Monday, October 17, 2011

When Autumn Leaves Start to Fall

Chet Atkins playing Autumn Leaves is the perfect accompaniment for the photos I took yesterday when John drove us up the road to Rocky Mountain National Park to see the changing colors. The aspen trees always look splendid, but their Fall colors are my favorites.

It was a long day, since it began with me singing at both services at our church, First Christian in Loveland. We were there from about eight in the morning, or somewhat before that actually, until nearly one in the afternoon by the time we cleared the parking lot. I was wishing I had eaten breakfast, but I keep crackers in the back seat of the car and had two of those between services (great crackers, by the way—Crackerfuls, Four Cheese flavor). We took a lunch up the hill about twenty minutes to the park entrance, just the other side of Estes Park. We know how lucky we are to live that close.

The drive up along the canyon, following Big Thompson River was beautiful, but I always love rivers, and this one is popular with fly fishermen. On our way back down later we stopped and talked with one who said he was having a very good day, and didn't mind that I included his photo in my blog. He said the fish were biting, but not as much as he had hoped. Still, any day on the river is a good day. 

When we arrived in Rocky Mountain National Park we knew we were a couple of weeks too late to get the best of the fall colors, but it's taken the physical therapist a couple of weeks to get me to the point where I could get in and out of the car, climbing around taking pictures. We were lucky we made it when we did, since a storm front came in last night, and I understand the rain and snow pretty much did in most of the last of the leaves. If we hadn't made it last night, it would have had to wait for next year. I think we went through that last year, didn't we? 

My hip was a little extra sore this morning, but when I look at photos like this, it's worth it. I took about 300 photos, but lucky you... I've condensed my favorites into a short slideshow for you. And since nobody does it better, I downloaded Chet Atkins' version of Autumn Leaves as the accompanying music. He played as crisp and clear as the autumn air.

Friday, October 14, 2011

St. Petersburg, Russia, and Cruising

I grew up in a generation that feared the Russians. In the early 90s I was in the Thousand Oaks, California audience for the performance of the Red Star Army Chorus when they brought the audience to its feet, and most of us to tears by singing God Bless America. Even then, I never expected to walk the streets of a Russian city, tasting its beauty and photographing the extravagance of its culture.

As always, sharing the adventure with family made it so much more special. The cruise ship's second stop was St. Petersburg, Russia. Ben and I were both in pain, and everything we wanted to see seemed miles away, but we walked for hours, and the weather held off from its expected downpour until we returned to the ship. People in costume posed with tourists like us for a small sum, and we thought it was worth it a couple of times.

There are many photos that show John looking back, and that was because I continually limped along behind the group. I guess he figured they'd eventually lose me, but they never did. 

The buildings were amazing, a blend of spectacular and military grey. There was enough gold on some of them to fund a third world country. It will never be scraped off the buildings, of course, since it is their country's heritage in many ways, but it still astounded me to see the glitter next to the somber darkness of some of the older buildings. It is a country of contrasts, if St. Petersburg is anything to go by. Here's your Slideshow.

After wearing ourselves out trying to see everything possible in the city, we made our way back to the cruise ship, and I enjoyed my "daily spa treatment." I should explain that. The first night on board ship, Ben let us know he was going to the ship's spa for a drawing. Hardly anyone knows about this sort of thing, as they're off drinking and exploring. Ben always checks things out, and had learned that there was a "have to be there to win" drawing for products and services in the ship's spa. I invited myself along and got in on the draw. Ben and I sat there and listened to name after name being called, with the people not being present. It ended up with Ben and me each winning $250 in spa services. He used his for a couples massage with Ruth, but I split mine up for the daily massage specials, which meant I got a massage and facial every day we were on the ship, except for the day we disembarked. Sweet. Thanks, Ben. I've never used a ship's spa before. I'd never had a facial before—good things, both.

I spent the next day either with the kids or on deck photographing the Baltic as we went through the passage. It was beautiful, and sunset that night was incredible. I love being on the ocean, and a day at sea is a pleasure for me. 

