“Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.”
During the pandemic and continuing through the last few weeks, our family has broken up our weeks of isolation pouring [th] into the car and taking road trips. North, east, and west; south is still on the list, and while they don’t have the stress or monetary expense of a full blown vacation, they do tend to get you out of your own comfortable neighborhood and out into the world, taking time to de-stress and see new sights (and sites). Even a day trip can be a fun adventure.
In the photo below are some of the places we’ve gone in the last few weeks. I’ve included links so you’re able to check out new and interesting places in the northeast, but some things – like that Mater Truck and the dragon outside a comic store – are just things we passed by and got a kick out of.
Take some time in your car and see what’s around you. It can be even cheaper if you pack a picnic lunch to bring along.
The only thing that should surprise us is that there are still some things that can surprise us.
Francois de La Rochefoucauld
The kids will be out of school soon. Things are winding down just as the world is winding back up. People are talking about the return of Broadway, In The Heights is in theatres, and I’m considering going…TO…A…THEATRE. (Practice for Black Widow, which I’ve been informed we WILL see in theatres in a few weeks.) Vacations are being planned, and we may actually see our cousins for Thanksgiving.
With all that taken into consideration, I decided to give myself a morning. Take a short drive and visit one of our local labyrinths. The temperature was a perfect seventy-six degrees.
The labyrinth itself is nestled in a quiet park on a quiet street in a sleepy Victorian former Methodist camp village. The roads are narrow and people drive a little too fast going from one end of town to the other. There is small parking area and the park is a field of grass with several trees that houses the birds and squirrels. It’s very Disney Princess-y.
My plan was to walk the labyrinth, pray parts of it, and sit on one of the benches for a few minutes in the quiet; give myself a little time and space before the summer heat makes that less possible.
When I arrived I could see from a distance that something was slightly different. Some of the rocks that form the labyrinth looked odd, larger, shinier; they really stood out from a distance. The closer I got, the more my eyes widened with surprise at what I found. Much of the labyrinth’s rocks had been replaced, repositioned, new soil beneath them, and some of the rocks making the path had been painted with a variety of things – a Scripture verse, a saying, a bumper sticker sounding Love Wins, all matter of animals and insects, Celtic knots, flowers, and symbols. One rock even had a photograph of two men attached to it. There was a pinwheel and new, bursting with color potted plants.
I walked through, marveling at the changes, at the brightness of the painted rocks, and I took several pictures. Once I reached the center of the labyrinth, I stepped out and spent ten minutes on the bench facing the labyrinth (even though my eyes were closed most of the time) letting myself attempt centering prayer with rocks for my mind’s focus.
There were still a few more left to rejuvenate and I look forward to returning in a couple of weeks to find what other surprises are in store.
Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.
– NIDO QUBEIN
As I contemplated this month’s Inspire post I began with the discovery of this quotation, which led me to the three photos that appear below.
I think this quotation is perfect for this time of year, especially in this second year of pandemic as things are slowly returning to some semblance of normal. Some of us have been lost in a fog of uncertainty and some of us remain in that fog as we await our turns for vaccines, for the return of jobs, the new rules for openings, community gatherings as it becomes safer, and yet, we still wear masks (as we should), we still wash our hands frequently and use hand sanitizer (as we absolutely should), we continue to maintain our distance (as we should), and we’re in a space of feeling the year is passing us by (again).
We need to look at our present circumstances, and then start.
The Easter season is upon us, spring is springing up all around us, Ramadan begins this evening. It’s as if a new year is dawning, and there’s no reason not to treat this time as a new year, setting goals, making choices, smelling the flowers on a few new paths.
The photos below are three places I never expected to be. Having taken the photos is proof that I was actually in those places, but to me it still remains extraordinary that I was actually, physically there. Gazing at these three photos show me the magic that can happen and the magic that is inherently in a place.
The first photo is of Glenariff Falls in Northern Ireland. We found it quite by accident while looking for a place to eat – there is a restaurant behind where I was standing to take the photo. What was remarkable is that our cousins had given us directions to this very place, only we hadn’t realized it until after we’d eaten and went to look for the falls they’d recommended. These woods have a fairy feel and there are reminders of fairies throughout them including in the falls themselves. It was very peaceful and soothing just standing and watching the water fall from the top.
This second photo is just a road sign; however I was glad to get it when we couldn’t get to the town. We were running late to get to our hotel, still about an hour or more away, and it was raining, and at the beginning of a trip we always think there is more time to return than there really is. The sign depicts the longest town name, shortened for the sign as: Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll; also known as LlanfairPG, but known in its full glory as:
This last photo is of the Menai Suspension Bridge. We drove across it from the island of Angelsey (known as Ynys Mon in Welsh) to get to mainland Wales and on to our destination. When I traveled alone to Wales in 2009 this bridge was the source of my greatest anxiety. I had truly wanted to go to Angelsey; I had heard of its beauty and there was an ancient cairn that I wanted to visit, but I could not make myself drive over this bridge. I could see it from my hostel along the Menai Strait, and I thought about for the entire three days I stayed there. I’d walk out to the Promenade and stare at the water below the stone wall, and then stare down the strait at this bridge. Every time I thought I might I didn’t. I just couldn’t do it.
