August 5, 2016

Timeshare Exchange in the Caribbean

By Phyllis Bonfield

Last spring we had a fun and relaxing vacation to the Caribbean island of Antigua in the West Indies.

Antigua in the West Indies*

Antigua in the West Indies*

While we have vacationed on other islands in the Caribbean, we had not visited Antigua. It was a very pleasant experience on many count including the fact we could get direct flights from Newark, NJ.

We didn’t chose Antigua as a destination so much as it choose us. We have a timeshare and used the week we “banked” last year for a “vacation exchange.” This is timeshare talk meaning for a low fee we could use our week to go someplace other than to our timeshare. For the exchange to work, we put our name on a list of Caribbean resorts that might be available. We then waited for the exchange company to call us with an offer from a resort available at the time we wanted to go.

A word about timeshares: if you decide to buy one, it is best to buy it in a place you like to visit regularly. Alternatively, if you like to travel and know when and where you want to go, you can play the exchange game. Research timeshares carefully before you go to the “one-hour” presentation. If all these things don’t line up, think twice before buying. Here’s the catch: once you buy, it is yours forever, there is no getting rid of it.

Fun lunch at Jolly Beach bar

Fun lunch at Jolly Beach bar

We went to Antigua in April when it is less crowded than the middle of winter and easier to do an exchange. The resort was more efficiency apartments than resort, but it was clean and comfortable. By going in April, the water is warmer and in the afternoon, the air and the water are the same temperature — a lovely 80 degrees. We loved splashing in the turquoise blue water and having a mile of beautiful white sand beach. Antigua boosts 365 sand beaches, but we were happy with Jolly Beach on the island’s leeward side with its calm protected water.

The Jolly Harbor area, where we stayed, has several resorts, many privately-owned condos, marinas, a golf course and restaurants ranging from beach shacks and pizza parlors to high end eateries with water views. There is a gourmet grocery with bakery, banks, ATMs, pharmacy, shopping area, art gallery, car and motorbike rental agencies. To get around, we were advised to rent a golf cart – good advice.
Among our activities while visiting was a catamaran trip with about 50 other guests in which we circumnavigated the island. It was an all-day excursion with lunch, snorkeling, swimming and sightseeing to places only the rich and famous live. As with so many places we have visited, the contrast between rich and poor was evident throughout the island whether seeing it by boat or driving in a car.

Bobalicious and my partner

Bobalicious and my partner

To see more of Antigua, we decided to rent a car – no small feat as the island has kept to its “English” roots with driving on the left-hand side of the road. Since 1981 Antigua has been fully independent, but it is still a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as Queen of Antigua. That might account for the number of Canadians who were visiting.
In addition to its many beautiful beaches, Antigua has something else in common with other places we have visited – friendly, helpful people. The first day we were there, we met Bobalicious, a grandmother who sells curios, jewelry and island clothing at her stand on Jolly Beach. She makes beautiful island jewelry using shells and semiprecious stones. She even altered a shirt for my partner and went out of her way to get me some special island souvenirs: a muscle tee shirt with skull and crossbones for my oldest grandson and a frog beach towel for my younger guy.

Archer making palm basket

Archer making palm basket

Another person we met on Jolly Beach was Archer, a talented fellow plying his craft using palm fronds to weave hats and bowls. It was excited to see his handiwork which I first saw long ago on Waikiki Beach while visiting Hawaii. I didn’t meet Archer until the day we were leaving. By then I’d spent my discretionary cash, but he saw my enthusiasm and made me a bowl as I watched. He trusted I’d get him his money. His comment when I did, “I knew you’d be back.”

Nice place to dock your boat

Nice place to dock your boat

We were at the resort for our “exchange week,” but had decided before we went we would stay for a second week in a condo on Jolly Harbor. Of the two, we enjoyed the condo most. We rented the condo from a British Columbian couple who consider Antigua their second home. The condos all have boat docks off the back patios where owners moor their boats which range from sailfish to yachts.

If you enjoy beautiful white sand beaches, gorgeous flora, warm turquoise water and food for every taste with resorts ranging from family-friendly to romantic getaways, add Antigua to your vacation list.

Sunset over Jolly Harbor with island of St. Kitts in distance

Sunset over Jolly Harbor with island of St. Kitts in distance

Oh, and did I mention the glorious sunsets. Adieu or as they say in Antigua, “lay-taa.”

 

 

 

 

*Photos by Marcia Seifert
The Takeaway: Some take vacations to relieve stress or get away from the grind of everyday life. One is fortunate when a vacation is strictly for pleasure, especially when you find yourself in an idyllic place with sun, sea, surf, beautiful vistas and warm, gracious people. Have you been privileged to have such a travel experience? Share it and let’s start a conversation. Please include your name and email address or phone number so I may contact you if I have a question. I will not publish your name. Contact me at [email protected]

July 25, 2016

Exploring Turkey – Part Two

By Phyllis Bonfield

President Erdogan

Since I last wrote about Turkey in an earlier blog, on Friday, July 15, a failed military coup tried to take over the country. It was not well organized and the coup was quickly put down. Elected to office three times, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is popular with his constituents as shown when he went on social media and called for citizens to take to the streets to stop militia involved in the coup. The failed coup, however, has had major repercussions for those considered disloyal to Erdogan.

Since the coup, the government has rounded up thousands of suspected military and judiciary officials including generals and other high-ranking officers. This week, Erdogan cracked down on numerous educators and media outlets, an upsetting turn for people who view these actions as extreme. Some feel Erdogan is taking the coup as an opportunity to purge those viewed as disloyal to the government.Turkey

With all that has happened, Turkey may appear to be just another unstable country in the powder keg area known as the Middle East. At the same time, it is important to note, since 1925 Turkey has had a secular government. While Erdogan’s government has a record of tight controls over the media, Turkey has had strong political parties. Also, Turkey has a thriving middle class blending Eastern and Western cultures just as the Bosphorus blends the European and Asian sides of Istanbul.

As I wrote in my earlier blog on Turkey, we visited the country in May 2011. The Arab Spring had begun in the Middle East in 2010 with positive, social media buzz and high hopes for greater democracy throughout the region.  Al Qaeda’s role had been reduced in Iraq and Afghanistan and we had not yet learned of the terrorist group known as the Islamic State.

When we visited, we had no idea of the tragic events about to explode in that part of the Middle East. Two significant events occurred while we were in Turkey: the U.S. took out Osama bin Laden and civil war in neighboring Syria was heating up.

Iman prayed in our honor*

Iman prayed in our honor*

When we awoke on May 2, 2011, we found out bin Laden had been killed at his Pakistani compound by U.S. Navy Seals. I was concerned about the reaction Turks would have to us as Americans. When I asked our guide, Ersin, about this, he said people feared bin Laden and wanted the terrorist dead. That afternoon, while visiting a small mosque, Ersin introduced us to the Iman who asked if he could recite a prayer of peace in our honor.  As the Iman’s tenor voice soared through the mosque we stood with tears in our eyes.

We took photo with master ceramicist, Galip and our new single-fired piece of colorful tulips.

We took photo with master ceramicist, Galip and our new single-fired piece of colorful tulips.

Less dramatic, was a visit to a ceramic shop in Cappadocia owned by Galip, a master ceramicist. Galip sat at his potter’s wheel with a lump of clay and as we watched, molded it into a delicate tea pot. We then toured his shop and saw how his staff hand painted pottery pieces.  We couldn’t resist. We took home one of Galip’s beautiful art pieces, a single-fired, double-sized tile decorated with multiple small blue tulips and one large red tulip.

Women at looms weaving rugs

Women at looms weaving rugs

Another interesting stop was at a rug factory where we saw young women at looms weaving beautiful rugs. After being trained in the art of rug weaving, these women can go home to continue weaving and selling hand-made rugs. We also toured the rug factory and saw how silk worm cocoons are spun into thread, then dipped into colorful dyes and dried before being used to make colorful rugs.

