Reflecting on a Year of Loss, Inspiration, and Hope ~ 2018

When another year draws to an end, as 2018 is on the threshold of, I look back on each experience with gratitude and forward with hope and anticipation. This year is no exception, as I reflect upon all the blessings that we were given, one of the most significant our incredible trip to Patagonia earlier this spring, a journey into a rugged world I had dreamed of exploring for decades. I am truly grateful that we continue to be healthy enough to embark on these trips and am hopeful that we have many more in our future.

Hope, like a candle burning in the darkness

As I sat watching CBS News Sunday Morning earlier today, and the depth and breath of the many public figures who left us this year scrolled across the screen, I found myself reflecting back upon the considerable number of people we have said farewell to in our small community where we winter – 16 according to my count. This does not include the number of family members we have lost this year, whose numbers also seem to be higher than the norm. Extending beyond that, there are several in our community who are dealing with chronic health issues as I write this post – a remarkable woman (and friend) who continues to fight back from a serious illness early this year, a new-found friend with a chronic health issue who is awaiting a much-anticipated life-changing call, a long-time friend who recently was taken aback when a somewhat common medical procedure resulted in something much more serious, a childhood friend’s baby brother who left a wife and family much too soon, a blogging friend who lost a lifelong companion, just to name a few.

Whenever someone passes who has touched my heart or a friend is dealing with a challenging health issue, I find it a gentle nudge to not squander any of these precious days we have remaining. But this year (perhaps it is the sheer number of deaths we have heard of this year) has me moving beyond that less than subtle reminder, reflecting instead on the courage and the grace I have witnessed time and again, both with those who faced their own mortality, those who were left with the gaping hole these beautiful souls left behind, and those who have persisted mightily in their quest to regain their health. I am continually inspired by these remarkable individuals who have touched my life, those who have shared some of their more “real” moments with me.

My sincere hope is that we all find a path forward that allows us to embrace each day, amidst the trials, and that this path provides us with intense moments of happiness, many beautiful experiences that create wonderful memories, plenty of reason for laughter, and an abundance of love. For those who are struggling with the loss of a loved one, may your memories soften your grief, and for those dealing with chronic illness, may each day bring new healing.

Here’s to a new year filled with moments of deep gratitude.

“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.”  ~  Denis Waitley

Photo courtesy of

Creating Stress-Free Travel During the Holidays

I have never been one to enjoy flying the friendly skies during the holiday season, trying to avoid long security lines and schlepping luggage through crowded airports at all costs. This has never invoked a sense of peace in me, and even less so in hubby, whose looks during the times we have ventured onto airplanes during this joyous season would keep anyone at arms’ length. 😲

After a lengthy autumn road trip to visit family and friends and before the frigid weather descended upon the Midwest, we opted to take a more laid-back approach to the holidays this year and still escape from home. We found ourselves getting back behind the wheel three short weeks after we arrived home, this time not to hopscotch across the country but with a single destination in mind – Albuquerque.

We have recently discovered the joy of housesitting, something I have read about and questioned others about for many years. I always seemed to push it to the back burner instead of doing the research necessary and developing a profile for ourselves. This year I took the time, did my homework, and jumped in with both feet. We have completed three sits and are now doing a fourth, spending the holidays in a beautiful setting, looking forward to visiting friends, and immersing ourselves in the local culture, of which there is plenty.

Housesitting is not something you would want to consider if you don’t like getting lots of slobbery, grateful kisses, but is especially rewarding if you need a fix of the furry 4-legged variety.

Since we are still doing lots of traveling, we have opted to not have a pet in our lives right now, so for us this has been the next best thing. This type of adventure has also put us in position to explore areas new to us, which always broadens our lives.

While we settle into this lovely Albuquerque home and prepare to enjoy the sights, sounds, and aromas swirling around us this festive season, we are grateful for the time shared with family and friends this year, as well as the friends I have met in the blogosphere. You have all enriched my life more than you can know. I will be forever thankful for all the wisdom you have imparted, the beautiful images you have shared, and the intriguing destinations you have added to our travel list.

