USA Visits - 2nd Month!

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December 20th 2018
Published: January 21st 2019
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Reconnecting With Dear FriendsReconnecting With Dear FriendsReconnecting With Dear Friends

Here I am with Leigh and her son...when I last saw Aidan he was just learning to walk. Guess who named their dog, Lego?
Well, it's been over a month since I've returned to Ecuador. It's been a busy month and the travelblog website has had some glitches, but enough of excuses. The second half of my US visit blog entry is waayyy overdue!

It's been 12 years since I moved away from Atlanta and over 7 years since I’d been back east for a, I scheduled ample time to reconnect with old friends. It's amazing how even though the years pass, we pick up where we left off. My friends and I haven't aged at all, but their kids sure have grown up -- how does that work?!

I had lined up a rental car to pick up at the Loews hotel not far from a MARTA station, so upon returning from Florida I took the train from the airport and dragged my carry-on bag up and down hilly streets trying to find the posh midtown hotel. My flight had been delayed and then the airport trams weren't running so I ended up being about two hours later than I'd informed the rental car company. They requested
Jennifer, Emily & MaddoxJennifer, Emily & MaddoxJennifer, Emily & Maddox

When I lived in Atlanta these lovely sisters were still young girls. Now Emily is a mother! Fun reminiscing with them at the Original Pancake House!
my flight info when I booked, so I assumed they could track the flight when they saw I was delayed. Well, no one was at the lobby rental car desk so I called the number posted and the agent told me he was getting a car serviced and would be back in 45 minutes. I hung out in the lobby and watched expensively dressed milennials gather for a pre-wedding photo shoot. When the rental car rep finally returned an hour and a half later it was to tell me that he'd given away my car since I hadn't arrived on time and that he only had a much more expensive vehicle available. No thanks! That will be the last time I try to rent with that company!

Dragged my suitcase back to MARTA to take a train to the station closest to Gilbert's condo, which would be my home base for the coming weeks (many thanks to my dear wasband!.) He lives just a mile and a half from the station, but it's all uphill so I sucked it up and spent $8 for a cab, a ride which
Fongbemi FamilyFongbemi FamilyFongbemi Family

Favorite friends from Altanta days...Joyce a former Peace Corps volunteer met Kami in Togo. Posing here with Gilbert and 4 of their sons (#5 is in the Marines).
would have cost $1.25 in Ecuador. That was my first episode of Atlanta sticker shock; the next price gasp came as I caved for a $35 mani-pedi which would have cost me $10 in Baños! Gilbert let me use his car during the weekend, and we went together to meet our Togolese friend Kami, married to former Peace Corps Volunteer Joyce, and four of their five sons (the eldest is in the Marines). They suggested an African restaurant in suburban Atlanta and we chowed down! We ordered almost every item on the menu and everyone tried each dish. Lots of reaching, grabbing and laughter!

On Monday morning I arranged to get a lift to the MARTA station with Gilbert; he took a train downtown to his work and I went uptown to Buckhead to pick up a rental car with a different company. Is it possible that latent dyslexia surges during menopause, or was my brain just scrambled due to all the travel I'd been doing? Because I had reversed the digits of SIXT rent-a-car´s address, I ended walking over 3 miles up a busy city road trying to
African Food in Atlanta!African Food in Atlanta!African Food in Atlanta!

We ordered one of just about everything on the menu - all were in heaven! I love the grabbing, participatory nature of eating African style!
find their office. Fortunately, this time I wasn't dragging a suitcase! When I realized the mistake I'd made, I caught a bus back to the Buckhead MARTA station and sheepishly walked down one and a half blocks to the car rental office! They set me up with a cute little MINI Cooper loaded with bells and whistles, including a computer screen dashboard and a "puddle" light MINI logo which lit the ground beside the driver door when I clicked the unlock button at night.

