Sunday, December 21, 2014

Kule Yule Tidings 2014

Melé Kalikimaka e Hau’oli Makahiki Hou! 

My hope is this Holiday Season finds you and yours in good health and spirits. As I write, mana pours from above onto parched westlands. The small creek behind my house has swelled beyond its banks and onto nearby roads. Funny how three years of drought can change ones perspective of minor, local flooding. Let it rain, let it snow, let it snow. 
Bill, John & I - Switzerland
(Click the photo once to enlarge. Click X in upper right corner to return to text.)
LBz 2014: In recent years I’ve had an eye on my Bucket List, adding and reprioritizing. This year I checked off a big one. I spent 5.5, late-summer weeks in Europe hiking with friends. The trip was built around hikes in the Alps and fjords. Huts are sprinkled throughout the Alps along the Swiss Haute Route (haute = hut, pronounced “oat”). They provide hot dinners and breakfasts, cold showers and warm beds; reservations required. We learned the Swiss detest desecration of their land with cleared campsites and fire rings. The hut system allows hikers to travel lighter-faster-farther. To that end, the huts are 8-10 miles apart and shortly after breakfast, off you go toward your next hut. Its a fascinating and well marked trail system supported seasonally throughout many European countries.
We met many wonderful hikers and my pack weighed a fraction of what it did last year in the high Sierra. We’ve never done a “supported” hike before, we had  sherpa/guides, Swiss cheese and chocolate at every break - FUN! We will definitely do another such hike and I have my eye on the Inca Trail in 2016.
Prague @ night
Our route between hikes was sprinkled with old world cities and fishing villages turned Atlantic oil ports: Salzburg, Prague, Oslo, Stäväńger, Haugesund, Bergen, Stockholm, and Amsterdam. We visited UNESCO World Heritage sites in each location. Many of the old cities are tourist traps littered with trinket shops but if one can look beyond the kitsch, the architecture and stories are quite interesting. Prague has the esteemed reputation as a rare, old city spared annihilation during the bombing raids of WWII. Overrun first by the Nazis then the Soviets, they have returned palaces to them that can prove ownership. We toured the Lobkowicz Palace and viewed handwritten scores by Beethoven and Handel! We took guided walking  tours in Stockholm and Amsterdam and learned their secrets and hideaways. I wore a fitbit pedometer during the entire trip. Most days, we walked ten miles.
me @ Preikestolen - 2500' down
The fjords were fantastic, breathtaking and a must return destination. Back onto the Bucket List with Norway! Turns out Norway shares latitude and weather with Anchorage, AK (with which you may remember, I am quite familiar). One of our premiere hikes to Kjerabolten (pronounced Sheerabutn) was rained out with its peak literally in the clouds. Of our hike to Preikestolen - the  pictures say it all.
We toured the palace in Stockholm just days before the opening of parliament. When a parade of plumed horseman and empty carriages passed us, we raced to stand out front, to see the King and royal family depart.
“You saw the KING?” the hostess of our B&B asked with incredulity. “I haven’t even seen the King!” We proudly displayed the photo of her King waving in our  direction.
early Rembrandt self-portrait
The Rijksmuseum (Dutch Master’s museum) in Amsterdam is also back on the Bucket List. There we stood before Van Gogh and Rembrandt self-portraits, Rembrandt’s The Night Watch (which is enormous) and some of his early attempts at playing with light. I am a Vermeer fan and the Kitchen Maid was just exquisite. The museum provided iPhone-ish devices into which one entered a code to hear a brief history of these priceless works. Photos ALLOWED - without flash natch. Amsterdam has several such museums, each requiring at least one full day of exploration. We did visit Rembrandt Square where many of his characters are brought to life in full-scale bronze  sculptures.
The Kitchen Maid - Vermeer
I have two complaints about northern Europe: 1) it IS the land of milk, cheese and meat. They do not suffer vegetarians well. I spent almost 30 days eating Italian food because it was the only way to eat vegetarian. 2) Many of the old cities thrive on the backs of tourists with value added taxes as high as 25% but have made few, if any provisions, for these tourists to pee! I was so annoyed. Even pay toilets are an acceptable alternative to NO toilets.
Their citizens were wonderful. We had many trip-angels help us buy train tickets and head us in the right direction, write a list of things to do in their city, recommend restaurants, help us at the washrei (laundromat) and backrei (bakery).
“I don’t usually help tourists,” the young woman said after walking us to the train kiosk, helping us purchase tickets and sitting with us on the train to Oslo, “But you were so friendly on the plane.” 
“Keep helping tourists!” I called back, waving as we de-trained.
Stävävańger, Norway
“You’ve had a good experience in Norway?” the young man asked as he stuffed his clothes at the washrei. “We’ve been friendly and helpful?” 
“Yes, people have been very friendly and helpful,” I confirmed nodding.
“That’s good,” he nodded once with some finality, “Because we are known to be not so friendly.” He worked for a company that made machine parts for Atlantic oil drillers and spoke of family in Seattle.
We met Sierd Jongstra, a lovely Dutch oilman from Friesland, while prowling the harbor for nighttime pictures. In the end, we traded emails and I sent photos.
Talk to strangers - you will meet the most fascinating people!
Toward the end of our journey, a new Bucket List idea was seeded. That is, to live in Europe for several months post-retirement (which approaches more quickly than I can believe). Take my bicycle outfitted with baskets for food and goods - that way I can assemble my own raw, live, green foods. Live in northern Europe earlier when the weather is moderate and allows for quick excursions north, to the fjords for instance, when the weather forecast is clear. Then move to experience southern Europe and the Mediterranean. European extended holiday now added to the list in addition to visiting every US National Park.

