is over, and hopefully, play a part in creating a better world.



Mediterranean Beauty

I love reading those lists of the most beautiful places on earth or the top ten bucket list spots. I like reading them, because I want to feel good about having seen some of the places I have already been on the list and because I am always looking for those places to IMG_1208add to my list of great places to go. I hope I live long enough to see all of the places I have added to my list, and on the other hand, I hope I never say my list is complete. It is good to have wonderful things to look forward to and this earth provides unending beauty. I want to be 100 years old and still be adding things to my list, but as most of you know I am an eternal optimist. I know I will not run out of places to go because as much as I want to see new things, there are also many places that I would not mind returning to some day with more time.

It seems that one of the areas that seems to make every list and for good reason is the Cinque Terre in Italy. If you have not seen it in pictures or in your travels, you need to look it up. I saw it online for years before we actually went to experience it. It truly is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Cinque Terra means five lands and is compromised of five villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso located in the area of Italy known as the Liguria region. It is five beautiful villages on the Italian coast, full of colorful historic buildings set on the cliff sides along the blue, crisp IMG_1105Mediterranean Sea.

It is picture postcard beautiful. We take a lot of photos on our travels, and sometimes we accidentally capture the true beauty, and sometimes…not so much. We did get some great pictures at the Cinque Terre, but it is still nothing like the real beauty. It is one of those pictures that I have framed on our wall going up the stairway with a collection of other favorite travel photos. I walk by it many times per day and each time I pass it, it reminds me of that calm beauty and relaxation I felt when we were there. There are some places that just leave a strong impression and invoke strong feelings and great memories, and this is one of them.

People come from all over the world to see it. There is a train that delivers tourists and locals from city to city and runs regularly. You can hop on and off as you explore your way through each village, taste testing their food and drinks. There are also hiking and biking110911 1036__632 (1) trails between each village, and one can spend weeks relaxing and swimming and exploring each of the cities. We were on a larger trip and only had designated a few days to this area.   This would be an area that I would love to go and spend a few weeks soaking in the food, the sun, and the cool waters of the Mediterranean, while getting to know the locals. It would be fun to bike from village to village. It would be like living a beautiful old movie. Even with our short visit, we were totally in love with the Cinque Terre.

The villages are built on, and into the cliffs, and have a rich and long history rooted in the fishing industry of Italy and the Mediterranean. The buildings are very old and are crowded together, because the cliffs rise so close to the water that little land is left for beaches or buildings. The historic structures shine in the summer sun, painted in yellows, bright blues, greens, and oranges. The narrow streets are lined with shops bustling with the locals and tourists buying everything from purses and jewelry, to fresh fruits and IMG_1193vegetables. The cafés are welcoming and casual. They serve some of the finest sea foods caught fresh from the Mediterranean and the prices are modest.   It is Italy, so the wines are smooth and dark, but delicious and compliment any dish. The pastries and desserts line glass cases and people are three deep pointing at their sweet selection that is delivered sitting atop a plain piece of parchment, so one can carry and eat it as you walk and explore. There are boats a plenty that line the beaches and people fishing, swimming and basking in the summer sun on the rocks. There is no evidence of any stress, just people enjoying the day and enjoying life.

This is a naturally beautiful area because of the deep blue sparkling waters of the Mediterranean and the colorful city built on the beautiful cliffs of Italy, but what made these cities so special is that they have remained fairly unchanged for many years, other than some rebuilding they had to do a few years ago after some flooding. Despite the IMG_1204volume of tourists and their success in being named many times over as one of the most beautiful places to visit, they have remained humble. The food and wares are reasonably priced and the people are welcoming and have maintained their relaxed attitude. People live modestly and carry on their daily lives, appearing not to just tolerate the tourists that overrun their city on a daily basis, but welcome and embrace their guests to share their piece of heaven on earth. They appear to appreciate each day, and enjoy the simple pleasures of great wine and food. As visitors we can learn a lot from the people of the Cinqua Terre. They have an attitude towards others and towards life itself that should be emulated. Appreciate the simple pleasures of life and embrace the beauty of each beautiful day as it comes.

