Sunday, December 31, 2017

A New Year

I am counted among those who don't think very highly of New Year's Day or even New Year's Eve. When I was a little girl, the idea of new year's resolutions, a fresh start, was very appealing. I didn't realize then that it was just a set-up for failure. Before I was married, living at home with my mother, often on New Year's Day, after rummaging through my bureau and desk drawers in search of incriminating evidence of whatever sort, she'd satisfy her intrusive need by leaving a carefully written sheet on my desk, entitled "Nancy's New Year's Resolutions." So, you can see how the idea of new year's isn't one I can embrace.

And yet.

In the past few years I've come up with some goals rather than resolutions and followed the example of friends by choosing a word to focus on in the year to come. But without success.

This new year's, this 2018, is one that I am conscious will bring change. My husband is semi-retired at this point, and likely will become fully retired in 2018. And tonight, 12/31/17, I'll work my last shift as a hospital chaplain, ending at 3 o'clock in the afternoon on 1/1/18. I can't help but be introspective. I am thinking of this change in my own life, choosing to leave this work that I love in order to have my weekends back, and reflecting on the challenges of these past four years of chaplaincy. I am aware that I have done some very good work. I know that there are situations that I could have handled better. 

I am thinking, too, of the families I'll work with during those last sixteen hours, families who don't know it yet, but whose lives will change for ever with the coming of the new year. Death, loss, trauma, disfigurement don't observe holidays.

So I look at the wonderful Hamilton Wright Mabie quote above and know he is right. Again, I am making no resolutions. I'm setting no goals nor am I choosing a focus word. But I greet this new year with anticipation of the opportunities, the challenges, and the joys it will bring.

And to those who read this blog, may it bring you only good things.

Nancy, Near Philadelphia

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Remembering Frank

The Birds

It's that time again.

An important part of Christmas for me since I've become a blogger is to publish my friend Frank's poem that he shared with me many years ago. I've shared it each year with my readers, and -- God willing -- I will do it again next year, and the next and the next.





THE BIRDS



IT WASN'T THAT HE DIDN'T LIKE CHRISTMAS


HE ENJOYED THE HOLIDAY FUN

ALL THE BRIGHT COLORS AND SUDDEN GOOD WILL

AND THE CHILDREN'S HAPPY SUSPENSE


BUT HE COULDN'T BELIEVE IN CHRISTMAS

IN THE INCARNATION I MEAN

GOD LIVING A MAN-LIFE LIKE HIS? WHAT FOR?

IT JUST DIDN'T MAKE SENSE TO HIM



HE SAT BY THE FIRE

WARM IN HIS HOME

ON CHRISTMAS EVE ALONE

THE FAMILY GONE OFF TO MIDNIGHT MASS



HE HEARD A THUMP AT THE WINDOW

AND THEN ANOTHER

SOME MISCHIEF BOY OUT FOR FUN HE THOUGHT

HE WENT TO THE WINDOW TO CHASE HIM WITH A GLANCE


BUT FOUND NO BOY

BUT A SPARROW FLOCK

LURED BY THE LIGHT AND SIGHT OF WARMTH

HAD TRIED TO COME THROUGH HIS WINDOW


THEY HUDDLED NOW IN THE SNOW

WITH NO PLACE TO GO

AND HE FELT COMPASSION FOR THEM

HE PUT ON HIS BOOTS AND JACKET AND SCARF

AND OUT HE WENT TO OPEN THE GARAGE

TO GIVE THEM SHELTER


BUT THEY WOULD NOT COME

SO HE TURNED ON THE LIGHT

BUT THEY WOULD NOT COME


HE WENT AND GOT BREAD

AND THREW IT MANNA LIKE UPON THE SNOW

A PATH TO FOLLOW

BUT THEY WOULD NOT COME


HE TRIED TO HERD THEM IN

SHOUTING AND WAVING HIS ARMS

BUT THEY WOULD NOT COME


I'M SCARING THEM HE THOUGHT

I'M SO BIG COMPARED TO THEM

AND DIFFERENT


IF BUT FOR A MOMENT I COULD BE A SPARROW

I COULD LEAD THEM THROUGH THE DOOR

I COULD LEAD THEM THROUGH.....THE DOOR
 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Epic Trip Part Seventeen: Last Full Day in Madrid

My head cold bothered me on Friday night; after the opera, I had some difficulty sleeping. For Saturday, we had tickets to El Escorial and the Valley of the Fallen. We also had More Big Plans for Saturday night. I hesitated. Sherry's an adventuress who is comfortable on her own in all kinds of settings in all kinds of countries. And I hadn't slept well.