One of our most fascinating experiences in Turkey was seeing the Whirling Dervishes perform their religious dance honoring God.

The Whirling Dervishes

The Whirling Dervishes

It is performed by men wearing long white skirts and tall colorful hats. First, musicians begin playing slow, somber tones as the Dervishes start whirling slowly in a circle with their arms wide open. As the music grows faster and more enthusiastic, the whirling increases with the men dancing trance-like and turning ever faster with right hands reaching toward the sky and left turned down to the earth.

This ancient ritual dates back to the 13th century when a Persian poet, Rumi, founded the Mevlevi Order of Dervishes. It was practiced continually until 1925 when Turkey’s new Republic banned the order as it worked to secularize the nation.

The ban was partially lifted in 1953 and the Dervishes now are allowed to perform their ritualist dance. We saw the Dervishes perform in Konya at the Saruhan Caravanserai, meaning caravan palaces. Constructed in 1249, the building was a popular stop on the Silk Road and has been restored as the Mevlana Museum.

Our next stop was two-nights in Antalya, a coastal Mediterranean resort town. With time off in this lovely walking city, our group was happy not to have formal tours scheduled. We were all operating on information overload. We’d had full days touring Istanbul, three busy days in Cappadocia and an overnight stay at the home of a conservative Sunni family on our drive to the coast. We were ready to slow down, poke in and out of shops, have lazy lunches and delicious dinners and relax pool side at our hotel.

Sailing on two-masted wooden gulet up the coast

Sailing on two-masted wooden gulet up the coast

While in Turkey, we toured by plane, bus, van, taxi, ship and powerboat. We decided not to take the hot air balloon tour over the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia. Too expensive.

We set sail from the port in Antalya on a beautiful gulet, a two-masted wooden sailing vessel. For three days we sailed up the Mediterranean coast to the Aegean Sea in a beautiful mahogany schooner. The gulet had eight staterooms and the captain’s quarters to house a three-man crew, our group of twelve and Ersin. It meant the crew had to bunk in the galley.

Our first port of call was Dalyan, a coastal town that includes a famous breeding ground, Iztuzu Beach, for the internationally endangered loggerhead sea turtles.  A guide took us by powerboat to the beach and we learned more about what is being done to protect the turtles.

The guide then took us up the River Dalyan to see the Lycian tombs carved in the river’s sheer cliffs.

 Lycian tombs carved in cliffs circa 400 BC

Lycian tombs carved in cliffs circa 400 BC

The weathered façades were cut from rock dating back to 400 BC. The ancient Lycians believed the dead were carried to the afterlife by magical-winged creatures. The Lycians carved tombs in the cliff’s face to place their honored dead in geographically high places and assist them on their journey.

That evening we dropped anchor in clear blue water known as Cleopatra’s Bath Cove containing Roman ruins supposedly used by Cleopatra in an area given to her as a wedding gift by Marc Anthony.

Cleopatra's Bath

Cleopatra’s Bath

I’ve read her bath was warmed with hot water drawn from a nearby crater lake. So with the bay’s interesting background, we couldn’t resist taking a quick swim even though the water was quite cold.

Our gulet sail ended at a resort town, the Port of Kuşadası, on Turkey’s Aegean coast.  From there we took a van for the one hour drive inland to Ephesus, an important port city in days of old, reported to have had a population in the hundreds of thousands.

Massive Amphitheater in Ephesus

Massive Amphitheater in Ephesus

Entering Ephesus, we saw terra cotta pipes of varying sizes carefully stacked on the ground. We learned the pipes were part of the Roman aqueducts used to bring fresh water to the city.  Our first stop in the ancient city was at the amphitheater built in the first century AD.  With a one-time capacity of 25,000, we imagined events and performances staged there so many centuries ago and still used today in a festival held each May.

We walked the ancient cobble stone pathways and marble roadways of this Greco-Roman ruin. We stopped by the two agoras or public squares: one for commerce and the other for official business. Ephesus is one of the world’s best-preserved sites and continues as an active archeological site.

Library of Celsus’ restored façade

Library of Celsus’ restored façade

One of the best known buildings in Ephesus is the Library of Celsus, an ancient Roman building completed in 135 AD honoring a Roman Senator, Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus. Built by Celsus’ son, the library stored 12,000 scrolls and served as Celsus’ mausoleum with his burial in a crypt beneath the library.

An earthquake in 262 AD destroyed the library’s interior with only the library’s outer façade left standing. It, too, was destroyed by an earthquake in the tenth or eleventh century AD. The library remained in ruins until the 1970s when archaeologists re-erected the outer façade shown in photo.

As I conclude this blog, I think back on our trip to Turkey with its well-preserved past dating back 12,000 years in a land formerly known as Asia Minor. It was interesting and awe-inspiring to bear witness to this ancient past. It is unfortunate people no longer feel safe to visit this exciting and enjoyable country. Also, after visiting neighboring Turkey, it makes me both angry and sad to know ISIS has intentionally destroyed so many of ancient Persia’s historical sites, today known as Syria.

*Photos by Phyllis Bonfield

The Takeaway: Our tour of Turkey had everything. We saw beautiful structures that amazed in Istanbul and magical sites in Cappadocia. We experienced man’s kind humanity when an Iman said a prayer of peace in our honor and we had exciting adventures sailing on a gulet. We experienced man’s ingenuity in Ephesus and its highly-developed civilization thousands of years old. What interesting experiences have you had while traveling in foreign lands that may be pertinent to events occurring today? Share and let’s learn from each other. Include your name and email address or phone number so I may contact you if I have a question. I will not publish your name. Contact me at [email protected]

July 11, 2016

Exploring Turkey – Part One

By Phyllis Bonfield

We were sickened to learn of yet another mass terrorist attack – this time at Turkey’s Ataturk Airport in Istanbul. It took us back five years to when we visited Turkey, the land where East met West at the Straits of Bosphorus on the Silk Road.

We were in Turkey in May 2011 when the U.S. took out Osama bin Laden. (More about that experience in my next blog.) It was also the month civil war broke out in neighboring Syria. The Turks, who since 1923 have had a secular parliamentary government, felt the unrest in Syria, under the rule of the Ba’ath Party with the al-Assad regime, would be quickly crushed.

TurkeyThe Arab Spring began in 2010 with joy and social media buzz – the year before we went to Turkey. Shortly after our trip, those early joyous calls for greater democracy in Arab League countries turned to dismay. By 2014, upheaval had led to bloodshed as the Islamic State gained control over territory in Syria and Iraq. Today refugees by the millions flee war-torn countries and the world grapples with forced migration.

When we visited Turkey, this tragic scenario was unforeseen. We spend three days in Istanbul, then traveled to an enchanting area known as Cappadocia before driving south to the beautiful coastal resort town of Antalya. Our trip took us on a two-masted wooden sailing ship called a gulet for three nights.  It was most appropriate for visiting Turkey’s Turquoise Coast, a wedding present to Cleopatra from Mark Anthony. Our final destination was the ancient town of Ephesus on the Aegean Sea.

We went to Turkey on a small group tour organized by Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT). The trip began at the same airport where the recent tragedy occurred. Turkey and was our first experience in a country where Islam is the major religion with the call to prayer ringing out five times a day.

IstanbulWe stayed at a small hotel on the edge Istanbul’ Old City, a walled area basically Constantinople in days of old. While we took buses to major tourist sites, we could have walked to many of them.  One outing was by boat, a cruise on the Bosphorus, the world’s narrowest, natural strait. This busy passage is used for international navigation that divides Istanbul into two sides: one is European and the other Asian. As the continental border between Europe and Asia, the Bosphorus connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara — and by extension via the Dardanelles, to the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean.

A must see is Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar Market, truly grand in scale and a place one could easily get lost, as I did, several times.

The Spice Bazaar Market

The Spice Bazaar Market*

It’s one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world with 61 covered streets and over 4,000 shops.  Personally, I found the Spice Bazaar more to my liking with only 85 shops selling mounds of spices in every color and description, Turkish delights, other sweets, dried fruits and nuts, plus a smattering of jewelry and souvenir shops sprinkled in.

