Author Archive for julie

I joined 47 other adventurous Christian women in the Freedom Climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, at 19,340 ft, the highest mountain in Africa.  The purpose of the climb was to raise awareness of human trafficking and to raise funds to support projects to combat human trafficking.  Each of us had a goal of raising $10,000.  And we came close; as a group we raised over $325,000!  Several months later, I met my goal.

The projects we supported are those funded through Operation Mobilization, the umbrella organization for the climb.  The projects are in 118 countries and include provision of basic shelter and necessities, long term rehabilitation, trauma counseling, life skills training, micro-loans for small business start-up, education, prenatal care, and basic support for the women and children affected. Why would we do this?  Climbers were from 10 states in the U.S., Canada, England, Ireland, Kosovo, Cambodia, South Africa, Russia, New Zealand, and Gambia.  Each of us had her own reasons, but I had thought about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro for several years.

When I learned of this group and the great cause for which they were climbing, it was a perfect match.  Others in the group had served as missionaries and had seen the effects of human trafficking or worked with victims.  The youngest of the group was 18; the oldest (me) was 73.  Most of the climbers were in their 40s and 50s; one was 62, two were 65, and one was 70. I spent several months in Colorado before the climb, living at an elevation of 5000 ft.  I trained by hiking Pikes Peak with about half of the women who participated in the climb.  I also hiked 6 to 10 miles three to four times a week in the hills and trails around where I was living in Colorado.  Others worked out in gyms with trainers and hiked wherever they lived.

We flew from our various starting points to Nairobi, Kenya, where we spent the night in a hotel.  The next morning, we had an orientation meeting, were divided into four teams of 12 each (I was on the Red Team), and met our guides.  We drove in vans to Kibo Slopes Lodge in Loitokitok, Tanzania, 143 miles southeast of Nairobi.  On the way, we saw many cows and goats, a few sheep, a herd of donkeys, a giraffe, some zebra, and marabou storks.  At the Lodge, we met the prayer group, 10 women who were going to pray for us during the climb.  We repacked our day packs and duffel bags (maximum weight 8 kgs [17.6 lbs]) and weighed them to make sure they did not exceed the weight limit.

On January 11, 2012, a National Day of Awareness of Human Trafficking in the U.S.,  we drove to the starting point and met our crew of about 130 guides, porters, and cooks, distributed our duffel bags among the porters, and started on the trek at 1:05 pm.  We each carried a day pack with at least 3 liters of water, snacks, rain gear, hand sanitizer, toilet tissue, sunscreen, and first aid supplies. Porters carried the tents, food, and other supplies.  One of the porters carried a medical kit of emergency supplies.  We were always to stay behind the guide who led the way reminding us to walk “pole, pole” (slowly, slowly).  We were to take 4 ½ days to reach the point of the start of the final ascent.  The slow pace was to help us acclimate to the change in altitude and decrease in oxygen in the air we were breathing. We started at 6890 ft. elevation and had a fairly smooth path through trees so it was cool and shady but became rocky later in the day.

The rocks were 4 to 8 inches in diameter with no spaces in between which made for difficult walking. I saw a couple of colobus monkeys. There were some beautiful bright colored flowers peeking through the bushes along the way.  We walked 1 ½ hours then stopped for lunch at a picnic table and had a lunch of salad, avocado, mango, banana, tea, coffee, and  hot chocolate set up by the porters.

A permanent toilet (similar to one in a campground in the U.S) was available. (The rest of the day, we went behind trees or bushes for our toilet.  We had to carry toilet tissue and a plastic bag to carry the tissue out.) The last part of the path was covered with good sized rocks.  When we reached our campsite after a 6.2 mile hike, the sleeping tents with our duffel bags inside, cook tents, dining tents, and portable toilets were set up.  At the end of the day’s trek, we were invited into the dining tent for tea.  This consisted of popcorn, cookies, tea, coffee, or hot chocolate.

We set up our sleeping bags, set out clothes for the next day, then had a typical dinner; soup followed by a high carbohydrate meal for energy (pasta or rice and bread) with a sauce of vegetables and chicken or tomato sauce and often fresh fruit, usually oranges and avocados.  We were to bed early to be prepared to get up and continue our trek in the morning. In the morning, Day 2, porters brought us basins of warm water and we had a quick wash of our face and hands.  We had a big breakfast of porridge, fried eggs, toast, fruit, and coffee, tea or hot chocolate.  We then started hiking. We walked through several ecosystems; the vegetation changed as we increased in elevation.  Trees gave way to bushes.  We stopped at some caves at 11,811 ft for a short rest then continued on a short way to the second set of caves at 10,827 ft. and had lunch.  The path today was rocky the whole way which made for a difficult hike.

