29 May 2009


Home. Four letters packed with comfort, love, and sustainability--my center; my peace.

Been here four days now and finally getting a tiny bit of my mo-jo back. I was on such a creative whirl in the weeks prior to our trip. I want it back! I have flowers to transplant and peony bushes to prop (before the next rain storm), a husband longing for some homemade gourmet food, stacks of magazines and papers to sort, and a house in dire need of some TLC. I left with some projects undone--I had to prioritize that last week because my mo-jo had me seriously over-committed.

27 May 2009

TOURING LONDON; Day 4: The Final Chapter

The Austria Alps from Maria Alm

The Sound of Music Tour -- Where LG said, "Now I know it's the truth!"

Wildflowers in Maria Alm.

Our brown-eyed bubble blower!

The responsibilities of turning 4!

The lovely bouquet for MK.

LG's artwork on display at ŝkolka.

Sunny London.

Da Mario for pizza in London.

Our first meal in Maria Alm.

Nothing exceptional occurs on our last morning--the Hoppa is on-time, as is our flight. We leave from Terminal 3 and I have time to go once more to Boots for a supply of the Ibuprofen gel...

We arrive a bit early at O'Hare and CA is waiting as we walk through the double doors. I am SO GLAD to see him. Two weeks has been very long. Home is so inviting--I have been thinking a lot about my own bed and my comfortable chairs for reading. JL spends one last night before returning to her home in Michigan.

I reflect on what I have most enjoyed about this trip, in no particular order:

24 May 2009

TOURING LONDON, Day 3: The Day Trip

Windsor Palace (above and below).

Stonehenge (obviously!).


We are up early to gather and pack, leaving our belongings in the luggage room at The Citadines, as we will spend tonight at the Ibis near Gate 4 at Heathrow--where I stayed over a year ago when this blog was birthed.
I remember being so over-filled with stimuli, experiences, and information during that trip--I knew I had to write it all down. This has been such a positive step for me--cathartic to the max, and a phenomenal way to communicate details to my family and friends and to record and remember.
We meet the tour bus as scheduled and again journey to Victoria Station to be dispersed among our variously scheduled itineraries. Today our tour guide is a very disorganized Priscilla. She looks to be about 80 years old and is not very nice. Throughout the day she blathers on and on, chastising the passengers if we talk amongst ourselves and rambling on about her political, cultural, and general life opinions--coming from the cup-half-empty perspective.

We first journey to Windsor and it is a beautifully sunny morning. We are among the first to arrive and the town and castle are extraordinary. For some reason Cilla ushers us past the station to pick-up audio tour equipment and we regret it the whole time. It is a glorious site and we shall return someday! The Queen is not in residence this day, so the Union Jack is flying rather than the Royal Colors. We wander into Maud's for some yummy ice cream, and then back to the tour bus for our journey to Stonehenge.

Back on the bus for a bit. Lunch is pre-arranged at a British pub, The Bell. I have the vegetable lasagna with fresh salad, and JL opts for the roast pork. the food is quite good.

At Stonehenge we are again ushered past the audio tour devices--a shame as they are included in the price of the tour. We take a few photos and wander the circle. You can't walk amongst the stones any longer. The countryside is lovely and enroute we drove close to thatched cottages and saw dry stain dyke walls and sheep grazing in hedgerowed pastures. Lovely.

Bath disappoints. The tour brochure said we would have hours to wander, but we don't. We are given 30 minutes and then are to meet to tour the Roman Baths. We do, then duck out of the tour and wander into the cathedral and around the streets, enjoying ourselves infinitely more this way. The actual baths were stagnant and contaminated with bat and pigeon droppings--YUCK! We surely missed out on some interesting Roman artifacts, but the cathedral was quiet and stunning, so... six of one,half dozen of the other.
We are told there are few rivers in Britain, but there are man-made canals throughout this area--the water appears quite dirty and stagnant. I think I was picturing Brighton when I planned on Bath. We see so little, but can tell it would be worth a return trip.

We expect a three-hour return trip to London, but get there in less than 2-1/2. We are dropped off at the Gloucester Road Tube and walk toward our hotel, stopping for dinner at Med Kitchen which is adjoining The Citadines. We have walked by many times and I'm glad we get the chance to eat here. The atmosphere and food are very good, and what's more it is our neighborhood place! I have the ham, cheese, and tomato-herb omelet with salad and French fries while JL chooses a pasta dish. We are tired and need time to pack and process a jam-packed day.

We gather our belongings from the hotel and walk for the final trip to the Gloucester Road tube. A nice man carries my heavy bag down the two flights of steps after the lift--there has always been someone kind to help during this trip. We journey to Heathrow and find the Hotel Hoppa bus stop without fail. However, the H6 bus is nowhere to be seen--we seem to have just missed it. It takes an hour to learn that the H3 is the H6 at this time of night and we arrive at our hotel just after 11:30pm.

The room is just as I remember--clean, compact, and sufficient. A great bargain this time for just $50. I arrange for a 5:30am wake-up call and we don't read very long before dropping into an exhausted sleep. London has been very, very good and we have maximized our time in town.

23 May 2009

TOURING LONDON, Day 2: Changing Plans

I am loving this gel Ibuprofen. It works miracles for the neuritis on my toe tops, and I rub some into my sore (arthritis??) thumb. Almost instant relief.

We leave The Citadines a few minutes before 7:00am and wander a bit before finding The Millenium--our desk clerks seem either unwilling or unable to give specific directions and the maps sometimes fail us... We are on the tour bus and travel to Victoria Station to que up with others taking our tour. After boarding the proper bus for our day trip to Windsor, Stonehenge, and Bath, I ask a fellow traveler how long this tour lasts? ELEVEN HOURS! And, we have tickets for the 7:30pm performance of Madame de Sade. We are able to de-board and reschedule the day trip for tomorrow--Sunday. No problem.

We re-start the day walking to Westminster Cathedral and Buckingham Palace, then across St. James Park to the Churchill War Rooms just beneath No. 10 Downing Street, taking the audio tour. Afterwards we trek through St. James again in time for the Changing of the Guard. Thousands of people have lined the streets to view this very English ceremony.

We have lunch at Da Mario which is purported to be the local pizza place for Diana and Princes William and Harry. The crust is good--JL has the Capricciosa and I opt for the Pizza Margherita and the Insalatina di Erbe Miste. After lunch, a quick stop at our hotel to drop off excess baggage and then we take the tube to Harrod's, Holy Trinity Brompton, and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

At Harrod's JL finds some books for the effervescent Emerson Sophia, and we wander over the grounds at Holy Trinity Brompton--since we will miss Sunday services due to rescheduling our day trip. When we reach the V&A we find there is an informational tour starting immediately, so JL joins the group and I rest my feet and head in the William Morris Rooms cafe (my favorite spot at the V&A).

We have just a bit of time to regroup at our hotel, deciding to dine after tonight's theatre, and then to Leicester Square for the evening performance of Madame de Sade. As last night, we are seated in the Stalls in excellent view of the stage and performers. The set and costuming are fantastic, as are the performances. The subject matter is raw, as expected. The cast is six women--Madame de Sade (a beautiful blonde), her sister, her mother (Dame Judi), a courtesan-type woman, a religious-type woman, and the maid.

We wander through the theatre district a bit after the performance looking for a restaurant that no longer exists, and decide to head back to Gloucester Road near our hotel. We dine at Byrons--the place for a "proper burger." A burger tastes great after nearly two weeks in Europe.