I begged off, opting to stay in the hotel and sleep some more, go to the pharmacy for European cough medicine, and just general self care.

Sherry liked the excursion very much and by the time she returned, the Bisolvon had kicked in, I was feeling somewhat better, and we both were thinking about the Mercado and lunch! And, again, we knew what we needed to do!


The squid sandwich! The tiny "restaurant" was packed but we were able to secure a table. The sandwich was served with mayonnaise. The calamari was very good. There was a lot of bread. I'm happy to have tried it, but don't need another!

Back to the Mercado to pick up some traditional souvenirs to bring home, and a stop at one of the bakery stands for a portion of "the specialty of the house." I don't know what it was, but I totally recommend!

Our evening entertainment for our last night in Madrid was dinner and a show at Corral dela Moreria, a world famous flamenco venue.

Dinner was three courses, one of which was ropes viejas and it was infinitely better than the garbanzo-laden-but-still-tasty version I'd had in Las Palmas.  The dessert was called Five Textures of Chocolate. We liked it.

The flamenco show was everything we'd hoped and more. We were permitted to take photos during the first fifteen minutes and not after that.

What a wonderful ending to our trip. We were to return home on Sunday.

Meanwhile, where was Joe?




Thursday, December 14, 2017

Epic Trip Part Sixteen: Out and About in Madrid

We woke well-rested and enjoyed breakfast at Liabeny Hotel and then followed the dots to the meeting place for our morning tour. We were scheduled to visit the Palace. It was a small group and our guide was superb. We weren't allowed to take many pictures at the Palace, so the following will have to do.

The photo to the left isn't at the Palace. It's just a simple street sign. I thought the street signs in Madrid were beautiful.





There was a cathedral across the street from the Palace and we decided to pay a visit. We'd seen another cathedral the previous day near the Prado but hadn't gone in.

This place was gorgeous. I was fascinated by the contemporary appearance of the ceilings and the windows.





After leaving the Palace and cathedral, we passed another museum advertising an exhibit of paintings by Alphonse Mucha. I had a set of notecards with reproductions of his work and always liked them very much. So in we went. There was an audio tour and we learned about Mucha's life and work. I hadn't known he got is start in advertising.

There was a very, very small shop at the gallery and I would have bought a reproduction or two (just in case the ones from the Prado were vetoed by Himself!) but the wares were limited to scarves, umbrellas, and other types of merchandise.






We needed a nap after lunch because we had Big Plans for the evening.

In Madrid, dinner begins at 8:30 p.m., very different from in the United States. And we were advised that we really should wait until after our Big Plans to have our dinner. That would be around eleven o'clock. We disregarded the advice and stopped at a tapas place on the way. It was good.
Iberian ham and Manchego cheese.

Ensalada Mixta.
Our Big Plans come to fruition! Sherry planned most of the things that we did in Madrid. I was so delighted to have her company (and her Spanish), that I was happy to do whatever she wanted.

Sherry majored in Spanish in college and spent a semester in Mexico. So she is very fluent. But she was an oddity in Madrid: She had this excellent Spanish, but she wasn't a Spaniard; she sounded like a Mexican but was obviously a gringa. She explained herself several times. After my mishap with the sandwich of socks, I was pretty much content to let her be our spokesperson.

When she asked what I would like to do, I said that one of my heart's desires when in a foreign city would be to attend a classical concert. She was up for it. On the web, before the trip, I found a lovely symphony concert for Saturday and was about to buy tickets. Then I saw that on Friday the opera Carmen was to be performed. Neither of us is an opera buff, but we knew what we had to do, and we were not a bit disappointed.

This photo is one I took from our seats way up in the very highest tier. You can see a screen in the upper left corner; there were a few of these and then enabled us to have closeups of the action on the stage. They also provided translation -- I hadn't known Carmen was in French! They provided Spanish and English language for us. The opera was thrilling; I loved it more than I know how to say!

Here are photos from the web showing the opera house and also the staging of the show.






Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Epic Trip Part Fifteen: Phase Two Begins



I woke to a beautiful day on November 7. Gran Canaria was warm and lovely. I walked from my hotel to a sister property a block away for breakfast and soon it was time to leave for the airport.

The flight to Madrid was uneventful. The head cold that had begun the previous day had settled in, but it wasn't intense. The airplane aggravated it a bit; however, the flight wasn't long.