I zipped around in my MINI, reconnecting with old friends and former neighbors all over the city. I had a general sense of where things were, but always left extra time so I could get a little bit lost and feel my way around Atlanta, seeing changes and reviving memories. I had brunch with two girls from my old neighborhood, both of whom are now married women, one with a baby! I stayed overnight at dear friend Leigh's gorgeous new house, getting to know her delightful son who is becoming a young man! We went walking with their dog, played Rummikub together, and enjoyed yummy
With Smokey at Piedmont ParkWith Smokey at Piedmont ParkWith Smokey at Piedmont Park

The rainy skies cleared just enough for me and Regina to take a walk in the park. So great to catch up with my dear friends!
food! Thanks for the home-baked bread and unforgettable breakfast sandwich Dean! A trip to IKEA with Leigh and one of her colleagues was a fun cultural experience for me´s such a shopping culture in the US!

One weekend I went with Joyce to see her boys play on their high school basketball team - an all-American experience. The rain cleared for me and Regina, mother of a former student and amazing jeweler who crafted my wedding ring, to walk Smokey around Piedmont Park. I enjoyed an evening with my former next door neighbors and chuckled as Mike recounted his challenges to receive disability benefits. When the bureaucrats insisted he provide an email address he responded, "I DON'T WW!" Former colleague and dear friend Julia (now an acclaimed author!!) prepared a delicious dinner at her home and we had time to catch up on the intervening years. Former housemate Martial still teaches piano and I spent a lovely afternoon with him, eating lunch at Souper Jenny's at the Atlanta History Center and then chatting for hours in his beautiful new condo. Interesting to hear about his adventures, moonlighting as
Ponce City MarketPonce City MarketPonce City Market

Most authentic Chinese meal I've had since Beijing (2010) at Atlanta's Ponce City Market (renovated Sears Warehouse). June showed me new, hip Atlanta!
a driver for UBER and Lyft.

I spent a couple of nights at my former walking buddy, June's house.In addition to taking some strolls around the old neighborhood, we did some fun art projects together at her home. June took me around to show me some of Atlanta´s new, hip sights. We walked along the Beltline (a 25 mile walking/cycling path- we only did a few miles!) and poked around Ponce City Market, an upscale food court in a reconverted Sears warehouse. Super authentic Chinese food for lunch, and that evening we went out with her husband Gerry for the most amazing ice cream at Krog Street Market in another up-and-coming neighborhood. Out to dinner with Carolyn for amazing Mexican food, a great lunch with my former chiropractor (thanks for the free adjustments Charlie!!) at Vino Venue where his wife works, two separate lunches at the "pay-by-the-pound" buffet at the Farmers' Market, to-die-for Greek food with Michelle and Joyce. Sad to say, I put on over 10 lbs during my 3 weeks in Atlanta. Oy!

Lest you think
At LA FitnessAt LA FitnessAt LA Fitness

Michelle has a personal trainer and has dropped over 50 lbs! On Halloween she dressed as her sadistic trainer and posed with these cute young employees!
my visit was all yummy food and social visits, I also completed my goal of renewing my recently expired Georgia driver's license...not as simple as you might think! To continue using Gilbert's Georgia address they required three pieces of mail with my name on it. Fortunately Gilbert never throws anything away so I found a college newsletter and a catalog addressed to me, and most amazing of all a publicity brochure from the Wyndham timeshare presentation I'd attended in San Antonio (they{d used the address on my expired driver's license!) The DMV also required my social security card (which was safely stored in a locked drawer at my house in Baños, Ecuador). They weren't satisfied with just my passport! Fortunately I started the license renewal process my first days in Atlanta so I had time to apply for a replacement social security card which arrived in time to complete the license renewal process. Whew! Those two hours at the Social Security Office were an interesting sociological glimpse of American life!

For the rare meal that I wasn't meeting up with someone, I stocked Gilbert's fridge with some healthy foods
Fall Foliage Festival!Fall Foliage Festival!Fall Foliage Festival!

The Autumn colors in North Georgia, and even in Atlanta, were truly spectacular! My timing was perfect.
that I really love and miss: cottage cheese, honeydew melon and orange sweet potatoes -- we only get purple Andean camotes that aren't nearly as sweet or creamy. I enjoyed multiple visits with my Atlanta bestie, Michelle (my sistah from another mistah!). I went to the gym with her on Oct 31st and took a yoga class while she worked out with her trainer (she dressed up as him for Halloween!). We visited the dog park with her three pups and I met her daily doggie buddies! Of course we shared another meal at Top Spice (amazing Malaysian food). Also, thanks Michelle for letting me do laundry at your place since Gilbert's machine remains broken (he doesn't seem to mind going to the laundromat...maybe it's his every-other-weekend social outing!).