Tulips were in their full radiant bloom

Tulips were in their full radiant bloom

 

A surprise on our arrival was the many gorgeous tulips.  We were told tulips are Turkey’s national flower.

Native to Turkey, tulips were exported to Holland!

Must on any tourists’ itinerary is Istanbul’s big three sites: the Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace, all located in the Old City.

Completed in 537 AD, the Hagia Sofia is a structural marvel with its massive dome. Modern engineers continue to study this dome to learn how it has survived earthquakes and the ravages of time.

Huge Dome of the Hagia Sofia

Huge Dome of the Hagia Sofia

Built as a Greek Orthodox cathedral, the Hagia Sofia was the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople. During the Fourth Crusades in the early 13th century, Constantinople was overran and the Hagia Sofia became a Roman Catholic cathedral. When the Turks conquered the city in 1453, the Hagia Sofia was converted to a mosque which it remained until 1935. The founder of the Republic of Turkey and its first president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, transformed the Hagia Sofia into a museum.

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or Blue Mosque as it is better known, was built in the early 1600’s. The magnificent primarily hand-painted blue tiles adorn the mosque’s interior walls, thus the name Blue Mosque.

Blue Mosque is beautifully lit at night

Blue Mosque is beautifully lit at night

At night the mosque is bathed in lights framing the five main domes, six minarets and eight secondary domes.  When we visited, men were coming in for mid-day prayer. As we watched, they quietly walked to the front of the massive prayer hall, kneeled on the lush red carpet and prayed.

The Topkapi Palace was the home of Ottoman Empire sultans from the 15th century to the 19th century. Overlooking the Bosphorus, the palace is safely cloistered behind high thick walls with watch towers. It is a vast complex with spectacular Islamic art and intricate hand-painted tilework linking courtyards with beautiful decorative rooms.

Topkapi Palace grounds

Topkapi Palace grounds

The palace included the Imperial Council Chamber with adjacent private rooms and special one-way viewing for the sultan’s private use as well as rooms for the sultan’s large harem. It also housed the Imperial Treasury with its dazzling gold objects and many precious jewels.

Upon leaving Istanbul, we flew to Kayseri in central Anatolia and were met by a chartered van for the rest of trip to Turkey’s coast. Our first stop in Cappadocia was Goreme National Park, a World Heritage site, well known for its unique geological landscape. Called fairy chimneys, they are large cone-shaped rocks formed when ancient volcanoes left thick ash which hardened into soft rock. Over time, wind and rain eroded these massive rocks leaving fairy tale vistas of cones, pillars, mushrooms and chimneys.

Ancient cultures living in Cappadocia left their mark as well. Digging into the soft rocks, these ancient people built dwellings, castles, worship areas, storehouses and even stables for animals.  

Cappadocia - a land of fairy chimneys

Cappadocia – a land of fairy chimneys

This large area is now a vast network of tunnels built in honeycombs forming entire towns, some with as many as eight levels going underground.

With erosion once again threatening Cappadocia, preservation efforts were underway when we were there in 2011. The increased tourism meant more modern development including hotels and restaurants built into the rock.

With the current unrest in the Middle East, I fear what has become of the growing tourist trade, the thriving pottery and rug- making cottage industries and the enjoyable people we met while visiting Cappadocia.

In my next blog, I will discuss watching a master potter at work, visiting a rug-making factory, seeing the famous Whirling Dervishes, meeting a sensitive Iman on the day bin Laden was killed, visiting Turkey’s beautiful coastal resort and touring the Turquoise Coast on a lovely wooden boat, a gulet.

*Photos by Marcia Seifert

The Takeaway: Going to Turkey was an amazing adventure from visiting a land of the Islamic faith as it is intended to be, one that preaches peace and kindness, to ancient sites that bear witness to a highly-developed civilization thousands of years old. What interesting adventures have you had while traveling to a foreign land? Share and let’s learn from each other. Include your name and email address or phone number so I may contact you if I have a question. I will not publish your name. Contact me at [email protected]

June 27, 2016

An African Safari Part Three: Meet the People

By Phyllis Bonfield

Shortly after we came back from a safari in Africa, a wise person told me, “You go for the animals, you go back for the people.” In 2010, we went to Tanzania on a 10-day safari and it was our first time on the African continent. Prior to our trip, we knew little about the country.


We learned Tanzania has more than 120 different tribes, each with its own customs, language and religion. In the late 1700s, the Zanzibar archipelago, off Tanzania’s eastern coast, came under the control of the
Sultanate of Oman Africa2and brought with them their Islamic beliefs. Europeans colonized the mainland in the late 1800s and brought Christianity with them. Today, Tanzania’s population is one third tribal, one third Christian and one third Muslim. Tanzania and the archipelago of Zanzibar gained full independence in the mid-1990s. Tanzanian leaders are proud their country earned its independence peacefully, unlike so many other countries in Africa.

With a Gross Domestic Product below $2000 per capita, however, Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in Africa. Nearly half the country’s GDP is based on agriculture and industry with tourism contributing another ten percent.

Life in Tanzania is difficult and physically challenging. Most homes, especially rural, do not have running water or electricity. The land is subject to drought or conversely, epic flooding. At a young age, children start helping with chores such as walking long distances to collect water in large buckets.

Shanga's motto

Shanga’s motto

In a previous blog, I discussed the amazing people with disabilities who reside at Shanga, a community near Arusha built on a coffee plantation.  With life so difficult in Tanzania, it helps explain why people who are unable to carry their share have been set aside in Tanzanian society. With high infant mortality rates, babies traditionally are not even given a name until they are three months of age. Fortunately, there is a place like Shanga for people with disabilities to live and contribute to the best of their ability.

During our visit to Tanzania, we found people were kind, caring and accepting of others. Of our three guides, one was Christian, one Muslim and the other tribal.  They worked together cooperatively and treated us, the tourists in their charge, with kindness and good humor, even though some of us were a bit trying at times.

People outside Tanzania know little about the 120 different tribes who live in this African country. Only the Maasai tribe – small in number by tribal standards – stand out.

Maasai women show visitor how mud hut is repaired using elephant dung and water.

Maasai women show visitor how mud hut is repaired using elephant dung and water.

The Maasai continue with their semi-nomadic lifestyle, distinctive customs and brightly-colored dress. The Maasai men are able to freely cross the border between Tanzania and Kenya as they take their cattle and goats to find better grazing grounds.

Today, many Maasai live in more permanent villages as shown in the photo taken at a Maasai village. The women, many married to the same man, especially the tribal chief, are responsible for child care and cooking as well as building and maintaining mud-walled, thatch-roofed huts. Young men and boys take care of the cattle and goat herds, which are most highly valued by the tribe.  

In the past, Maasai people subsisted on only what the herd provided. Today many Maasai raise crops, also the responsibility of the women. While most of the Maasai’s culture and customs continue, the killing of a lion as a rite of passage for young men has been outlawed by the governments of both Tanzania and Kenya.

Children learn how to draw and paint at village art school.

Children learn how to draw and paint at village art school.

Another interesting experience we had was in a small village we visited near the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. We stopped by a small outdoor art school run by a 36-year-old bachelor. In addition to teaching children how to draw and paint, he provided the children with lunch. The village children have a safe place to go during the day and it helps them learn a trade that helps their families.

Village art school painting

Village art school painting

 

 

The school is on the teacher’s property. In fact, he prefers to sleep in the old thatch-roofed hut where he was born, rather than the brick house he built for his mother.

Justin Basso is an elementary school principal in Tanzania

Justin Basso is an elementary school principal in Tanzania

Another remarkable man we met is Justin Basso, an elementary school principal who is a kind, but strict taskmaster.  His school has no electricity or running water, only a water well. The children arrive at school at 7:30 a.m. Their first job is to clean the school’s classrooms and then take care of the school’s garden.