Another early wake-up call so that we can--once again!--meet the Premium Tours bus outside of the Millennium Hotel at 7:25am.

22 May 2009


Royal Albert Hall

Buckingham Palace

Around the town...

Flowers in Kensington Gardens...

We are up and out before 9:00am and head to Kensington Gardens and the Diana Princess of Wales’s playground and fountain, but first a stop at the front desk to make tour reservations for Saturday. The flowers are gorgeous and the morning is lovely. I offer to take a picture for an English couple and we fall into conversation—JL with the woman and me with her husband. They are from an area between Oxford and Cambridge and came into the City for a Jackson Browne concert last night. He is a retired postman and she worked in a shop. They are originally Londoners, but never come into the City any more so they are tourists like us.

Just as we reach the Prince Albert Memorial, JL’s camera battery expires so we return to the hotel to retrieve my camera and pick up sweaters as the day is cooler than we anticipated. I was at the Diana Memorial Fountain on the 7th of July 2004, a day after it was dedicated by Queen Elizabeth, but JL has never seen it. It is a rather low-key fountain—a place for contemplation and remembrance rather than spectacular architecture. I like it, but many are disappointed and feel she deserved better. The playground opened in her honor in 2000 is wonderful and I hope to take LG and KF there soon. Adults are not allowed inside without children.

We walk to the Victoria and Albert for lunch in the William Morris rooms. I have a chicken/avocado spicy wrap and Judy chooses a chicken with BLT on a ciabatta. We plan to spend more time in the V&A on Sunday after services at Holy Trinity Brompton, as they are predicting rain. We take the Underground from South Kensington to Leicester Square to check out the half-price theater tickets and are pleased to get seats for Saturday night’s final performance of Madame de Sade starring Dame Judith Dench. She is in my favorite—As Time Goes By—and it will be a thrill to see her perform in person. We struggle with what to see tonight and decide to walk to Covent Gardens to think about what’s available. Eventually we choose the musical SHOUT! which embraces songs of the 60s.

It is close to 5:00pm when we get back to the hotel and I go on-line to get the address for Noor Jahan, and Indian restaurant that was recommended. Apparently the editor of Food & Wine declared it to be very fine. Even with directions we miss the turn and wander through some Mews—a real treat to see all the row houses and winding lanes. But, we have limited time to waste as the show begins at 7:30pm.

Just about the time we are ready to give up we literally stumble onto Bina Gardens and the entrance to Noor Jahan. Just a very short block earlier we asked for directions to Bina Gardens and three waiter/bus boy-types were confounded. We had asked directions earlier from two different Londoners and no one knew where Bina Gardens is!

We both choose the spicy version of chicken tikka masala, and I order vegetarian samosas with salad and Naan. Excellent! And, we get to the Gloucester Road Underground just before 7:00pm and to Leicester Road and around the corner to the Arts Theatre in time for the curtain.

The brochure for Shout! encourages us to, Shimmy and shake to the infectious, soulful songs that made Petula Clark, Cilla Black, Lulu, and Dusty Springfield legendary singers… and, we do! Very fun and very talented vocalists. This show is a great value at 25£ for the Stalls (ground floor seating).

On our walk form the Gloucester Road Tube Station to The Citadines we make two stops--Boots and Burger King. While JL looks for Carmex, I spot some Ibuprofen gel in a tube. Hm-m-m-m... Not available in the U.S.

It’s good to be back in our room with our Burger King Diet Cokes WITH ICE! An early wake-up call tomorrow as we have to be at the Millennium Hotel to meet our tour group by 7:25am.

21 May 2009


Today we leave BA for Vienna, but not until late afternoon/evening. This morning both little girls sleep in until 7:00am, and so do all the adults! LG loves wearing dresses to school so that she and her best friend Ella can dance in their classroom. KF also comes proudly down the steps wearing a skirt and red t-shirt and her normal huge smile. As I take pictures LG says "cheese" and then KF says "cheese." How fun!

Soon KF has the My Little Kitty safety helmet on her head and is outside playing on the terrace and in the dirt with her bucket and shovel. She is a little brown berry--not minutes in the sun and she tans--like her Aunt JE in many ways. The smile rarely leaves her face.

I love hanging around the house with the little girls. Today we drink lots of coffee and open doors and windows to let in the birdsong and breezes. Unfortunately, there are also the sounds of construction as the contractors continue building the newer development between this house and the new highway. The newest construction is very contemporary, but this sub-division and the one closest to the village have the traditional stucco and tiled roofs which I like the best. I remember being surprised at how Mediterranean the homes are when I first visited in 2000.

We will sleep three nights in London at a Small and Elegant Hotels site in South Kensington tonight--the Citadines, which is across from Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. And then, on the last night we will journey to Heathrow and stay at the Ibis hotel from my February 2008 experience.

We plan to go to the theater once or twice and to tour Hampton Palace and maybe journey to Bath. Everywhere in London City there are beautiful buildings and interesting people watching. We hope it is a bit cooler than here, as temps are supposed to hang in the 80s for the next few days. Vienna was quite hot yesterday unless you could find some shade and/or a breeze.

Just before we leave for the airport bus, Marcella visits with her 4-month old baby, Lueza. Marcella and Lucia are the two Slovak young women who were brought to the U.S. by my sister-in-law LFW to participate in her Early Childhood Master's program at the University of New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina arrived during their last semester and Marcella and Lucia ended up living with LFW's family from September to December. Lucia has become a nun, and Marcella is a stay-at-home mom for the time being in Bratislava. LFW's family has enjoyed continuing the relationship with these two lovely young women--visiting them in BA a few years ago.


Our flight to London goes without a hitch, arriving at Terminal 3 just before 8:30pm. The Piccadilly Line Underground is accessible between Terminal 2 and 3, and thanks to CA’s foresight I have enough English money to get us 4£/person tickets. The Citadines Hotel is just down from the Gloucester Road Underground station near Kensington Gardens/Hyde Park, although we first walk in the wrong direction…

Ferdinand checks us in—not the most sociable or congenial desk clerk, but we get our keys. JL has never experienced having to put your room key in to operate the lights. The suite is modest, but nice with a small kitchenette separate from the bedroom/sitting room—just the right size for two travelers here for a short stay.

JL likes tours, so I immediately load up on the brochures. We have been talking about going to Bath, and find a tour that will take us there and to Windsor Castle and Stonehenge. We open the window for fresh air and fall asleep reading. A long day that began in Chorvotsky Grob, continued in Bratislava and Vienna, and ended in London City. The adventure continues.

20 May 2009


St. Stephen's - Vienna

Belvedere Palace, Vienna

We are up early this morning as MK plans to drop us at the train station for our trip to Vienna just after taking LG to pre-school. LG is wearing a short-sleeved top with capris to school this morning--taking along a skirt so that she can dance with Ella--and MK says the other moms were giving her the evil eye and most probably condemning her because LG is not proper attired. It is May, so children are normally dressed in leggings or tights, long pants, and sweaters--attire dictated by the fact it is May rather than the reality of sunshine and temperatures in the 80s.