On my way to meet Mary for lunch at Hudson Grille, the MINI chugged and lost power on the busy 285 perimeter highway. As I made my way into the slow lane, the computer screen informed me that I was experiencing a drive train malfunction and suggested that I drive moderately and return to a service center as soon as
Joseph the Oompa LoompaJoseph the Oompa LoompaJoseph the Oompa Loompa

Last time I saw Laura's son he was just a toddler and now, his stage debut in Willy Wonka Junior community theatre (Joseph front and center).
possible. I was almost at the restaurant so I crept my way there and called the rental car company to let them know I'd be returning the car if I could make it there safely and to please have a replacement vehicle ready for me. It was great to catch up with my translator friend who is undergoing a major career shift since Google Translate appearts to have taken over her business for clients who don't demand excellence or accuracy. I slowly made my way back to the rental car office and got a free upgrade; a Kia Sportage in a most unappetizing shit-brown color which I dubbed the poop-mobile.

I took a drive up to North Georgia to reconnect with dear friend Laura and her family. Her son Joseph had just started walking when I last saw them and now he is a nine year old actor! I planned my visit to see him perform as the comic relief Oompah Loompa in a community children's theatre production of Willy Wonka Junior. What a fabulous performance by all of the young people involved, and Joseph stole the show! The
Murphy, North CarolinaMurphy, North CarolinaMurphy, North Carolina

Laura and I spent an afternoon with my former neighbor Mark at his Creek House (his retirement getaway from big city Atlanta!)
next afternoon Laura and I took a spin up to Murphy, NC (just over the state line) to visit with Mark who was up at the creek house escaping the craziness of Atlanta! Laura and hubby Terry have bought a lovely home with huge views and I was fortunate to be there for the peak the of foliage season. The fall colors were simply stunning, but didn't last long due to a cold snap, so I was really lucky! One evening a few of their friends came over and we built a huge bonfire; since we were all carefully avoiding politics, the main topic of conversation around the fire was the merits of various brands of chainsaws! Sunday morning before leaving to drive back to Atlanta, I went to church with Laura. It was nice to share this time with her, meet the Scottish pastor and get a glimpse of the townfolk of rural Blue Ridge, Georgia.

I had made contact with about a dozen of my former Atlanta Int'l School teaching colleagues who were still around. Several have retired, one had moved away but then came back, one
Happy Hour With Former ColleaguesHappy Hour With Former ColleaguesHappy Hour With Former Colleagues

Here with Joan, Kathryn and Christiane at Eclipse de Luna. About a dozen former colleagues came over the course of the evening...5 or 6 of us there at any given time.
of the retirees got lured back to teach part- time, several now teach at other schools in the area and quite a few are still teaching at AIS. I coordinated a Happy Hour gathering of "the AIS Old Guard" at Eclipse de Luna, a funky Tapas Bar not far from the school. A long-time substitute teacher came along, as well as the mother of a former student -- I had gotten to know this mom particularly well because she participated in my after-school Spanish conversation class for faculty, staff and anyone who was interested. In fact, quite a few of the folks who came to the happy hour had been my adult Spanish learners!

Since some were coming from across town or were working around other commitments, I said that I'd be at Eclipse between 4:00 and 8:00 pm, hoping to see as many folks as possible. The visits came in waves with an average of 5 or 6 people there at any given time...just perfect for catch-up conversations! Former AIS music teacher Toni grilled me about my many volunteer activities in Ecuador and at one point she exclaimed,
Atlanta International School Gang!Atlanta International School Gang!Atlanta International School Gang!

Toni (music teacher/choir director), Sandra (faithful substitute), Jutta (German teacher), and Betsy (AIS Mom). Wonderful reconnecting and laughing lots!
"Why, you're just like Mother Teresa only better looking!" (Toni always was a card!). As the crowd dribbled off it was just me and Besty (the mom) and Sandra (the sub). Sandra´s hubby was coming to pick her up so when he arrived the four of us decided to stay there and have dinner together! It was a perfect afternoon/evening! One of the German teachers who came (I'd gotten to know her in the faculty yoga class) offered to give me a tour around the campus the next day.