The Trevi Fountain and Incorrupt Corpses

Rome is a fascinating place. Normally my philosophy is that each time you travel you should try a new placed, but with Rome, I could return and spend a month or more. The history and sites are amazing. Everything from the Vatican and Catholic wealth and history, to the crumbling ruins of the Roman Empire, the city is full of masterpieces in architecture, sculpture and rome01paintings, and you do not have to be an art snob or a history buff to appreciate it.
I graduated from St. Scholastica with a double major in Nursing and Humanities. For the Humanities degree we had to specialize in one area, and my area was history. That bit of prior study in history, even though it had been many years before visiting Rome, was helpful, but not necessary to appreciate the splendor of the city. We did our research before traveling to make sure we see the best things the city has to offer.

110910 0237__289You can take tours of Rome based upon the Dan Brown Novels, like The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, or you can take more general tours covering the most visited and famous fountains and Roman ruins. We opted for a general tour that included the fountains and especially Trevi fountain, which I had read about and seen in the movies all of my life. This tour also covered many of the sites which were in the Dan Brown movies, but also included the Coliseum, the Imperial Roman Forums, the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon and many of the Roman ruins. It lasted most of the day.

We actually saw the Trevi fountain a second time while in Rome while just walking around the city at night on our way to dinner. It was lit in a way that made it look warm, romantic, beautiful and 110910 0506__313mysterious all at the same time. It was as spectacular as I had imagined. We threw coins in the Trevi fountain and made a wish, just like in the movie Three Coins in a Fountain. Rome was a romantic and beautiful place.

The food in Rome cannot be forgotten. I am a pretty good cook
and I have been trying since we visited Italy to try to make some of these dishes. I have not succeeded. I don’t know if it is the extremely fresh ingredients or the spices or what it is, but I have 110909 1306__662not been able to even come close to that deliciousness. It is mainly pastas and pizza, but it is nothing like what we have here or anything that I could make, and then there is the wine that is amazing and the Limoncello after dinner. Wow! I have not been able to stop thinking about it.

We went on a completely separate tour of Vatican City and saw everything including St. Peter’sBasilica, the Sistine chapel, the Vatican Museum and we even took the 374 winding staircases to the very top of the Vatican Cupola, where we had a clear day and could see across the entire city. Both Joe and I grew up catholic, so seeing the Vatican after all of those years in catholic school was really something special from a historical, as well as personal perspective.

Joe had been an alter boy and always said he was on the Pontifical crew. That meant he was a server when the Bishop said Mass, at their church in New Ulm. It was a rare event and only the best alter boys served on the pontifical crew. So more jokingly than anything, he reminded me that he would be welcome at the Vatican, because he had served on the pontifical crew. I grew 110909 1022__270up with an uncle and a cousin who were priests, and six great aunts who were nuns, so I told him I would certainly be welcome, and so started the trash talk of who is the better catholic.

You cannot go into the Vatican with shorts, as you need to have your knees covered and your shoulders covered. We knew this from our research, so I wore a longer skirt and an appropriate shirt with sleeves. Many of the European churches require respectful and appropriate clothing, which is just fine, but it was surprising how many people were being turned away, because they
were wearing shorts and tank tops. Do your research.

We knew that St Peter’s is the site where they believe St. Peter himself was buried. We had also learned from our research that St. Peter’s is literally a burial ground for many of the past popes, and there are supposedly over 90 buried there. Most are interred where they cannot be seen, but St. Peter’s also has at least three dead popes that are on display, some of who passed on many years ago and others like Pope 110909 1119__660John XXlll who just died in 1963. They are behind glass, encased in the bottom portion of some of the alters, for all to view.