We walked pole, pole for 8.7 miles which took us 10 ½ hours.  (The longest I had ever walked prior to this trek was a 10 mile hike that took 4 ½ hours!). At our camp that night we had a good view of Mawenzi peak, a rugged peak a distance from Mt. Kilimanjaro.  After our tea, filling of our water containers with boiled water (and adding iodine tablets), and dinner, we went to bed.  We overnighted at the edge of the forest belt.  We slept in our clothes, the same ones for the last couple of days.  It was cold at night so uncomfortable to change.

Day 3 we hiked 5 hours to Tarn Hut (a tarn is a small lake formed by glaciers).  We reached the foot of Mawenzi Peak at 14,206 ft.  Some parts of the hike were hard up and down and some real rock climbing going hand over hand.  I had to be helped over some of the rocks (I have short legs). We had radio contact with the prayer group and I was able to speak with them. They were anxious to hear of our progress and to let us know that prayers for us continue. We also always prayed before meals and if one of us had an ache or pain or was discouraged, others laid hands on us and prayed.  It was a spiritual journey as well as a physical one.  Sheila was my prayer buddy and prayed for me during the climb.

Day 4 we hiked across Kibo Saddle a barren, fairly level stretch of sand with occasional very large rocks.  We had long views across the sand.  I felt like we were in a desert as we were above all vegetation.  It was hot sometimes and cold and windy at other times.  We descended to about 13,123 ft then up to 15,583 ft. at the School Hut.  This was a long hard day but I was able to keep up although I was very tired at the end of the day.

At 4 pm, we lined up like sausages in our sleeping bags to try to nap, two to a mattress, on five twin-sized mattresses that were lined up side by side.  We were roused for dinner at 6. I wasn’t hungry and didn’t eat very much.  We went back to bed to try to sleep till 11 with plans to start the ascent at 12 midnight. Then it was time for the final attempt to summit!  When they called us at 11, I just couldn’t do it.  I had not slept, was tired, and looking at another 12 hours or so of hiking.  Of course, I wish now someone had urged me to get up and go for it!!  Another hiker, Sue, also didn’t do the ascent she had not slept for 4 days and was exhausted.  I did have a headache but an acetaminophen took care of it.  The Red Team left about 12:30 am and I tried to go to sleep.  We learned later that 7 of the 12 of the Red Team summitted at Uhuru Peak, the highest point, a remarkable accomplishment. I didn’t sleep well and we had no breakfast because we were supposed to be climbing the mountain!  A porter took Sue and me directly to our camp for that night.

The climbers descended to an intermediate camp for a meal and a rest before hiking the rest of the way to our campsite.  Sue and I walked from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm to our camp at 12,205 ft.  Climbers started coming down; Cynthia was last and arrived at 9:30 pm after a hike of 21 hours!  Two of the climbers had to be carried down the mountain from the campsite; one was exhausted and one was hypothermic.  Incredibly, 43 of the 48 climbers summitted.  We set a record for the largest all-women group to attempt the climb and for the largest percentage (90%) of people who summitted.

Afterward the climbers told stories of the difficulty of the climb to the summit with many manifesting altitude sickness by vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, and hallucinations.  Near the top, they had to cross a glacier and walk on ice and snow. The courage of  the women continuing to climb in spite of the difficulties is incredible. The last day, we had a 6+ hour walk to Marangu Gate through forest.  I saw some blue monkeys.  My feet were really sore after the downhill.  They were fine till about the last hour.  When we reached base, we gathered by teams and gave out the tips and gifts we’d brought: shirts, pens, and souvenirs of home.  Many of the climbers gave some of their socks, shirts, and climbing gear to the porters.  We then drove to Loitokitok cottages where we had stayed before the climb.

We arrived about 9 pm; I was too tired to eat dinner so took a shower and went to bed. Would I do it again?  Yes, in a heart beat!! But this time I would hire a porter to carry my day pack and would try to summit.  Before we left, we were advised that “No matter how much it hurts, keep going.  If you don’t continue, it will hurt worse to come home and say you didn’t make it.”  That was to be my mantra, but I forgot it!  And yes, it does hurt to say, I didn’t reach the top.  But I did climb further, longer, and higher than I have ever done before and I am proud of that effort! Check out for more information about the projects and a video of an interview on Fox TV (the footage shows me climbing, hat, white shirt in front of some climbers.)