Good thing I´d left extra time to drive to the school the following morning...there was no parking anywhere nearby! Marianne (now head of the German department) was called up the security desk at the entrance to the school to sign me in and after starting the tour with her, she handed me off to her 8th grade daughter and another student. We made the rounds of the old familiar classrooms, greeting those who still remembered me and then the girls took me to the new Design Bldg---a purpose-built, state-of-the-art space for Art, Science, Robotics and creative growth. I saw the
Travelling via TESLATravelling via TESLATravelling via TESLA

Brother Bob drove down from Baltimore to pick us up (Gilbert and me) and drive us north. We had to stop and charge his TESLA car, Buzz, for 15-20 minutes every three hours or so.
newly redesigned primary bldg and greeted a number of familiar faces. I sure don't miss classroom teaching, but I felt waves of fond memories as I strolled the halls of a very special learning place where I spent nearly a decade of my teaching career!

My visit in Atlanta was drawing to a close and it was time to drop off the rental car. June came to collect me at the office and we made a day of it, scouring the big central Goodwill for clothing bargains and having lunch together at the International Farmers´ Market. Since I'd been able to spend time with June two weeks earlier, it was great to have another afternoon together at the end of my rounded off our time together and made it feel like an even longer visit! Also the fact that the weather changed abruptly made it feel like a longer stay. It got so cold all of a sudden...I had to layer on all of the clothes I'd brought and bought and borrow another jacket from Gilbert!

Greetings From Whirly-Gig ParkGreetings From Whirly-Gig ParkGreetings From Whirly-Gig Park

Nice way to break up the long journey northwards!
younger brother Bob and his wife Kate drove down from Baltimore to head north for family time with me and Gilbert. We all stayed at Gilbert's place that last night so we could get an early start the next morning. This was one of Bob's first long trips in his new car, a TESLA named BUZZ. I tend to get carsick and usually don't like to ride in the back seat but that car rode so smoothly and quietly - like floating along...and completely odor free. I not only sat in the back seat, I even fell asleep (which I can almost never do in any vehicle!) Bob had it figured out so we stopped at a TESLA Super Charger every 2-3 hours of the journey. They were usually located in the parking lot of a hotel or shopping mall, so we could use a restroom or get a drink or a bite to eat during the 15-30 minutes needed to buzz Buzz enough to get to the next charger.

On the way to their vacation home in Kiawah Island (near Charleston, SC), Bob was especially excited to show
Kiawah IslandKiawah IslandKiawah Island

Broad, flat beaches...perfect for cycling. I hadn't been on a bike in over 20 yrs so it took some concentration! I enjoyed walking on this beach even more!
me Whirlygig Park in Wilson NC. He's a master at discovering quirky, off-the-beaten path not-so-touristy sites. This park honored a farmer who´d made these charming whirly-gigs out of recycled road signs and other bits of metal. When he could no longer keep them up, the park was created beside a micro-brewery which hosts concerts...all in hopes of attracting tourism to this slightly-off-the-main-highway semi-rural small town. We continued on our drive with one more important stop before getting to Kiawah. The Angel Oak Tree is a magical living being. The span of its crown must be larger than a city block. We spent at least an hour marvelling at its majestic power and beauty. Be sure to scroll down at the end to see more photos of this incredible tree and a close-up of the whirly-gigs!

Ahh Kiawah! Several years ago Bob and Kate bought a sweet little house (not so little, 3 bdrm 2 bath!) in a lovely community on Kiawah Island. Most visitors arrive, park their cars and get around the island via bicycle, so there's very little traffic. Mature trees dripping with Spanish moss line the narrow,
Magical PlaceMagical PlaceMagical Place

Check out the size of the trunk of the Angel Oak- an amazing live oak tree, hundreds of years old, whose canopy spans the size of a city block!
winding roads. The homes are all built in similar styles, using muted wood tones and keeping the surrounding greenery savage and lush. The whole creates a magical, natural setting, just right for fun and relaxation. The first day we cycled across several footbridges and made our way to a broad, flat beach. I hadn't been on a bike in over 20 years, so for me it required some concentration - but in the end, it comes back to you (just like riding a bicycle!)