As with the ferry that got me to Wales in 2017, this bridge got me to the mainland where I could complete my pilgrimage. I wasn’t driving, but it was still a monumental achievement and it’s part of one of the places that I started.
“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”
— John Milton, English philosopher
I was too sick last week to publish this month’s Inspire post. I didn’t have anything come to me for inspiration, which to be honest, is usually how it goes. Either a quotation or a picture – something starts the post off in my mind, but not this time.
As I kept staring at the continually postponed space in the planner, nothing came, and as I recovered a few days later, I spent time catching up on everything I’d missed.
And still, the idea of gratefulness kept returning to mind. Lent has a way of turning thoughts inward. More praying, more meditating, more contemplation, and yes, more gratitude. It is a quieter few weeks as we think on the journey to Easter and the Resurrection, and in the quiet, we are able to be with our thoughts and see the blessings and the gratitude that we often miss along the way in our cluttered minds.
Was it not doom-scrolling on Twitter, checking each morning that the world was still intact? I was certainly grateful for that.
Was it the covid relief money that our family received this weekend? I am very grateful for that. I paid all of my bills on Sunday. We’re even considering a home improvement, although that will take more discussion.
Was it teacher friends getting their vaccines?
Was it new Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, a brilliant, direct, honest representative of the Biden Admnistration? Watch her daily briefings and see what I mean.
Was it just the very idea of the Biden Administration being in charge? Waking up this morning to a quiet Twitter, the President visiting with his grandchildren at his family home and attending Sunday Mass? It’s certainly different.
This week, I’m filled with gratitude. For the researchers, the scientists, the doctors, the ongoing competence with the vaccine roll-out, and on a personal note for everyone I will encounter tomorrow at the vaccine site where I will be receiving my first dose!
With credit to the gratitude I feel to those who have gone before me, I will publish pictures and a listing of side effects (if any) that I encounter.
I feel very strongly that everyone who can get vaccinated should get vaccinated, and I also feel that everyone should have all of the information available to them. Side effects are individual and not everyone gets them. Knowing what you may expect before you go is the first step in moving past the pandemic year. It may sound cliche, but knowledge is power. I hope to add to your knowledge and I’d be grateful for your good thoughts and prayers.
With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.
What you do today can improve all your tomorrows.
Despite the new year’s beginning in January much like the old year had ended, we got through it. We inaugurated Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as our President and Vice President, and they hit the ground running.
Using Executive Orders to reverse some of the most heinous Trump Admin policies, reorganizing the Covid relief response so that it works for the American people, the Press Secretary giving daily briefings, answering all questions without lies and hedging, avoiding talking points and giving out real information has been a wonderful change of pace.
See the previous post for many of the Biden Admin Twitter follows to keep up on their news!
I’m optimistic as we head into the shortest month.
Lent is early this year, at least it seems that way, and so I’m already thinking about those forty days in the desert. You don’t have to be Catholic to think about the things that Lent brings out in many of us. Choose a random day, and begin your own forty days.
Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.
– – Melody Beattie
What can we look forward to in this new year?
Beginning tomorrow, everything.
I’m optimistic. A new President and Vice President will be sworn in at noon tomorrow, and thus begins 100 days.
100 Days of mask wearing.
100 Days of vaccinations.
100 Days of returning to ourselves and becoming better.
A new year to set goals, to take chances, to create.
I’m looking forward.
Instead of publishing Election Connection today, I will publish the last one (unless times require updates) next week with ways we can continue to be civic minded every day, not only every four years. Persist, Stand up, Speak out, Rise up. Together, we can make things better.
I really enjoyed my monthly series of Inspire and Friday Food that appeared all through 2020, and I’m planning on continuing it into this year. Inspire will return next week as this week was too full of news to focus on it, although I did find some things in the past week to be inspired about.
This was a layered breakfast casserole I had at Cracker Barrel. The restaurant is back to a limited menu due to the uptick of covid cases but this is seriously easy to make at home, either from scratch or with a few boxed ingredients.
When I first saw it, I thought it was a too small portion, but its looks are deceiving – it was hot, filling, and the tastes were perfectly balanced.
It is simple, easy, and delicious and while I haven’t tried this at home myself, I have no doubt that I could put it together in short order.
The layers from bottom to top are:
Hashbrown Casserole base
Melted Colby cheese
Crispy fried onions
Buttermilk biscuit with butter and/or jam on the side
The breakfast of champions. Enjoy it and the beginning of this new year that I’m going to choose to look on with potential and optimism despite recent setbacks.