May each day of this holiday season fill you all with a sense of wonder and awe and find you looking forward to a new year with a daily sense of gratitude. We wish you the happiest of holidays and a 2019 filled with countless new adventures, good health, and lots of love!

Big City of Little Neighborhoods

Most of us have probably traveled to a destination, planned or unplanned, not having high expectations, only to be pleasantly surprised. We recently had one of those “ah, this is so nice” moments when we visited the “big city of little neighborhoods” – Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We knew Madison, the state capital to be special, as Terry had lived there many years ago, but we weren’t expecting Milwaukee to charm us like she did.

We were doing a housesit for three weeks in one the smaller towns nearby and when our hopes of hiking and biking the trails were quashed due to the plummeting temps, a visit to the big city situated on Lake Michigan rose to the top of our sightseeing plans, and we found it so inviting that we kept going back for more.

In no particular order, here are our top 10 picks of Milwaukee gems:

1/ St. Josaphat Basilica

Built in 1888 by Polish immigrants, this beautiful church was designed after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and is in the Lincoln Village neighborhood, on Milwaukee’s south side. When the plans for this spiritual house were nearing completion, the priest at the time, Fr. Grutza, was told that the Chicago Post Office and Custom House was going to be razed, so he purchased it for the sum of $20,000 and had the salvaged materials brought to Milwaukee by flat cars. For this reason, many of the doorknobs today bear the seal of the U.S. Treasury. It was the third church in the United States to be raised to Basilica status.

2/ Milwaukee RiverWalk

The Milwaukee RiverWalk meanders through the heart of the city, tying together three riverfront neighborhoods – the Historic Third Ward, Downtown, and Beerline B. The RiverWalk extends more than twenty blocks from north to south and is sprinkled with permanent and changing art exhibits. It was a delight to walk on a warm autumn day when the trees were sporting their deep red and gold attire. It is a wonderful way to discover so much of what Milwaukee has to offer, lovely boutique shops, craft breweries, and award-winning restaurants.

3/ North Point Lighthouse

Perched on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan in Milwaukee’s Lake Park, the site of this picturesque lighthouse was chosen and built in 1855 to mark the north point of Milwaukee Bay. Located in the Historic Water Tower neighborhood, the height of its tower is not that impressive, standing at just 28 feet, but with its bluff-top perch, it hovers 107 feet over the lake, and its Fresnel lens projected out across the water 20 miles. Unfortunately in 1888 bluff erosion forced the government to build another lighthouse further inland. It stood vacant for years until the Friends of North Point Lighthouse brought it back to life as a museum in 2007.

4/ Historic Third Ward

The Historic Third Ward, a neighborhood onto itself, is one of Milwaukee’s more creative endeavors, home to studios and art galleries in former warehouses and performing arts venues like the Broadway Theater Center. Restaurants are trendy and boutique shops sell fashion and home accessories. The indoor Milwaukee Public Market, open all year, has a wide array of interesting shops, including the renown St. Paul Fish Company, where Terry had his first lobster roll and a long walk afterward to walk it off. 🙂

5/ St. Joan of Arc Chapel

In the Avenues West & Marquette neighborhood, tucked among a mix of modern and vintage architecture, a “sacred heart”, born of medieval France, graces the grounds of Marquette University. The oldest building in Milwaukee, dating back to the early 15th century, the St. Joan of Arc Chapel is the heart of this Catholic university community. In the 1920’s a railroad magnate and devotee of St. Joan of Arc purchased this chapel, had it dismantled in France, and shipped to her property on Long Island. Over the years she sold the property and the new owners in time offered it to Marquette University, where it now sits nestled among the towering trees. Today it serves as a spiritual community gathering place.

6/ Lakeshore State Park

Lakeshore State Park, situated in the East Town neighborhood, has a network of walking/jogging trails running along Lake Michigan. It is a great place to fish and has a marina where boats can be chartered on sunny days. For us, it was a great place to get some exercise while enjoying views of the city skyline.

 7/ Milwaukee Art Museum

Also in the East Town neighborhood, the Milwaukee Art Museum is one of the largest museums in the United States. The museum’s unique design, sitting near the bank of Lake Michigan, is like none that I have seen, looking more like a futuristic airliner ready to take flight. It was one of our favorite attractions in Milwaukee.

