Red-Winged Blackbird

The red-winged blackbirds begin check-check-check-ing at me as I walk down the road.

With dog, without the dog — it doesn’t matter. I’m a threat and they need to let the world, or, at the very least, their fellow blackbirds know that danger approaches.

They sit on fenceposts, telephone wires, tree branches, cattails, and other tall weeds.

Red-winged blackbird speck

I have stopped on multiple occasions to try to snap pictures of them. I either end up with a tiny speck of a bird or empty wires, branches, etc.

They flee from the fenceposts when I stop walking. I can’t focus on taking a picture while walking. My phone is my camera, nothing fancy for zooming in. Walking pictures are a mess.

Frankly, I’ve given up on photographing them.

For me, the red-winged blackbirds must be enjoyed from a distance or in my periphery. As abundant as they are, they are also too elusive for me to photograph well.

Sometimes life is like that, don’t you think? It simply can’t be tackled head-on. We can’t stop and savor each little thing, but we can enjoy the brief moments as they pass.

Now the birds that have taken up residence in our birdhouse tease me in the same way. One tiny nondescript bird sits on the chimney of birdhouse, singing merrily, until I get out my phone/camera. I look to find the camera icon on my screen, look back up, and she’s gone. Either both birds in the pair are blasé brown, or I haven’t seen the mister.

Elusive

I need to improve my mental camera when I see them or my memory of their song or create some other method if I ever hope to identify these occupants.

Or, maybe I need to stop worrying about it and enjoy the moment.

Does everything have to have a name? Does everything have to be captured and held?

In our instant electronic gadgety techno age, we’ve lost the looking-out-of-windows and being-in-the-moment.

Sometimes I wonder if children riding in the car down the east coast of the United States even see the Pedro billboards. Or, in rural Nebraska or Iowa, if they see the monotony of corn fields. Or is that when they’re busy watching Frozen for the umpteenth time?

Because if they miss Pedro and the corn, they’ll most certainly miss the many red-winged blackbirds check-check-check-ing from the fencepost.

Ladurée

When my aunt found out we were in Paris, she messaged me that we should be sure to go to Ladurée. I’m so glad we did.

My French is weak to non-existent, and there are too many -isseries. A brasserie is a restaurant, a patisserie is a bakery, and a confiserie is a candy store.

But what was Ladurée? It had a tea room in the back, which really wasn’t a brasserie-type restaurant. They make the most delicious macarons, so patisserie seemed right, and, in fact, is how they refer to themselves. They also had the best chocolates ever, so confiserie or chocolaterie?

Whatever they are, it is magical. The long line told us that they had something special to offer, and we weren’t disappointed.

Outside Ladurée on the Champs-Elysées

To place my order, I took a picture of what I wanted to buy, and then just pointed at the beautiful macarons. I didn’t photograph the macarons, but here are a few of the chocolates.

A tough decision

And here is the some other delights that tempted us.

Delicious

 

Guiding Principles

When I started planning the trip to France, I had no idea what I was doing.

I take that back. I knew two things. One, that my father had talked for a long time about going to the beaches of Normandy, and, two, that I was going to make that happen.

So I started planning the only way I knew, with economy and frugality at the forefront. It’s how my mother always did things. It’s how, of necessity, we did things with our children.

My neighbor set me straight. I had asked her about how to find a private guide, things to do in Paris, stuff like that because she traveled extensively.

“We got a real bargain on our airfare,” I told her. It had cost only about $500 per person to fly economy from Newark to Paris. I was pretty proud of myself for finding such a deal.

“You need to book a bed for your father,” she said. I had no idea such things existed on commercial airplanes. “This trip is all about him. Remember that.”

And I did. Book a “Biz Bed” — and remember her advice.

It became a guiding principle. When in doubt, think about what was best and most comfortable for him.

Hence staying at the Villa Lara because it had an elevator.

Hence doing only half day tours of the beaches. (It would have been more economical to hire Colin for full days, plus we could have covered more ground, but a half day of touring was plenty for my father.)

Hence forgoing the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and choosing the Eiffel Tower. (Eiffel Tower is  much more wheelchair-friendly.)

Hence hiring the Paris Black Car to pick us up at the airport, drive us right to Bayeux, then pick us up again at Bayeux and get us back to Paris. (If we were all able-bodied, I probably would have looked into the train to save a few dollars.)

When I think about that advice and how we used it to guide us for everything — how we got around, where we stayed, where we dined, what activities we chose — I am so thankful for it.

Looking ahead to my trip to Croatia and Bosnia, I thought, I need another guiding principle. It added so much clarity to France.

The first part of my next trip is spending time with my friend, Leah, while exploring Dubrovnik and Mostar, and the second part is a work project in Bosnia with a team from our church.

We had a team meeting last week, and we had to say why we were going on the trip. I hadn’t clearly formulated my thoughts on that, but I have now.

For me, that trip is about investing in friendship.

Friendships, like every other relationship, take work and time. I’m looking forward to my time with Leah as an investment in my friendship with her. When we reach our work project, I’m looking forward to investing in time with the other members of our team, especially Amy. And, I’m looking forward to meeting new friends from a new place and investing in them.