Elementary school’s garden is beautifully cared for by the students.

Elementary school’s garden is beautifully cared for by the students.

 

 

With Mr. Basso’s oversight, the children built and tend the garden with its rock-edged paths.  The children sell the garden’s produce at a local market. This money helps buy school supplies as well as teaching the children important math and life skills.

 

 

*Safari Photos by Marcia Seifert

The Takeaway: Going to Tanzania on an African safari was a life changing experience, especially for the people we met while we were there. How have people you met on your travels, affected your life?  Share and let’s learn from each other. Include your name and email address or phone number so I may contact you if I have a question. I will not publish your name. Contact me at [email protected]

June 24, 2016

African Safari Part 2: Visiting the Serengeti

By Phyllis Bonfield

My partner and I went on an African safari in Tanzania in 2010.  We started out in the northern part of the country in the city of Arusha, considered the gateway to safari territory. It is strategically located near Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti, a world heritage site that was recently proclaimed a seventh wonder of the world.

The Great Migration*

The Great Migration*

The Serengeti, which means endless plain, is famous for its annual migration of millions of wildebeests and hundreds of thousands of zebras and Thomson’s gazelles. Referred to as The Great Migration, these animals go north leaving Tanzania for the Kenyan border and an area known as the Maasai Mara. Dictated by rainfall and food sources, the animals migrate north in the summer and return to Tanzania in the fall in time for wildebeests’ calving season in February.

The African Baobab trees are alive and used by animals for food and water.

The African Baobab trees are alive and used by animals for food and water.

While the animals were not migrating during our visit, game viewing in the Serengeti was none the less spectacular. We saw herds of buffalo as well as elephants, giraffes and the many different African antelopes including eland, topi, kongoni, impala and Grant’s gazelle. In addition to mammals, the Serengeti is famous for its reptiles, birds and plant life.

Gold-maned African lion*

Gold-maned African lion*

Before leaving Arusha to visit four national parks,our guides cautioned us we were entering the animals’ territory. All animals are wild. Being careful means never getting out of the vehicle on game drives. The tops of the vehicles, however, were open for better viewing during the drives.

One may be inclined to think of lions when considering the most vicious animals, but on safaris, guides know it’s elephants that are the most dangerous.  A gun is attached to the back of vehicles in case an elephant goes rogue. Thus, when an elephant walks in front of a vehicle, it’s the vehicle that stops and waits for the elephant to pass. And about those lions, the ones we saw were more interested in their morning nap.  We drove within 50 feet of male lions without our guides being concerned or the lions showing any interest.

Animals peacefully co-exist as they graze

Animals peacefully co-exist as they graze

When we visited Tarangire National Park on our first day out, we saw elephants, giraffes, zebras, wildebeest and antelope grazing — some side by each. My initial impression was one of amazement. Seeing these animals peacefully grazing was one of the most civilized scenes I have ever witnessed. This same scene was duplicated time and again throughout our safari.

Our guide told us only hyenas kill for pleasure. Other animals — with the exception of humans – kill only when hungry or seeking food for their young.  Most kills take place at night.  We did not see or hear a kill which was fine with me. While staying at the Serengeti tent camp, our drives started early in the morning – the best time to see animals. After the drive, we returned for a delicious brunch and a few hours rest before heading out for a late afternoon drive.

3 Cougars created a safari mob scene

3 Cougars created a safari mob scene

While on game drives, when an unusual animal was spotted the guides from various tours contacted one another. Then many vehicles converged on the same area. This happened when we spotted three cougars. It’s unusual to see one cougar let alone three.  Another time we spotted a bat-eared fox and our guide got excited. He said it is one of the few times he’s ever seen one.

Zebra herd splashing at water hole

Zebra herd splashing at water hole

Several safari experiences were especially significant. One was at a watering hole when zebra stallions used barking and yipping sounds to organize a large herd of zebras. With their loud barking sounds, these stallions limited the number of zebras going to and from the water.  As we were watching the zebras, a herd of wildebeests came into view slowly walking in a long line toward the same watering hole.  Several stallions galloped toward the wildebeests and stopped them until their herd had finished drinking and enjoying their time in the water.

Come along baby, time to join the family

Come along baby, time to join the family

An especially endearing scene was when a large mother elephant tried to get her very young baby elephant to leave a small stream.  The baby elephant had not yet learned to drink with its trunk and kept trying to drink with its mouth. About this time, two young elephants started to leave the stream and join the big bull elephant male who had already moved away.

Using her trunk and large front legs, the mother tried to gently nudge her baby out of the stream. One of the young elephants–we named the big sister–went back to help, but it still took another ten minutes to convince the baby to leave. We all quietly cheered as the baby walked safely out of the water under its mother’s belly.

"Look!" - There's a cougar!

“Look!” – There’s a cougar!

The third incident occurred at the end of a drive as we were heading back to camp.  “Stop,” a fellow traveler stage whispered, “there is a leopard in the tree over there.” And indeed, there was — a rare sighting.  About a fourth of a mile away, the leopard was lying on a large branch high up in a tree.  As we watched, the leopard casually lifted its head, yawned and changed position.  Not much for the leopard, but it was heart stopping for us.

Before I close my series on our African safari, I will share our impression of the interesting and diverse people we met, saw and heard about on our trip. Of our three guides, one was Christian, one Muslim and the other tribal, representing Tanzania’s three major religions. While English and Swahili are Tanzania’s two recognized languages, it is home to 120 different tribes and each has its own language and customs. In my concluding blog on our safari, I will discuss the people we met on our trip to Tanzania.

Goodnight Serengeti...sleep well

 Goodnight Serengeti…sleep well

*Safari Photos by Marcia Seifert

The Takeaway: Going to Tanzania on an African safari was a life changing experience for many reasons.  I had the opportunity to see animals, large and small, in the wild as they grazed, splashed, ambled, lazed, slept and watched us as we watched them. It was one of the most exciting and awe-inspiring experiences I have ever had. What travel experiences stand out in your life?  Share and let’s learn from each other. Include your name and email address or phone number so I may contact you if I have a question. I will not publish your name. Contact me at [email protected]

June 8, 2016

Our African Safari: Part One

By Phyllis Bonfield

When my grandson was visiting on a recent weekend, we took him to see The Jungle Book movie. He loved it and so did we. As the film opened…antelopes, gazelles, wildebeests, giraffes, monkeys, wolves, hyenas, jackals, rhinos, elephant, ostriches and other animals were running as if their lives depended on it.

The Jungle Book, set in India, has a tiger as a major character. I read recently Rudyard Kipling’s book has shined a light on the plight of tigers in the wild. It’s widely known tigers are prized by poachers, as are the ivory tusks of elephants and rhinos – now legally banned. JungleBook

Seeing those magnificent animals in the movie transported me back to 2010 when my partner and I went on an African safari. Tigers are not found in Africa, but the other animals in the film are there. We went to Tanzania on Africa’s eastern coast on a small group tour with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT). Our group of 15 tourists had three guides, each with his own specialty ranging from birds to large animals to vegetation.

My appreciation for all these animals increased exponentially after the safari. Now it is difficult for me to see animals in a zoo even though many of today’s zoos are all about conservation, education and research. Still, I have no interest in going to a zoo after seeing animals roaming free in the wild.

Canal Boat in Amsterdam: Hop on & off

Canal Boat in Amsterdam: Hop on & off

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. The trip from Philadelphia to Africa is a long one as you can imagine. We wisely decided to take an optional overnight in Amsterdam — a good way to break up a long plane ride.

We arrived in Amsterdam, checked into an airport hotel, had breakfast and took a train into central city. We bought canal ride tickets, got on a canal boat and toured Amsterdam the easiest way to take in the city — from the water. Afterward, we visited the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum before enjoying an early dinner and taking the train back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.

