Starting Over – It Only Feels Like a Punch in the Gut

Bob and I have been on the fast-track ever since we returned home from our trip to Europe at the end of April.  Our feet hit the ground running, or maybe they were shuffling and dragging.  Who can remember!  All I can tell you is – it’s been non-stop (our lives, not our flight from Europe).

Over the summer we had enough major events in our lives to do our own Lifetime made-for-TV movie.  Our youngest son got married.  Our middle son, his wife, and their baby, who had been living with us, moved to Michigan.  We sold our home of 32 years.  The home in which we raised our kids.  The home that Bob drew up the initial plans for.  The home which we had chosen every detail from floor to ceiling.  The home that was in a neighborhood where most of our closest friends live.  Okay, enough of that.  And, we bought and moved into a new (for us) house.  Now, after forty years of marriage, we are official empty-nesters.

This morning as I was trying to get pictures hung on the wall, I wasn’t prepared for how difficult it would be to hang this one.  I’m not talking about my usual challenge to do anything handy around the house either.

This is not the home where my story began.  Plus, I’m a little old to begin a new story.  I guess I should have left this plaque at the old house.  It doesn’t seem to belong here.

I remember when I bought it.  It was an encouragement.  Now it confuses me.

Yet, I cannot sit in the silence of my lovely new home and not write.  Soon I will have the last of the pictures hung and the last box unpacked.  What will my excuse be then?

So today is a small beginning for me.  This is my first written offering from my new home.  It was not without challenge.  I am writing in a new space with less ready-made distractions – no neighbors that I know and no people living with my husband and me (especially no cute little grandbaby).  It’s going to take some getting used to.  I can do that.  I got used to eating spinach.

For now, I think I’ll post this and go hang my picture.

Road Rage

I don’t remember when I had been so angry or felt so misunderstood.  It was a revealing moment that had me name-calling and yelling in frustration.

I was driving down the street and clicked on SYNC, the command center in my car.  Usually I’m greeted with a melodic chime prompting me to ask my personal assistant, who hides somewhere in my dashboard, to do something for me.  More accurately, I tell her to do something, like get directions or make a phone call.

I never say please or thank you.  There’s no need.  Of course, there is also no need to be rude with her either.  Until today – because she was acting like a real jerk.

My most-used command is “Call Bob.”  SYNC and I have been through this hundreds of times.  She always answers me, “Calling Bob,” and everything is fine and dandy.  I guess she had been feeling taken for granted though, because this day she acted like I was speaking gibberish.  I tried again and again.  She kept telling me (The audacity! She was telling me what to do) to say a command like Navigation or Phone.  I played along for a while until I realized she was playing me for a fool.  That’s when I let her have it.  I called her a moron and told her she was as useless as a cassette tape deck.  She continued to command me with that smirky chime of hers.

SYNC is supposed to be a safety feature enabling me to keep both hands on the wheel, but I was so fixated on getting through her thick dashboard that safety was the last thing on my mind.  I had been yelling at her for about two miles when I realized that I was losing this battle.

“You win,” I told her as I dug my phone out of my purse and made the call like I used to way back in 2013.

She smirked again, “Chime.”

I hate her.

You'll be happy to know that SYNC and I are communicating well again.  I had to let her know that I am her boss so I reinstalled my phone.  There are no hard feelings.

You’ll be happy to know that SYNC and I are communicating well again. I let her know that I am her boss by reinstalling my phone. There are no hard feelings, but I wonder if the “Do Not Disturb” is her subtle way of getting in the last word.


Land Shark – Another Florida Reality

Coming to Florida soon?  I’m sure you’ll remember your sunscreen; but you might want to pack mosquito repellant, bear pepper spray and shark repellant, too.  Why?  Because it’s a jungle down here.  And a swamp.  And sharks turn up in the oddest places.

Mosquitoes:  The county in which I reside, Orange County, was formerly named Mosquito County.  The name change was made in 1845 when Florida became a state – probably a good idea promoted by whatever was the equivalent of a chamber of commerce back then.  Everyone loves those Florida oranges, but due to a couple of severe winters in the 1980s that destroyed many of our lovely orange groves, you are more likely to be bitten by a mosquito than find an orange to bite into down here.