The traffic is bad, but we have a comfortable margin and get our €9.60 round trip tickets without delay and are onto the train with 10 minutes to spare. This is an express train with only 3 or so stops and we are in Vienna at Sudbahnhof (south train station) by 10:00am. We are directed and mis-directed and wander a bit before finding the right tram to take us to the proper U-Bahn station and then to Karlsplatz near the Nachsmarkt. In the confusion we spot Belvedere Gardens and Palace and take a quick peek. Beautiful. I will come back another time for the tour. They are just planting the spring and summer flower beds and the large pond in front wasn’t in top shape yet, either.

As always, I love the Nachsmarkt. We walk almost the entire market and then find a café for lunch. We enjoy veal schnitzel, but when the check comes we have been ripped off! This happens in high-traffic tourist areas in many European cities. The entrée was priced with pork, but then we were offered veal… The Coke Light came in huge glasses, and we were offered potatoes with our entrees—two mark-ups. The one I should have seen coming was the €1.60 for catsup! Oh well, when you travel you have to pretend its all Monopoly money sometimes. Live and learn.

We double-back through the market to purchase hummus, fresh spinach, a lemon, garlic, stuffed olives, and fresh bread to go with tonight’s rotisserie chicken. An experienced Nachsmarkt shopper, I have for once remembered to bring the light-weight, but large and comfortable shopping bag!

We decide to walk off lunch by hoofing it to Stephensplatz and St. Stephen's Cathedral. It is hot! Somewhere over 80⁰ and very sunny. We wander in and out of a few shops and then decide to go into the church. In all of my trips to Vienna I have never been inside. We are curious about the history of this church, but there are no translations of information available and the English language tour is not until 3:45pm—after our train home.

We circle the church and write down some of the websites of the artisans displayed along the way. We have already spotted our U-Bahn entrance and decide that it is time to head back—considering what it took to get here in the first place!

Our journey back to Sudbahnhof goes without delays and we collapse into our seats on the very warm train. I notice that others have opened their windows, so I do and we hang our heads out like Irish Setters in the wind! I don’t remember much of the trip as I slept soundly except for the three times they checked our tickets… We are at Bratislava before I know it, and soon DM arrives to take us back to Chorvatsky Grob with a quick stop at Tesco for a chicken, some Corny bars, and new bubbles to refresh the Dora the Explorer bubble toy.

MK-LG-and KF have been in the yard planting flowers today and we hear the little voices in the shower even before we are in the front door. KF is unusually modest for 16 mos, but she runs naked through the hallway looking for some attention—which I am only too anxious to provide! LG is right behind her. Two very clean and hungry little girls.

MK prepares a salad, and I roast garlic and clean spinach for the sautéed salad. We spread out our purchases on the dining table and the feast begins! We always have great food when we are together.

LG insists we dance—almost our first go-round this trip. Then we cuddle on the couch and I tell her a story about a pond and a frog jumping on lily pads trying to eat a purple-blue-black-yellow butterfly, but settling for some icky flies. Pretty soon there is a little girl fishing with a stick and then there is a grandma to cook the fish and tell stories of grandpa and frog legs. Next the little girl is fishing and catching frogs in her net (a blanket flies over our heads!). At this point the story requires a call to grandpa to discuss frog legs for dinner. He tells LG that he ate some and they tasted like chicken, and she howls with laughter as that’s what the grandpa in the story said, too!

We have laundry to do and belongings to organize. Our flight is at 7:15pm tomorrow, and this will be our last evening in BA. We will miss the little girls and their daddy and mommy, but London beckons…

19 May 2009


LG in her pre-school classroom.

Pre-school sleeping room - Children change into pajamas for afternoon nap.

A teaching opportunity.

As we are staying with the little girls and their parents, we interweave with their lives and plans. LG goes to pre-school from 8:00am until noon and KF takes a morning nap—sometimes. Monday we hang around the house a bit and then head for Pezinok and wander the streets of that small city checking out an artisan shop and then to the park so that the girls can run and climb and play in the sand. There are other moms and kids there with their $800 - $1000 strollers??? MK can’t quite process that Slovaks are willing to pay SO much for baby carriages. Her newest stroller is a Chicco and purchased brand new from eBay for $45 + $25 shipping to Woodstock. DM carried it back to SK with him when he was in the States last fall.

These young moms are beautiful. It is very common to see lovely young Slovak women. This is a beautiful country and they raise gorgeous girls. The twenty-somethings are quite prosperous and have fully embraced capitalism and consumerism.

I will cook dinner while we are here as MK is in the throes of NAUSEA and MORNING SICKNESS! Yep! A new little baby is expected sometime before January 9th 2010—a little sooner than planned, but welcome. So, we make a quick run into the Tesco in Pezinok for salad makings. DM has plans to bbq chicken breasts tonight. I talk JL into buying some balsamic sauce—an already-reduced vinegar condiment that will be lovely over a hot, grilled steak or as a dressing for a lettuce salad. Haven’t yet seen this in the U.S., but think it’s a great idea.
LG hasn’t shown any signs of fatigue from her very big birthday blow-out, but we stay in tonight and still she isn’t ready when it’s time for bed. She has conned JL into playing all kinds of make believe—doctor/patient and also scary, baby-eating pumpkin! KF goes easier to bed, smiling and waving her way up the stairs. The little girls are sharing LG’s room while we are here and they do well. Every morning KF begs to kiss and hug LG first thing (and her first thing is sometimes just after 4:30am!). LG is learning to be a sound sleeper in the mornings—as happens with almost all school children.

I remind LG to wake me up first thing in the morning as this a.m I slept through her breakfast and departure for pre-school.

Everyone is down the steps and wide awake by 6:00am on Tuesday. Mercifully someone makes a pot of strong coffee. JL fits in a 45 minute walk through the village as I opt for my very good book by Charles Todd. This one is Legacy of the Dead, the third in the Ian Rutledge series and my second for this trip.

We had planned on Vienna today, but winds and thunderstorms moved through last night and this morning is very overcast. I have been to Vienna in the rain before—and the freezing cold and snow. I am determined to visit this time in lovely weather, so we put off out trip until tomorrow.

I go with MK at noon to pick up LG and get to see her school—classroom and sleeping room—for the first time. Three pieces of her art are hanging in the hallway and I take photos to share with grandpa later. MK drops me at home and takes JL along to shop for new window box flowers in Vajorny and Limbach. This is a re-do, as the first plants have bitten the dust—planted a bit too early and then a surprise cold-snap. KF is finally asleep after three morning attempts! Each time she comes down the stairs smiling and happy…

I enjoy my almost two hours of quiet and KF wakes up just before the others arrive back with flowers. We decide to hang around this afternoon as we are meeting DM in the Centrum in the main square of the old city. We plan on swarma on warmed pita with the works—grilled and raw onions, cucumbers, pickled beets, chili sauce and tzatziki sauce. We wash it down with a mildly chilled Coca-Cola Light—we are adjusting to no ice…

We wander the square—the little girls play near the fountain and then chase pigeons and bubbles. MK takes us around the corner to show her favorite flower shop in Bratislava—where she purchased an absolutely beautiful bouquet to greet us at our introduction in 2000. We take photos and return the favor by buying her a big bouquet of roses and peonies, and a wonderful mix of fresh flowers.

We finish off our evening with a visit to Café Mayer for some espresso and pastries for MK and JL. I must be honest, I ate almost half of JL’s. I am enjoying her Weight-Watchers dieting! LG opts for vanilla ice cream and KF gets the ginger cookie that comes with my coffee.
Tired little girls and big ones too. No one makes much of a fuss about bedtime tonight.

18 May 2009


I loved reading this recipe exchange between CA and our friend SN1, who traveled with us in France last December.