The next morning, as we made our way through the small inhabited islands of the Baltic approaching Sweden once again, I enjoyed the early morning fog and mist that rose from homes and churches dotting what I believe was Finland for a time. It was remote and beautiful, and it appeared that people came and went by boat. 
There were few people out as early as I was, but I didn't miss having them in my photos. Some of the islands were tiny, and some were fairly large. You'll see a larger sampling on the Cruise Slideshow

We pulled into Stockholm at the end of the trip and were among the first to return to land. I have already shared photos of Sweden before and after the cruise, but there's one little side trip I failed to include. We went to a mall for ice cream, and I have to admit it was one of the most interesting presentations I've ever had. They split open an absolutely delicious cupcake or muffin, at the choice of the one ordering, and filled the split with an ice cream or frozen yogurt of your choice. It was way too much, I thought, for one person to eat alone, and the girls had cones instead, which they loved, but Ruth showed us the truth of the old verse: Where there's a will, there's a way.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tallinn, Estonia—First Cruise Stop

Each of the three years we've gone to visit the kids in Amsterdam, we've gone on an adventure together. This year our adventure was a trip to Sweden, followed by a cruise to Tallinn, Estonia and St. Petersburg, Russia, then a day cruising in the Baltic Sea, returning to Stockholm.

I've been working on a slide show for the Tallinn, Estonia portion of our trip this morning, while I'm "fresh." Physical Therapy yesterday took a lot out of me, but gave me hope that there's light at the end of the tunnel. There's just no replacement for a great physical therapist. I'm not sure how many years of training they have to go through, but the good ones, and I know I have one of the best, have magic hands and an incredible font of knowledge.

Estonia, at least the corner we visited, wore its age well. I would have loved to see it without all the tourists, but since we were part of the horde, I shouldn't complain. Everything in America seems fresh and young by comparison to cities and countries in Europe. They treasure their history, at least in the places we've visited. You'll see a modern building, something from the last fifty years or later, next to a building hundreds of years old that's been preserved and is still in use. They exist side by side and add character to the city.

As always, seeing these places with family make them more special, and going through the photos brought the memories back to life. I remember Kate having a melt down and wanting to be held, and how Ben picked her up and walked with her, even though his back was beyond painful. Ruth was so upset that he wasn't taking care of himself, I thought she'd grab the child away from him, but she allowed him to do what he felt he must. Their respect for each other, as always, melted something inside me—and Kate calmed down instantly.

Ben always researches thoroughly whatever places we'll visit and finds the most interesting things. Tallinn happens to have an out of the way romantic spot... a kissing statue that's said to be good luck for couples who stand and kiss next to it. They couldn't resist. We were coerced. Let's say we couldn't resist them. The photos of that are proof enough, and are in the slide show.

After walking back to the cruise ship and making arrangements to meet for dinner, I took something for pain and headed for the ship's spa and a massage. I was counting my blessings with every step. Enjoy the slide show. They represent precious memories to me.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Family Time in Holland

Before and after our trip to Sweden and the cruise, we spent days of love and laughter with Ben, Ruth, and our grandchildren. We enjoyed Kate's 3rd birthday, highlighted with laughter and the joy of watching how beautifully she knew how to share with Ashley. We were still there for the first day of the school year for Ashley and for Kate, starting preschool for the first time. We were there when Aiden turned 6th months old, and knew joy day by day. 

When I think of our travels, these are the first days that come to mind. It's not the monuments and tourist sites that made August memories the most special of treasures. It's the time spent with family. It's true that it's not where you go in life, but who you share it with that makes it special. 

There were times spent at the local play area near their home, when the girls ran from swings to other playground equipment. It's a nice place for children, and a great place for a nap, as Grandpa demonstrated. 