I participated with eight other women from various parts of the U.S. in 2010 as a Global Volunteer in Calderon, Ecuador.  We were the 136th group of Global Volunteers to Ecuador.  We worked in two child care centers that were founded by a group of women from Calderon to provide assistance to single and low-income mothers.  Global Volunteers assisted in building the centers.  A second story is being added to one of the centers which will enable them to double the number of children they can care for at that center.  We were there to help in any way the director and tias (teachers) wanted help.  The children were 7 months to 4 years old.

Center #2 is organized into a nursery (7 months to 2 years), an art room, a construction room, a home room (set up as a home), and a kitchen and a large common area where meals are served.  There is one tia in each classroom with approximately 15 children.  All the tias, kitchen workers, and children spoke only Spanish.  We helped diaper, wash hands and faces, comb hair, feed, play with the children, and practice our Spanish.  We traced pictures so that all the children would have the same picture to color or to paste pretty paper pieces on. We read books to the children (upside down and in Spanish: quite a feat), swept the floor after meals, and put the children down for naps (8 children per bed; lined up crosswise).

I loved working with the babies.  One day Tia Paty called roll (remember these children are 7 months to 2 years).  She read out their whole names.  The children were to raise their hand and say “presente” and most of them did it!  She also called our names and we raised our hand and said presente which the children thought was quite funny.  By the time these children reach their second birthday and are moved to the next room, they are potty trained.  Tia Paty works very hard to ensure this.

We rotated through the various rooms and took our turn in the kitchen, peeling, cutting, dicing, and slicing vegetables for the meals.  One woman installed toilet seats on new toilets, two grouted a newly laid tile floor, and two worked in the yard.  One of the requests of the director was to paint murals on two walls of one of the rooms in the new second story.  With trepidation, two of the volunteers started the project.  By the end of the two weeks we had two beautiful princesses, a care bear, and another bear on the walls.  These were perfect for the room which is to be used for nap time for girls.

The last day we worked in the Center, the children performed traditional dances while dressed in their traditional clothing.  It was absolutely charming.

We also took time to explore Quito and Ecuador.  One evening we went to Jacchigua, a national folklore ballet, which was wonderful.  Colorful costumes, beautiful music, and graceful dancing.  We had a salsa lesson, went exploring in La Ronda, a section of Quito that used to be an artists’ colony, and had dinner in a building that once was the Archbishop’s Palace.  On the weekend, we traveled to Otovalo where there is a large market.  We had fun bargaining and buying souvenirs. We stopped at the equator and had a picture taken with one foot in the northern hemisphere and one in the southern hemisphere.  We visited extinct volcanoes including one in which people live and work.  We visited Mindo and the cloud forest where we saw many and varied hummingbirds.  We drove on to see a waterfall.  To reach the waterfall we had to use a zip line or a cable car. We opted for the cable car which was put together with pipes.  A couple of us who were afraid of heights sat on the floor facing backwards during the ride.  The car went over a deep ravine with a river running through it.  It was beautiful.  We stopped at a coffee plantation and bought freshly roasted coffee beans, which were still warm, or ground coffee.

We had a wonderful time with the tias and the children and the Ecuadorean people we met.  We improved our Spanish, enjoyed getting to know the other volunteers, and experienced some wonderful parts of Ecuador which is a beautiful country.  Check out to learn of opportunities to volunteer in many countries or in the U.S.A.  They were founded in 1984, are well-organized, and provide much needed services around the world.

Pat Hess, a friend from San Francisco, and I spent two weeks in New Zealand in February.  We flew from Los Angeles to Auckland which took a little over 12 hours.  We toured both the north and the south islands. In Auckland, we visited a marvelous museum with many Maori artifacts.  We had a talk by a Maori woman which started with a traditional Maori greeting.  Our “chief” (one of our group) responded with complimentary comments. This was followed by our chief and the Maori touching noses and foreheads twice.

We drove through beautiful country with dairy and beef cattle, sheep, and blood stock (race horses).  We stopped for lunch at an organic dairy farm with 150 jersey cows and learned that New Zealand produces 40% of the milk consumed in the world.  We were given a talk about organic dairy farming and learned that milk from New Zealand organic dairies goes to Trader Joe’s in the U.S.   McDonald’s obtains its beef from New Zealand.

In Rotorua, our hotel was next to bubbling mud and steam geysers.  It reminded me of the geysers in YellowstoneNational Park.  A grove of California redwoods was nearby. The trees are just over 100 years old but are very large; they grow faster in New Zealand than in California.  A most interesting experience was Te Puia where we had a Maori experience with a traditional greeting and a musical performance of singing and dancing.  Afterwards we went to a boiling pool used for cooking and had a snack of sweet corn, shrimp, and green-lipped mussels that had been cooked in the pool—a traditional Maori way of cooking.