Touring Amsterdam by boat

Touring Amsterdam by boat

We arrived the next day at Kilimanjaro International Airport in Tanzania and were met by our head tour guide. We spent our first two nights in Arusha, the capital of northern Tanzania widely known as the gateway for safaris. The first day, as we were getting over jet lag, we visited an amazing place near Arusha called Shanga, a residential home for people with disabilities, located on 10 acres within a coffee plantation.

Shanga's Motto

Shanga’s Motto

Some years ago, the plantation owner’s daughter started Shanga when she saw area people with disabilities didn’t have a proper place in Africa’s social/work structure. Some people at Shanga are blind, others deaf and still others are physically disabled. Residential dormitories were built and braille and sign language classes were started with all residents and teachers participating.

Cottage industries were began at Shanga including small bead work to make such gift items as coasters and holiday ornaments. There is a sewing area with sewing machines to make clothing and necklaces.

Shanga resident fires glass beads

Shanga resident fires glass beads

The necklaces consist of glass beads made from old wine bottles that are broken down and melted then fired into beads by residents. The beads are feed into colorful cloth sleeves and tied to accentuate the beaded areas. All these gift items are sold in Shanga’s gift shop and there is also a restaurant on the premises. Arusha-area residents and tourists contribute to Shanga’s operating costs. While it is not self-supporting, its residents are fully functioning within their ability in a beautiful, accepting community.

Shanga residents call her Grandma, a Maasai woman who is deaf.

Shanga residents call her Grandma, a Maasai woman who is deaf.

Our hotel in Arusha as well as the other places we stayed were beautiful, comfortable and served delicious meals. Our favorite lodge was the three-night stay at the Ngorongoro Farm House, a former coffee plantation.

It has lovely, individual garden cottages with shared roofs surrounded by beautiful flora. Not exactly what one would expect when on safari. Even our three nights in the Serengeti tent camp were comfortable.

Beautiful Dining Lodge at Ngorongoro Farm House

Beautiful Dining Lodge at Ngorongoro Farm House

The Farm Houses’ grounds are beautiful and include a swimming pool, organic vegetable garden, large variety of banana plants and exotic flowers. The Lodge is located just outside the Ngorongoro Conservation Area which includes a deep, volcanic crater that is the largest unflooded and unbroken caldera in the world.

The 25,000 large animals living within the crater area do not migrate as they have all the water and food needed to survive. It was here we got excited when we saw our first lions and black rhinos.

tentOur “tent camp” was in a designated Serengeti camping area used by OAT during their five-month “safari season.” Our tent was large and well-equipped for two people. It included a table, two chairs and cots that were more like real beds than cots.

Eric with warm water for shower

Eric with warm water for shower

The tent had an overhead solar-powered light, flush toilet and a warm-water shower. The shower was compliments of Eric, the friendly “shower boy,” who carefully tended a giant outdoor boiler. At the designated hour, Eric called out to us as he filled our tent’s 5-gallon bucket placed outside so it emptied into our shower inside the tent.

5-minute shower

5-minute shower

We had delicious meals with fresh vegetables delivered daily.

Chef bakes with outdoor oven

Chef bakes with outdoor oven

The camp’s superb chef cooked our meals in an improvised outdoor kitchen. While bread and other items were baked in “ovens” using firewood gathered by camp helpers, the kitchen kept food fresh in refrigeration cooled by large generators. The dining tent included a long colorful, clothed table with cloth napkins.

In my next blog, I will discuss the animals we saw in four of Tanzania’s national parks including the Serengeti.

*Safari photos by Marcia Seifert

The Takeaway: Travel can be a life changing experiences. I did not know what to expect before I went on a safari, but this trip stands out as one of the most exciting and awe-inspiring experiences I ever had. What travel experiences stand out in your mind? Share with us and let’s start a discussion. Please include your name and email address or phone number so I may contact you for clarification if I have a question. I will not publish your name. Contact me at [email protected]

May 31, 2016

Memories of Mim

By Phyllis Bonfield

Are there people in your life who make you feel good just to be around them? A person who lights up a room just by walking in. A person you admire because he or she is able to take whatever comes their way in stride.

I am fortunate to have had such a person in my life.  Her name is Mim. I had planned to write about my current topic, travel, but Mim kept coming into my thoughts. Join me as I take a detour from travel experiences.

Mim symbolized joie de vie. She had a way of attracting people with her warm smile and quick wit. But she wasn’t a Pollyanna. Her life was not easy as I found out when I got to know her better.

Marilyn was her given name, but friends in Texas called her Mim. She would laugh and say “My name has two syllables to you Texans – Mee  um

Great Depression hit in 1929

Great Depression hit in 1929

Born in Philadelphia in the 1920s, when the Great Depression struck in 1929 Mim’s family fortunes took a downward turn.  Her father lost his jewelry business to the Depression and committed suicide. Mim, her mother and sister had to go live with her grandmother. Whenever Mim spoke of her childhood she would say, “I was fortunate to be raised by strong women.” And she meant it.

When Mim graduated from high school, she went straight to work. I had the feeling her greatest regret was not going to college. She loved art, music, theater, was an avid reader and took an interest in world affairs. In her twenties, Mim married a talented, charismatic man and they had two daughters. In the 1950s, she and her family moved to San Antonio where her husband became manager of the local Bernhard Altmann factory, a famous maker of cashmere coats and sweaters.

The Alamo in San Antonio

The Alamo in San Antonio

I was a teenager in Texas when I met Mim and one experience stands out. She was at the house and I walked in the kitchen with a new black velvet scoop-neck dress. Mom said the dress was “too old” for me, but Mim piped up, “Bea, don’t be silly, Phyllis looks beautiful in it.”  Mom gave in and I felt terrific every time I wore that dress!

Philadelphia's Liberty Bell

Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell

Now fast forward to July of 1976. I had married in the mid-60s, and in ‘76 we moved to Philadelphia from Alabama. We had two young sons and I was pregnant with my daughter. While Mim had returned to Philadelphia in the 1960s, she and my mother kept in touch.

After we moved, Mim came over to the house while my parents were visiting. Her visit kindled a friendship I cherish. We didn’t have family close to us in the Northeast and Mim became my children’s “Philadelphia grandmother.” As I learned more about her life, my respect and admiration for her grew.

Mim and her husband declared bankruptcy after they moved back to the East Coast and in the 1970s financial difficulties led to divorce. She was grateful to her sister for providing her family a place to live. Mim worked a variety of administrative and sales jobs and didn’t let hard luck dent her bubbly personality or her joy of life. She would always say she was blessed with wonderful friends.

shadowMim would babysit with my children who adored her. She always acted like we were doing her a favor. She would walk in with funny kid gifts and get down on the floor to play Yahtzee and other games with the children. She was part of our family at family events including our daughter’s naming ceremony, the children’s bar and bat mitzvahs and my oldest son’s wedding.

Twenty years ago when my husband and I divorced, I complained to Mim that my ex took the china because I wanted the silver flatware, a present from my grandparents. “Don’t worry about it,” Mim wisely advised, “Go to IKEA and get a new set of dishes.” She was right.

Ceramic ware from Umbria

Ceramic ware from Umbria

Life can have a way of changing one’s outlook. In the early 2000’s, my partner and I were in Italy after we bought our house on the Chesapeake Bay. While in Umbria, we bought colorful ceramic dinnerware. It is fun and fits our casual lifestyle. By the way, the silver flatware that was so important to me is now with my daughter and it is seldom, if ever, used.

In January 2015, my daughter gave birth to a baby boy. I called Mim to share the happy news and was upset to learn she died at the end of December. She had been living at an independent housing community in Philadelphia. It hurts that I didn’t get to tell Mim goodbye. I think she knew how much my family and I cared for and admired her, but I wish I had told her.

The Takeaway: Have you had a special person who has enriched your life? Share your experience and let’s start a conversation. Please include your name, email or phone number. I may need to contact you for clarification or with a question. I won’t publish your name. Contact me at [email protected].

