Friday, December 24, 2010

one more

post for today- some more photos-

we always laugh about the "fat German boy" comment because as long as I was growing up my dad was slender but apparently he was quite heavy when my parents got married.

so here is a photo of them - when they were in their very early thirties- from in front of my grandfather's cottage on the Gulf of Mexico (more on that at for a later post I think)

and here is one from their wedding in 1951 - you can see my dad was quite a bit heavier- my mom always said it was the change from his mother's home cooking - who knows- my grandmother was a great cook but I think my dad liked being such a hunk married to a hot babe (of course they didn't think of themselves with those terms then...LOL)

ha ha ha

so of course I am thinking about lots of things my mother and I did over the years that we were traveling companions.  we pretty much loved everything about traveling - the planning - the trip - the photos to review afterward - the stories we gained through our experiences.  I think it might be said that there was hardly a trip we had a bad word about.  but you did catch that "hardly" didn't you?

let me back track a bit. my mother traveled her whole life.  her father had the travel gene and he passed it along to his two daughters, my aunt Phyllis and my mother Jane.  my grandfather took a tramp steamer out of New Jersey when he was barely of age.  he went down the coast as far as Florida and got "shanghaied" by a lovely young lady from Cincinnati that he met at a country club down there.  the rest was history... he married the young lady- my grandmother Catherine-  and moved north to start a career of 47 years with Cincinnati Bell Telephone company. but he never lost his wanderlust and headed off to various spots around the globe over the years.  when I was ten we went to a bon voyage party for him as he headed off to Africa.  at ten this seemed to me to be the most exotic place I could imagine

during the war years my grandfather and my mother's great aunt Fan saved rationing coupons for gasoline so that they could travel across country to take Fan to visit relatives in California.  each time they went they took a different route. they would drop Fan off and head back to Cincinnati and later Fan would take the train home. 

later when my mother had married my father (my grandfather was incredulous about her intentions..."You aren't marrying that fat German boy are you?" ) she still had "itchy feet" as my dad always called it.  she continued traveling after a fairly short hiatus to have three kids.  My dad called her TA (traveling Alice- Alice was her given name.)

after the kids were gone and my dad still working she traveled with her father and sister and with me.  sometimes she even convinced my dad to go places - he did business in England each year so frequently their trips were to some European location easy to get to once they were already in the UK.

I digress - this is actually the story of one of our trips- a trip we lived to tell many tales about but a place we swore we couldn't understand the appeal of.

after having made inroads in Germany, Italy, France and England we decided to visit Ireland.

we planned our trip for the end of June the beginning of July thinking summer would be the best time to visit.  we wrote and faxed to hotels and B&Bs and plotted our route through the southern half of the country. 

we had some fabulous meals and saw some wonderful sights but found the weather to be disagreeable.  not an occasional day in the three week trip but the whole entire trip.  but the best of our stories upon our return was of the day we took a trip across a lake and up through the Gap of Dunloe.  because the weather had been so awful- even though we planned this day as our 4th of July celebration (think outdoor BBQ back home with sun and heat) I had bought a lined windbreaker the day before this particular journey. (thank god for foresight)

the trip was billed as a boat ride across the lake, a lunch at a lodge on the other side, and a jitney or horseback ride up through the Gap of Dunloe ending at Kate Kearney's cottage for a pint. and here is what we endured. 

bad enough that it was about 40* F, but about ten minutes after our boat left the dock it started to rain.  the boat man pulled out garbage bags to put on our laps.  about a half an hour or forty minutes into the boat ride we got to a place where he made us get out of the boat in the rain so he could take the boat through a shortcut passage that was too shallow a draft for the boat full of the six of us (my mom and me and a nice family of four.) my mom refused to get out.  here is a picture of her in the boat.