St. Peter’s is a huge church inside, with many alcoves and lots of alters, dedicated to various saints and popes. When you visit you see many people walking around looking at the beautiful statues and the priceless artwork. Others are praying or just reflecting on the history and unbelievable grandeur of their surroundings. People move around quietly, speaking in whispers, in the dimly lit alcoves and under the high ceilings, painted with frescos by the masters. Everyone is trying to get pictures of the beauty around them, even though the lighting is not conducive to good photos.

We were there to see the beauty and grandeur, but I also wanted to see the displayed dead popes and the corpse of Pope Saint Pius X, who died in 1914 and according to the Catholic Church, is showing signs of incorruptibility. Incorrupt corpses are the dead popes or saints, who the church believes do not decay through the normal process of decomposition after death, 110909 1112__276because of their holiness. The theory is that they were so pure, their body does not decay. According to the church, if a body is embalmed, it cannot be considered incorrupt.

When I read about these on the internet before we went, I had to see them. They were bizarre. One looked like he was almost gilded in gold and another just had a creepy washed out, leathery look. Pope Saint Pius X is now considered a saint and incorrupt. There are about ten 110909 1113__277saints and popes displayed throughout Italy that are considered incorrupt by the church. One is Saint Francis Xavier, who died in 1552 and another is St. Bernadette who is displayed in France.

Initially, incorruptibility was discovered by accident when the church was moving bodies. Over the years, it has become a religious phenomenon where some believers travel many miles to see the incorrupt corpse, seeking miracle cures and guidance. Because they are incorrupt, the belief is that they have special powers even in death and their sainthood and piety is proven through incorruptibility.110909 1126__279

Can a corpse be so pure that it does not decay? Who am I to judge, but it was one of the most interesting concepts and clearly from our visit, you could see that these figures provided many people with comfort and hope. And the reality is that the bodies, despite being many years old, still looked pretty good. Displaying dead bodies can seem ghoulish, but we saw many people praying in front of the dead Popes. Comfort, hope and guidance can come from odd places, but strong beliefs can be very powerful to an individual and the Vatican is a place where one cannot leave without experiencing a powerful presence.

For some, the Vatican is a pilgrimage of a lifetime and for others an interesting historical site steeped in fascinating and tumultuous and sometimes tragic history. But no natter what your religion, the Vatican is a destination that should not be missed. Rome should be at the top of any bucket list. From the Roman ruins to the fountains, the Vatican Museum full of priceless works of art and the city with the best food in the world, Rome is by far one of the most interesting and romantic places we have ever seen.  Its multitude of historical sites,
friendly Italians and rich religious history are an experience of a lifetime. When in Rome, throw coins in the fountain and say a prayer in front of a dead saint. Such places can be powerful and electrifying for the soul.

