The Spitting Boy and Cable Cars

IMG_2791On the morning of Day 4 of our cruise we took a walking tour of Koblenz, Germany, a 2000-year-old trading settlement situated where the Rhine and Moselle Rivers meet. In fact, there’s a small peninsula jutting out into the confluence of these rivers with a public park called Deutsches Eck, the city’s famed German Corner. The park features a large equestrian statue of Emperor Wilheim I.

From there we took a cable car ride up to Braubach, where the 13th-century Marksburg Castle watches over the town. We didn’t take the tour of the castle, but it was fun to see the medieval fair that was taking place on the grounds on this beautiful Saturday morning.

IMG_2798Back down in Koblenz, we toured the Old Town and the baroque City Hall, with so many influences from ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, and the Napoleonic era. In touching distance of the Deutsches Eck are the pointed Romanesque towers of the oldest church in Koblenz. Once attached to a monastery, the Basilica of St. Castor is part of that UNESCO World Heritage Site for the epochal events that have taken place since its foundation 1,200 years ago. It was at this place in 842 that 110 representatives negotiated the division of the Frankish Empire. Most of the architecture is from the 12th century and although the church did take damage in the Second World War, this was reparable.

Our guide warned us not to stand in front of "The Spitting Boy"

Our guide warned us not to stand in front of “The Spitting Boy”

The citizens of Koblenz are especially fond of their children. We loved this statue of “The Spitting Boy,” which playfully spits water out at admirers every two minutes.

IMG_2815They also love ducks, like this one we passed on our walk. And this statue of a little girl with ducks in Old Town.

IMG_2814What a lovely way to spend a morning. Back on the ship we cruised the Middle Rhine all afternoon—the most scenic part of the cruise with a multitude of castles, so stay tuned for my next post! Meanwhile, enjoy a few more pictures from Koblenz!

Between the cobblestone streets and the ancient architecture, Koblenz is a lush, green village.

Between the cobblestone streets and the ancient architecture, Koblenz is a lush, green village.

More fun... an artist is going around Germany painting a banana on the outside of museums that he approves of, like this one in Koblenz.

More fun… an artist is going around Germany painting a banana on the outside of museums that he approves of, like this one in Koblenz.

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In the courtyard of a museum, an artist installed a statue of his thumb. I guess he was giving Koblenz a thumbs up!

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On the cable car ride….

Cows and Cheese in the Netherlands

IMG_2579I’m 67 years old, and as far as I can remember, I had never touched a cow (or even been on a working farm) until last week. We flew into Amsterdam, and after a brief tour, we boarded our Viking long boat for a cruise down the Rhine River, which would end a week later in Basel, Switzerland. You can see the whole itinerary on the Viking web site if you’re interested. (I highly recommend the trip!) Meanwhile, I’m going to write reflections on each stop along the way here on my blog, so if you’d like to see more than just the photos and captions I shared on Facebook and

Shot this from our bus en route to the dairy farm.

Shot this from our bus en route to the dairy farm.

Instagram last week, follow along here for a couple of weeks.

Our boat arrived in Kinderdijk, Netherlands, on May 10 while we were sleeping, and it was magical to wake up in such a beautiful place. I’m surprised to say that our tour of a Dutch cheese/dairy farm was one of this city girl’s favorite events of the week.

IMG_2572The Kuiper Farm is currently owned by a fifth generation farmer, who gave us a tour of the barn, where I petted a cow for the first time I can ever remember. We learned about the personalities of the cows—how #93 was the leader—and so my friend Deb started calling me #93 for the rest of the trip.

 The cows have to stay inside the barn all winter and on the spring day when they are finally let out to graze in the pastures they go running and leaping joyfully, celebrating their freedom. You can watch this on several You Tube videos, like this one, of the “dancing cows.”

Desiree showing us how cheese is made.

Desiree showing us how cheese is made.

The farmer’s daughter, Desiree, showed us how cheese was made and we sampled the best gouda I’ve ever tasted. (And yes, we brought some home.) And the good news is that the farmer’s 21-year-old son has agreed to buy the farm and keep it in the family as his dad retires… and his fiancé wants to learn to make cheese.

 

Love her glasses!

Love her glasses!

The farmer’s wife makes the cheese, and they sell it in their shop to tourists and locals. I wondered what their lives are like, on a farm where the cows must be milked twice a day and the production of cheese is almost a 24/7 process. There must be something rewarding about this life, since so far five generations have stayed “down on the farm.” Maybe they’ve never seen Paris….

My hubby holding a 25-pound gouda!

My hubby holding a 25-pound gouda!

The locals line up for what they call “grass cheese” every spring, when the first batch of cheese is made after the cows have been grazing the fresh grass rather than the dried hay they eat all winter. Who knew that “grass cheese” was a thing? And you can even get it in Georgia!

 one-good-mama-boneAs I spent time with these cows, I thought about my friend Bren McClain’s novel, One Good Mama Bone, and the inspiration that “Mama Red” is to the protagonist in the story. I appreciate her book so much more after being in touch with the cows at the Kuiper Farm, although the cows in her story are raised for beef rather than dairy.