The more I thought about it, the more excited about it I became — not the trip, but the purpose.

So much so, that I’m dedicating June to “Ulagati u prijateljstvo” which, Croatian means, “Invest in friendship.” Kind of like a jumpstart on Bosnia.

Today I’m sending a little package to a dear friend who’s going through a difficult situation. I made her a little card showing one rabbit helping another. She’ll understand what I mean.

Tomorrow, I have another little package almost ready to go.

They are investments.

I’m so excited for the next few months.

The Villa Lara

Traveling with a mobility-challenged person limited our choice in accommodations. We knew we needed a hotel with a “lift” (an elevator).

(Side-note: Sometimes having a lift doesn’t mean it can accommodate a wheelchair, as we learned at our hotel in Paris. The elevator was so tiny that my father had to leave his wheelchair in the lobby and use his walker to get to the elevator and then to his room.)

Through a series of missteps and sheer luck, we ended up at the Villa Lara. I cannot imagine a better place to stay.

(Second side-note: I initially booked at a place just outside Bayeux that looked lovely. I emailed them to ask if they had a lift or rooms on the first floor. “All our rooms are on the first floor,” they replied. Then our guide told us that the first floor in France is what we consider the second floor in the US. I cancelled our rooms at the lift-less, second-floor room place, and, thankfully, the Villa Lara still had three rooms available.)

When we first arrived, and our driver pulled up right in front, Louis greeted us before we were even out of the car. I hesitate to call Louis a bellhop because he was so much more. He was the first ambassador for a pleasant stay, doing everything in his power to make us feel welcome and comfortable.

My brother and sister planning their geocaching for the day — Louis is in the background

I don’t remember who was at the front desk to check us in that day. The weariness of travel blurred my memory.

But I do know that every single person that sat behind that desk was cheerful and helpful. They made reservations for us for dinner every night, taking into account that we needed a place that was wheelchair friendly. They helped us with our French. They got us the all-important coffee tray in the morning.

Laura was my favorite. She was from a small nearby town and obviously loved where she lived. I know that feeling. It’s infectious.

The rooms at the Villa Lara were spacious and comfortable. My sister and her husband had a room with a sitting area off the bedroom. It had gorgeous views of the cathedral.

The evening view of the cathedral

While we didn’t eat our breakfasts at the hotel — we’re a coffee and a pastry kind of family — we did visit the hotel bar one evening for Calvados, the local apple brandy. My sister, her husband, Bud, and I sat in the lounge sipping our brandy — a first for me — and relishing the experience.

New York Times always available so we could keep up with the news from home — the hotel bar is in the background

If I’m gushing about the Villa Lara, it’s because that’s exactly how I feel. It’s a place infused with hospitality. If I ever have the opportunity to visit Normandy again, I would plan my trip around their availability because for me, now, there is nowhere I would rather stay.

Ominous Beginning — Part 2

Traveling is a weary business. Especially when traipsing across time zones.

When you start in a rural area and end in a rural area, travel time is extended by the road time at either end.

We left Cooperstown around 12:30 PM and arrived in Bayeux around 1 PM the following day — which would have been 7 AM New York time.

A little walk, a little food, a little wine — and I was refreshed. When it got to be dinner time, my father didn’t join us because he wasn’t hungry. My sister stayed with him while the rest of us got some crepes.

The next day was to be our first day touring the Normandy beaches. I had gotten up early and been served a lovely tray of coffee in the lounge area downstairs. My sister joined me and we walked to a patisserie to buy some pastries. So far, everything was absolutely wonderful.

But…

an hour or two later…

I was in our room when my brother pounded on the door.

“I need you,” he said, and we hastily followed him back to the room he shared with my father.

My father was laying on the bathroom floor, his face roughly the same color as his t-shirt — white — and damp.

“I saw him hanging onto the counter,” Peter said, “like he was going to pass out, so I helped him lie down and got you.”

Bud quickly sat on the only available seat — the stool — and elevated my father’s legs.

We got a pillow for under his head.

And we discussed what to do.

Last year, right about this time, my sister stayed with my father, heard a crash, and found him on the bathroom floor.

My brother had gotten more than one call from Lifeline after my father had fallen.

I had seen him near-collapse and called the nursing service we use for home care.

Each of us had seen our father like this before —

And therein lies the blessing.

While it was scary, it was not unfamiliar.

“I think it’s a syncopal episode,” one of us said.

I remembered the nurse telling me that one of the causes can be dehydration. Had he drank enough while we traveled? Probably not.

I ran downstairs and got a glass of orange juice. By the time I got back upstairs, his color was much improved. My father felt like he could sit up, so my husband and brother lifted him to a chair.

Orange juice and pain au chocolat work magic

The episode passed. We had a reprieve. The rest of the trip went without incident.

He had a cardiology appointment when we got home. They interrogated his pacemaker and could tell that it hadn’t been a cardiac event. We had been correct in our assessment.