then after we finally arrived at the lodge for lunch we got a cold sandwich and a soda.  we chose the jitney over the horses and got in the back of the carriage.  we hadn't gone more than fifteen minutes from the lodge when the driver of the jitney told us to get out and walk two miles up the hill through the Gap because the horse couldn't pull the four of us (my mom and me and two young teen boys.) my mom refused to get out - and stayed in the jitney while I walked the miles up hill through the Gap of Dunloe in the rain.  more photos:

remember this is the fourth of July- and we ended up at the cottage as billed and I spent the entire time we waited for the shuttle back to town outside in the rain because the cigarette smoke was too thick to stay inside- awful day, awful weather, awful place.

we learned all too well why Ireland is green- and we agreed we would never ever go back

another example- here is a photo of Bantry Bay from a day or two earlier:
this was mid day

so this morning I was thinking about various trips my mother and I took and when I remembered this particular day in Ireland I got a good chuckle-

the Irish are very fun people but they can have their country - don't really understand why the Brits wanted it in the first place- just god-awful weather!

the lodges

is the name of the place where my mother spent her last year and a half of life.  we always kidded her that she actually lived at the Ritz.  she was an assisted living resident because she came there needing some nursing care as she had been very very ill in the summer of 2009.  she got a whole new lease on life when she moved there. 

we called it the Ritz because she had her bed made each day and her garbage emptied several times a day and all meals either delivered or in the dining room. they serve a fabulous Sunday brunch - hotel-like - with shrimp and an omelet station and waffle station.  they offer a full array of activities including bridge (my mother's game of choice) twice a week and trivia twice a week.  she was on the Lodge trivia team which recently played the local firefighters (or maybe it was police officers.)

but more than the facilities or the service the thing that made the most difference in her life there were the members of the staff.  she loved them and they loved her.  she did have her favorites but she always said good things about each and every one of them.

her nurses Jamie (whose wife gave birth during the time my mom knew him) and Char were special to her and among the closest friends she made while there were a woman named Betty and her daughter Christine- they both worked at the Lodges and sadly lost their daughter/sister at nearly the same time my mother and I lost Janna.  my mother felt very close to all of these people.

she also spoke frequently about her bridge and trivia group of friends Jane, Ralph, and others including Gaby, a social director at the Lodges.  and we always looked for Dora the resident cat (fat cat) who roamed the facility. 

these folks made my mom's life more enjoyable and I know they extended the time she spent with all of us as a result of that.  they have been angels in the best sense of the word - to my mom and her family.

so today we will post a few angel pictures -

top- ireland
middle - estonia
bottom - russia

Thursday, December 23, 2010

the day after

condolences keep coming in and already a sympathy card arrived in the mail.  today I am feeling much more peaceful and less agitated.  here are some of the comments from folks - both those who knew her and those who knew of her:

Amazing woman to think of such a classy exit with her wish to scatter the ashes on your future trips
she was an amazing woman- one to celebrate not to mourn- she 100% lived her life the way she wanted to  and left the same way
Look forward to her joining us in Tunisia! Her first stop.
The losses are hard. The memories are good.
I find comforting the idea that now that your mum is joining your sister, she will also remain by your side in your travels. What a lovely way to share her love still after she has left our world.
your mom was a remarkable person and we were blessed to have her touch our lives
I know we will each miss our mothers intensely this Christmas season, but there is some comfort in knowing that those strong, wonderful, I-still-don't-know-how-they-did-it-all women are at peace.
I'm so so sorry for your tremendous loss. There is something quite exceptional about being able to leave the world on one's own terms and I admire the courage and will it requires. Things that seem to not be in short supply in your family. Funerals can feel so rushed and surreal. I like your tradition and am eager to raise a glass (Canadian mist cocktail, I hear) and hear a few more stories about the amazing woman, your mother
Sounds like she was quite a woman and lived and died as a true individual.  You must be so proud!  Take her ashes around the world, I think she will enjoy the trip!