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The Burke Brise Soleil, the museum’s signature movable wing-like sunscreen, can be raised or lowered to control heat and light in the glass-enclosed reception hall below it. Weather permitting, the wings open at 10 am when the museum opens and close at 5 pm when the museum closes. The wings also flap (open and close), at noon each day, to a musical accompaniment. The wingspan spreads 217 feet at its widest point, wider than a Boeing 747-400 airplane, and weighs 90 tons. It would be wonderful to see these wings from a sailboat on a warm sunny day on Lake Michigan.

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8/ Milwaukee Pierhead Lighthouse

Located in the Harbor District neighborhood, the Pierhead Lighthouse marks the location where the Milwaukee River flows into Lake Michigan. Built in 1872, the lighthouse had a keeper until 1926, and today is solar-powered and operates on auto-pilot. From the pier you can get a peek of the Breakwater Lighthouse as well, two for the price of one. 🙂

9/ Black Cat Alley

The Black Cat Alley had to be included on my top 10 list, due to my love of street art. Located in the East Side neighborhood, this alleyway was transformed from an unlit walkway into one of Milwaukee’s top photography destinations, thanks to the talent of a dozen local artists.

10/ Harley Davidson Museum

Located in the Menomonee River Valley neighborhood near downtown Milwaukee, this museum may well be the crown jewel of the city. Even if you are not a motorcycle fan, or not a Harley Davidson enthusiast, one cannot deny the rich history of this company, nor its staying power. This company most likely deserves its own post so I will leave you with just one photo to piqué your curiosity.

“Serial Number One”, the oldest Harley Davidson in the world, built in 1903, is a bit of a mystery and a Harley legend.

One thing that was for certain, we weren’t leaving Wisconsin without reconnecting with friends we met during our time living in Mexico, a lovely couple we haven’t seen in over seven years, who now live near Milwaukee. We enjoyed a delicious dinner at the historic Fox and Hounds Restaurant in nearby Hubertus and were thrilled to catch up with them. Theirs is the kind of friendship that neither time nor distance can diminish.

Although the photo quality may not be the best, the company certainly was. Thanks so much David and Les for taking the time to reconnect.

A New Way of Riding the Rails

Over 30 years ago, a group of like-minded individuals came together, railroad history buffs, conservationists, walking and biking enthusiasts, those dedicated to the concept of connecting communities, all with one common vision, to transform discarded railroad beds into something appealing, something useful, a place to build healthy spaces for healthy people. The initial seeds planted were spreading, so much so that these individuals felt a dedicated organization was necessary to foster their growth. This is where the non-profit Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) was founded, in February, 1986, based today in Washington, DC. Their mission is to work with communities across America to convert unused railroad beds into a nationwide trail system, shared by walkers, runners, bicyclists, and wheelchairs alike.

Since the RTC’s start, more than 1,800 rail-trails have been developed across the country, spread across all 50 states, totaling more than 21,000 miles, with many other projects on the drawing table. These miles of now paved or crushed stone trails, once old rail beds, have been transformed into beautiful paths, almost always flat and almost always scenic – think mountains, rivers, and bridges.

This concept has become so popular, used by so many, that in 2007 the RTC decided to recognize model rail-trails across the nation, through its Rail-Trail Hall of Fame. Those trails selected are based on a number of qualities, such as usage, trail and trailside amenities, historical significance, scenic attributes, community connections, among others. Their first inductee, in July of 2007,  was the Great Allegheny Passage, 150 miles of trail running from Cumberland MD to Pittsburgh, PA, affectionately dubbed the GAP.

We have only had the opportunity to bike on a few of these wonderful trails, and have toyed with the idea of checking more of these off our list. Terry did some research and discovered that one of the more well-known, the Katy Trail, was nearby our midwestern travel route, so we made a detour and found ourselves in a state we have rarely visited, Missouri.

The Katy Trail, the longest rail-trip system in the  country, at about 240 miles, runs almost the entire width of Missouri, east-to-west, following a portion of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. It follows an old rail line for the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas railroad, the MKT for short, or even shorter, the KT, hence the name Katy (phonetic version).