One of the most memorable experiences was driving up to Mt.Tarawera, a volcano.  Four of us walked down to the volcano bottom.  The downhill part was through scree—very fine, loose stones.  We walked slowly and carefully down the trail.  Our feet sank into the scree with each step and we slid several inches.  One man stepped off the track, slipped, and fell onto his back.  He then slid about a third of the way to the bottom.  Fortunately, he was not injured, but it was difficult for him to regain his footing and make his way back to the trail.  The footing on the walk up was much firmer and we made it without difficulty.

We visited a middle school that is 70% Maori.  Again a welcoming ceremony, the men touched noses and foreheads, and the children sang a couple of songs for us.  We then sang two songs we had prepared (Ghost Riders in the Sky and He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands).  Our guide was fond of old western songs!  The school has an innovative curriculum and strongly encourages parent involvement.

We flew from Rotorua to Queenstown in the south island.  We checked in and went through security as a group.  No one checked our IDs and there was no screening of us or our luggage–an unusual experience for travelers from the U.S.

From Queenstown we drove to Milford Sound on the west coast and had a delightful sail in the Sound and out to the TasminSea.  We saw New Zealand fur seals, a school of bottle-nosed dolphins, and many sea birds.  We saw a number of glaciers on the mountains and several waterfalls—just beautiful. This is the part of the country where “Lord of the Rings” and many other movies were filmed.

At Franz Joseph Glacier, a few of us went on a helicopter ride to the top of the glacier.  We flew near Mt. Cook, New Zealand’s highest point, and landed in a snow field where we threw a few snowballs and made a small snowman.  It was a spectacular ride with stunning views of the mountains and glaciers.

On our way to Christchurch, we visited a high country sheep station.  The farmer raises Merino sheep which live high in the mountains and produce very fine wool, black-faced Suffolk sheep which have good meat (their wool is used for carpets), and a Suffolk/Merino mix which produces meat and wool.  We watched the dogs work the sheep.  An Australian pushaway barked to encourage the sheep to gather in a group, then the border collie brought them in.  It was fun to watch.  We were each given a whistle like the farmer used to direct the dogs.  I still haven’t figured out how to make a sound on it!

Christchurch is the place from which the early explorers of the Antarctic “jumped off.” We stopped at the InternationalAntarcticCenter and experienced a summer storm and learned about living and working in Antartica.  The U.S. program is based there.  That evening we had dinner at Bailie’s Irish pub where Shackleton, Scott, and other explorers had their last dinner before leaving for the Antarctic.

We drove to Akaroa which is a peninsula where Maori lived.  We had a lovely sail out to the Pacific Ocean.  We saw New Zealand fur seals, little blue penguins, Hector’s dolphins which are the smallest dolphins, and many seabirds.  We also saw where salmon and mussels are farm-raised.

During our travels, we were introduced to pounamu, a native greenstone that was sacred to the Maori.  We visited a shop and watch artisans make beautiful jewelry from it.  We also visited the Blue Pearl Gallery and learned how these pearls, unique to New Zealand, are raised and harvested.

Some memorable hikes were in the Te Puia Thermal Valley to see the geysers and mud pools, a walk in the redwood forest where we also saw some glowworms, a glacier valley guided walk, a walk along the Cape Foulwind coastal track to the Tauranga Bay seal colony and the Punakaiki Pancake rocks, and an Alpine Forest walk which was quite difficult.  I was able to get my feet wet in the Tasmin Sea.

This was a wonderful, entertaining, and educational trip in the company of some interesting people from various parts of the U.S.  We saw beautiful country and experienced some of the Maori culture. If you have a chance to visit New Zealand, seize the opportunity; it will be well worth it.

My husband, daughter, son-in-law, grandson, and I spent a four day weekend in Wyoming and South Dakota in 2009.  Before we went, we watched “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” since DevilsTower figures so prominently in the movie.  Devils Tower, Wyoming, is 1237 feet tall and was designated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 as the first national monument.  My son-in-law thought that DevilsTower was made up for the movie so he was thrilled to learn a few years ago that it is real.  There is a nice 1.3 mile trail around the monument.  While we walked it, we were able to see a number of climbers working their way up or down the Tower—it looked scary to me!  The ranger said that I would be able to climb it; women are good climbers because their legs are stronger than men’s in relation to their body weight and they follow directions.  For inexperienced climbers, there is a 2 day orientation, instruction, and practice, and then they are led in the climb by a ranger.  I will leave that for younger climbers.

We drove on to Deadwood, South Dakota, where Wild Bill Hickok was shot and killed while playing poker.  He was playing five card stud and held a pair of aces and a pair of eights, known today as “dead man’s hand.”  There are frequent reenactments of the shooting and the apprehension of his killer which are kind of fun to watch.  We visited Wild Bill’s grave and that of Calamity Jane who is buried next to him.  Deadwood today is a tourist town with many casinos.