May 19, 2016

The Joy of Gardening with a Bonus

By Phyllis Bonfield

My most recent topic has been travel, but with today’s blog I am taking a detour.  I have several areas of special interest and one of them is a lifelong love of gardening learned at my mother’s side while I was growing up.

happy-gardner

Happy Gardener

In January, I heard of a volunteer project in my area involving a garden nursery suffering from much deferred maintenance. The owners, an elderly couple, had been in business for fifty years. The husband was bedridden and his wife spent most of her time taking care of him. Money was in short supply. They needed help to get the nursery ready for the 2016 season.

The idea of helping at a nursery was appealing to me and it was the middle of winter. Along with other volunteers, we decided to see how much could be accomplished by the end of March.  On the appointed day, I packed up my garden gloves and tools and headed out.

Fortunately, we had a warmish winter because our first activities were outside and had nothing to do with growing plants.  Invasive vines and sumacs were growing in and outside the four greenhouses and had to be cut down and/or dug up. The greenhouses’ frames were covered with heavy-gauge plastic in need mending. And, the watering and heating systems in three greenhouses needed repair and/or replacement.

potting-soil

Potting soil is ready for planting little “plugs” and other young plants

Rusting and broken equipment littered the nursery’s two acres. Brambles, sumacs and invasive black walnut trees were growing in the nursery’s summer garden. A glasshouse, formerly a floral gift shop, was filled with debris and had missing glass panes. To become a welcoming tea house, it had to be thoroughly cleaned and glass replaced.

In February, the husband died and his wife used working in the greenhouse to help ease the pain of her loss. Soon, I started working in the greenhouse with her and got my hands in the warm potting soil, plus learning more about how to tend young plants.

Little plants grow strong in the heat-controlled greenhouse

Little plants grow strong in the heat-controlled greenhouse

Many plants, especially the vegetables, are grown in a greenhouse from seed. Other plants are supplied by commercial growers. The growers send their nursery clients plastic flats filled with thimble-sized plants called plugs. Before planting, flats are put in a shallow “water bath” to loosen the plug’s roots. Then they are carefully removed and transplanted in plastic pots to grow for sale in the spring. One’s maternal instincts kick caring for these little plants and watching them grow.

Along with several other volunteers, I am continuing to help at the nursery. I enjoy watching the plants grow stronger as more leaves appear and the blooms appear.  I get to put beautiful plants in hanging baskets and other planters. When the flowers, herbs and vegetables are ready for sale, I help take them out to an outdoor greenhouse that is partially covered. I enjoy talking to customers and giving suggestions as they select plants for their own garden.

The Takeaway: Digging in dirt, especially soft, warm potting soil in the waning days of winter felt like a little bit of heaven. Helping the nursery’s owner at a critical time in her life has reinforced for me the value of volunteering one’s time and talent.  My bonus is learning more about plants from an expert and doing something I love.

What have you done, especially if it involves volunteering, that has been especially meaningful for you? Share and let’s start a conversation. Please include your name and email address or phone number so I may contact you for clarification or if I have a question. I will not publish your name. Contact me at [email protected]

May 2, 2016

A Special Vacation

By Phyllis Bonfield

Travel has always been an important part of my life. While growing up, family vacations included road trips throughout the United States and parts of Canada. As an adult, I expanded my horizons traveling for work. While I saw my share of airport and convention hotels, when time permitted, I visited special places such as Washington State’s San Juan Island and California’s Napa Valley.

These experiences helped whet my appetite for further travel, especially when work took me to the British Isles. I was in Scotland for a week with several days in Edinburgh and then three days in London. It was my first time in Europe and I knew it would not be my last.

In addition to travel, I have always been drawn to the visual arts. I have a special soft spot for the Impressionists. Over the years, when traveling, I visited many art museums and galleries. For years, my dream vacation was to visit Provence, combining my love of travel and art. That dream became a reality in the 1990s with my first trip to the Continent.

rodin

Rodin’s Burghers of Calais

We flew to Paris and stayed at a small hotel with a lovely patisserie next door. We did the usual sightseeing: a barge trip on the River Seine, went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, visited Notre Nome and enjoyed delicious crepes on tiny Isle Saint-Louis. Special highlights included visiting Musée Rodin and seeing his magnificent indoor and outdoor sculptures plus going to the Musée d’Orsay with its exquisite Impressionist collection.

Monet painted the bridge over his lily pond in 1899

Monet painted the bridge over his lily pond in 1899

We took the train to Claude Monet’s home, Giverny. I got goosebumps as we walked the grounds where the artist painted and gardened for nearly forty years. His house and gardens have been restored to their original beauty complete with Monet’s famous water lily ponds and rowboat.

Flassan in Provence

Flassan in Provence

Next, we boarded France’s high-speed train, the TGV, at Paris’ Gare de Lyon station and were off to Provence. We arrived in Avignon, rented a car and drove to the small village of Flassan in the shadow of Mt. Ventoux, of Tour de France fame. We stayed at an apartment we found online complete with small wood-burning fireplace to take the chill off in the evening and an outdoor patio for sunny morning breakfasts. Our hostess told us the building had once housed livestock before being transformed into an apartment.

Flassan’s only grocery, not much more than a produce stand, is open three mornings a week and the post office is open two days. If we needed to make a call, there was a phone booth near the village fountain. Those were the days before cell phones. Many villages we passed through had markets to pick up fresh veggies, meat, chicken, eggs, bread and cheese so groceries were not an issue.

Sunday Market in L'Isle sur la Sorgue

Sunday Market in L’Isle sur la Sorgue

While traveling in Europe, I enjoy stopping at village markets. It’s a time to visit with locals and learn more about the area. Our first day, we drove to L’Isle sur la Sorgue, formerly a fishing village, but now famous for its antique shops and Sunday antique market. Fortunately for us, it was Sunday. We nearly blew our whole “gift budget” that day and still smile when we pull out our colorful Provence tablecloth.

Provence Sunset

Provence Sunset

It is easy to see why artists are drawn to Provence. The color — morning, noon and evening — is spectacular. It’s a wonder in the mountain village of Roussillon, famous for its red cliffs and ochre quarries. And the hilltop villages like Gordes with its stone houses and terracotta roofs. Then there’s the turquoise blue of the Mediterranean at Cassis, a coastal village carved out of steep white limestone cliffs. Most memorable is Provence’s sunsets. The sky blazes with wide swaths of purple, blue, salmon, orange and gold.

The Takeaway: Travel provides me with many special experiences. What experiences have you had that have enriched your life? Share with us and let’s start a conversation. Please include your name and email address or phone number so I may contact you for clarification or if I have a question. I will not publish your name. Contact me at [email protected]

April 4, 2016

Travel Makes Lasting Memories

By Phyllis Bonfield

Trip planner provided by oil companies

Trip planner provided by oil companies

Vacations are a wonderful way to make lifelong memories and more.  As a child our family took summer vacations throughout the U.S. I remember geography and history lessons in grade school as boring. What was not boring was actually visiting historic places.

Our first driving vacation to the East Coast was to Washington D.C. My folks mapped out our trips using something called Triptiks. They were given out by the various oil companies – ours from Mobil Oil. Think AAA, but free. While helpful, it didn’t ensure we stayed of the designated route.
gatlinburgOne day while driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we took a wrong turn. My folks didn’t know it until we ended up in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. That was long before it was “discovered” and a tourist trap. What a fun stop.

Our destination that day was Williamsburg, Virginia. That wrong turn meant we arrived too late to get the room my family had reserved at the Williamsburg Inn. Instead, the Inn put us up in one of Williamsburg’s original houses, “the Quarter House,” owned by the hotel.

The Quarter House, Williamsburg, Va.

The Quarter House, Williamsburg, Va.

I have vivid memories of carefully winding my way up the narrow staircase to the third floor bedroom. My brother and I slept on narrow twin beds with the eaves barely allowing us to sit up without hitting our heads on the ceiling. Staying there is one of my favorite childhood memories.

Back in the 1950s, you didn’t pay an admission fee to visit “Colonial Williamsburg” — as if it is an extension of Disney World or Williamsburg’s own Busch Gardens. Tourists parked on the main street and walked around mingling and visiting with re-actors in period costume. For an eight-year-old, it was easy to imagine living there in the 1700s.