Bears:  Recently I was driving through a residential neighborhood on a late afternoon and a Florida black bear crossed the street in front of me.  He acted like he owned the place and I guess he kind of does.  We have had them visit our yard on a few occasions.  Raccoons and opossums also frequent our area.  And I don’t even want to talk about snakes (so I won’t).

Alligators:  For me the scariest things in the wildlife realm down here are alligators and sharks.  According to The Defenders of Wildlife’s website, there are approximately 1.25 million alligators in Florida.  Considering our population of nearly 20 million people, that means that there is about one alligator for every 16 Floridians.  That being said, I stay out of our lakes.

Sharks:  I can’t make myself stay out of the ocean, even though I know what lies beneath is pretty scary.  I also can’t bring myself to stay off the highways, which are far more dangerous than our swamps, rivers, lakes and oceans.  Just last week, there was an accident on I-95 in Volusia County (Daytona area) that illustrates this point perfectly.  In that accident, thankfully, there were no people injured, but one shark lost its life.

Yes, I said a shark was in an accident on I-95.  A semi-truck was transporting sharks to an aquarium in New York when a tire separated causing the driver to lose control of the truck.  In the tradition of every fish story you have ever heard, this story has grown a bit.  At first I heard there were three sandbar sharks in the accident.  Then I heard that there were four hammerheads.  The last count is five great whites, but one of them may have been a lawyer who showed up at the scene when he heard sirens.

So there you go, you aren’t truly safe anywhere, so why not enjoy that trip to the beach and take a dip in the ocean.  Be cautious.  Stay close to a lifeguard and be very careful as you drive there.  But, please, stay out of the lakes.  Don’t go crazy on me.


The famous Land Shark from Saturday Night Live


Photo Credit: Mindi Osbourne

Last night we attended a Matt Redman and Christy Nockels concert, which was really a big worship session.  It is a privilege to freely worship in this country, and it warmed my heart to devote an evening to worshiping God.  It was like a feast for my hungry soul.

This morning I was still basking in the experience of the night before.  Then I turned on the news.  In Charleston, South Carolina, another group of Christians who were freely worshiping the same God at the same time had their lives end.  It breaks my heart for them and their families and their community.  One thing that I am aware of today as I pray for those affected is this.  We all need Jesus.  Every day.  Every moment.  Those families know that more than ever.  We will be talking about this for some time.  Let’s be praying as well.  Pray for these precious people to be comforted as they walk through this very dark valley.

We’re On the Right Track (Europe Part 8)

 Most of the notable challenges during travel have involved trains.  Inside of the train terminals there are kiosks, which I assume you need some kind of higher education to operate.  Either that or you need to be a teenager.  Fortunately for us while we were trying to figure out our train from Salzburg to Munich, we encountered a group traveling together being led by a German teacher from Boston.  She had traveled to Germany many times and showed us the cheap tickets that allowed us to get to Munich and then have the rest of the day with free use of their transit system.  Unfortunately, she led us to believe that we could take any train.  This was not true.

This became crystal clear after we boarded our train.  Unlike every movie I have ever seen, there are not porters standing by the doors waiting to check your ticket.  You, and I mean we, are supposed to know which train we are  getting on and where our seats are on that train.  After all, it is clearly written (no it isn’t) on the signage.

We made our way from car to car and found the car with the bar.  There we discovered that we were in fact on the wrong train.  The bartender and a gentleman traveler interpreted our ticket for us.  We had boarded the fast train.  Oops.  A man who looked a lot like Dumbledore was watching us and speaking to the others in German.  It seemed he knew what he was doing and what we should do, but it did not seem like he spoke English.

After much discussion by the three men, they agreed that we should ride the train to the next stop, just five minutes away.  The bartender said, “The conductor won’t be coming by anytime soon.  Just stay on.”

Then Dumbledore spoke up in perfect English, “That is best.  Just get off at the next stop.  You will be fine.”

I knew this was the closest I would ever get to hopping a freight (even if that freight did have air conditioning, a bar and cushioned seats).  Plus we had the blessing of the bartender and Dumbledore.  We stayed on.  After all, it was only a five-minute ride.

