Monthly Archives: April 2016

Q is for Query


by Lillian Csernica on April 20, 2016

 

I thought it might be entertaining to list some of the questions I’ve asked and been asked in my many travels hither and yon.

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Where’s your horse?  (Do people in Europe still think all Americans are cowboys?)

Do you live in a grape field?  (I didn’t know what to say to that until I realized the person asking the question meant a vineyard.)

Is this your mother?  (No, she was not my mother.)

Does your husband want to be in the picture too?  (The person with me was not my husband.  My husband wasn’t even in the same country at the time!)

 

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Where are we?

Are you sure that’s where we are?

Then why aren’t we seeing ( insert name of offramp, landmark, national monument, etc.)?

 

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Where’s the bank?  It’s inside the post office?  Where’s the post office?  (The local branch turned out to be about a mile away, on the far side of the Yokohama train station, on the third floor of an office building.  I would never have found it had it not been for the very helpful Japanese security guard who kept talking to me as if I really did understand most of what he was saying. At that time, I didn’t, but I caught enough to get me to the third floor.)

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In French:  Do you speak French?

Non.

In German: Do you speak German?

Nein.

In Nederlands: Do you speak Nederlands?

Nay.

In English: Do you Speak English?

Yes!

(I was on the train back to the Netherlands from Germany when a nice German customs official needed to know if I had anything to declare.  He was so patient with me.  It must have been obvious I was really nervous and didn’t have a clue about what I was expected to say.  I’d already been asked for my “papers” {passport} twice.)

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P is for Plenty


by Lillian Csernica on April 19, 2016

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Japan —  Plenty of koi.

 

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The Netherlands — Plenty of tulips

 

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Las Vegas, NV — Plenty of neon

 

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Paris, France — Plenty of cafes

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Ensenada, Mexico — Plenty of beer

 

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Seattle, WA — Plenty of coffee

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O is for Occult


by Lillian Csernica on April 18, 2016

As fond as I am of folklore and mythology, part of me is always on the alert for signs of magic or the occult in cultures I’m visiting.  I was born and raised in Southern California, so I come from the land of the free and the home of the New Age.

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During the summer trip to Ohio when I was thirteen, my father took me to visit his older brother, my Uncle Dean.  This visit stands out in my mind for two reasons.  First, Uncle Dean gave me a brick of fireworks.  That’s right, a whole brick.  I couldn’t believe Daddy let me accept them.  Second, I met Uncle Dean’s next door neighbor, who told me she was a witch.  This woman was young, pretty, had a cute little boy, and in every other way seemed to be your typical American housewife.  She got her degree in witchcraft through a mail order course.  Uh huh.  This was thirty-seven years ago, so such a claim was more than a little bizarre.  I investigated the mail order course, and it really did exist.

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My travels took me to New Mexico once.  I’d met some people at an SCA event, the Estrella War, and later paid them a visit at their home in Albuquerque.  The Southwest is where you will find the Pueblo Indians.  The occult event that happened to me had little to do with First Nations medicine.  It involved a mirror and a candle.  With all other lights out, I sat in front of the mirror with the candle behind me.  What was I supposed to see?  The record of my past lives.  I saw seven faces, three male and four female.  Did it work?  Or was it just a matter of the power of suggestion and my overactive imagination?  I’m not sure.

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On my trip to Maui with Mom, I was looking forward to seeing signs of the menehune, the Little People of the Hawaiian Islands.  Some people believe that when you see those cairns or pillars of stones by the side of the road, the menehune have made them.  Do not disturb those, and don’t ever take any of the rocks from the Big Island.  Legend has it that Pele the Volcano Goddess will hunt down such thieves and punish them.  Something must be happening, because the forest rangers in charge of the national parkland there tell stories of how often they receive packages from tourists who have been to Hawaii and picked up a pebble as a souvenir.