The next day we left the bikes and took a long walk on the beach, all the way to an estuary where we saw a pod of dolphins leaping and playing. Bob explained that what they were actually doing was forcing fish up onto a sandbar, what is known as "stranding" -- a way for the dolphins to chow down on an easy buffet. One evening we had sunset drinks with friends of my sister's from LA who now live between Charleston and Kiawah, admiring their gorgeous home! We took a slow driving tour from one of the island to other -- Kiawah is just over 10
The Amazing Angel Oak TreeThe Amazing Angel Oak TreeThe Amazing Angel Oak Tree

Just outside of Charleston, SC grows this remarkable natural wonder. Gilbert, Kate and Bob pose with just a couple of branches!
miles long and 1 1/2 miles wide with over 30 miles of biking and hiking trails. We lunched on the deep covered verandah in the bar and grill of the fanciest restaurant on the island, enjoying the changing skies over the ocean. The next night we were invited for a fabulous dinner at the island home of some of Bob & Kate's Baltimore neighbors; lively conversation until late in the night. A delicious and relaxing time was had by all during our three day stay in Kiawah!

We loaded up Buzz and continued northward to Baltimore. Since I planned to empty my stuff from Bob´s attic I had three suitcases, but none of them very full so I stacked my suitcases into one another (Matroishka style) to maximize space for packing in Buzz. Since there's no "engine" per se, TESLAs have a "frunk" (front trunk) and also more packing space where the gas tank would have been. We broke down our luggage into smaller bags to fit them in each nook and cranny. The first few days in Baltimore were still relatively warmish, perfect for working up in the attic. I
Thanksgiving TableThanksgiving TableThanksgiving Table

My sister-in-law Kate puts the finishing touches on a beautiful table set with my mother's wedding china (from 1953)
wanted to empty out my remaining stored boxes before Thanksgiving so I could offer my nieces (and sisters-in-law) pieces of crystal and china, silver and cutlery that had belonged to my mom. I succeeded in unpacking and sorting most everything up there, setting aside potential give-aways.


I was thrilled that Jenna (new mommy niece who just moved to LA) wanted her grandma's wedding china set -- place setting for ten of a pattern we called West Wind -- a branch with muted-colored fall leaves blowing across gold-rimmed ivory-colored dishes. Considering my mom chose the pattern in 1952, it's quite contemporary and timeless. My sister suggested we use the china for our Baltimore Thanksgiving before we send it out west; combined with Kate's gorgeous fall centerpieces it made for a stunning dining room table! In December Bob was able to pack this full set of Marshall Field´s dishware in his carry-on luggage to take with him on his next business trip to LA.

Thanksgiving was a joyful gathering with both of my brothers and their families. My older brother,
Tovah and MaxTovah and MaxTovah and Max

Looking forward to a visit from my niece and her guy. After their first international trip to Jamaica last year, this couple is ready for travel and adventure!
Lee drove down from New Jersey along with his wife and three kids. The two daughters (Shara and Tovah are in their late 20's) brought their boyfriends and I was glad to have a chance to meet their guys and catch up a bit on their lives. Griffith (their 18 y/o adopted son) and I have become friends on facebook, but that's not the same as a hug in person! Tovah and her partner Max commented that they really wanted to visit Ecuador so I told them that if they got themselves down here, the rest was on me (ground transportation, food, lodging). I've been working up their itinerary and making reservations -they'll be here in less than a month! I'm so excited to blow their minds with the beauty of my adopted country!

After a delicious Thanksgiving meal, we all took a break before dessert. When the young folks went downstairs to play billiards I pulled aside each of my nieces and my nephew one at a time to gift them some of the jewelry that had belonged to their Grandma Natalie. Then I brought down from the attic several
Family and PartnersFamily and PartnersFamily and Partners

Big brother Lee at the far end, his daughters and their beaux and right front is Bob's son Holden and his girlfriend Emma.
boxes of dishware and cutlery and gathered everyone around to choose some items they might like to have. The remaining pieces that didn't find a home went with me and my sister-in-law Kate to make the rounds of a few secondhand shops. It's not like they'd bring in much money, or the income even mattered at this point but I couldn't cope with the idea of jumbling them all into a Goodwill box where they'd likely get broken before they ever saw the light of day again. Sad but true, today's younger generation doesn't seem to treasure the past in the way that mine did.