Ashley showed off her skill on a bicycle and the girls played in the sandbox. Ruth's patience seems endless. You can't hide the kind of parents you are when you invite the folks to spend a month. These are solid, loving parents—consistent and deserving of as many children as they can handle. I realize I've said this before, if not on my blog, then at least to friends: I'm so glad they're raising my grandchildren. I know my other sons well enough to believe they'll be good parents, too, when they're so blessed.

Just in time to see us before we returned home, our oldest son, Tighe, flew in to Amsterdam on a business trip and was able to join the family for a visit before getting down to work. It was such a wonderful time, and I loved hearing the girls count down the days before Uncle Tighe's arrival. They adore him, and it's no wonder why. He's so willing to get down on their level and play, almost tirelessly. Most importantly, he loves them back in the same way.

He had his arms and lap full almost from the moment of his arrival, it seemed, whenever he sat down. Standing up, someone was climbing one of his legs or dancing around him. Uncle must sound like a word of delight to him, the way their sweet voices sang it out.

Our time with the family was sweet, and here's a short slide show to share some of our favorite photos of those days.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Two Visits to Stockholm, Sweden

After a few wonderful days with Ben & Ruth and the grandchildren in The Netherlands, the trip to Paris, and a few more days in their home after our return from that marvelous trip, we all flew from Amsterdam to Stockholm, Sweden. Each time we visit their family in Europe, we have an adventure together, and this was the beginning of this year's journey.

It started and ended in Stockholm, but I'm combining the two visits to save myself a little confusion. My camera, unlike Benjamin's, doesn't have a GPS locator in it, and I was (again) a little careless about resetting the camera's date and time function. There you have it. My younger brain wouldn't have forgotten. Now I'm just happy to take good photos and sort through them later.

Because Ben hurt his back just before leaving for Sweden, he was in considerable pain and unable to lift anything, including children or luggage. In fact, he had all he could do to walk for a few days. At one point, Ruth looked at the kids, the luggage, and Ben. He was hunched over like an old man, his face twisted in pain. We were preparing to leave the house for a flight, a cruise, and another flight. "Are we nuts?" she asked me. "Probably," I answered, but none of us wanted to scrap the travel plans he had worked so hard months ago to put in place. Besides, we'd already paid for everything, so—carry on!

In Stockholm Benjamin bought walking sticks to help him get around in a fairly upright position. Ruth and John took up most of the slack with carrying the kids and luggage as needed. Until my shoulders are repaired or rebuilt, I'm very limited on what I can do without causing further damage, and my left hip hurts worse than either shoulder, so I was nearly as bad as my son. We were a motley crew, but together we managed everything. John is a trooper, with never a complaint. It's no wonder I call him my Sherpa.

The sights and sounds of Stockholm will stay with me forever. The weather was supposed to be heavy with rain and thunderstorms, but we got just a few drizzles and some glorious clouds. It was cool and bright most of the time, which made all the walking so much easier. I've mentioned before that I do not do heat gracefully. It's all I can do to be nice when the temperatures "soars" beyond 80°. Yes, I said 80. I love it around 60-65°. Even 70-75° is fine. That's about what we got.

Trust me. You've never been shopping until you window shop with grandchildren. They had so much fun trying on hats and wigs, playing with little wind toys and looking at things, I spent the one afternoon of shopping just laughing until my cheeks hurt. It amazed me how few times they expected to be allowed to keep anything. Once in awhile they'd ask, but it was never with the expectation of hearing a yes. Good parenting. You can't ask the grandparents to come for a month and hide what kind of parents you are, or what kind of relationship you really have. It's solid and beautiful.

The churches (or should I call them cathedrals?), theaters, canals and gardens were spectacular. If my slideshow seems long, rest assured you're not seeing one in thirty of the photos I took—especially of the children. 

I know it's not politically correct to say "my grandchildren are the cutest, the smartest," etc., and I always swore I wouldn't be that kind of grandma. Blame Ben and Ruth for having the children they have. I can't help it if I'm honest enough to admit that they are the cutest and smartest kids I've been around. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Paris for Two

Just the two of us? But we don't speak French... I really wasn't in favor of this trip at the beginning. I could picture getting lost and people laughing at us as we tried to communicate in sign language. I don't know sign language.