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And then there’s Santa Cruz, California, home of all the weirdness you could possibly desire.  From the schizophrenic homeless people who live close to downtown to the occult supply shops just waiting to accept those tourist dollars to the amazing mixture of cultures and beliefs found within the city limits, we’ve got it all here, folks.  (Santa Cruz does contain the Mystery Spot!)  I  know several practicing Wiccans, a few ceremonial magicians, at least one curandera, and a few of those folks who insist on taking the salad bar approach to their spirituality.  Pentacles, Thor’s hammers, dream catchers, and more can be seen in the jewelry and the tattoos worn by the good people of Santa Cruz County.

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“Fallen Idol” now available!


by Lillian Csernica on April 17, 2016

Once upon a time, this was my first fiction sale.  Many thanks to Michael A. Willis and all the folks at Digital Fiction Publications for bringing this story to you in digital format.

Click here for a sample!

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N is for Nowhere (the Middle Of)


by Lillian Csernica on April 16, 2016

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In Everybody’s Autobiography, Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, CA, “There’s no there there.”  This is not true of Oakland, but I have seen many places where there’s just nothing there.

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On one of our trips to Ohio, Daddy decided to take the southern route on I-15, which meant driving through a whole lot of very hot Nowhere in Arizona, Nevada, and Utah.  We had to put beach towels on the car seats.  If I didn’t, and I was wearing shorts, my skin would stick to the slick upholstery.  Peeling myself off of that was no fun at all.  Have any of you ever had to do that?

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Off California Interstate 5, just before you get to the Grapevine, there’s a little town called Lost Hills.  The last time I was there (late ’80s/early ’90s), the town consisted of one stoplight, one gas station, a Motel 6, and one lonely tumbleweed blowing around in the hotel parking lot.  I’ve always wondered where the people lived who worked in Lost Hills.  Maybe they all stayed at the Motel 6.

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My mother likes to travel.  This includes booking bus tours out of the local community center or some other local organization.  I’ve always been fond of castles, so when Mom decided to go to Hearst Castle she took me with her.  Hearst Castle is located in San Simeon, CA, two hundred fifty miles from both Los Angeles and San Francisco.  It’s in the middle of nowhere quite literally because the ranch it sits on includes two hundred fifty thousand acres!  Hearst Castle also sits atop some really steep mountains, so getting there was a challenge.  I was profoundly grateful to know Mom had the sense to leave the driving to a professional tour bus driver.  If coming home from Pasadena had been difficult, getting to and from Hearst Castle could have been a nightmare!

On the drive back from Las Vegas, where Pat and I had attended KillerCon, it was cold and dark and very empty outside our car windows.  Then a sign appeared, a sign with the three words you see in the photo above.  Out in the middle of nowhere, near the Interstate 15 and Hwy 286/288 interchange, in perfect territory for an alien abduction, stands the Alien Fresh Jerky store.  I tell you, “Hotel California” by the Eagles might as well have been playing in the background.  We had to investigate.  How often does an opportunity like this come along?

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Pat got lost in the hot sauce aisle.  Neither of us had ever seen so many different varieties of hot sauce in one place.  I like Thai food so I’m OK with spicy, but some of the labels on those hot sauce bottles should have included HazMat symbols.  Ye gods!

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M is for Money


by Lillian Csernica on April 15th, 2016

Here in the U.S. today is the deadline for turning in our income tax forms.  Money is a subject very much on most people’s minds.  This can be stressful.  To honor the occasion, here are some highlights from my travels when money was the crucial element.

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One Halloween my friend Don suggested we go see the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  The theater was in Newport Beach, CA, about twenty minutes from my house, where all the rich people lived down by the water.  This may not sound like I traveled far at all, but I assure you, this was a walk on the wild side into terra incognita.  I’d never seen the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  I’d heard about it, of course, as all teenagers had in my high school days.

Don said if we showed up in costume, we’d get in for free.  I went as a voodoo priestess and Don dressed up as a zombie.  Zombies weren’t all the rage in those days, so this costume was pretty bizarre.  When we got to the box office, we discovered costumes made no difference to the ticket price.  Neither of us had any cash on us, and we were too old to go trick-or-treating, so our night was about to go down in flames.