Three minutes into the trip, guess who came through our car.  That’s right, Harry Potter.  No, the conductor.  My sister, who was facing that direction, had the color drain from her face as she whispered, “Here comes the conductor.”

I assured my co-conspirators that I would not implicate them.  As the conductor passed us, the bartender and I exchanged a look.  I mimed biting my fingernails.  Dumbledore gave me the thumbs up.

We pulled up almost to the station and sat for ten minutes.  There was discussion as to whether or not we should make a run for it, but we were cool.

As we disembarked, the train we were supposed to be on pulled up.  I looked back at our first train and there was Dumbledore, pointing us in the right direction and giving us a thumbs up.  And then he disappeared.  Okay, his train pulled away.  It was magic.

The Right Train

The Right Train

Winter Can Be Sneaky (Europe Part 7)

We were enjoying our car ride back to our resort in Pongau, near Salzburg, after a lovely day touring the castles of King Ludwig II in Bavaria.  By the time we got in our car, we noticed the weather had cooled and the wind had picked up.  Off in the distance we could see cloud cover begin to cloak the tops of the Alps.  I figured it might be snowing up there.

The scenery was unbelievable.  My mouth pretty much hung open the entire trip.  We were happy.  Bob, my husband, was enjoying driving along the mountain roads.  (Side note – If you ever go on a trip to Europe and plan on renting a car, consider asking Bob to come along and chauffeur.  He is amazing.)

I was getting cold.  I touched the glass on the window and knew the temperature had dropped.  The indicator on the dashboard read an external temperature of 11 degrees.  (Double the Celsius temperate and add 30 to give you the fahrenheit.  That meant it was 52 outside.)  Not bad, but cooler than earlier.  I watched as the temperature dropped to 9.  Then 8.  Quickly it was 2 degrees.


Soon we encountered a few snow flurries.  How exciting!  My first Austrian snow.  It looked a lot like the snow we have in the U.S. except the flakes were enormous.  They looked like they could have been cut out of paper.  Now the temperature was zero (double that and add 30 – you get 30).

We were winding through the Alps.  It was getting dark.  The flurries had turned into a snow storm.  This Florida girl was not liking it.

We were about 45 minutes from our resort when the snow started accumulating on the windshield and the road.  The temperature held at zero.  The speed limit was around 80 kph, not that we were going that fast.  At one point a car in front of us stopped and Bob had to swerve around him to avoid a collision.  I think the other driver must have skidded and panicked.  We pressed on.


We were heading down the mountain so we figured we would be driving out of the snow, but no.  It was picking up and now it was totally dark.  We were so thankful to pull into the parking garage at our resort and sleep safe and sound in a warm bed.

The view from our balcony April 22 in St. Johann at Pongau, Austria.

The view from our balcony April 22 in St. Johann at Pongau, Austria.

The next morning was beautiful and the weather had warmed up.  We could see the beautiful new dusting of snow on the roofs and trees.  The server at the cafe told us winter had decided to come back but it was gone again.  What a difference a day makes.


Oh My Gosh, Oh My Gosh (Europe Part 6)

Here is a perfect example of you cannot judge a book by its cover.  Or, in this case, you cannot judge a hill town by how it looks from the outside.

As we approached our resort, we rounded a bend and saw this view.

All four of us exclaimed in unison, “oh my gosh, oh my gosh.”  It was magnificent, towering in front of us beckoning us to come in.

When the day arrived for us to visit the Oh My Gosh (as we like to call it), we were shocked. It’s actually in the town San Casciano de Bagni.  Today it is a medieval ghost town.  Amazing on the outside and deserted on the inside.  We still enjoyed the view immensely but it was surprising.  I guess that’s why Rick Steves does not mention it in his guidebooks.   Oh, Rick, we are sorry we deviated from your guidance. It won’t happen again.

Florence – Why Don’t we Call You Firenze?  (Europe Part 5)

I cannot figure out why we call some cities by their native name and others by the English/American version.  For instance, Rome vs Roma, Florence vs Firenze, Munich vs Munchen.  I have decided not to contemplate this too much because I am on vacation, but I will say it is much more fun to say Roma, Munchen and Firenze.

Speaking of Firenze, that was our destination today.  Florence had the hustle and bustle going from the minute we turned onto its streets.  Cars stacked up at intersections and motorcycles darted in between them in spaces thinner than a pepperoni.  It was unnerving but totally worth every nail that was bitten off during the drive.