On May 18, 2009, at 10:58 AM, CA wrote:


Here is an idea of what I did with the beef stew since I only used a recipe as a guide and I didn't have all the ingredients. I browned the meat cubes (maybe 2.5 lbs) in a dutch oven with olive oil (maybe 8 minutes), season with salt and pepper. Take out the meat and set it aside on a plate. Reduce heat to medium and add vegetables (carrots, celery, onions, garlic but not potatoes yet), stirring occasionally until well browned (about 10-12 min). Push vegetables to the side and stir in 3 TB tomato paste and balsamic vinegar (must be balsamic) about 2 min. Then mix tomato paste with veggies. Stir in 1 can (about 15 oz) of Guinness with bay leaf and thyme (which I didn't have) and boil until liquid is reduced to about 2/3 (approx 10-12 min). Add the beef with juices along with beef broth and some water to cover ingredients and bring to simmer. Cover either in oven at 350 or on stove (which I did) until beef is very tender (about 2 hours) with a tight fitting lid. After about 1 hour add small potatoes with skins cut to same size as beef cubes. When done make sure potatoes and carrots are tender. The inspiration to try this was from a book, Mediterranean Summer, I have been reading about a chef on a yacht cruising along the French and Italian Riviera for a summer. He would go to the markets to select items which would tell him what he would make that day or weekend. I am sure you could visualize this activity just like I could.


SN1 replied:

Thanks Chris. I'm looking forward to trying this. When you described it last night my mouth was watering. It was good to see you again last night

I forgot to ask you, how much beef broth did you use? 1 cube dissolved?

17 May 2009


Two little girls enjoying the birthday party.

Last view of Mondsee, Austria

I drag myself out of bed this morning—not quite at 6:00am, but before 6:30. I shower, but decide to wash my hair in Bratislava—snagging 10 extra minutes in the bed. I didn’t fall asleep easily last night and think that translates to less than 4 hours of sleep.

We organize our luggage and the leftover groceries that are transportable. Everything weighs much less this trip as DM+MK took a lot of the weight home with them in the Kangoo to help ensure that the Citroen has starts and not fits-and-starts. DM now believes that all the drama was driver error… I have considered that maybe I was in third gear instead of 1st… But, I KNOW I was in the proper gear all the time (or at least most J) because sometimes the car was actually moving steadily along uphill and then would begin to power down. It has been working well for two days and except for the two cushiony grandmas there is less than half the luggage/baggage weight to drag us down.

Everything goes perfectly well. We stop at a Raustation near Mondsee. The views are spectacular and there is nothing like this rest stop in the U.S. –a lovely restaurant/gift shop with a dramatic terrace and views to die for. We find wonderfully strong coffee and pastries for the road, deciding to eat in the parking lot as the pastry is too, too crumbly and yummy to manage in the car. We find Salzburg easily and the A1 toward Vienna. We are leaving the Alps, but the countryside is still picturesque with patchwork quilt farm fields and forests and streams. The sun has come out and Austria is lovely.

All goes well until we get past Vienna—DM’s pointers have been right-on. I take him too literally and end up in Hungary when I should have actually taken that final Bratislava turn. I ruminate on the likelihood that I have made a mistake and by the time I decide to turn back the next exit is 15km. That is the longest 15km of our trip and the closest I have come to crying. I have been stoic, no actually good natured about every stumbling block along the way. But, I am tired and sick of driving and worried that we won’t get to the birthday party in time—which is crazy because we still have 1-1/2 hours and are not so very far from Bratislava. If I knew this geography I could cut across country somewhere and get to Chorvatsky Grob in a flash.

I pull into a Hungarian gas station for gas… Guess what? They have real guys to fill your tank and clean your windows. But then, I remember that they are not on the Euro yet and I do not have local currency. The road signs are indecipherable (In Austria you can almost figure out all the signs like ausfahrt and einfahrt, raustation, and others—Latin-based language and all.), and I have no energy for stumbling in broken English and absolutely no Hungarian words to sort out the necessary tasks required to get gas. Do they take credit cards? Do I tip the attendants? Am I illegally driving on the highway without a Hungarian Autobahn permit? Once in Austria as we were driving with DM+MK to Český Krumlov we stopped at a Raustation and after we had eaten we returned to our car to find a local policeman issuing a ticket for a whole lot of Euros (like $150 worth) because our Autobahn driving sticker had expired. DM thought it was good for a month and it was only good for one week.

I skip the gas-up deciding that there is enough in the tank to get us to Chorvatsky Grob and I will give DM cash to fill his Citroen’s tank for Monday morning.

It is a lovely, sun-shiny day when we arrive. The doors and windows are open and there is a wonderful breeze drifting through the house. DM+MK know how to throw a party! There are fresh strawberries and veggies, chips and pretzels—lots to drink and eat. The little girls are happy to see us. LG is wearing the red bandanna-print sundress I chose for her. Grandpa REALLY didn’t like that dress and urged me several times to return it to the store, but LG looks very good in red… Turns out this is her favorite of all the new summer clothes we brought along. She is queen of this day and proud of it. KF is adorable in denim capris and a pretty yellow summer shirt. There will soon be a jumping castle. LG knows jumping castles and is beside herself. KF doesn’t have a clue, but she loves a good party…

Friends arrive with the castle and, in no time it is inflated and the jumping begins. There just aren’t enough words or space to describe how much these little girls LOVE the castle. LG rough-houses with the boys and girls, her daddy, and his friends. 16 month-old KF is fearless and joins right in, but keeps more to herself, though sometimes falling into the pile…

The daddies have to actually partially deflate the castle to get the children to rest and have refreshments. Slovaks never eat ice cream with their cake, but DM has insisted. No one turns it down. One friend says that Americans introduced him to the concept and now he never wants his cake without ice cream. LG blows out her four candles with help from Daddy. This is a harder than usual task because the chocolate cake is hugely rectangular and someone put one candle in each corner—an unintentional obstacle, of course.

Next come the presents. Reality strikes. Gift unwrapping at a four-year old’s birthday party is not a pretty sight or occurrence. Let’s just say that LG had help and that the only gift that got any special attention at all was the Strawberry Shortcake DVD from JE-MA-JA-and LE in Omaha.

Oh, and then there were the in-line roller skates from her Slovak grandparents… Those also got her attention. Uncle Radko is helping LG put on the skates and then discovers there is still paper stuffed in the toes! In her zeal to get moving, LG hadn’t bothered to complain. Live and learn, and now Radko will remember to check the toes for all of his future children!

Radko, Evka, and her sister, brother-in-law, young niece and nephew arrive a bit late, but still in time for the birthday part, and the jumping castle. So, so cute—the little ones line up to shake the birthday girl Liliana’s hand, a Slovak tradition.

Everyone stays too long, but this has been a terrific, blow-out 4th birthday for LG. Mommy and daddy are exhausted, the little ones are up too late, and the two cushiony grandmas settle in to enjoy a quiet evening with books and conversation. This grandma stays up too late downloading photos—grandpa and the friends and relatives in the States are anxiously awaiting the updates.

16 May 2009


St. Johann, Austria

Loving the oh, so proper Austrian gentleman outline on warning signs!

Saalfelden w/red Rauthaus in background. Scene of the first wedding of the day.