Before Gilbert flew back to Atlanta we all went out to the movies together (Green Book - great film!) at one of those fancy theatres that serves food and drink and boasts cushy reclining seats. Refillable orders of popcorn in ginormous porcelain bowls-- it's not cinema without popcorn, right?! I had a full two weeks in Baltimore after Thanksgiving and I'm very grateful to my brother and his wife for putting me up and putting up with me for that long! It felt nice
Dismembering Photo AlbumsDismembering Photo AlbumsDismembering Photo Albums

First came deciding which pics still meant something to me, then scanning each and every one (several thousand in all!) A big job, lots of wandering down memory lane!
to just hang out together -- playing backgammon with Bob, watching home fixer-upper shows with Kate, catching up on old movies, and finally clearing out the rest of my junque from their attic! I spent the better part of a week dismembering dozens of photo albums and scanning the pics one by one with an individual photo scanner. Of course I had to look through all of the photos, deciding if they still meant something to me. There were lots of detours down twisty, winding memory lanes...and I even shed a few tears of reminiscence and nostalgia.

To deal with the larger photo albums and scrapbooks my brother took me to his downtown office one Sunday and we were able to scan full pages...much faster! We spent a nice morning, touring his new office space in a Batlimore highrise overlooking the inner harbor. I enjoyed a day at the YMCA with Kate. While she did jazzercize, I took a water aerobics fitness class --I was by far the youngest one in the pool! It felt great to be in the water again...I really missed regular swimming! In spite of
Baltimore's Inner HarborBaltimore's Inner HarborBaltimore's Inner Harbor

As viewed from Bob's 18th floor office. We spend at Sunday morning scanning my larger photo albums a full page at a time.
the cold snap we bundled up and took a few walks around the neighborhood. Once the bird bath froze over we thawed it out with hot water and watched a feisty squirrel chow down on the slowly collapsing pumpkins left over from Halloween! Bob helped me download forms to write a basic "last will and testament". Now that I own property and am actually worth something, I thought it important to put my wishes down on paper. We made arrangements to have it notarized, along with a permanent power of attorney for Bob. There's no one on the planet I'd trust more with my personal and financial affairs!

I arrived back in Los Angeles just in time to celebrate the first night of Hanukah with my sister and her kids. Hanukah is a big deal for her family, and we all lit candles, sang, opened gifts and at a lotta latkes (potato pancakes) among other yummy traditional dishes! I was also thrilled to be able to share in baby Natalie's first Hanukah! She was five months old when I first met her and I was amazed at how much
West Coast HanukahWest Coast HanukahWest Coast Hanukah

Flew back west to Claire's home in Toluca Lake just in time to celebrate the first night of Hanukah with her kids and granddaughter.
she'd grown and changed in the two months since I'd seen her...well, you figure it was 1/4 of her life!

It was a quick visit...just a few days but Claire and I found time to take our requisite walk around the Hollywood reservoir. There had been no rain since May, but it rained in LA the day before I arrived so the sky was crystal clear; excellent air quality and we could see all of downtown and beyond to the ocean! An extra special surprise on our walk- a family of deer posed gracefully on a hillside trail just above the walking path! It was nice to have one more visit with my sister and hear about her adventures in Italy while I helped her make a mess of gnocchi in preparation for an Italian evening she was to host the following weekend.

The timing of my flight meant I had to take a taxi to the airport (gulp! sticker shock again!!) The driver was telling about how slick the roads got after that first big rain. I
Natalie's First Hanukah! Natalie's First Hanukah! Natalie's First Hanukah!