The next major site we visited was Mount Rushmore.  There is a wonderful museum and history of the carving of the mountain which was an incredible undertaking.  The faces are over 50 feet tall but they are dwarfed by the mountains around them and don’t look as big as they really are.  There is a nice trail to walk along to obtain different perspectives of the faces.  We enjoyed the visit and watching the people who had come from all over the world to see the monument.

We next visited the Crazy Horse monument which will be even bigger than Mount Rushmore when it is completed.  The carving has been ongoing for over 50 years and there are still many more years left before it is completed.  It is most appropriate that a Native American is commemorated in the Black Hills of South Dakota which belonged to the native people for so many centuries.  We enjoyed visiting the museum and learning about the people who did and are doing the carving.  Incredibly, this monument is funded by private funds.

On the way home, we drove through CusterState Park in South Dakota which is home to about 1500 head of bison.  A number of times, we stopped and took pictures of bison crossing the road.  Most of the cows had calves so the herd will grow.  We also saw many pronghorn antelope, deer, prairie dogs, a marmot, and a coyote and a badger.  We later learned that coyotes and badgers work together to hunt prairie dogs—most interesting to see.

This was a wonderful trip to some parts of America that are truly “larger than life.”

In October of 2009, my husband, Bill, and I, and two friends from Bloomington, IL, took a cruise from New York north to the St. Lawrence River to Quebec City and back.  We were celebrating our 39th wedding anniversary and our friends, Helen and Jim McCalla, were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.

We flew to New York and spent a couple of days sightseeing.  We had a tour of the city, went to Liberty Island to see the Statue of Liberty, and saw “Billy Elliott”, a wonderful play about a young English boy whose father wanted him to take boxing lessons and he wanted to be a dancer.  The music and dancing were marvelous.

We boarded our ship and started sailing.  Our first stop was in Boston where I toured Lexington and Concord and the other three toured Boston.  I learned more about the American Revolution and saw the impressive statue of a Minuteman.  Back on the ship, we set sail for Halifax.  Three of us took a bus tour to Peggy’s Cove, a tiny fishing village with a small lighthouse.  Very picturesque (even in the rain).  After a full day’s sail, we arrived in Quebec City.  The passage down (up?) the St. Lawrence was just beautiful.  The leaves were very colorful and there were scattered houses and churches visible among the trees.

We visited MontmorencyFalls and St. Anne de Beaupre Shrine, a beautiful Catholic Church with wonderful, colorful mosaics throughout the church.  After a tour of Quebec City and a stop in the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac, an impressive hotel on top of a hill, we reboarded the ship and sailed back out to sea and a stop at Charlottetown.  Helen and I took a lovely tour of the countryside, had a delicious lobster lunch, and then went to Green Gables.  The author of Anne of Green Gables lived in Charlottetown.  We visited “Green Gables”, a house in which cousins of her grandparents, a sister and brother, lived.  The house and the people must have been the inspiration for characters in the books.  We also went for a walk in the Haunted Wood.  If you haven’t read Anne of Green Gables, check it out.  It is a cute story and being in the house and woods made the characters come to life.

The next port of call was Sydney, a small town.  We went on a walking tour with a guide dressed in period costume.  We had four stops on our tour; the 1787 Jost House, the 1828 St. Patrick’s Museum, the 1785 Cassit House, and the 1904 Lyceum.  Most guides were in period costume.  (After the Revolution, many loyalists fled to Canada.)  The largest fiddle in the world stands on the waterfront.

After another day at sea, we returned to New York and caught our planes for home.  It was a wonderful trip and a lovely way to celebrate our anniversaries.

A friend and I went to Belgium and the Netherlands to tour and see the tulips.  We spent four days in Bruges, Belgium, and were inundated with chocolates and lace.  We had a demonstration of bobbin lace which is an art form that is dying.  Most lace today is machine made in China.  We had a lovely boat ride in the canals and visited the VermeerMuseum which has a copy of each of his paintings in the same size as the originals.  It provided a wonderful learning experience about Vermeer’s technique.  We were able to see some of his originals in the MauritshuisMuseum in The Hague and in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

We went to Flanders fields where major World War I battles were fought and an incredible number of soldiers were killed, both Allied and German.  There are 155 cemeteries in Flanders: 137 British, 13 Belgian, 1 French, and 4 German.  We visited the cemetery where John McCrae, a Canadian military surgeon, wrote the World War I poem, “In Flanders Fields,” (“In Flanders fields, the poppies blow, between the crosses row on row…”) after his friend was killed.  Dr. McCrae was asked to conduct the burial service because the chaplain had been called away.  We toured a wonderful World War I Flanders Fields Museum and that evening went to the Last Post (similar to taps) at the Menin Gate on the edge of Ypres.  The ceremony has been carried every night since July 2, 1928, to honor the British and Commonwealth soldiers who died in fighting around Ypres.