This morning when D+M and the girls come to our room MK warms a cup of cocoa for KF and gives her a straw. KF is so, so funny sipping from the straw without taking a pause until the hot chocolate is almost gone! Kacao is one word that she says clearly. Slovaks love their hot chocolate before bed each night—DM says it’s funny that even the adults have the habit. Guess it’s equivalent to the American’s bedtime bowl of cereal.

DM’s family has checked out of the Alpenland Sportshotel Maria Alm. They return to Bratislava today to prepare for LG’s 4th birthday party tomorrow. Bobbi—the Slovak grandma—has prepared the birthday cakes and also food for our return. JL and I are staying another night. Our plans for the day are fluid as we are hoping that the Citroen treats us kindly.

I put my jacket over my pjs and take the walk-of-shame through the hotel lobby and out the back door to help load up the Kangoo for DM’s family. They have agreed to take as much of the weight from our suitcases as they can fit in—the plan being to keep the load in the Citroen down to a minimum (two cushiony grandmas) to preclude any stall-outs. Please, dear God, keep this little car running up as well as down these mountains.

Our plans for today are to visit villages and towns toward St. Johann and then check-out the other Alpenland Sportshotel. Let me say here that the St. Johann version of this hotel is not in St. Johann, as we discover… It is near Muhlbach on the other route—you know, the one we spent a lifetime trying to conquer on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. That being said…

DM has described a bakery two or three villages along the way that he recommends. We find it and get a sugar cookie which is encircled with chocolate and then the middle is filled with hazelnuts and a bit of spun sugar. YUM! I enjoy a espresso with cream, but JL sticks with her bottled water. We drive as far as Leongang and see many lumber mills. It is flat here and not very interesting and we turn back a bit to further explore Saalfelden before remembering that we had been headed to check out the other resort in St. Johann.

In Sallfelden we find the Rauthaus and there are weddings in progress and qued-up to begin. I think, European regulations require a City Hall ceremony prior to the one in the church. We crane our necks and give some opinions on the brides and their finery… Then we wander into and out of shops eventually ending up in a wood-fired pizzeria where we both order Pizza Spinnaci—tomato sauce, cheeses, spinach, and a fried egg in the center! The crust is yummy, and the combination works. We decide that they crack a fresh egg in the center, break the yolk, and then fire the pizza as normal. Soon, we are back on the road…

We reach St. Johann and easily find parking. We wander the wrong direction and end up near the hotels and hostels, but the architecture is interesting as are the gardens. We eventually find a covered bridge and cross the river, wandering back toward town and right into the middle of the Zentrum. O.K. so, this is touristy, but the building date from the 1700s and we do love this type of touristy. The batteries are dead in my camera and we head for the car for replacements. Only, we are a bit lost… After a very round-about and out of the way, but healthy walk, we find the car and fresh batteries.

This is a lovely village. Most shops are closed because it is late Saturday afternoon, but the cafes and restaurants are abuzz. We take bunches of photos and enjoy the warm afternoon sunshine… This is unofficially our last day in the Austrian Alps. We leave early tomorrow a.m. for the drive to Bratislava and LG’s 4th birthday party.

I’m exhausted, but JL walks into the village and discovers either a local wedding or festival. Our waiter/bartender from last night is dressed in cultural togs, as is our waitress from the first lunch, and many other faces, recognizable and not. Everyone ends up at the music hall, leaving the tourists to go about their own business… JL snaps some final photos and then decides to take a swim in the hotel pool, and I continue reading my VERY GOOD book by Charles Todd: Wings of Fire. I am loving this British Scotland Yard Ian Rutledge series… I drove all day so sitting here in the sunshine on our balcony suits me fine.

Dinner is a combination of salami and cheeses, another big vegetable salad, and all the crackers and brioche we can stuff in… We mostly pack and get to bed a bit late for our 5:30am wake-up call. DM calls to say they have arrived home safely after a 4-1/2 hour drive. He also says that MK’s mother has prepared TWO birthday cakes and making the checkerboard cake tomorrow would be way overkill. Maybe later in the week. He suggests we not leave quite as early as planned (6:00am) and gives me four pointers to keep me on track on our driving route for tomorrow.

15 May 2009


Our wake-up call is for 6:00am, but I am up and in the shower when it comes. We plan to leave the hotel by 7:00am or sooner for our 7:25am bus to Salzburg. Saalfelden is only about 10 minutes from here, but I need coffee! When I come out of the shower JL has coffee brewed! D+M and the girls show up at 6:30am and LG is dressed in new jeans, a white t-shirt, with a pink hat on her head, a backpack on her back, and an umbrella in-hand. There is also a big, shy grin on her sweet face.

KF bustles about in her ballerina pjs, carrying the Dora bubble bucket and several wands everywhere she goes. She is shy with us, preferring her mama, but always gives big, toothy smiles that light up her chocolate brown eyes.

Our bus to Salzburg is on time—the tickets are €9.60 each, with no charge for LG. European buses are so, so much more desirable than any bus I’ve ever ridden in America. LG moves from seat-to-seat between JL and me, chattering and full of questions. It is a bright and sunshiny day as we are delivered on time to Mirabel Gardens Place—just where the Sound of Music tours begin. We get our tickets--€37 each, and again LG is free!

The young woman in the ticket booth assures us that we have time for breakfast, so we cross the street and buy yummy coffee and cinnamon rolls for JL and me, and two sugared donut holes and chocolate milk for LG. This may not be a nutritious day!

We are welcomed aboard by a very gregarious Brit by the name of Susan. She is almost too much for me, but JL is impressed and ready to roll. There are seat belts on this bus, and I feel so much safer having LG belted in. She doesn’t protest too much as we let her change positions with every stop along the way.

Here is the link to the Sound of Music tour.

When we visit Leopoldskron Castle, which was used as the exterior of the von Trapp family home in the movie, LG exclaimed, “Now I know it’s the truth!”

We have an hour in Mondsee (where both the kids hanging from the trees in the allee and Maria’s wedding to the Captain were filmed) for lunch and a self-guided tour. We have ham and egg sandwiches and LG eats almost nothing… This is a great break because 4 hours with Susan, our guide, is a bit much for me. She is good natured and chatty, punctuating most stories with references to “our film.”

Somewhere along the way Susan encourages our group to visit Hitler’s Eagles Nest, which reopens for the season today! WHAT? Even without car trouble we were not going to visit Eagle’s Nest yesterday. We are hoping that DM+MK+KF drove up the mountain again today.
Back in Salzburg we wander through Mirabell Gardens, taking our time and taking lots of photos. LG is quite the poser! We meander into the old city center, over bridges and among the shops, ending up at Mozart Square for some tea and pastries. LG chases pigeons with her umbrella as JL supervises and I track down the post office and a phone card. We promised to call DM+MK with our return time.

LG has had a perfect day and we (and all the people on the bus) have enjoyed her singing along to the sound track and her enthusiasm for the film. As we walk back through the narrow streets LG lusts after a mylar balloon which is priced at an outrageous €5.00. I promise a different balloon, and she has her only meltdown. She is tired and so are we. Before we reach Mirabell Gardens and the Post Bus stop to return us to Saalfelden, we find a package of princess balloons and she is appeased. I blow up one and find dental floss in my purse to secure the balloon. LG is entertained on the return bus trip and in about one hour we are met at the bus station by MK.