For one moment, I had visions of getting to know the French health care system — but because of my brother’s quick thinking to prevent a fall and our collective experiences with his syncopal episodes, we weathered that storm.

Sometimes, in the midst of a terrible situation, it’s hard to see the good.

And maybe the good is never really good, but becomes a relative goodness — one where you’re able to say a little thank you for a terrible thing that previously happened.

Ominous Beginning

The man seated ahead of us on our Newark to Paris flight was large and loud.

I missed the beginning of the “discussion” because we were getting situated in our seats, stowing my pack in the overhead compartment, turning my phone to airplane mode, finding both ends of the seatbelt.

My ears tuned in at — “NO! You listen to me!”

His angry voice rose above the murmur of the other passengers who were doing the same things I had been doing.

The flight attendant, a neatly-groomed small-framed man who spoke excellent English with only a trace of a French accent, remained calm. “Sir,” he said, “I’m trying to explain.”

The passenger interrupted. “I’m paying your salary,” he bellowed. “You need to do what I say.”

“Please listen to me,” the flight attendant said. I was amazed at how unrattled he was by the confrontation. “I cannot give you two pillows right now –”

I need to be comfortable on this flight!” the man interrupted with another bellow.

“Sir,” the flight attendant began again, “if you will listen, I will explain.”

I looked out the window at the raining pouring down outside, wishing I could be almost anywhere but there, where the groundwork was being laid for the next ugly airline confrontation. Getting my phone out to record it didn’t cross my mind.

“As long as your explanation includes a second pillow — ” the man said, interrupting again.

“Yes, sir, I have to wait until everyone is seated. We have only enough pillowcases for the passengers on board,” the flight attendant said.

“Well, what’re THOSE?!” the man asked, pointing to a small pile of pillows in an overhead compartment across the aisle.

“Those are pillows without pillowcases,” the attendant said.

“Gimme one of ’em,” grumpy man demanded.

The flight attendant complied, repeating the fact that it did not have a pillowcase on it.

“See?” the man said snidely. “We found a peaceful solution.” His sarcasm cut rudely through his words.

As he plumped his pillows and settled into his seat, the flight attendant moved down the aisle to assist other passengers.

I sighed. It’s no wonder Americans have a bad name.

The plane was quickly prepared for take-off and didn’t linger long on the runway.

Once in the air, the man ahead of me signaled the flight attendant as he walked past. He beckoned him to lean close, so he wouldn’t have to yell, but I could still hear.

“I’m sorry for the way I treated you,” he said. “I was out of line.”

“No problem, sir,” said the flight attendant.

Above the clouds, the rain was gone. The sun truly looked like a silver lining.

And the angry words were washed away in one man’s humility.

I more than survived the experience. In an unexpected twist, I was blessed by it.

 

 

 

A Brief Recounting of Our Trip to France

I confess — I had to look up the meaning of evanescent, this week’s photography challenge. It means “soon passing out of sight, memory, or existence; quickly fading or disappearing.”

That’s describes my trip to France, I thought.

Life is already crowding out the moments I thought I would savor for a long time.

To hold onto the memories a little longer, I put together a two picture per day summary.

May 13 — Travel day

British Airways took very good care of us. At the urging of a friend, I upgraded both my father and my brother to each have a “Biz Bed”. Because we were traveling with someone who needed assistance (my father was in a wheelchair), we also got special treatment. I’m not exactly sure what all the little dots meant, but they were good. My brother and father got to eat in the British Airways lounge before the flight, while Bud and I had a quiet dinner in a little airport restaurant. 

It was pouring when we left Newark. This was my view out the window.

May 14 Arrive in France, make our way to Normandy

My sister and her husband met us at the airport.

When we finally arrived at Bayeux, we were tired and hungry. I had Croque Monsieur for the first time in my life at a little cafe a stone’s throw from our hotel.

May 15 Normandy

We loved everything about our hotel in Bayeux, the Villa Lara. This rabbit guarded the stairway door.

For our first day with our guide, he brought us to the Pegasus Bridge and the Canadian cemetery. Colin had so many stories to tell, but I think my favorite of all of them was here, of the bagpiper who played for the British troops.

May 16 Normandy

We had coffee every morning in a little sitting area off my sister’s room. I loved seeing the cathedral.

Among the places we visited this day was Sainte-Mère-Église where a paratrooper had gotten caught on the church steeple.

May 17 Normandy — then travel to Paris

The craters from the shelling at Omaha Beach were very impressive.

 

The view from a German bunker at Omaha Beach.

Then we drove to Paris.

May 18 Paris

We walked around Paris. Old and new stand side by side.

Dinner cruise on the Seine. The Eiffel Tower is pretty spectacular.

May 19 Paris

LaDuree — the macaroons are amazing.

Impressive art at the Petit Palais.

May 20 Travel day

The return trip. Waiting at the airport.

 

I’m easily amused. I thought “Salad Sauce” was funny. The flight home felt a thousand times longer — I looked for entertainment where I could find it.

May 21 Collapse

This was how we all felt the next day.