We positioned ourselves in the little town of Rocheport, close by two of the favorite spots along the trail, towering bluffs overlooking the Missouri River and the V-shaped petroglyph on a cave east of the town.  We were only able to bike 50 miles of the Katy before the weather changed, bringing in rain, but the section we were on ran along the Missouri River and those towering bluffs, alongside deep woods and open fields and meadows, and through tiny towns. We met an enthusiastic group biking the entire length, who invited us to tag along. Had we not had previous commitments, we would have gladly joined them.

Many rural communities along the length of the Katy Trail have been resuscitated since its completion. This trail passes by more than 40 of these small towns. Rocheport, which once offered only a few antique stores, is now a recreational destination, sporting restaurants, B&B’s and even a winery, which we visited. In fact, I have read that you can find several vineyards just off the trail. In September of 2007 the Katy Trail became the second member of the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame.

Riding the Katy Trail and reading more about how the rail-trails system began has inspired us to experience more of them. Before the Katy, we had only ridden three others – the Bizz Johnson Trail,  in Susanville, CA, the B&O Trail, in Brownsburg, IN (in its infancy), and 7 Capital Crescent Trail, in Washington DC.

“Great rail-trails very seldom sit still. They branch out; they bridge; they knit together communities.”

Have you ridden/walked any of these incredible trails crisscrossing the US? How about sharing your experience? Photos are always welcome. 🙂

Enjoying the Heartland with Family and Friends

Me & baby brother Al.

As we pushed farther into the Midwest, or what some know as the heartland of this country, we were hoping for some quality time with my youngest brother and family. We knew that with three very active children and two busy jobs, time would be limited, so we scheduled our visit accordingly. I was hoping that with the crazy schedule the kids have, we would at least get a glimpse of all three and a quick hug. As luck would have it, we got more than that. 🙂

A small town in Illinois, population 1,500, is where our road trip took us, a town next door to where I grew up as a kid. Even back there I guess I had wanderlust as I spread my wings and flew west right out of high school, but seeing this community again, and the tight group of friends my brother’s family has, it is obvious that it’s been a great place for them to raise their family.

Even before we arrived we discovered that our niece Paige was scheduled to play in an out-of-town volleyball game, one of just a few sports she excels at. As luck would have it, it was not far from where we were so we made a detour and joined mother and grandmother in the bleachers to cheer her team on. The night was a disappointment for her team, with a very unusual loss for them, but we were grateful that we were able to see her play.

And our nephews, being boys through-and-through, showed us their skill on their dirt bikes. Our youngest nephew Blake had recently healed from a rather serious break due to a dirt bike accident, but as is often the case with the youth, he “got back on the horse” as soon as he healed. His older brother Seth did much the same thing when he had a scary dirt bike accident a few years ago.

Getting kids to sit still at all, much less when aunts and uncles visit, is a tough job, so we were grateful they took some time to slow down while we were passing through.

We had good weather until that weekend, when high winds came through, damaging their new pool, followed by another storm later that day, bringing rain/snow showers. Looks like no Indian summer this year.

While in Patagonia earlier this year, a couple of dear friends, as well as neighbors, moved back to Evanston, IL to be closer to family. We were saddened by the news so we knew that, if within striking distance of their new home, a visit would be on our agenda.

Most of our time in Evanston was spent just catching up on our lives, but our friends, Kent and Cookie, also agreed to be our personal tour guides of the lovely city they now call home.

One of the more memorable stops was to the Bahá’í Temple in Wilmette. The grounds were lovely, even this late in the year, and the architecture striking, but the Bahá’í vision was what resonated most of all, a vision of hope and healing.

“All peoples and nations are of one family, the children of one Father, and should be to one another as brothers and sisters.”   ~  Bahá’u’lláh

As much as we enjoyed our visit with our friends, the four-legged member of their family, Petie, almost always steals the show, and this visit was no exception. I wondered if he would remember us after this long of an absence, but as soon as we walked into the door he jumped up on my leg, threw his head back and howled, a sure sign that he recognized us. Hugs to all three of our Evanston friends. We are grateful for your generosity.

Me and my buddy Petie.