MK says they decided to try again today to tour Eagle's Nest. They drove back to Berchtesgaden and then up and up and up the curving mountain road, and then they took a bus up and up and up some more. It is a fantastically beautiful perch precariously balanced on the edge of the world. She said that the property was built as teahouse and a 50th birthday gift to Hitler from his mistress, Eva Braun. He only visited 11 times, and is now a restaurant for adventuresome tourists.

JL and I have decided that we will have a real dinner tonight, and after some bubble blowing and dancing and mac+cheese, LG and KF are led off to bed. We walk along the wildflower path and into the small village of Maria Alm, choosing the same restaurant where we ate our first lunch. We have the goulash and rice with a beautiful chopped salad, and finish the meal with a yummy scoop of ice cream.

The little girls and their mommy and daddy are driving back to Bratislava in the morning, but JL and I have plans for more adventures tomorrow.

14 May 2009


Zell am See, Austria

This morning the little girls wake us up before 8:00am. We have breads and cheeses and Nutella from the Billa. There is strong Jacobs coffee and Clever coffee cream. Before anyone can notice, KF grabs the coffee cream from the fridge and drops it with a SPLAT! onto the parquet floor. We retrieve a bath towel and scrubs-up the floor. KF is quick like lightening and doesn’t miss a trick!

We blow bubbles and chat and before we know it KF is in the fridge again and dumps the Clever again! She loves milk and believes this heavy cream to be just the ticket.

DM drives JL, LG, and I to Zell am See while MK puts KF down for a nap. She got up at 4:00am and mommy and daddy took shifts throughout the early hours to keep her entertained. What a picturesque village! At every turn there is beauty atop beauty atop beauty… I will come back with CA as many times as we can. Alpenland Sports Maria Alm is a wonderful Interval discovery, and a great economy.

There are sailboats on the lake, and gardens surround. LG finds a gazebo and prepares “muffins” from the pebbles and finds a discarded (!) beer bottle to serve us Vinea (a lightly carbonated Slovak softdrink). We wander the streets and back to the car to join MK and KF in Maria Alm for a lunch of meats and cheeses in our room.

We decide to drive to Berchtesgarden to Hitler’s Eagles Nest. We drive to Saalfelden and Weiβbach, through St. Martin, Lofer and Unken---whoops! The Citroen has decided it does not like these mountains and begins to shake, rattle, and roll, and die-out in first and second gear. We are stuck on the slope again. DM pulls over and runs to our rescue, taking the wheel and heading down the mountain. The Citroen is going to the dealership near Zell am See for a look-see and windshield wiper repair.

DM+MK drop JL, LG, and I in the village and we walk again to Lake Zeller. Still beautiful! LG points remembering a playground just down the shore a bit, and then plays and climbs and runs before stopping to make us muffins again—this time with wet sand.

DM, MK, and KF are soon back having left the Citroen overnight as the dealership was just closing. We squeeze into the Kangoo and head back toward Maria Alm, stopping in Sallfelden at the InterSpar for groceries and goodies and diapers. We often shop at the InterSpar in Simmering near Vienna, as they have American brands and specialty foods and wine.

Back in Maria Alm D+M take the little girls to shower and pajama-up before dinner. There will be Kraft mac+cheese for them as we prepare a huge salad with lettuce, red and yellow peppers, avocado, carrots, English cucumber, ham, cheese, tomatoes and Kraft Cucumber Ranch salad dressing. We have Ritz crackers and Tuc’s. We enjoy a cheap but very drinkable Merlot and Coca-Cola Light.

The little girls show up in their new pjs—LG in her ballet slipper nightgown, and KF in bright pink polka-dotted pants, a matching white shirt, and a BALLERINA SKIRT! How fun! They are washed and shampooed—sweet-smelling and smiling (I think happy to be with grandma, but maybe it’s the mac and cheese?).

This day did not go as planned—although our plans were always to be flexible. We’ve been to Zell am See twice today! But, we had great food and fun with the little girls. There are worries about the Citroen, but JL and I volunteer that we will stay until Monday if necessary to ensure proper repairs. I mean—who wants to experience the shake-rattle-and rolling backward on the way home that we experienced in the wee hours of Wednesday morning!

We have plans to go to Salzburg on Friday and take LG along for the Sound of Music tour—4 hours on a bus with about 6 stops along the way. We check out the bus arrangements to Salzburg and find them easy to execute. DM will drive JL and me to Saalfelden for the 7:25am bus and we can return on a 6:30pm bus that takes a bit over an hour. We want to take LG along, but are not successful at confirming reservations on-line and I decide that a day in Salzburg might be too much for her without a planned distraction like the Sound of Music tour.

As I drift off to sleep and every time I wake up in the night I think that the whole reason we joined DM and MK on this family vacation to Austria was to help with the little girls and take LG on the SofM tour… They can use a break from the very vibrant and active LG! I call her a sprite because she is a burst of light. (A funny thing—this trip she told me that she likes to pretend she is Tinkerbell, the original burst of light.) Her energy never fails—she goes strong from morning to night with no need for a nap or rest… Before morning I decide that we will take her along and take our chances on getting tickets for the morning tour. I am at peace…

13 May 2009


Ambien does the trick! JL and I sleep for most of the trip to London. Our flight arrives on time and we have 2+hours to wander about in T3. I like this terminal better than the new British Airways Terminal 5.

We take our time before walking to our gate. When we sit down we are accosted by a fellow traveler. The less I respond, the more questions she asks. There is something sadly wrong with this lady, and her husband seems a bit better, but is badly disheveled. They tell us they have been flying to Vienna yearly for ten years to visit her aunt. On the plane she creates a scene talking loudly and exclaiming her fears. The flight attendants are diligent and soon a kind passenger moves into her row to calm her through the flight. The flight attendant told my seat mate that this woman is afraid of flying, has taken the classes, and this is her first flight since. A very different story than we heard in the airport. My seat mate says that obviously someone needs to attrack some attention…

Our flight to Vienna is just a few minutes late so we have plenty of time to collect our luggage, get Euros at the ATM at Flughofen, and step outside to await Radko and Evka’s arrival. We quickly hug and exchange car keys, a cellphone, and car papers for some bus and dinner Euros. The Bratislava bus is boarding for R+E, and JL and I jump into the pretty blue Citroen. We are on our way toward the A1 and Maria Alm. It is 7:30pm—7 hours later than in the central U.S. Thank you Ambien for the 5 hours of sleep. We expect a 4 hour drive.

30 minutes out of Vienna we stop at a typical Austrian rest stop--this one is called an Auto Grill--and purchase cheese and tomato sandwiches on Kaiser rolls, some water, and an espresso for me, the driver. Our travel continues perfectly until unwittingly I slide past Salzburg and onto the A8 in Germany—we have not noticed any Willkommen signs. At Salzburg, I was supposed to head south on the A10 or diagonally on the 267… An hour later I realize that we are not in Kansas any more—or even Austria—and, we turn back after consoling ourselves with Magnum ice cream bars. YUM! JL's first Magnum, and she is impressed.

It is now Wednesday a.m., very early.

After about an hour [two hours total: one there and one back :( ] we find the A10 and all goes well until there is a detour—hard to understand for sure with the language barrier, so we double back a bit to make sure. Sure enough! It is very dark south of Salzburg and there is road construction, but we still enjoy winding down and up small mountains. We are psyched because even though we are a few hours late, we are on the right road and what else can go wrong?