Potato Pancake Latkes are fried up to represent the oil that miraculously burned for 8 days to facilitate the rebuilding of the temple in ancient times.
guess when it hasn't rained in a long while the build-up of dust and oil makes the roads become super slick. He told me there were over 300 accidents in the first 36 hrs after the rain, no rain since May!). Even though there's direct flight COPA from LAX to Panama at 8 pm, my cheapie plane ticket had me flying up to San Francisco, 1 1&2 hr connection, and then on to Panama from there. I had got to the airport in plenty of time to check in for the SFO flight on United...and they are much more strict about overweight baggage! Once at the airport I had to shuffle a few things from one bag to another and I even left a few heavier clothing items on the ledge beside the "repacking table". My two big bags squeaked in just under 50 lbs each. Good thing they didn't weigh my was easily 40 lbs!

The flight boarded on time but then we sat on the runway for over a half hour "due to a problem at San Francisco Airport," was all they told us. In this day and
Opening PresentsOpening PresentsOpening Presents

My sister wins the award for most thoughtful gift-giver. Knowing my luggage was already packed to the gills I got things like a light cotton nightgown and other small treats.
age in the USA the mind tends to go to the worst possible situation...dark places. The pilot finally announced that the delay was because of fog in SFO we might have to circle for a while there before landing so we were going to take on more fuel before departing. I was amazed that they fueled the jet with the passengers still on board! After refueling there was a horrible groaning and creaking noise which turned out to be an equipment malfunction-- some flap that didn't close properly. Another delay as we waited for a mechanic to determine if it could be fixed or if they'd need to find another plane for us. By this point I was definitely going to miss my connection so I went up to flight attendant to see if she could contact a gate agent to switch me to the direct flight. YES! There was space for me so I humped my super-heavy carry-ons back up the narrow aisle and over to a customer service counter for reticketing. There were dozens of impatient passengers waiting there and only two agents, one of whom kept disappearing.

Making GnocchiMaking GnocchiMaking Gnocchi

Claire and I spent a fun afternoon preparing homemade gnocchi. I just read the hotter the potatoes the lighter the gnocchi. Good fun learning how.

Finally I got my flight change and was told I could walk between the terminals without having to go through security again. It was at least a half-a-mile through industrial hallways and tunnel-like passageways. Dragging my stubborn rolling carry-on with my too-heavy backpack weighing me down, I was drenched with sweat when I finally arrived at the new gate. Fortunately when I'd re-shuffled stuff between bags I had put a change of clothes in the carry-on and I had just enough time to get out of my damp clothes - it would not have been pleasant to embark on a six-hour flight all sweaty and stinky! Thank heavens for wet wipes too! As expected, my luggage didn't arrive with me so I stayed the night in Quito to see if they might come in morning. No luck. Although COPA and United are supposedly partner airlines, they don't seem to communicate very well with each was 4 days before my bags were delivered to Baños via land transport. Nothing was missing (very lucky!) but a few things were broken (oh well!). At least I was at home and had the things I needed while waiting for my bags!
Public PianosPublic PianosPublic Pianos

I enjoyed seeing these and hearing people play them in public places. A talented homeless man at Union Station in Los Angeles was not permitted to ask for tips but folks were giving him $$ anyways!!

Each time I visit the US there are things that I've never seen before. This visit I was appalled by scooters in every major city. They are parked willy-nilly blocking sidewalks, zoom by at night barely visible, swerving to avoid parked cars abruptly opening their doors, and being abused by teens out for a joyride. No helmets, no protection, sharing the roads with vehicles...a disaster waiting to happed. Wonder how long before they start being banned. Seems like many busy people order everything via Amazon - and since they're not at home to receive boxes which can become prey to "porch pirates" or "porch poachers" they take delivery at a neighborhood Walgreen´s or hire an Amazon locker at the Whole Foods. Even the lower-end Kroger stores offer home shopping services with one-hour delivery! No one needs to leave the house anymore- an agoraphobic's dream!

More things I'd never heard of before: up-lashes, testosterone enhancement treatments, public pianos (but the players are not allowed to ask for tips), walk-in cooler rooms at convenience stores sell beer by the case. More people flying
You Are Safe HereYou Are Safe HereYou Are Safe Here

In my view, this should all go without saying...but it seems that these days it must be explicitly stated.
with service animals have given rise to elegant doggie restrooms at airports. TV ads trying to sell people identity-theft protection - Michelle told me about how her Discover card was skimmed at a gas station and I was shocked to learn that even walking in a crowded place someone could skim credit card information. In many public places like airports, train stations and shopping malls it was disconcerting to see signs that said "See Something Say Something", placards that gave advice about how to recognize Human Trafficking, or billboards showing that women don't have to put up with sexual harrassment, even in laundromats. Shopfront signs proclaiming that all are welcome and safe in this place of inclusivity -- to me, it seems does not need to be publicly announced. In my idealistic world it should go without saying.