Seeing the Statue of David by Michelangelo would be reason enough to go to this city. He was magnificent.  At 17 feet tall, he literally was head and shoulders above all the other statues in the corridor.

 He was not the only attraction in his area, though surely he was the main attraction.  Michelangelo also had a hall lined with his Statuas Incompiuta (Unfinished Statues).  According to Michelangelo, the figures were already in the stone just waiting to emerge as he sculpted.  They were fascinating.


 And, of course, there is a duomo in Florence.  As we left the city an orchestra had assembled on the front steps of the cathedral and gave a small concert.  They appeared one by one as musicians playing solo and then they came together with a sound so magnificent that it brought tears to my eyes.


As we headed down the autostrada toward our resort, an hour and a half away, we decided we would take a different route home.  We exited at Chiusi to look for dinner in this small town or any of the others that dot the meandering roads on our way back.  It was not looking too promising to find anything.  The landscape was becoming more and more rural.  Our plan was to follow the signs for the first eatery of any kind that we came across.

Since there was nobody else on the road, when we noticed a small sign Bob screeched to a stop and we turned up the unpaved road.  This was what they refer to here as a white road – gravel and narrow.  At the end of this road we found a charming little restaurant, Trattoria del Contadino, and had the best meal of our trip.  We were the only guests and were treated like VIPs – from the antipasto tray all the way to the limoncello at the end of our meal.  It was perfecto.

Unfortunately we lingered long enough that Bob had to drive the white road out of there. We were thankful to be back in our beds that night.

The views at night are a bit more terrifying.

The views at night are a bit more terrifying.

Orvieto (Europe Part 4)

Our first stop out of Rome was Orvieto.  The thrill of visiting our first hill town made it even more impacting.  The beauty of these towns will take your breath away.  So will all the walking.  The town center is typically dominated by a cathedral, which may or may not have a dome.  I thought duomo always would translate to a church with a dome, but it does not.

Orvieto’s cathedral has one of the most spectacular facades that I have ever seen.  Here is our first peek at it.

 This is an example of Italian Gothic architecture.  Of interest is how the look of the facade changed as the afternoon light on the colorful mosaics made them shine like the sun itself.


 Strolling through this medieval city was like walking through a fairy tale.  I kept having to pinch Bob to make sure I wasn’t sleeping.


I hope you enjoy these few shots.  Ciao for now.

The Sistine Chapel (Europe Part 2)

During our last trip to Rome the Sistine Chapel was closed for the day – that was quite the disappointment.  But, since I had thrown a coin into the Trevi Fountain on that visit I knew I would return.  This time I was not disappointed. Michelangelo’s magnificent ceiling was more beautiful than I had imagined.  But it was his The Last Judgment painting that got to me.  As you walk into the Chapel, you pass under The Last Judgment.  The symbolism was striking.  I entered into the chapel under judgment.  I walked out in freedom because of what Christ did for me.  He took my penalty.  The One who was sinless has cloaked me in his righteousness.  Such a picture!

Photographs are not allowed to be taken in the Sistine Chapel.  The tour guides take you to the museum gardens near the chapel and explain what you will see.  There are panels with pictures of all of the art work displayed for their tutorial.  This is a picture of The Last Judgment from one of those panels.

Of course it does not do the original work justice, but in case you have not seen it before, I wanted to show you.  Especially vivid is the bottom right corner where those who were not covered by the blood of Jesus entered eternal damnation.  Of interest, the man depicted prominently is said to have criticized Michelangelo’s work.  I guess that is one way to be immortalized in art.

The other work that affects me so much that I find it difficult to stop looking at it is La Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica.  Michelangelo was 23 when he was commissioned to do this work.

 Our guide told us that it is said that Michelangelo worked alone.  Other artists had students who often worked on projects with them, but Michelangelo did these two works of art alone.  My take on what she said is that his genius did not lend itself to working and playing well with others.  That made me think of how God has gifted people so individually for the work that he has for them.  Perhaps If Michelangelo was more of a teacher or less of a perfectionist he would not have created these masters.  I am not an art scholar by any means, but that was food for thought for me.


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