We find the proper turn into an area called Hochkönig and even find the village two away from Maria Alm—Mühlbach, a quaint and charming spot. This is ski country and we can see the snow-capped Alps even in the dark, and can hear the rushing mountain streams—swollen with the Spring melt. We have been bragging about this lovely little Citroen, but then I stall it out on an upswing just west of Mülbach. No problem. But, this little car does not want to start again in first gear and bumps along in second. I have to back down the mountain a few hundred yards onto level ground and kick it in gear again. I am more than a bit out of practice with a 5-speed, so little wonder I have stalled it. Just luck that things have gone so well thus far.

Like The Little Engine That Could, we start back up the slope—this is not the steepest we have driven tonight. The Citroen stalls again, and back down we roll… God is good as there were no cars in either direction for the ONE AND A HALF HOURS we repeat this insanity. After at least five tries, JL suggests that we call DM to come and rescue us. It is now after 3:00am. I agree, but want to give it one more try. Somewhere in the middle or beginning of all of this the windshield wipers have conked and it is raining… God is good, but does not always spare us from travel inconveniences. Still, there is NO traffic...

The sixth try we get the furthest yet—the good and the bad news as we have further to roll back down the mountain. Did I mention that there is very little shoulder on my right and a rushing stream with a sizable drop-off on my left? Thank you, God, for no traffic. Both JL and I have our doors open as we roll down the mountain—the hazard lights flashing. I park the car on our predictable flat spot and reach for the cellphone, which is nowhere to be found! Some time in the past few hours it has fallen from my purse. We move suitcases and shake coats and search purses and say swear words—O.K. that was just me, but I earned every one I said.

The cellphone is in the smallest door pocket in the right rear seat area. I press redial and DM quietly answers the phone—two little girls are asleep nearby. He is shocked into wakefulness when he hears we are on the road. Stay where you are with the hazard lights flashing, he says, and I will be there in 25 minutes. We are greatly relieved because it is about 3:45am.

DM arrives around 4:30am. Turns out that our side of the mountain route is much, much curvier and elevated than the side of the mountain he drove to reach Maria Alm. He safely parks the Citroen, and we are on our way in the Kangoo to Alpenland Sport Maria Alm. Maybe the extra weight of our 200+ lbs of luggage, plus two cushiony grandmas was just too much for the Citroen. DM thinks the little car was worn out. Still, why no windshield wipers?

We check into our resort at 5:00am Wednesday, May 13th—a good five hours later than we had expected. Without a comment the night clerk has upgraded us to a studio with a full kitchen. There are twin platform beds with yummy duvets and soft pillows. We fall into bed and sleep until D+M and the little girls wake us at 10:00am.

11 May 2009

MARATHON WEEKEND, part 4: Time Travel

JE’s family is off by 8:30am after we have had coffee, rhubarb pie, and some serious baby holding and laughing with JA. He still loves his drums (and demonstrated his skills at PM’s house on Saturday evening) but lately air guitar is his favorite—and making ANYTHING he finds into a substitute guitar. We have laughed repeatedly as he strums the tiny guitar-shaped magnets from Gigi’s fridge.

I help grandma with some computer skills and then scurry around to meet my sisters in Washington by 11:00am. We are having an early lunch so that JA and I can head back home by 1:00pm for our 6:45 departure for O’Hare. NC was here in September of 2007 and we go to the same restaurant as then. We chatter through lunch, catching up and touching base. Phone calls are normally exchanged most weekends, but it is special to be together again. NC got great news for Mother’s Day. Her only child, Anne, was hired by her ad agency after a one-year internship. Good money and benefits at last.

We have a quick trip back to Woodstock—reviewing and remembering all the conversations of the weekend. I have learned that my grandpa was originally named Ludwig Heinrich, rather than the Louis Henri I had suspected after the aunts recently proclaimed that we are not German, but French. We are German—not French—originally from Alsace Lorraine.

I drive directly to Crystal Lake and to the AAA (That's 3 A's not 2...) for the driver’s permit—this is definitely a scam as they collect my $15 and then hand write a lame paper permit. But, I have read online that without this permit the fines can be steep.

CA is home by 6:20pm and we work diligently to fit everything into three 50 lb suitcases—in the end sacrificing only a large bottle of Western salad dressing and one of poppy seed. We are at ORD by 7:40pm and our flight leaves on time from terminal 3. On booking our tickets we were told that we would have to collect our bags in London and re-check them to Vienna because we are ticketed separately for the two legs of our journey to facilitate our lay-over in London on our return trip. I ask the American Airlines/British Airways desk agent if we can check our bags straight through and she does it! I am pleased to avoid the extra bag charge for my second bag on the London-Vienna leg—a $60 savings! She who asks, receives—sometimes.

As passengers settle into their seats I notice the bulkhead is empty and ask if we can move forward two rows. I end up with a seat on each side and JL is on the aisle with tons of legroom. All of a sudden a head pops over my seat—a head with an Australian voice. She suggests that JL and I sit side-by-side so that she and her boyfriend can line up in our row. I am quick enough to say that I don’t think that would be very comfortable for us. She replies I am not being fair and I suggest she speak to the flight attendant, to which she demures. In the end she has a whole row on which to stretch out and I am not inconvenienced. In times past I would have agreed just to be polite, but have learned that one must say what one believes to be true. Just because someone presumes to ask, one does not have to agree.

JL and I refuse dinner as we had a quick Wolfgang Puck pizza at O'Hare. Soon it is time to pop those Ambiens and nestle in for 4 or 5 hours of sleep... z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z

10 May 2009

MARATHON WEEKEND, part 3: We Feast

The morning goes quickly with JE’s family coming to grandma’s by 9:00am. CA has driven down this morning and is loving seeing his grandchildren again so soon. We are all desperate for coffee while JA is delighted to be running outside in the wide open spaces. MA keeps track of him while LE sleeps and the rest of us read the paper and ease into the day. Grandma is coming to the Jacobs' gathering—as she has more and more over the past few years.

CA and I cut Bridal Wreath and Lilacs from grandma's yard for the Ball jar vases we have planned to place in the center of each table. GJ has Apple Blossoms, Lily of the Valley, and Lilacs that she will contribute.

It is Mother's Day and we have purchased solar yard lights for grandma in a perfect bronze color. They are inconspicuous, but tasteful, and we place them "just-so" in her landscape. She maybe would have preferred flowers? This will also be a gift that keeps on giving, as she has already fallen once in her front yard, and there is a abrupt and dangerous drop off mid-driveway that scares us...

The time slides by so quickly and soon CA and I go to CVS for new passport-size photos for my trip. I checked online last night and I DO need an International driving permit for Austria. There will be just enough time to secure one on Monday afternoon if I have photos in hand. CA drops me at the church—it is already 12:30 and my sisters are setting up for the picnic. He leaves to pick up the fried chicken and we gather together the feast as others arrive.

There are three chocolate fudge cakes, rhubarb pies, a peanutbutter and fresh strawberry dessert that tastes like pb&j, a meltingly good lemon dessert… Desserts are always a priority for this group. We have two kinds of potato salad, two lovely green salads, and two kinds of baked beans. There are chips and veggies; red pepper dip and more that I cannot remember now.

Everyone is holding babies—LE and the 2-week old twins. In all there are 56 or 57 of us with everyone from toddlers to my 88 year-old dad. The kids play in the gymnasium and the adults move from table to table like speed dating. We have many octogenarians in our family group, but only four are present today. They get as much attention as the little ones. Aunt MK turns 82 tomorrow and probably thinks this party is for her! My cousin has taken to referring to Aunt JZ as her "octo mom!"