 Our next excursion was to visit the Kinderdijk windmills—another “first” for this city gal! Stay tuned!

Sea Fever

3-year-old Gabby catches a wave during our 2015 beach trip

3-year-old Gabby catches a wave during our 2015 beach trip

We’re headed to my favorite place on earth Sunday—Seagrove Beach, Florida—for our (almost) annual family beach vacation. I’m so excited that all of our kids and grands will be there this year. Bill and I took a year off from this annual tradition last year, for our “bucket list” trip to Paris. But we did make it down for Thanksgiving last year (just the two of us). So, the last time we were there with any of our kids was in May of 2015, when our daughter Beth, her husband Kevin, and their three-year-old daughter Gabby joined us. Beth was pregnant with Izzy at the time. Here are some great pictures from that trip. So, this year there will be 7 adults and 4 kids, ages 7 ½, 6 ½, 5, and 20 months—Izzy’s first beach trip! Can’t wait! I always think about John Masefield’s poem, “Sea Fever” when I’m getting ready for the beach:

I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by; And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I love Kris Delmhorst’s musical version of “Sea Fever” on her wonderful CD “Strange Conversation.”  I’m listening to it now as I write this. Can’t wait to be there!

I only remember one beach trip with my family when I was a little girl. Most of our family vacations involved following my dad around golf courses and watching him play in (and often win) tournaments. Swimming in the pools at the various country clubs where he played was fun, but it wasn’t the ocean.

When our boys were 3 (Jason) and 6 (Jon) we took them to Destin for the first time. (Beth wasn’t with us yet.) And then later we took Jason and Beth to Hilton Head, South Carolina one summer when Jon was in school at St. Andrews-Sewanee. And we took all three kids to Kiawa once. But it wasn’t until November of 2006 that we went back to Florida with our grown son, Jon, to celebrate his graduation from flight school. This was our first trip to Seagrove Beach, Florida, which has become our favorite destination. I documented some of those earlier vacations in this post from 2010. We’ve been back with our kids and grands numerous times, and I spent three one-month writing retreats alone there, in 2011, 2012, and 2013. (It’s where I gave birth to Cherry Bomb, my novel that’s coming out in August.)

Our daughter Beth was married at Seagrove Beach in May of 2011. Next week we’ll be staying at a house right next door to the wedding venue. Lots of great memories….

I’ll close with a few photos. I might not be blogging from the beach next week… so please come back in May!

 

May 2013 (sunset photo taken at Seaside).

May 2013 (sunset photo taken at Seaside).

Father-daughter dance at Beth's wedding, May 2011, at Seagrove Beach

Father-daughter dance at Beth’s wedding, May 2011, at Seagrove Beach

On one trip (I think this was actually at Gulf Shores) I kept a watercolor journal....

On one trip (I think this was actually at Gulf Shores) I kept a watercolor journal….

November 2006... when I fell in love with Seagrove....

November 2006… when I fell in love with Seagrove….

November 2006

November 2006

Jason and Beth Kiawah

Jason and Beth Kiawah

Jon and Jason's first beach trip 1984

Jon and Jason’s first beach trip 1984

Dad, Mom, me 1956

Dad, Mom, me 1956 (can’t believe my parents let me go topless! I think my swimsuit straps hurt my sunburn….)

Me, Dad, Mike 1956

Me, Dad, Mike 1956

Mental Health Monday: Gift(s) from the Sea on Clean Monday

sunset lakeFour days at the beach is a gift, but also somewhat of a tease. It often takes several days to unwind from “city life” when one arrives at a paradise like Seagrove Beach, Florida. In the years 2011-2013 I was blessed to spend one month each year in my own little “writing retreat” alone at this beach. When you know you have several weeks to do everything you want to do—explore, relax, walk, read, write, eat, drink, shop, sleep, sunbathe—you lean into the experience slowly, with no need to hurry to fit everything in. When spending one week here, I can sometimes acclimate in a day or two. But this time I knew I needed to seize the moments as they came.

Susan Daphne beachSharing this experience with a best friend helps. We both seem to cherish the specialness of the trip, beginning with the eight-hour drive with its opportunities for non-stop conversation or relaxed silence, both rich with blessing. We make room for the other person’s wishes—another hour at the beach or drive into Rosemary or Seaside for lunch? Church on Sunday morning or not? We opted for the lovely service at the Apostles by-the-Sea Anglican/Episcopal Church that meets in the town hall at Rosemary Beach yesterday morning.