A woman sitting inside the lobby stood up, walked over to us, and slapped a ten dollar bill down on the counter.  “You’re in,” she said.  We thanked her up one side and down the other, then hurried in to find seats just as the house lights went down.  The forbidden fruit was all mine, thanks to that generous stranger.

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On the night Pat and I arrived in Kyoto, we were both hungry and exhausted.  The bus from the Osaka Airport delivered us to the Kyoto Station.  It’s one of the five most expensive buildings in the world.  As a transportation hub and a shopping complex, it’s practically a city unto itself.  We found a store that sold take-out food.  Pat trusted me to identify what was in the deli-style racks and cold cases.  I picked out some attractive items and got into the checkout line.  When the cashier told me the total, I could manage the paper money, but the coins defeated me.  There were tired commuters queuing up behind me, so I held out a handful of change with a sheepish, “Tasukete, kudasai,” which is the formal polite way of saying, “HELP!”

The next and larger problem was the way Japanese do not handle money directly.  When you buy something, the cashier puts a little tray down in front of you and you put the money on that.  The cashier then picks up the tray and puts the money into the cash drawer.  I don’t know if this is a Shinto thing or what.  This particular cashier took pity on me and everybody in line behind me.  She picked out the right coins, gave me my receipt, and sent me on my way.

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In an earlier post I mentioned the weekend bus tour I took to Paris while I spent that summer in the Netherlands. The people on the bus with me were mainly retired folks or middle-aged teachers. I was always the last person to get on the bus because I sat in the tour guide seat right up front beside the driver. This put me in the perfect position to lend a hand when some of the older members of the tour needed help with that first step up into the bus.  Since I was on my own, I brought out the parental instinct in everybody.

What does all this have to do with money?

Just before our tour of the Louvre, our bus driver collected everybody’s twelve francs entry fee.  Then our French tour guide showed up.  Slim, glamorous, pushy, and condescending, she took one look at me and we both knew we’d never be friends.  She demanded the entry fee from me.  I told her I’d already paid.  She got very patient in a way that clearly implied I was trying to weasel out of paying my fair share.  The Dutch ladies came to my rescue.  One of them said to me, “You are my daughter.  You are seventeen years old.”  I had no idea what was up with that.  I started to explain that I was actually eighteen.  She shook her head and spoke in the voice of a career teacher, saying, “If you are under eighteen you do not pay.  Come with us.”  She and the other ladies formed up around me and marched me past the tour guide, giving her looks that should have set her false eyelashes on fire!

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On my way back into the country from the Netherlands, my flight had to land in Seattle as its first point of entry.  We all had to go through Customs.  That was simple enough, but then we sat there in the airport lounge wondering what was holding up our departure to Los Angeles.  My name was called over the public address system.  Just my first name.  That was strange.  I presented myself at the appropriate desk.  A Customs official took me to an office where another teenage girl from my flight was looking seriously freaked out. Her eyes were red and her makeup all smeared from crying.  She begged me to help her.  I was the only person on the plane she’d talked to, so mine was the only name she knew to call for help.  She’d made some mistake filling out her Customs forms.   They wanted her to pay them twenty dollars or they wouldn’t let her continue on into the country.  I had the money on me, thank God, so the officials were satisfied and we all got to fly on to LAX.  The poor girl couldn’t stop thanking me and apologizing. When we got off the plane, I was quite relieved to see her mother there to meet her.  (My boyfriend was waiting for me, but that’s another story.)

That unknown lady stepped up and paid my way into the movies.  Those Dutch ladies stepped up and protected me when I needed help.  I’m glad I had a chance to pass on the kindness and help that girl get home safe and sound.

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L is for Lost


by Lillian Csernica on April 14, 2016

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No collection of travel stories would be complete without tales of the times I’ve gotten lost.