We wind down about 5:00pm and head home or to our weekend hosts' homes. It is quiet at grandma’s and soon time for CA to drive back to Woodstock. I will stay the night as there is an early lunch planned for the five sisters on Monday. Grandma and I watch a recent movie—Because I Said So—and snack a bit. JE and MA are at the Cottager’s Lounge early as JA and LE have had enough! They pop corn and enjoy and evening in with television.

09 May 2009

MARATHON WEEKEND, part 2: We Gather

Good sleeping at grandma’s—no one to keep me awake at night and no one talking first thing in the a.m. JE, MA, JA, and LE migrate over from the Cottager’s Lounge for breakfast at grandma’s. There is Starbuck’s coffee and grandma announces that we can help ourselves to anything we can find. I choose the buttery-almond cookies made simply:

1. Enough graham cracker quarters to cover ½ sheet cake pan
2. 2 sticks of butter boiled for 2 minutes with ½ cup of sugar.
3. Pour sugar/butter syrup over the graham crackers and top with toasted almonds and/or chocolate chips. Grandma chooses almonds, only, and these are yummy. Later LA tells me you can make this recipe with saltines and heighten the salty/sweet juxtaposition.
4. Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees and cool completely before separating into cookies.

JA loves the wide open green and grassy spaces around Gigi’s house and keeps MA busy outside for most of the morning. I have plans to join JA and GJ in Washington to make the two kinds of potato salad for Sunday’s family picnic. We are joined by PM for a quick and conversational lunch and then dive into our 14 or so lbs of potatoes and 2 dozen eggs. I chop onions and eggs, peel potatoes and cube them for JA. GJ has her own unique recipe which includes slicing the potatoes instead of cubing, and no onions but dill pickles… I have never had this recipe, but it is the one her family expects.

JA and I follow GJ to her church to stow the salads in the basement fridge, and then we head on to PM’s house for dinner. JA has prepared pulled pork and peanut butter pies. Gigi decides to sit this one out as she has been traveling with her senior’s group all week. Later in the evening LA and EG arrive with the irrepressible Sophie and our sister from Seattle NC. PM’s son and daughter-on-law stop by with their two little girls and the new baby twins, Grant and Charlotte. So, so tiny.

It is a mad house—more than NC is accustomed to, as she lives in the far northwest away from all family. Her visit is our excuse for convening this family weekend. I hang in until almost 10:00pm, and then bail and head back to grandma’s. I love my quiet room and open a window, falling asleep in due time. I am alone again tonight as CA has decided to drive down on Sunday—he was exhausted from a week of teaching and coaching soccer games—two games today.

A really interesting thing for me today was that GJ has a recording of our beloved Grandpa Korta telling the story of his sail immigration from Germany in 1892 or 1893. Their ship was two weeks at sea and lost its sails in a storm. They were rescued by a ship headed back toward Liverpool, so they returned to Europe and boarded another ship bound for Montreal. They eventually made their way through Ellis Island and then to Philadelphia and onward to Washington, Illinois where Maria Sophia Korte was scheduled to marry William LeConte. Maria was widowed with Louis Henry, Walter, and Martha and after marrying LeConte bore him five additional children—Elizabeth, William, Carol, Anna, and Johnny. Grandpa tells the story of his childhood and early adult years. Fascinating. The tape is scratchy and so we are looking into having it re-mastered onto a CD. Otherwise, I will do the tedious work of transcribing. I have only heard half and want to hear the rest very soon.

08 May 2009

MARATHON WEEKEND, part 1: We Begin

JL arrived last night. We met in Streamwood near RvH’s house so that we can deliver two very large and beautiful geranium plants—one peach and one hot pink. RvH has a beautiful townhouse and this is the first time JL has been inside. RvH has the best original art featuring geraniums—I have to get a photo of the painting of the ladies with the geranium hats. We stay only 30 minutes or so because it is growing late and home is an hour away.

I drive through Tommy’s on the way home and pick up the best hamburgers in the world and, guiltily, some fries. JL is following Weight Watchers, and so should I! CA is home from his soccer game and we have a quiet evening and head to bed before 11:00pm. JL and I have the reputation of talking until 2:00am or so, but not last night.

Today is loaded with tasks and plans and travel for JL and me. We are up before 6:30am and bake a second three-layer Hershey’s chocolate cake—I baked the first one yesterday. JL helps me frost mine with Verna’s (her mother-in-law) fudge frosting—I get only so far and am frustrated as the frosting is not sticking to the cake sides. JL finishes mine and later frosts the second. In the meantime, I touch up my hair color and she whitens her teeth.

I pack for the weekend, and for Europe, wrap gifts for this weekend’s family gathering—for my Seattle sister NC, the new baby twins, and also for my mother-in-law’s Mother’s Day. I plant the black violas and then cover them with a wire basket because the deer have been feasting on my lovely flowering plants. JL has brought me a gorgeous Brunnera with tiny but tall blue flowers and the coolest leaves ever.

I make a nutritious salad—romaine, spinach, carrots, yellow peppers, avocado, tomato, green onions with Ken’s Lite Caesar dressing—and we sit down to watch some daytime t.v. By 2:00pm we are on the road heading toward Eureka and Peoria. This trip takes just under 3 hours and flies by—I think we will be entertained by satellite radio, but JL can spin a story and does. She was destined for talk radio, but missed her calling and became an OB nurse. Just one pit stop and we get to grandma’s just about 15 minutes before JE and MA arrive with LE and JA. So, so fun to see the little ones here in Eureka.

JA calls great grandma Gigi, and she loves it! He explores her house and spots a guitar magnet on the fridge. Gigi gives it to him and he is a riot mimicking playing the tiny guitar. He strums on his shovel and anything else he can appropriate, including the string from his mommy’s hoodie.
My youngest sister PM arrives with her husband MM. Great grandma has ordered chicken from the local bar/restaurant Chaniticleer. They have the best onion rings—the stringy kind—and we are quite literally in hog-heaven. I had suggested to Gigi that we eat out, but by the time we arrive she has made oven –roasted potatoes, broccoli salad, creamed peas, almond bars, and melon chunks. This is a feast of the first order. Gigi is and has always been a phenomenal cook, still trying new recipes at 81 years old.

PM and JL clean up while Gigi and I drive the two blocks to the Cottager’s Lounge, where great grandma has rented rooms for JE’s family. They will have all the privacy a young family needs to keep the little ones on-track with naps and bedtimes—something JE requires.

I had planned to go with PM, MM, and JL to visit the new baby twins and the two big sisters, but I am peopled out and decide that my day is over. I tell Gigi good night and nestle into the guest room bed with the brand new Vanity Fair that arrived in today’s mail.

Fortuitously we have gifted Gigi with high-end foam bed pillows, high thread-count sheets, and the perfect fleece blanket and comforter—some when she was using this bed to recuperate from her hip replacement, and some when she moved into her cottage. The gifts that keep on giving—to the givers! Trust me, this was intentional after years on a lumpy mattress with sheets that were thread-worn and ripped every time you moved your feet in the night. Gigi and grandpa are/were from the era of thriftiness, which has its eventual rewards. They are/were both infinitely generous in spirit, love, and material gifts to us, but shopping/acquisition has never been a priority.

A great night of sleep with an open window and the sounds of rain and wind to lull me through any wakeful periods. What a fun weekend this is!