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Not Real Adults

Our family adventures gave our kids the self reliance to go on their own adventures as they became adults. When our youngest, Jenny, graduated from High School she was 18 years old and my son, Ben was already in college and was 20. The two of them and one of Ben’s friends, who had been at our house on and off for years, came to us with a plan for an adventure of their own. They wanted to take a two week driving trip to Glacier National Park, Idaho, and back through Montana and Colorado. They borrowed our Tahoe and took the GPS and mapped their route, through theIMG_3604 national Parks and federal campgrounds and all of the sites they wanted to see. Ben was studying geology and he knew specific areas he wanted to cover. They took the cooler and did mostly camping, but occasionally stayed at a hotel for showers and better beds. They made plans for the amount of money they needed and packed everything up and off they went. They stayed in contact, so we knew they were doing well and they posted pictures frequently on Face book and Instagram, of the gorgeous campsites, mountains and streams they were seeing. They actually planned ahead and took organic shampoo and they cooked over the campfire. As parents it was a little scary, but we knew they had the skills to handle the adventure and we were proud that they had the self confidence and drive to plan and go on this adventure. Everything went well and they returned with great stories and we could tell that they had bonded and seemed even closer than before they had shared this special adventure.DSC_4535 After they had returned, I happened to be at a neighbor’s garage sale. She had a son Jenny’s age. He was at the sale hanging out with some other friends. He asked how Jenny was doing andIMG_3389 I said that she had just gotten back from their adventurous driving vacation out west with her brother and his friend. He was really animated and excited and said that he had seen Jenny and Ben’s pictures on Instagram and mentioned one particular one with their orange tent in the foreground and the mountains in the back. I told him they had come back with some great stories about how they had gotten lost at one time, but Jenny then found their way out of that situation by navigating, and how they had met one guy in the campground who had taught them to bake bread in a Dutch oven over a campfire. The young guy’s mother was overhearing our conversation and asked me with a look of disbelief. She said, “They went by themselves?” I told her “yes,” and repeated the details, “my son who is 20, his friend who is also 20 and Jenny who was 18.” She repeated in disbelief again, “but by themselves? I said “yes.”  “With no adults?” she said. I said “No, they are all adults. Jenny is 18 and the other two are 20.” She looked at me and said insistently and in a firm tone with her forehead furrowed, “No I mean real adults.” I responded, a little confused and in a slow way, “They are real adults. “ She walked away shaking her head. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t tell this story tocriticize her as a Mom. God knows raising kids is not an easy job, we all make mistakes and there is no perfect way. But what struck me is that we try so hard to protect our children sometimes that we lose track of the reality of their age. In fact her son was also 18 and even though she felt he was not a “real” enough adult to be trusted to go on a road trip to some National Parks in the western United States, in fact he was adult enough to walk to a local recruiting office, join the military and be surviving in the deserts of the middle east and, all of that could be done without her permission. The one thing I have learned in hindsight is that our kids at every age would always live up to our expectations. When we showed confidence in their abilities, they had confidence in their own abilities and could be successful. We taught them early on that mistakes were OK and trying new things was essential, for a fun and full life.

I Forgot How Good Cherry Kool-Aide Tastes

desolate MNIt was -22 degrees today in Minnesota. On my lunch break I decide to stop at my favorite AAA office, because I needed some brochures to plan a trip out of this frozen tundra. If I have something, some big adventure to look forward to, I can go about my business in this state, even in the winter, with a smile on my face, because I have something to look forward to. It is a secret I learned about myself long ago.

Well I was off, but quickly grumbling in the entry way of my office building, because at these temperatures one needs every square inch of skin covered or it freezes. I had my coat, hat and scarf, but had forgotten my mittens back up on the 4th floor. I knew I could run to my car with my hands in my pockets, but I quickly realized I had to go back for the mittens because at -22 degrees I would not be able to work the icy steering wheel without gloves. So back upstairs I went.

Sufficiently crabby by now, I made my way to my car, mentally patting myself on the back for buying the car with the seat heaters. I opened the door and even the steel of the car door creaked like it was in pain. I sat and warmed my car the requisite 10 minutes—something my husband insisted should be done in this weather—to drive only five miles to the AAA travel office. As I pulled up to the strip mall setting of their office I could see all kinds of travel posters taped in the windows in awkward angles like music group posters in a thirteen year old kid’s bedroom. I already felt better, excited.

I found refuge in the warm office, and I swear they had the heat turned on high to purposely give one the feeling of better climates. As I peeled off my layers I could hear the steel drum music playing over the sound system, and I could hear the chatter of travel agents on their headsets, booking flights and explaining package tours to eager Minnesotans ready to escape.

I was waived to the seating area by the receptionist as she finished with her caller. They had Disney cruise and Disney park information everywhere and they had Mickey Mouse cookies and cherry Kool-aide in a large clear sweaty pitcher, complete with Mickey Mouse-shaped floating ice cubes. I poured myself a glass and washed down a Mickey cookie,  my cheeks tingling from the change in temperature. It was not a painful tingle, but almost an awakening of a sleeping limb tingle that brought a smile to your face. I could taste the sweet cool cherry flavor descend all the way down my throat and into my stomach. I could not just have one glass. It was like tasting the most refreshing drink I have ever had. It tasted like vacation and summer and picnics. It tasted like warm sunshine and bare feet in the sand. I forgot how good cherry Kool-aide tastes!