The drive from the airport to the city was pleasant and it turned out that the hotel was absolutely perfectly located: We were going to be able to walk everywhere, but I wasn't ready to venture out on my own yet. The area reminded me of New York City and there I don't have a language barrier to deal with! Besides, I was babying my nose and head. So I had a nap, watched the news (all I could get in English was a channel about British politics, so I quickly became an expert on Pritti Patel), read my book, had dinner at the hotel restaurant, and went to bed early.

My companion's flight was scheduled to land around 8:00 but she'd sent a text that there was a delay; apparently some emotional support dogs wouldn't settle down and take-off didn't happen on time.

Mid-morning came and in the hotel's front door walked my daughter! With a minimum of luggage and a maximum of Spanish, she flew over to spend a few days exploring Madrid with me!

We got her settled in our room and headed right out in the direction of the Prado. It was a bit of a walk, but I had the map that the concierge had thoughtfully given me, and Sherry had an amazing app on her phone that was like a GPS for pedestrians. She plugged our hotel in as the base and whenever we went somewhere, these little blue dots would show us the way. I felt a bit like Hansel and Gretel. Without the worry about the witch.

We were partway to the Prado when Sherry realized she had missed a meal. Or possibly two. So we stopped and had lunch and then continued on.

The Prado was amazing. It was ginormous. We had to limit what we would view. We saw the Garden of Earthly Delights, a painting that has long fascinated me. We saw other famous paintings. I got tired. My nose was aching. I rested and Sherry saw even more famous works of art.

Finally even she admitted to being in need of a nap, so we headed back to the hotel. A vendor outside the museum was selling reproductions and I bought these to frame and put in my powder room. They are unsigned, but I'm sure they were done by somebody very famous. They came from the Prado near the Prado!

A nap worked wonders for us and we were soon ready to set forth again and this time the best place in the entire world to get chocolate and churros (according to an acquaintance of Sherry's) was part of the plan. We went in that general direction, following the blue dots on the phone, and when we were nearly there, got distracted by a horde of people heading in our direction and coming from -- where? We knew we must find out and it turned out that there was a square with restaurants surrounding it and there was a stage with Spanish folk dancers. We were going to stop and watch, but yet another horde was coming at us from -- where else? Why, the Mercado de San Miguel, of course!

I do not believe I have ever been to a place more wonderful than the Mercado. Stall upon stall upon stall vending the most beautiful food. We wanted some of everything. Here's Sherry with our smoked salmon and caviar.






The bocadillo de calamares appears to be a local specialty and we were seriously tempted to indulge. But we really needed to sit down and relax over dinner. A squid sandwich was so intriguing! 

Later in the evening after some really nice Spanish red wine, my broken Spanish kicked in and somehow the bocadillo de calamares (sandwich of squid) became a bocadillo de calcitones (sandwich of socks)! I was glad we weren't relying on my language skills. So was Sherry.

I sent home pictures of the sandwich and we memorized the location because we really thought we needed to indulge at another time.

Madrid is nothing short of obsessed with ham. And for good reason. We loved it. Our restaurant of choice was none other than The Museum of Ham.

We ate outside even though the evening was chilly. The heaters under the umbrella kept us comfortable.

We had a fine view of the dancers who were celebrating some local cultural fest.

We went to the best place in the entire world for chocolate and churros and the line to get in was about three blocks long, and our stamina was fast running out. We started back to the hotel and on the way came to another chocolate and churros place and popped in for this very, very delicious treat. And came away convinced that this was the second best place. In the entire world. They need a good publicist.






Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Epic Trip Part Fourteen: Las Palmas, Gran Canaria



Having grown up with the Jersey Shore as my prototype for a beach, I still find it odd when I come to a beach that has a mountain view. November 7 was another change-over day; that is, the end of one scheduled cruise and the beginning of another. A day when it is helpful to the crew for the passengers to spend as much of the day as possible ashore. Star Flyer arrived at Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, right on schedule and was to leave that night for . . .  whoops, I'm getting ahead of myself again.

After breakfast Joe and I went ashore. The promenade along the beach was saturated with shops and cafes. We passed some people eating an interesting pastry and decided we needed to try it. We did. We walked, we talked, we held hands. This was going to be an odd day for us.

We both had what seemed like the beginnings of head colds. I've found that Europe has better medicines for this than the USA, so we found one of those green cross lights that signify "pharmacy" and made some purchases.

We walked some more and had lunch at a beach cafe. And then it was time. Time for Joe to return to Star Flyer and for me to get comfortable in my hotel.

I had a nap. I read my book. I walked down the promenade again and sat at another beach cafe for dinner where I had ropas viejas, a favorite Spanish dish. It was very tasty, but a bit heavy on the chickpeas. I turned in early. I needed a good night's sleep because Wednesday was going to be very busy.