I got your email and just didn't know how to convey my absolute sadness at the magnitude of your loss, particularly after the loss of your sister. I know you are strong, and brave and that your family doesn't make "a big deal" about death, but I can feel your "aloneness" all the way in the pacific, and I grieve for you for your loss. You were so very blessed to have had such a remarkably close, fun, exciting and adventurous mom, and the idea of you taking her with you on future trips is - well - just so befitting of the relationship you had. So for once, I just don't have the right words, but please know we are sending love and hugs your way, today and always.
she was a great mother and a wonderful woman
She had a great and long life. We all should be fortunate enough to enjoy the same. I'm sure you are left with a mountain of good memories. Cherish every day.

as I said a few posts ago- we go on...

since we are nearing Christmas I thought I would post a couple of photos from a trip we took one year at Christmas to Greece.  we enjoyed the island of Rhodes without hordes of tourists and then had Christmas Eve dinner in a place in the courtyards of Plaka in Athens.  for many years we have traveled over the holidays as a lot of places have special deals and it is no problem finding space on planes on Christmas Day- so typically we ended up coming or going on Christmas Day.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


into spirit.  my mother left her physical body this morning.  leaving us all sadder and yet joyful for her life well lived.  she did pretty much whatever she wanted and was blessed to have a loving husband and family and deep friendships to carry her through her life and her journey to the end.  she will be missed but lives on in all those she touched.  amazing woman.

she died peacefully- having left life as she lived it- on her own terms- as I have said – she was and will always be a spectacular woman- and I could not have asked for a better role model.

she will be cremated and her ashes scattered by me in countries she didn’t get to that I visit, so that she can “visit” them with me.

my mother’s family has a tradition of celebrating life and having death go by pretty much un-ritualized and so as she requested, there will be no funeral or service- and as per our family tradition we will have a celebration of my mother's life at her favorite restaurant in the spring when all her grandchildren will be able to attend and we will raise a toast to her and the gifts she passed along to all of us.

here is a small bit written to me by one of her closest friends this afternoon-

I am devastated.  She was certainly a woman of great resolve, courage and a true friend. Never complained no matter what.  How many  women can we claim to know who handled a husband's long illness with dignity and grace and faced her own trials without ever dominating  conversations with bad news.  I will miss her. She made the decision about her leaving as I would have expected -  on her terms.  Scatter her ashes wherever she wished and may flowers bloom in tribute.

and from another close friend-

Your mother was my dear friend.  We have laughed until we cried, literally.  Once, Jane had me search her condo high and low for her keys because she had lost them and we just couldn't find them.  Finally she got up to go to the bathroom and I noticed them on her chair, she had been sitting on the keys the entire time and never felt them and I'm not talking about a couple of keys, this was the entire key ring full of keys! 

One day when I was home sick, I was channel surfing and came across an Ester Williams movie marathon on the TMC channel.  I called to let her know that the movies were running all day . . . we each watched the movies at our own places but called each other several time during the day to discuss the movies and how much fun they were.  Needless to say, I could go on and on with such stories and share the wonderful memories I have of time spent with your mom. 

I have moments of sadness but there is also great joy in her being released from the suffering that she never complained of until it truly over took her life.

my sister, brother, mother and me (two years ago)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

years ago

I went out on a few dates with a guy who told me he lived with the 30 second rule.  this simple rule was to be as open in communications with his loved ones so that if he had only 30 seconds to say everything he needed to say before he died - he would have no trouble completing all of his messages.  in our family there has never been any doubt about the love we all have for each other - even in the most estranged times for us we still have the loving- my parents gave us kids the best foundation any parent can give a child- that of knowing your parents love you regardless of whatever boorish behavior you may be exhibiting on any given day.  And we had plenty of that over the years- especially I am sure through my parents' eyes. 

as my mother nears the end of her life I am struck by the enormity and finality of her decision to leave us and also of the inability I have to help her on this journey, to be there in the way she was always there for me - I can't go with her, hold her hand make sure she isn't afraid

that she doesn't suffer in any way-

I am just as helpless to assist her as I was my sister.

in the last months of my sister's life I sent her a letter expressing some of the same emotions I have about my mom today as we get nearer and nearer the end.