We boarded our ship in Antwerp and sailed the next nine days with stops each day for tours at various towns and villages.  As we drove through the countryside, we saw fields of red and yellow tulips.  But for the real flower show, we went to KeukenhofGardens in Lisse which is near Amsterdam.  It is the world’s largest flower garden; every year approximately 7,000,000 flower bulbs are planted.  The flowers were just spectacular.  In addition to tulips of all colors and varieties, there were narcissus, jonquils, azaleas, and hyacinth and probably others that I didn’t recognize.  There were ponds scattered throughout the park with swans swimming leisurely around.  We were able to buy new bulbs that will be ready in October and have them shipped home (mine will be shipped to Colorado where my daughter lives).  They are to be planted at that time.  That afternoon we sailed through what used to be the Zuider Zee and is now an artificial lake.  Later we went to the Aalsmeer flower auction which is the largest flower auction in the world.  The flowers are brought in one evening, auctioned off the next day, and shipped out that evening.  The warehouse was full of dollies with flats of cut flowers.  People were moving the flowers around to be bid on and then taken to trucks.  It was an amazing sight.

To see windmills up close, we sailed to Kinderdjik (children’s dyke).  There are 19 mills still at this site.  At one time there were 10,000 mills in the country; now there are 1000.  They were built in the 1730s and are now UNESCO sites.  Mills in the Netherlands pump water only.  They are built in a variety of styles.  Hitler bombed many of the mills because they were used for communication.  The position of the blades had various meanings.  We saw an Archimedes screw which is used now; it moves 400,000 gallons/minute.  The miller and his family live free in the mill but they must keep it up.  We were able to tour one of the mills to see how people lived in the mill and how the mill worked.  There are quite a few turbine mills in the Netherlands used to generate electricity.  It was interesting to see the contrast between the old and the new.

All in all, a wonderful experience.

In Flanders Fields
By John McCrae, May, 1915

In Flanders fields, the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep,
Though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”

I remember this poem from childhood and have often thought of visiting Flanders Fields.  On April 25, 2009, I was able to do just that.  Flanders Fields is a region of the country of Belgium and during World War I, there was intense fighting with a number of battles fought in that region.  We visited the EssexFarmCemetery where John McCrae, a Canadian military doctor, wrote this famous poem after conducting the burial service for a friend of his who had been killed by a German artillery shell during the Second Battle of Ypres on May 2, 1915.  John McCrae was a surgeon in an advanced dressing station at that site where the wounded were triaged (separated into three groups: the slightly wounded who were treated and sent back to battle, the “blighty,” a slang term that meant the wounds were serious enough for the soldier to be sent home, and the ones for whom there was no hope).  The dressing station still exists at the site.  Dr. McCrae was killed the following year.  After walking around the cemetery, our guide read the poem to us.

The town of Ypres was destroyed in the fighting.  British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand forces fought the Germans; the Americans had not yet arrived in this part of the Western front.  German military used poison gas here for the first time and trench warfare started here.  The fighting was brutal and there were 750,000 casualties.  The town of Ypres has been rebuilt and the largest Gothic building in Europe houses a most interesting World War I Memorial Museum.

In Flanders, there are 155 cemeteries: 137 British, 13 Belgian, 1 French, and 4 German. In the cemeteries there is a large white cross with a sword on it with the inscription, “Their name liveth forevermore” inscribed on the base. This quote, suggested by Rudyard Kipling, is from Ecclesiastes 44:14.  (Kipling’s son went missing in a battle in France; his body was never found.)  The British and Belgian cemeteries have memorial stones similar to those in Arlington Cemetery while the French memorials were white crosses and the German cemetery had groups of three crosses made of basalt-lava which were quite dark.   In the EssexFarmCemetery, there are 1200 burials including a 15 year old rifleman and a German.  One of the memorial stones had an inscription that read, “Sacrificed to the fallacy that war can end war” – a poignant reminder of the heartache caused by war.  In another cemetery we visited, TyneCotCemetery, there are 12,000 headstones and panels naming another 35,000 men.  Thus in Flanders, there are an incredible number of dead and their memorials.  We were about two weeks early for the poppies but many of the graves had either fresh flowers or artificial poppies.