post reconstruction
I finished two major home remodel items this year - the travertine floors and removal of my living room’s back wall. My home backs to a dedicated greenbelt/animal corridor and I envisioned opening it from the moment I stepped inside -  and now, the reality is beautiful and tranquil. My dear friend/gen contractor Wade did exceptional work and captured my vision, turning this small, tract-house into my home.
I finally wrapped my backyard oaks in lights - something I’ve been wanting to do for years. You’ll be happy to know I employed my climbing harness and rope to get 30-feet up. I think it took me longer to remember how to properly tie the figure-8 knot than it did to wrap the trees!
My cul-de-sac and street continue to hold biannual BBQs that promote cohesion and “neighborliness”. I love living on Gardner Court with the Courties!

I continue to work in the Neurology Memory Clinic at Kaiser. It is sad and necessary work to help families understand, then care for persons who’s brains are UN-learning - its counter-intuitive. I do find myself missing the worlds of diabetes and cardiac surgery where patients get better, go home and have an opportunity to reverse disease.
Yoga continues to reign as my preferred sport though tendonitis in my left wrist has curtailed some arm balancing and handstands. I find greater physical challenges by deepening the pose and spiritual connection in its meditative practice.
I continue to blog at though home construction, disruption and travel seriously slowed my pace in 2014. 

Lael & Darth 9/2014
In news of the family: While I was away, niece Lael married longtime sweetie Darth. Family reports the wedding was magical - and on the beach in Hawaii - natch. My great niece and nephew seem to grow before my eyes and I am thrilled to receive new pictures every few days over our shared iPhoto stream. If you haven’t connected your family in this way - you must! I feel so much more connected, even from 2000 miles away.
On a much sadder note, in a matter of weeks we lost both my Uncle Sonny and Aunt Gert. Theirs was the home in which we gathered every NY eve and day. Uncle Sonny would start strumming his guitar as we scurried for our ukuleles. He called out the chords, we followed and sang Hawaiian songs in kanikapila (Hawaiian jamming). Now and again an aunty or cousins would rise and dance the hula. At midnight, the racket began - strings of ten (or hundred) thousand firecrackers lit in rapid succession to ward off evil spirits in the new year. Wonder why I am always home at new years? I learned the true meaning of aloha in their home and theirs is a devastating loss for our clan. Knowing that he was ill, I flew home for four days in November and we three had a wonderful visit. I am thankful for the foresight and resources allowing those last acknowledging and loving moments with them both. Indelible is their imprint on our hearts.

What’s in store for 2015? 
Mom & her twin Milly turn 90 in April and we are planning a party for the girls. So my next trip to the islands will be in April.
The annual, national nurse practitioner conference is in New Orleans and I hope to combine that with visiting several friends in the east. Also planning a visit Cancun in September - a European hiking reunion of sorts. There we will tour the Mayan pyramids and lounge on the beach. I am researching the possibility of spending a week in Yosemite as a volunteer with the Yosemite Conservancy. Typically this involves trail restoration of some sort with park employees and other volunteers. It will involve sleeping in a tent at a remote location. Right up my alley! Its a great way to combine volunteerism and a park visit during the summer. They reportedly have many more applicants than spots so keep yer fingers-n-toes crossed for me!
That’s all folks! Would love to hear from you too. Sending you joy and Hau’oli Makahiki Hou!