On my first trip cross country to Toledo, Ohio with my father, I remember how we got lost with in Missouri on a dark and stormy night.  Even at age ten  I’d watched way too many horror movies.  I hadn’t seen “Psycho,” but I was pretty much on the lookout for the Bates Motel.  Just when Daddy was about to turn around and try again, we spotted red and blue lights ahead.  I think Daddy would have been happy to see a policeman at that point, just so we could get some solid directions.  The lights were the flickering letters on a hotel sign.  Never have I been so glad to see neon!

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When I was still in high school, my mother drove me up to Pasadena, CA so I could visit a friend at CalTech.  The important part of the story comes at the end, when we began the drive home.  At one point we had to change freeways.  I still don’t understand how Mom could miss the same off ramp three times in a row.  Seriously.  Three separate tries, three separate misses, even with me navigating.  I have to chalk it up to the lateness of the hour.  We got lost in the Chinatown area.  It was so late at night that nobody was around other than two Chinese men out behind a restaurant’s kitchen door.  I’ve never been able to speak much Cantonese, so I couldn’t ask them for directions.  Sheer dumb luck got Mom back on the right road to the freeway and headed home again!

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One night while I was staying in the Netherlands, I missed the last train home from the disco because I was busy dancing with a gorgeous Dutch soldier named Andre.  He’d just turned eighteen and came home on leave for a few days. He asked me to dance, which is one reason Phil Collins‘ “Against All Odds” will always be one of my favorite songs. 

When we realized the time, my host sisters and our friends had already left the disco.  Andre and I ran through the streets to the train station.  It was locked up for the night.  My luck was golden that night because Andre had a friend with a car. This was very uncommon at the time.  Andre and his friend were willing to give me a ride.  (I know, this sounds insane, right?  Every mother’s worst nightmare.) Fortunately, I’m good at remember landmarks.  That’s how I got us all the way from the disco in one town, along the highway through the dark and to my host family’s front door.  The girls were all sitting up waiting, expecting me to walk all the way home.  I think they were miffed to know I actually got a ride!

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On yet another of our convention adventures, Pat and I drove down to San Diego, CA for ConDor.  This really wonderful con is held at the Town & Country Resort and Convention Center. This place is huge, as you can see from the map.  It is located on a road referred to as the “hotel circle.”  We arrived late on Thursday night and did our best to figure out where on earth the street numbers were posted.  We went around the circle three times!  I tell you, we were both ready to scream.  We could see the lovely white buildings, we just couldn’t get to them!  We did eventually succeed.  This was a very special trip for me, because San Diego is the city where I was born.

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K is for Key


by Lillian Csernica on April 13, 2016

 

On H Day you read some of my hotel stories.  Now let’s talk about keys!  Modern hotels have those plastic cards much like ATM cards that you stick in the slot and pull out again in order to unlock the door.  Sounds simple enough, right?  If only that were true.

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Norwescon, Seattle, WA — On our very first night in the DoubleTree, I had made the long and weary trek from the main area of the hotel all the way to Wing 5B, third floor, our room.  I swear, it took at least ten minutes to get there.  I stuck my key card into the slot.

The key did not work.  The little light did not turn green.  It worked earlier.  It would not work now.

I was less than thrilled at the prospect of hiking all the way back to the front desk to get this sorted out.  I couldn’t call the front desk on my cell, because the only number I could find was the main reservation line.  I was ready to start banging my head against the wall when a neighbor two doors down (Not the Vikings.  This was in the other direction.) offered me the use of his phone.  I called the front desk, they sent a security guard who checked my ID and verified that my key wouldn’t work.  I got a new key and got into our hotel room.  Later, when Pat and Nancy came back for the night, I felt a whole lot less embarrassed when their keys wouldn’t work either.  Lucky for them, I was there to open the door.  The next day all three of us went to the front desk for “fresh” keys.

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Citadines Karasuma-Gojo, Kyoto, Japan — After two planes, a bus, and a taxi, Pat and I arrived on the doorstep of the residential hotel where we would stay.  Our room was quite modern and very comfortable.  Problem: I could not find a light switch for the main room.  After some experimentation, I realized I had to put my room key into a slot that was up & down, as opposed to in & out. Thinking it was like most key card readers, I pushed my key down and pulled it up again.  The lights came on.  All was well.