Which brings me the hard part of this blog...and probably one of the reasons I delayed so long in writing this post. As many of you know, I have long declared myself a "political ostrich" - just one of the reasons I've chosen to live outside the United States for 25 of the
Seen in New OrleansSeen in New OrleansSeen in New Orleans

Social environment feels tenuous -- fractious. Public notices like this seem to empasize that feeling.
last 35 years. I have always seen myself as a reluctant American. This visit to the US was extremely difficult for me, especially being in Atlanta during the mid-term elections. When some of my friends just couldn't stop talking politics, getting more and more riled up as they went on and on, I just had to say, "If we can't find another topic of conversation, I'm going to have to leave." Visiting friends' homes, TVs blaring political adverts denouncing opponents, bad-mouthing other candidates -- sometimes I just had to step outside until the commercials were over. A few friends challenged me; how could I continue my "ostrich" stance in these times? - accusingly saying that if I wasn't part of the solution I was part of the problem. The whole political atmosphere was so tense and uptight. It almost seemed like some people I met were feeding on the anger and stress around they enjoyed the conflict and turmoil.

And the hardest thing for me to make sense of; not just one, but THREE friends - folks I respect, professionals, people I consider to be intelligent individuals - revealed themselves to be
Airport Dog ReliefAirport Dog ReliefAirport Dog Relief

Love the fake fire hydrant...and the flushing mechanism-- I wonder how that works? I guess with more and more service dogs, airports had to respond.
Trump supporters! It terrified me to realize that all over the country there were people like these who, for whatever reason, couldn't manage to see past that heinous man's ignorance, racism, sexism, egotism. That there are many many Americans who also espouse these narrow, hateful views. Again, I stuck my head in the sand, changed of topic of conversation, exiting the situation. I don't seek conflict. What good could it do to engage challenge these blind-followers' point of view? It was such a relief to return to my home, a more loving, saner way of living. Think what you may about my running away. It's how I choose to live so that I am not eaten alive by stress and anguish.

And on that note, stay tuned for my next blog -- my re-entry to Ecuador after such a long time away has not always been easy...working hard to recover a rhythm and seeking an equilibrium to sustain me for the long term. Thanks for reading - be sure to scroll down to see the last few photos!

Additional photos below
Photos: 39, Displayed: 39


Seen in a Convenience StoreSeen in a Convenience Store
Seen in a Convenience Store

Enter Here -- a huge cool room filled with cases of beer. Or you can just hang out there on a hot summer day.
An Unusual CollectionAn Unusual Collection
An Unusual Collection

Michelle collects hands. I'm always on the lookout for interesting specimens. The mannequin arm is a bit creepy...
The Mighty Angel OakThe Mighty Angel Oak
The Mighty Angel Oak

Breathtaking...we spent over an hour marvelling at its massive beauty!

In Wilson, North Carolina you'll find on display dozens of charming whirly-gigs made by a nearby farmer out of retired road signs and other scrap metal.
Our Thanksgiving HostsOur Thanksgiving Hosts
Our Thanksgiving Hosts

Bob carves the bird as Kate looks on. It was wonderful have the east coast part of the family all together at their beautiful home!
Dessert TableDessert Table
Dessert Table

We took a several hour break between dinner and dessert. It's a good think cuz look at all that PIE!!!
Hanging OutHanging Out
Hanging Out

SO nice to spend relaxed time with Bob and his family. Holden is just finishing college and planning a trip to Europe before starting his professional life.
Historical DecorHistorical Decor
Historical Decor

In Bob's KPMG office. Actually, he doesn't have an office (mostly works from home) but is responsible for dozens of offices nationwide!
Our Beautiful Batch of GnocchiOur Beautiful Batch of Gnocchi
Our Beautiful Batch of Gnocchi

Perfect nuggets of deliciousness await some lucky diners!

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