 

At Apostles by-the-sea Anglican Church in Rosemary Beach

At Apostles by-the-sea Anglican Church in Rosemary Beach

The rector gave a wonderful sermon, and the people were welcoming. I couldn’t help looking around at everyone during the service and imagining what their lives were like, living in this paradise. On the Western calendar, it was the fifth Sunday of Lent. This congregation, like all of Western Christendom, is preparing for Palm Sunday and Easter, while we in the Eastern Orthodox Church are just beginning Great Lent today, with “Clean Monday.” I almost envied their place in this annual cycle.

 

Gift from the SeaI always bring books with me to the beach. Ironically, one of the first things I read, today, in one of those books—Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh—was this:

The beach is not the place to work, to read, write, or think…. one carries down the faded straw bag, lumpy with books…. The books remain unread….

She goes on to describe what she considers to be the gifts she receives from her times at the beach, and how receiving those gifts sometimes means having a receptivity that might be hindered by too much “busyness” like reading and writing and thinking. And yet the book unfurls with wisdom that must have come with some degree of thinking, and at some point she had to put pencil to paper in order for us to have her words with us today.

As my friend and I walked for an hour along the shore Sunday afternoon, listening to the sound of the large waves crashing at our feet (the red flag was out) she commented on how the tide coming in and pulling back out works on her psyche, and I agreed. It has a healing affect. Lindbergh talks about this in her book:

Perhaps this is the most important thing for me to take back from beach-living: simply the memory that each cycle of the tide is valid; each cycle of the wave is valid; each cycle of a relationship is valid.

I love what Lindbergh says about women’s lives, remembering as I read that she was writing this in 1955. And yet much of it is timeless:

With a new awareness, both painful and humorous, I begin to understand why the saints were rarely married women. I am convinced it has nothing inherently to do, as I once supposed, with chastity or children. It has to do primarily with distractions. The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children; the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationships with their myriad pulls–woman’s normal occupations in general run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life. The problem is not merely one of Woman and Career, Woman and the Home, Woman and Independence. It is more basically: how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel.

How to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life. Here I am at 65 without children at home or a nine-to-five job I must attend. I have stepped away from most of the volunteer activities that once filled much of my days. My focus during this cycle of my life has become more centered—on marriage, friendships, and writing. My children and grandchildren live in other states, and I only see them several times a year. They are not “distractions” but vital interludes into my routine during this season. I visit my mother in the nursing home once a month, also in another state, and am sometimes “distracted” by the paperwork involved in her care, but the pain of watching Alzheimer’s take her away is a centrifugal force that I feel as strongly as the tide pulling the ocean’s water away from my legs.

The problems of remaining balanced and strong, which Lindbergh also addresses, linger in my mind today. The book kept me up late into the night and early into this morning, as I experienced a rare sleepless night. Finally around 2 a.m. I walked outside and the stars and the moon on the beach took my breath away. I rarely see the stars living the city. And there it was again—the sound of the waves crashing and the tide pulling and pulling and pulling. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly, allowing it to pull whatever it was that needed to leave my brain so that I could sleep. I’ll close this post with the last words I read before returning to bed:

I want first of all… to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want, in fact–to borrow from the language of the saints–to live “in grace” as much of the time as possible. I am not using this term in a strictly theological sense. By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony. I am seeking perhaps what Socrates asked for in the prayer from the Phaedrus when he said, “May the outward and inward man be one.” I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.

after sunset

 

Mental Health Monday: The Best Therapy of All

We’re at Seagrove Beach, Florida, with our daughter, Beth, her husband, Kevin, and our three-year-old granddaughter, Gabby. We’re sad that Jon, Jason, See, Grace and Anna couldn’t join us this year, but it’s still pretty magical. And that’s all I’ve got to say on this Mental Health Monday post, because being at the beach is the best therapy of all. Making memories….

Surf's Up! Beth helps Gabby catch a wave on the boogie board...

Surf’s Up! Beth helps Gabby catch a wave on the boogie board…

Sunset hugs...

Sunset hugs…

Gabby preparing to dump water on Kevin:-)

Gabby preparing to dump water on Kevin:-)

Kevin, Gabby and Pops enjoy our first sunset of the week

Kevin, Gabby and Pops enjoy our first sunset of the week

Gabby and Beth getting their toes in the water on our first day out....

Gabby and Beth getting their toes in the water on our first day out….

Gabby couldn't make it through the Grizzlies game... can you blame her?

Gabby couldn’t make it through the Grizzlies game… can you blame her?

SuSu and Gabby painting whales and water sports

SuSu and Gabby painting whales and water sports

Pops and Gabby reading "Pete the Cat at the Beach."

Pops and Gabby reading “Pete the Cat at the Beach.”

Getting ready to watch the Grizzlies in their first play-off game... at the beach...

Getting ready to watch the Grizzlies in their first play-off game… at the beach…

Our friends from Memphis, BIlly, Marjo, Joseph and William Labonte are also at the beach this week and joined us for a Grizzlies-watching party Sunday afternoon.

Our friends from Memphis, BIlly, Marjo, Joseph and William Labonte are also at the beach this week and joined us for a Grizzlies-watching party Sunday afternoon.

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