But Benjamin told me that Paris was the number one tourist destination in Europe for a reason, and this would probably be our last opportunity to see it. We should go. Alone. The two of us together. An early 35th anniversary trip.

I was excited, yet I was moderately terrified. I thought of the Louvre. I thought about walking along the Seine and seeing the Arc de Triomphe. Going up in the Eiffel Tower sounded like something I could force myself to do. Maybe. I found out it wasn't scary at all.

Most of all, I wanted to go to mass at Notre Dame. We did that, and although I didn't get much out of the sermon, not speaking any French besides ferme la buche (probably spelled wrong, but means shut your mouth) which I don't think the priest had call to use, it was beautiful. And the organ music was enough to make angels weep. Before leaving I was able to light a candle for my mom and Papa John in front of the rose window.

A little warning...if you ever want to go to church there, make sure to arrive at least an hour before service starts so you can actually get a seat.

John and I went on a wonderful cruise of the river Seine, ate crepes along the way (chocolate) and took photos. The bridges are amazing. We saw a bride and groom walking along, him fussing with her dress, and it seemed a sweet moment in time to me. There was also a boat accident that confused us, since nobody else on our boat seemed at all concerned about it, even though divers were going under the water and an ambulance was racing along the shore toward the craft. We never found out what had happened.

I'm not sure what kind of ceremony was going on at the Arc de Triomphe the day we were there, but they rather quickly closed it off from regular tourists and a bunch of military types swarmed in with flowers and such. It would have been so nice if I hadn't run my battery out of juice just at that moment.

We loved our time in Paris, and it amazed me how easy it was to get around on their rapid transit lines. Their metro is slick and well organized. I imagine anyone who can read any language using the same alphabet could very quickly learn their way around the city. Each stop has bullet points that show which connections can be made from there, so if you know what line you need to get to, it's easy to see where you need to transfer. They've made it simple.

I loved their train terminal. After having gotten lost and making it to our train by only three minutes in Amsterdam, where you absolutely must ask someone where your train is, since there's no sign telling you, this was pure pleasure. Everything was big, bright and very obvious. Yes, my slideshow is somewhat long, but maybe you can tell me later what I could have cut out. I couldn't decide.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

July in California—Family Gatherings

July only seems like ages ago because so much has happened since. My camera is the best indicator. I've taken over 2,500 photos since then. No, I'm not going to share them all. Don't you feel lucky? Here are some of my treasures, though, and a short slide show of moments and memories we shared.

We arrived in California on the Fourth of July and our first stop was at Aunt Lisa's home in Simi Valley. She's our Ruth's sister, Aunt to our grandchildren. We shared a pot luck and went on to their church's big grassy yard to watch the children play until the fireworks started. There were the requisite oohs and aahs, of course, and then we split up for our own beds. It was the first time we'd met our newest Grandson, Aiden. It had also been ages since we'd enjoyed a face to face visit with our granddaughters or our youngest son Ben and his wife Ruth. Simply put, it was a splendid evening together.

The week had a couple of other events I'll share. Beach day was a special memory. I know, I don't much care for the beach, even though I love the ocean. I just don't love the sand. It's hard to walk on and gets everywhere you don't want it to be. It's fun to watch the kids play in it, though, and I think you can do anything with grandchildren and have a blast.

The other really special day was visiting Great Grandma Zimmerman, my mom. Papa John spent most of the time we were there in another room. His eyes were bothering him, and the flash of the camera was upsetting him, so he didn't get in any photos that day. I'm more sorry about that than I can express, especially since he's gone now. The pictures we got were wonderful, though, and I'll share those. The girls loved picking oranges from Great Grandma's trees.

Finally, if you have time, I put togethe
r a little slideshow. This one isn't too long. As I progress through our European holiday later in the coming weeks, they might get out of control, but for now I'm using restraint.