Two minutes later, the lights went out.

After going through this twice more, I called the front desk.  Pat tells me that listening to my side of the conversation was pretty funny, because I was trying so hard to be calm and polite when I really wanted to smash something.  Once I made it clear to the folks at the front desk that the lights would not stay on, they sent somebody from Maintenance.  He provided us with the “key” to the solution: you had to leave the card in the slot to keep the lights on.  When you left, you took your key with you, which would ensure not leaving the lights on while you were out.  Wow.  Never seen that one before!

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This is art.  It’s not me.

BayCon — Once again, Pat and I were not staying in the main convention hotel.  Pat picked me up and drove us to the hotel she’d chosen.  It had been a really stressful week with the boys.  I was so tired I almost fell asleep in the car even though it was only late afternoon.  Pat got us checked in.  I followed her around the labyrinth of wrought iron stairways and hallways thronged by teenage girls in some kind of sports uniforms.  (They all seemed to be blonde, but maybe fatigue blurred my memories.)  Our room was located outside an exterior door, on this little chunk of balcony, where there was a bitter wind blowing as the sun began to set.

Guess what happened next?  That’s right.  The key wouldn’t work.

I was SO not in the mood for that.  Pat went back to the front desk while I stood there in the cold breeze and tried to stay awake.  Ten or fifteen minutes later Pat came back.  She stopped right outside the door, as far from me as she could get while still being on the balcony.

“Promise me you won’t kill me,” she said.

Adrenalin surged inside me, but not enough to make me move.  “What happened?”

“Promise me you won’t kill me.”

“Tell me what happened!”

“Promise me–”

“I’m too tired to kill you.  Now tell me what happened!”

She’d transposed two digits of our room number.  The key wouldn’t work because we were standing outside the wrong door.

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J is for Journal


by Lillian Csernica on April 12, 2016

One of the most important parts of traveling is preserving the memories of people and places one meets along the way.  The easiest way to do that is to keep a travel journal.  The precise format can vary according to your needs and preferences.  Here are some practical considerations I’ve learned in the course of my adventures.

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Choose a journal that meets your needs.  As much as I love hardback journals, they’re heavy and can be awkward to write in.  A jolting bus ride or a packed train car is not the ideal environment for lengthy accounts of the farmer’s market or museum you just toured.  Better to carry something lightweight that will lie flat when opened or fold over the way spiral notebooks do.

Jot notes and write outlines.   It might be best to carry a small notebook for jotting down key moments which can later be discussed at length in your main travel journal.  The important thing is to enjoy the trip itself.  By giving yourself the option of writing up each day’s adventures when you’re not in the middle of having them, you’ll enjoy both the present moments and the moments of reflection that much more.

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Buy postcards.  These are taken by professional photographers with top of the line cameras.  If you go to a popular tourism site, odds are good there will be postcard packets available which include the highlights of the location.  Not only will you have high quality images to share, you will also have a record of details that might slip your mind.  When I went to Kyoto my mother asked me to bring her postcards of the places I saw.  I bought a packet at Kiyomizudera that shows Mom how the temple looks in each of the four seasons!

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Look for mementos that will fit into the main journal.  Items such as menus, business cards, stickers, brochures, etc. are fine.  Now and then you might get lucky and find something really memorable.  At the temples in Kyoto you can collect stamps done in red ink that show you’ve been there.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a passport for children in which they collect stamps from hands-on science stations at various points around the aquarium complex.

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Get creative with the journal’s purpose.  When I’ve stayed in one location long enough to share memorable moments with the staff or some of the other guests, I’ll have those special people sign my travel journal.  It’s a lot like the yearbooks we get in American high schools.  These days people often jot down their email or website, so this can lead to ongoing friendships!

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Live it up, then write it down!

 

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I is for Island


by Lillian Csernica on April 11, 2016

Islands offer some unique opportunities to travelers.  Arriving on the island can be as simple as a ferry ride or as complex as multiple international flights.  Some islands are popular tourist destinations, and others are best-kept local secrets.  When I began working on this post, I was startled to realize just how many islands I’ve visited!