"The day after I learned of your most recent diagnosis I had this urge to get in my car and just drive- keep driving until I drove far enough away to be relieved of the burden of my concern and worry about you – but of course there is no such place and I can’t run away - the stuff just comes along with me– the only place to go is where I ended up going- HOME – I am sure you know what I am talking about – there is no place to get away from it- and the only refuge as far as I can tell is in myself.  I am so afraid for you and of losing you I can hardly express it- I love you so dearly- I want to support you and yet I know that I can’t come over and just cry – what kind of help would that be – me being such a big baby about it and you being so brave and Tom being so steadfast – I want you to know that despite the fact that I don’t call or write all the time – it isn’t because I am not thinking of you and praying for your recovery – I am – no hour goes by in my day- and I mean that literally - that I don’t think of you. I love you. If I can will your return to health I know we could do this together because your courage and my will should be an unbeatable combination."

I could not will my sister back to health any more than I can travel my mother's path with her now.  in the end we make our journey alone - I only hope we can give each other some strength through the love we hold in the process. 

I have no fear of the 30 second rule.  my mother knows I love her as absolutely as she has loved me and as she passes into spirit I hope and pray that she gains strength from that loving and her transition is a peaceful one.

the first

trip my mother and I took together - just the two of us - was to San Francisco.  I had lots of frequent flyer miles and paid for the tickets that way and she paid for the hotel.  I don't remember now (more than 20 years ago) what the hotel was named but I do remember it was off Union Square by a block or two and it was a lovely room. 

we spent our days as absolute tourists - because we were- I had never been to SFO but my mother had so in a way she showed me the city and was a guide.  she and my dad had been there a couple of times for business meetings.  in the years since I have probably been to SFO thirty times for business and pleasure- maybe more.  it is now one of the most familiar US cities I visit. 

but that first trip was one that showed us how compatible we were as traveling companions. 

we went to Alcatraz and did the tour (I have since been back with Phil and the tour was more extensive the first time and went into areas now closed off- probably due to the risk managers restricting access.)  we went to fisherman's wharf and Chinatown and Ghirardelli square.  we took a city tour that took us to the Japanese gardens and to the Marin headlands as well as the cathedral. we rode the cable cars (still among my favorite things to do in the world.) and had dinner at Jeremiah Tower's Stars on Redwood Alley.  he was the first celebrity chef I knew and I still remember that my entree was pork tenderloin.  it was fabulous but could have easily served three people. 

today I know SFO very well and over the years we have had numerous awe-inspiring meals at Gary Danko but back then I was a rookie traveler and foodie and it was all new and exciting to me. and I did it with my mom, who instilled in me the genuine pleasure of discovery and passed along from her own father the traveling gene.

Monday, December 20, 2010


through photos the last big trip my mom and I took together.  along with my aunt Phyllis, we took a cruise along the Dalmatian coast - visiting Croatia, Montenegro and Greece - with quick forays into the lesser exciting countries of Albania (garbage anyone?) and Bosnia (heading back there a bit later but first trip was only rafting and a passport stamp)

even then - five years ago- my mom had limited mobility and although she was not yet confined to getting around in a wheelchair she participated mostly by watching the scenery go by from the boat deck and by my recollection only took one side tour we were offered along the way (to Delphi)

here are some photos of the wonderful trip- some of these things my mother only saw by looking at these same photos.

a view of the Starigrad harbor on Havr Island

market produce from Havr Town market

Split harbor boats along the Croatia coast

Dubrovnik at night - one of the few days we had any rain at all

a view from the wall surrounding Dubrovnik

souvenir soap made with olive oil for sale on Corfu Island in Greece

a view of the Kotor Bay from a maritime museum in Montenegro

 food at a home hosted meal

our small ship- held only 50 passengers.  it was called the Harmony G

while I know I had a fabulous trip, and so did my aunt- I am not sure that it was as wonderful for my mother who was seeing the end of her traveling days at this point.  she of course, as always, put the best face on it claiming it was better than sitting in her living room even if she did only get off the boat occasionally - and she was probably right about that.

we traveled together to a number of places and as I am losing her I will probably bring up some more of these reminiscences as a way of holding on while letting go-

Sunday, December 19, 2010

finally worked out

my menu for new year's eve dinner.  as I mentioned a while back I was thinking food tour of the US since we are hosting three European friends for the dinner. so here is the menu as of today and I think this will be fairly close to the final one.