That evening we went to the Last Post at the Menin Gate at the edge of Ypres.  The Menin Gate, dedicated in 1928, is a memorial to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Ypres Salient, a region of the battlefield near Ypres.  At 8:00 pm, buglers from the local fire brigade close the road and sound the Last Post (a bugle call).  This ceremony has been carried on since July 2, 1928 (except during occupation by the Germans in World War II when the ceremony was conducted in Surrey, England).  As part of the ceremony, individuals and groups laid wreaths in and around the memorial.  It was most impressive, solemn, and moving.

To commemorate VE (Victory in Europe) Day, the Queen of the Netherlands lays a memorial wreath commemorating the fallen at 8 pm the evening before.  Everyone participates in two minutes of silence at that time; our tour group did as well.  We are so lucky that we were spared fighting on U.S. soil during that war and those that followed.  Thank God for the men (and women) willing to fight for freedom.

My husband, Bill, and I spent two weeks (November 7 to 21, 2008) in Greece and sailing around the GreekIslands.  We visited 8 of the Cyclades Isles.  It was a wonderful experience.  We flew from Phoenix to Los Angeles to Frankfurt to Athens where we were met by our tour leader and taken to the hotel.  There were 21 people in our group from all over the U.S.; a nice diverse group.

The first day we walked to the Acropolis and all around the Parthenon, by the Erechtheion (the most sacred of the structures).  The Porch of the Maidens on the Erechtheion (5 female figures that are used as columns to support the structure) is spectacular. Lord Elgin took a sixth one to decorate his mansion but later sold it to the BritishMuseum.  We saw Mars Hill near the Acropolis.  On Mars Hill, in ancient times, there was an altar dedicated to the Unknown God.  St. Paul preached there to judges of Athens and talked about Jesus as the Unknown God (I thought that was pretty clever).  However, it took 600 years to convert the Athenians to Christianity.  Pope John Paul II said Mass there.  Bill and I walked on to the ArcheologicalMuseum—just spectacular.  It is hard to believe that items that old could survive that long and be in such good condition.  Then I went to Mass at St. Denis Catholic Cathedral.

We drove through mountains and little towns, along the Ionian Sea and DelphiHarbor.   We walked around the ruins of a temple dedicated to Athena.  We overnighted in Arachova, a very picturesque town.  We had a Greek cooking lesson and then for dinner were served the food that we prepared.

We visited the Museum of Delphi where we saw “The Charioteer,” a famous bronze statue prepared by the lost wax method.  There was also a wonderful sphinx.  We walked to Apollo’s Sanctuary the site of the Oracle of Delphi, the most important shrine in Greece. The shrine dates back to 1400 BC and was built around a sacred spring. Delphi was considered to be the omphalos – the center (or navel) of the world.  Pythia, the priestess of Apollo, in exchange for gold, answered questions about the future.  There was a 5000 seat theatre and treasuries to hold the gifts to the Oracle.  Bill and I walked on to the top of the hill where there was a stadium where games were held.  From there we could see the Bay of Itea and olive groves.

We drove over 4 hours to reach Kalambaka.  On the way we stopped at an icon workshop.  We were given a tour and shown how the wood and canvas are prepared for painting.  We watched an artist at work.  I bought a couple of icons (the Blessed Mother and St. Paul) and they were signed by the artist.  In Kalambaka, I visited the Church of the Assumption (9th – 11th C).  It contains frescoes by Neophytos, a 16th century monk from Crete.  It is interesting to me that all Greek Orthodox churches have paintings of the Dormition (Assumption) of the Virgin.  I didn’t learn the origin of that practice.  That evening, we had a Greek lesson which was most interesting.  There are many English words that come from the Greek.

A highlight of the trip was visiting the monasteries of Metreora.  These monasteries, some of which date back to the 16th C, are built on the top of “towering rock formations.”  One of them appeared in the James Bond movie, “For Your Eyes Only.”  We visited two of them; one dedicated to St. Barbara which has 30+ nuns and the other dedicated to St. Stephen.  That evening we went to a local restaurant (delicious food!) and were entertained by a young man who played a traditional stringed instrument.  Some of us danced.

We had a long drive from Kalambaka to the port of Pireaus where we boarded our sailboat, the Panorama.  Another group was also on board making 35 passengers and 18 crew.

We sailed first to the island of Tinos which is mountainous and has about 40 whitewashed villages.  We visited the Church of the Virgin (another Assumption!) and saw the ancient icon of the Virgin Mary which was recovered under miraculous circumstances in 1823. Later we sailed to Mykonos.  We took a bus to the old port and walked around.  There are many windmills and churches.  I had my first Greek coffee which was quite good. Then we sailed to Paros where they used columns and pieces of temples and buildings to build new buildings.  Paros had a temple to Poseidon in ancient Greek times.