 

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Alameda Island — Located in the San Francisco Bay, “the Alameda” is home to the U.S.S. Hornet.  When John was in grade school, I went with him on a field trip to see this national historical monument.  For me this was quite a sentimental journey.  My father served aboard the U.S.S. Shangri-la.  To be able to show John this huge aircraft carrier similar to where his grandfather had served meant so much to me.

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Santa Catalina Island— I’ve been to the island a total of three times.  The most memorable trip had to be in my junior year of high school.  Mr. Gilbert, my Marine Biology teacher, took a group of us students to one of the quieter coves away from the busy harbor closest to Avalon, the main city.  We camped out on wooden platforms with no tents, just sleeping bags.  We must have done experiments or some type of lab work.  Unfortunately , what I remember most about that trip was falling off the boat into the water and losing my contact lenses.  I had to spend a day and a half being led around by somebody, which didn’t endear me to my classmates.  Worse, I dreaded going home and telling Mom I needed a new pair of lenses.  Back then they cost two hundred dollars!

 

 

Manhattan — Before the kids came along, my husband and I spent Christmas vacation with his mother in New Jersey.  She gave us tickets to see “Les Miserables” on Broadway.  Oh wow.  Nothing in live theater has blown my mind like the moment when Javert jumps off the bridge.  The way the stage crew made that happen, between the lighting and the turntable in the stage and flying the bridge upward….  I really believed I saw Javert’s body spinning in the current of the river.  After the performance was over, I couldn’t stop crying for a solid hour.  I was so moved, and so overwhelmed by the superb quality of the performers.

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Maui — Once upon a time I went to Maui with my mother.  This was the first time I’d been to Hawaii, so I was quite excited.  At one point I gave serious thought to Marine Biology as a career.  Given that, I was really looking forward to the ride around the coral reefs offered by Atlantis Submarines.  An obstacle arose in the form of a tropical storm.  Ye gods and little fish!  The rain came down so hard I felt like an extra in Key Largo. Mom and I had only so many days to spend on Maui.  We were worried we’d have to leave before weather conditions made the submarine ride possible.  The big concern was whether or not the ocean currents would be strong enough to sweep the small, battery-powered submarine out over the island’s shelf and into the deeper waters.

We did get to take the ride, which involved a boat ride out to the spot offshore where we boarded the submarine.  The ride was everything I’d hoped for.  The tour guide pointed out various species of fish.  Much to my satisfaction, I spotted a rockfish despite its excellent camouflage.

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Vashon Island — When Michael was just a baby, Chris and I went to Vashon Island on a pilgrimage to the All-Merciful Saviour Russian Orthodox Monastery.  The abbot is Priestmonk Tryphon, shown here with Hammi, his Norwegian Forest Cat.  The gold badge Fr. Tryphon is wearing on his belt represents his rank as the Chaplain for the Vashon Island Police and Fire Departments.  The pilgrimage included several presentations.  I gave a speech on the life of St. Xenia of St. Petersburg, one of the few female Fools for Christ.  St. Xenia is one of my favorite saints.  She’s known in particular for helping people overcome alcoholism.  Given how much damage alcoholism did to my father’s body, I’m sure that’s a big part of what took him from us before he could see his grandsons.  Holy St. Xenia, pray to God for us!

Japan, on the main island of Honshu:

Narita Airport, Tokyo

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I regret to say that the only time I’ve spent in Tokyo has been inside Narita Airport, entering the country before I caught a train or a flight to my final destination.

Kyoto

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Ah, Kyoto.   The adventure of a lifetime!

Yokohama

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Yokohama hosted the first World Science Fiction Convention in Asia, Nippon 2007.  I was there!

Kansai International Airport (Osaka)

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Osaka is a marvelous city.  Once again, I was there just long enough to land and make my connection to my next flight.  I must go back, if only for the okinomiyaki!

 

 

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