There are many ways to inspire this month. It starts somewhat in darkness as the nights get longer and the days shorter, but my birthday was last week, so there were birthday candles. Advent began a few days before that and the church has their advent wreath with two of the four candles lit now. In two days is the first night of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, and it also marks the anniversary of my mother’s death when I will light a Yartzeit candle for her, and then of course, Christmas two weeks after that.
There are many ways to bring light into our lives in this darkest season in what seems to be a very dark year. It may be that the older we get, the more we notice that our childhood heroes keep dying. I remember my mother making comment on that many years ago when she was in her fifties. I am noticing it now, but I don’t know if it’s my age or the year that 2020 has been.
In some ways, the year has stood still, or at least it’s seemed like that with how slowly it’s passing by, and it seems that every week is a new loss: Childhood heroes like Curly Neal of the Harlem Globetrotters, Chuck Yeager, Little Richard, actors that I enjoyed watching on my own and with my mother: Stan Kirsch, Kirk Douglas, Fred Willard, Phyllis George, James Lipton, Orson Bean, and Olivia de Havilland to name but a few.
And those that really hit me hard, whose deaths I still carry with me in some way or form: Jerry Stiller, Grant Imahara, Tomie de Paola, Chadwick Boseman, John Lewis, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and so many others including a dear friend who died just last week.
And yet, we continue on, as we do.
I am attending a three week Advent program on Zoom that includes music, prayer, reflection, journaling, and breakout groups. It is affording me the time, the facilitator calls it the gift of time, the ability to sit still, in quiet, and reflect. Contemplate.
And so I will pass that on to you right now.
Take fifteen minutes. Set a timer if you need to, and just stop. You can come back to this post after the fifteen minutes are finished, but take the time and sit with yourself (and with G-d if you like, but you don’t have to).
– – Fifteen minutes of quiet – –
Did you light a candle? Listen to music? Pray? Think? Draw or color?
This morning, I did all of these things and I was inspired, even just a little, to finish this post.
Some things that inspired me this week:
“Always keep your eyes open. Keep watching. Because whatever you see can inspire you.”
November is full of opportunities for gratitude – Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving, colorful fall leaves, the smell of apples and cinnamon. We don’t think so much of Election Day as a day of gratitude, but for those of us who cherish our representative democracy, it is definitely a day to count our blessings.
After the last seven months of isolating and after 230,000 covid deaths (and rising), those of us who have been spared have much to be grateful for in addition to respecting the sacrifice made by others, not only the dead, but the frontline workers – in the health care field, in the food field and the fields that grow the food, our first responders, our teachers, and our parents, and so many other unsung heroes.
Tomorrow is Election Day.
It is the final day to vote for the candidate that best represents us, ALL of us. We have the opportunity to vote for the man (this time) who cares; who epitomizes decency and character; who truly feels the empathy this country needs right now. On a more pragmatic note, he also knows how to get things done without divisiveness, without distruct, with honesty and dedication to service, and that is Vice President Joe Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris. I proudly voted for them more than a week ago during early voting. You can join the majority of this country in turning around the hate train, the white supremecists who in the last two days tried to run the Biden bus off the road in Texas and closed highways in New Jersey and bridges in New York and today blocking polling places in California. We can take our country back, and it begins tomorrow.
“May history be able to say that the end of this chapter of American darkness began here tonight as love and hope and light joined in the battle for the soul of the nation.“ – Joe Biden
“Try new things and discover yourself every single day.”
– Bhavya Choudhary
(Try Something New) – My Husband
For the past two years, my husband has been offering this mantra: TSN, which stands for Try something new. He tries to try something new at least once a month.
I do like to try things, but I try them hesitantly.
I am inherently extraordinarily polite. If I am at someone else’s house and they offer me something that I’ve never had before or am even lukewarm on, I will take it, eat it, and thank them for it.
When we go out to dinner, I prefer tried and true food for the most part, but when I’m on vacation, I will beeline for the local specialty as well as trying new things.
Examples of this are poutine in Canada, tea in the UK, a proper British breakfast in Wales and England, Welsh cakes in Wales, chicken wings in Buffalo, cheesecake in NYC, pretzels and chocolate in Pennsylvania, lobster in Maine, crab cakes in Maryland, beignets and gumbo in New Orleans. Anywhere you go will have a specialty food to try.
On our recent visit to Niagara Falls, Buffalo, and Plattsburgh, New York, we tried many things that were new to us, but were common to the North Country and Western New York.
In the above photo, you will see:
Pizza Logs (from Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY)
The Mighty Taco, chicken quesadilla
Chicken Caprese Mac & Cheese (from Our House Bistro, Plattsburgh, NY)
Amazing orange peeler for 69¢ (at Vidler’s 5 & 10 in Aurora, NY). I’d never seen this before and it worked like a dream. If I had known how well it worked, I would have bought a dozen and given them out for Christmas!
Sponge Candy (from Platter’s Chocolate in Niagara Falls, NY)
This pandemic has given us many things that are new, not all of them exciting and wonderful, but we’ve hopefully taken them in stride, and will try to move forward embracing the new, the different, the exciting, and even the challenging.