1950s -- The Mayflower Hotel, Washington, DC

1950s — The Mayflower Hotel, Washington, DC

I remember Washington D.C. as interesting, but really as an historic blur. I probably expected too much because my parents were so excited. We took the Capitol tour, visited the National Archives Building to see the original Declaration of Independence, plus spent time at the Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington monuments. What I remember best was our stay at the Mayflower Hotel. I thought it was the prettiest place I’d ever seen.

My funniest memory of our visit was the many circles in the middle D.C’.s streets. Dad got so frustrated as he tried to figure out where we were supposed to go. My favorite place in Washington was the Natural History Museum. It is probably why I was excited to take my own children there when we moved in the East Coast in the 1970s. I hope they weren’t disappointed!

It is special to see, feel and learn about a place when visiting that makes a lasting impression, especially for a child.

Some vacations are strictly for the pleasure of being there. That is why I will be away for the next few weeks. My blog will return when I get back from vacation.

The Takeaway: Life is full of vivid memories, some good and some we’d rather forget. What memories do you have from childhood – especially ones from travel experiences – to share with us? Let’s remember together. Please include your name and email address or phone number so I may contact you for clarification or if I have a question. I will not publish your name. Contact me at [email protected]

March 25, 2016

Travel Makes Happy Memories

By Phyllis Bonfield

Vacations are a wonderful way to make lifelong memories. When I was a child our family took summer vacations visiting states throughout our country. I am awed I think how our forefathers headed west in covered wagons. Three-thousand miles is just a number until you consider it is nearly that far from New York City to San Francisco.

1948 Buick Sedan

1948 Buick Sedan

It took my family days to drive from San Antonio where I grew up to such destinations as Colorado, New Nevada or California. The first vacation I went on, one I barely remember, was to Colorado. I was six at the time. We packed up the Buick and off we went: the goal was to drive up Pike’s Peak — which we did. It was the first time I saw snow. I don’t remember if that was so or just something my folks talked about after the trip. I think it might have been the first time they saw snow too.

While we were in Colorado, we stopped overnight in Golden to visit friends of my parents. This I do remember – as if it were yesterday. I was outdoors with their son – who was my age – when suddenly he whispered, “STOP! Stand Still!”

Pike's Peak - America's Mountain

Pike’s Peak – America’s Mountain

I followed his eyes to the ground. There, coiled up, was a rattlesnake with its rattle rattling. After what seemed like hours, the snake uncoiled and slivered off.

We probably scared the snake as much as it scared me. My friend was unfazed. I don’t remember Pike’s Peak, but I remember standing there in my jeans and boots with a rattlesnake coiled at our feet.

On another vacation, I remember visiting Yosemite National Park where we saw the beautiful fire fall. It no longer takes place, but in the evening in the 1950s, a giant fireball was dropped down the side of Glazier Point.

Firefall in Yosemite National Park

Firefall in Yosemite National Park

The fireball drop began in mid-1800s and continued until it was stopped by the National Park Service in 1968. In the summer, as the sun set, the employees of the Glazier Point Hotel would build a huge fire atop Glacier Point. As the fire burned down to embers, someone yelled, “Let the fire fall!” Originally, that someone was the hotel’s owner. With long rakes, the hotel employees would push glowing coals over the 3,200-foot cliff.

I don’t remember anyone singing The Indian Love Song or someone yelling, “let the fire fall,” all part of the show, or so I have since read. But I vividly remember seeing that magnificent fireball heading down the mountain.

The Takeaway: Life is full of vivid memories, some good and some we’d rather forget. What memories do you have from childhood – especially ones from travel experiences – to share with us? Let’s remember together. Please include your name and email address or phone number so I may contact you for clarification or if I have a question. I will not publish your name. Contact me at [email protected]

March 18, 2016

The Love of Travel

By Phyllis Bonfield

My love of travel began at an early age. In the summer, my family took driving vacations, or road trips, of two to three weeks. We visited states from the East to West Coasts and the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes. It was the boom days after World War II. Gas rationing was lifted and new cars began rolling off the assembly line. I expect my parents had pent up travel bug.

As an adult, my travel adventures have expanded to other Continents, but I am getting ahead of myself. In this next segment of Retirement is a Journey, I will blog about travel and how it has expanded my horizons and enriched my retirement. First, I will begin with how travel got in my DNA.

While I was growing up, it was in the summer months I learned about our country, both geographically and historically. While I didn’t think of it that way, travel was my best social and history lessons. Seeing where Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address had its impact. It probably means I’m an experiential learner.

mapIt was the early 1950s, before Interstate highways crisscrossed the country and gave all major roadways the look of “sameness.” There were no McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts or Holiday Inns. It was the heyday of Route 66s and California’s beautiful Pacific Coast Highway 101.

Each stop was an adventure. We were easily identified as tourists with our Texas twang. Ordering a hamburger for lunch was an experience. We’d ask for lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions, mustard and mayonnaise on the burger. The waitresses, always a girl or woman in those days, would stop what they were doing and watch us “put salad on our burgers.” We found out burgers in most places consisted of a thin meat pattie, ketchup, onion and pickles.

signIf we hadn’t reached a specific destination, we would drive until late afternoon. Around 5 p.m., we’d start looking for a motor inn, usually located on the highway. Back then, motor inns were not called motels. Most inns were one story buildings built in an L or wide U shape with parking in front of the rooms.

My brother and I would ask to stay where there was a swimming pool – easy to identify as we were driving. Pools were on grassy areas in the middle of the motor inn.

Mom always asked Dad to check the room to make sure it was clean. Once the room passed muster, we would unpack and change into bathing suits for a swim. Motor inns did not have restaurants in those days, so after a swim, we would dress and look for a restaurant that looked nice, but not too nice!

After dinner, it was time for bed…no television in those days. Plus, after a full day of driving with stops for whatever there was to see along the way, we were tired. And, my parents wanted to get an early start the next morning.

desertIn the 1950s, cars were not air-conditioned. When we vacationed in California or other states in the West, we would drive over 500 miles the first day. We’d stay overnight in Las Cruz, New Mexico, just over the Texas border from El Paso.

I have groggy memories of being awoken the next morning while it was dark outside. We wanted to drive across the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona before it got too hot. My parents feared our car would overheat. Others must have had similar fears as we often saw cars with water bags hanging from the hood ornaments.

wolfWhile driving was not as safe as it is today, those were more innocent days. Driving in the 1950s was a very freeing experience. No seat belts or safety carseats for kids, let alone laws requiring them.

There were no video games, iPods or other portable devices to amuse the kids. We had something called car games. These games were a group effort with the likes of I Spy, 20 Questions and license plate games. Remember those funny little red and white Burma shave signs that dotted the roadways.

In the 50s, for better or worse, many states allowed youngsters to get a driver’s license as a young teenager. In Texas, I got my license at age 14 — after taking a safe driving course and passing a written and driving test.

I was legal to drive, but not yet five feet tall. My parents had an Oldsmobile 98 and I could barely see over the stirring wheel. That year we vacationed in Florida. My parents gave me a turn at driving on the highway when a Florida state trooper started following us. He finally pulled me over. He couldn’t believe I was old enough to drive legally. I probably should not have been, but, those were more innocent days.

The Takeaway: What lesson or remembrances do you have from childhood – good, bad or indifferent? Share it and let’s start a conversation. Please include your name, email or phone number. I may need to contact you for clarification or with a question. I won’t publish your name. Contact me at [email protected].

March 9, 2016

Taking Chesapeake to New Home

By Phyllis Bonfield

Bayside yard at the Chesapeake

Bayside yard at the Chesapeake

Our home at the Chesapeake was situated on a hill that contributed to issues with stormwater runoff and cliff erosion. Once we settled fulltime at the Bay, we worked to keep water away from the top of the cliff. We built a berm in the front yard with underground pipes taking water to a culvert beside our property. We also planted trees, bushes, groundcover and perennials in the front and bayside yard to help absorb ground water.