Santorini was the next island we visited.  It is the remnant of the rim of the caldera of a volcano which erupted in 1600 BC.  We visited the island of Fira on the caldera rim, about 1000 feet above the water.  We had the choice of riding a funicular or riding a donkey—I chose the donkey.  The museum there is spectacular—pots and other artifacts from 17thCBC, much of it from excavations at Akrotiri, an ancient Minoan city buried by volcanic ash.  We took a bus to Oia—the old city.  It was absolutely beautiful with white buildings and blue-roofed churches and a lot of volcanic rock.  We took the bus back to the funicular, then the funicular down, and a tender to our boat.  We had an evening of wine tasting and then dinner.

We sailed to Naxos which is the largest and most mountainous of the Cyclades islands.  MountZas, 3,294 ft, is there.  This island was sacred to Dionysos and still produces excellent wine.  We drove to the village of Kournocharie and then walked a little over an hour to Melanes with lots of fruit and olive trees.  We saw the kouros (young man) – a ancient, huge statue carved of marble lying on the ground.  He has a broken leg and that is why he was not transported from that place.  Our “home cooked meal” was in a family restaurant.  Delicious food.  We also had music and we danced.  That evening, we had “Greek night” and a group of young people come from Melanes to dance for us; we also danced.

The next island we visited was Delos, the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis.  The island is not inhabited now.  There are extensive ruins with much more to excavate.  It reminds me of Pompeii: houses, stores, columns, mosaic floors, frescoed walls, statues.  There are 4 lions that are striking.  Then on to Syros where we had a walking tour.  After the tour, some of us walked to the Church of the Assumption where there is an early El Greco painting of the Dormition of the Virgin, painted when he was 19 or 20.  Bill visited the Casino and came out 10 euros ahead.

After a walk in the morning, we sailed all day and docked in Poros about 6 pm.  We had the captain’s cocktail party and dinner that evening.  After a morning walking tour of Poros, we had lunch and our disembarkation briefing.  Our wakeup call was at 2:30 am, breakfast and luggage out at 3, and to the airport at 3:30!  On our last evening we had a couple of men come and dance; they were really good and got us all involved.

We arrived at the airport and flew to Frankfurt where there was a storm and we had to stay in a holding pattern for awhile.  After a short connection time, we boarded our plane for the 11 hour flight to Los Angeles.

It was a wonderful trip.  Educational, spiritual, relaxing, and entertaining.  Great Greek food and drinks (although you can have ouzo!).

My daughter, Julie, and I took our third annual mother-daughter trip—this time to Puerto Rico in 2008.  We visited a rain forest, gorgeous beaches, a light house built in Spanish times, went snorkeling (and got a terrific sunburn) near the island of Culebra where we saw many colorful fish swimming around among the coral, and stayed in a country inn surrounded by the sounds of the Coqui, a very small and loud frog.  We had bananas for breakfast from the back yard of the inn, papaya, grapefruit, and oranges—very fresh and lovely.

In Viejo San Juan (Old San Juan), we visited El Morro, a large fort built in 1539 to protect the city from invaders by sea and FortSan Cristobal built in 1793 to protect the city from invasions by land.  We went to Mass in the Cathedral of San Juan, the second oldest cathedral in the Western Hemisphere; construction began in 1521.  Ponce de Leon is buried in it. There are very upscale stores in the city (Gucci, Cartier, Ferragamo, etc.) as well as McDonalds, Burger King, and KFC.  We ate in interesting restaurants, drove through a number of small towns, visited the town squares where the church and mayor’s office is located, and looked through souvenir shops.

We carried a Spanish dictionary and worked on our Spanish.  At one stop, I went in to pay for parking and greeted the attendant with “Buenes tardes.”  In rapid Spanish, he then told me how much we owed.  Then I had to tell him that I needed the amount in English since I couldn’t understand what he said.  He replied, “Buenes tardes, is it, huh?”  I had to admit that it was.

Since Puerto Rico is a semi-autonomous region of the United States, a passport is not necessary for those with U.S. passports, a U.S. driver’s license is adequate identification, and U.S. currency is used.  The speedometers in cars are in miles, but markers on highways are in kilometers.  A number of the parks are run by the U.S. National Park Service, thus my Golden Age Passport would have been honored and my daughter and I admitted for free.  Telephone calls to our cell phones from the U.S. were free; from Puerto Rico to the U.S. was 69 cents per minute.

The best part of this trip was spending time with my daughter who is 21 weeks pregnant with our first grandchild, a boy.  So this was a doubly good mother/daughter and mother/son trip.