When FEMA offered us a buyout in 2012, it meant the house would be demolished and the property returned to its natural state. It also meant all the landscaping features we had installed would be destroyed.

Moving to Elkton, Maryland

Moving to Elkton, Maryland

After months of house hunting, we found a home in Elkton, Maryland. I was pleased the 15-year-old house lacked real landscaping. It had only basic foundation plants. It gave us a clean slate to plan how the outside of the house would look. We fenced the backyard to protect our dogs and got to work on a landscaping design.

When we moved from the Chesapeake in July 2012 what we wanted most was to bring the bay with us. Since that was not possible, we took as much of the outdoors as we could.  We brought our hardscape including a small wooden bridge, fountains, decorative rocks and benches. We also brought plants from the yard.

It was a rainy Saturday when a friend came over and helped us dig up many of our trees and bushes. The same ones he had planted for us over a span of eight years. The rain that day mirrored the sadness the three of us were feeling.

We had rented a truck and filled it to overflowing with those bushes, trees, groundcover and perennials. After a full day’s work, my partner climbed in the truck’s cab and drove our plants up Interstate 95 as I followed in the car.

Our new shade garden in Elkton

Our new shade garden in Elkton

A friend from New Jersey who is in the landscape business helped us developed a design for our new yard in Elkton. The plan incorporated plants from the Chesapeake we hoped would survive transplant shock. Fortunately, most are going strong after three years!  We were sad when a Japanese maple and Korean dogwood didn’t make it and had to be replaced.

For two years after we moved, I spent many hours working in the yard. Now when we go outside, we smile as we see so many of our Chesapeake transplants thriving in our new yard. We take special joy in our two fringe trees, native to Maryland, with their lovely white blossoms in the spring. Other Chesapeake transplants doing well are the many perennials blooming in our shade garden, a blue-flowering chaste tree and nandina in the front, variegated willow bushes, burning bushes and variety of groundcovers in the backyard. We found new homes for our wooden bridge and benches. And this past summer, we installed our large pottery fountain in the backyard.

The Takeaway: Through no fault of our own, we might have to move on. It might be moving on from a special someone or a special something or somewhere. We all know, moving on can be very difficult. What we keep when we move on is our memories and these memories can last a lifetime. I smile when I think about our time at the Chesapeake. So many happy times shared with loved ones and good friends.  So many happy memories.

Let’s start a conversation about a situation or time you had to move and how you handled it. Send me an email. Please provide your name and contact information so I may get in touch for clarification or with a question. I will not print your name. Contact me at [email protected]

March 2, 2016

Time to Move On

By Phyllis Bonfield

storm

Storm clouds over the Chesapeake Bay

During the twelve years we had our Chesapeake Bay home, we learned much about the power of nature. We watched strong weather systems sweep up the Bay and when the sun broke through the clouds after a storm, we saw colorful, double rainbows stretch across the sky.

We also learned, firsthand, the downside of nature’s power. In previous blogs, I’ve detailed efforts to save our home when erosion claimed ever more of our cliff. Shoreline erosion and the effects of sea-level rise on our shores were a constant reminder of these powerful forces.

In a way, I’m glad the decision to leave the Chesapeake was not entirely our own.  We would have wanted to stay longer than we should, either because of cliff erosion or our own age.  We worked for years to save our home and were relieved when we got a permit in December 2006 to build a stone breakwater. We knew a lot of damage had been done by that time.

Even so, we were caught off guard when Calvert County wrote us in February 2012 saying we were one of ten homeowners eligible for a FEMA buyout. We were not aware FEMA had conducted a study along the Calvert Cliffs to determine if it was better to try and stabilize the cliffs or buy properties in imminent danger of erosion.

Buyout

Buyout

The formula for a FEMA buyout is straightforward: the federal government pays homeowners 75 percent of the fair market value of their property before the disaster occurred.  While buyouts generally occur as a result of flooding, our “disaster” was a tornado that came through the county in June 2010.

With a buyout, states or counties often provide the remaining 25 percent to homeowners.  In our case, state and local officials agreed to administer the buyout, but refused to provide any money. It meant we, as homeowners, had to pay 25 percent of the cost of buying our home, plus 25 percent for demolition, engineering and closing costs. Calvert County now owns ten vacant lots that must be kept in their natural state ad infinitum.

deskThe buyout was a comedy of errors from how FEMA and the state did their part of the project to how the county managed it. While we were losing our homes, we got double talk from the government. The buyout was not completed until May 2013 – fifteen months after we were first informed. As for one, we had to pay two mortgages for nearly a year.

Since nothing would ever be built on our property, we had agreed to sell our breakwater stone to a friend who lived nearby. Then a strange thing happened just before the buyout was completed. The county attorney called and said if we sold our stone, we would not be eligible for the buyout. Needless to say, selling the stone was off the table.

From previous blogs, you might remember U.S. Fish & Wildlife and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources tried to stop us or anyone else on the Calvert Cliffs from constructing shoreline erosion controls. Their reasoning: it would disturb habitat used by the Puritan tiger beetle, put on the threatened/endangered species list in the early 1990s. While neither the state nor federal government spent funds to rehabilitate the species, they did pay a biologist to count the beetles during their mating season in the summer.

It was difficult to leave the Chesapeake Bay. We knew our house was unsaleable and we knew we were fortunate to get money for it. We had previously made the decision to be closer to our family in the Philadelphia area when we moved. After numerous house hunting trips up Interstate-95, we moved to Elkton, Maryland, in July 2012.

Sunrise on the Chesapeake Bay

Sunrise on the Chesapeake Bay

Leaving the Bay meant saying goodbye to a wonderful way of life. Goodbye to friends and our well-established social and religious connections.

It meant saying goodbye to sunrises over the Bay, to watermen pulling up their crab pots and watching the many ships go up and down the Bay from the Port of Baltimore.

It was particularly hurtful to know our wonderful home would no longer exist. According to FEMA rules, the house had to be demolished within 90 days of the buyout’s closing and the property returned to its “natural state.”  We did ask if that meant taking out the stormwater management systems we had installed. We got no response.

While we were living on the Bay, my first grandson was born. Moving closer to Philadelphia meant being with him more often. It meant being a more active part of his life. We would also see family and old friends more often. There is always an upside to most every situation.  Thank goodness.

The Takeaway: We are stronger than we think we are when tested with difficult situations.  Age has taught us something and that is good.

Would you like to share a situation in which you were tested? If so, write me. Please provide your name so I may reach you if I have a question. I will not print your name. Contact me at [email protected]

February 23, 2016

Our Own Bed & Breakfast

By Phyllis Bonfield

Granite revetment using 500-2000 lb. stone

Granite revetment using 500-2000 lb. stone

A two year effort finally paid off and we were able to build revetment for shoreline erosion control at our home on the Chesapeake Bay. But after so many years of erosion, there was damage we could not undo.  Another hurricane, like Isabel in September 2003, would be disastrous.

At some point, we knew we would have to leave our beloved home. Until that happened, we decided to get back to our original goal for moving to the Bay: an enjoyable retirement. We joked we ran a wonderful B&B, only we didn’t get paid for it.

Friends and family started coming in May for “the season.” They continued visiting through September as well as December for the Holiday season.  During the first year, having so much company was exhausting.  We had to learn “how to do it right” so we enjoyed our family and friends, but did not get overly tired.  We learned breakfast could be self-serve.  And often, the same was true for lunch.

Crabs are steamed! Get crackin'!

Crabs are steamed! Get crackin’!

The outdoor gas grill was a simple way to cook a fun, delicious meal with little time in the kitchen.  A crab feast included steamed crabs, beer, corn-on-the-cob, coleslaw and ice cream for desert. We’d spread out brown butcher paper on the outdoor table and voila, an easy feast — dinner and the evening’s entertainment all in one.

We learned to establish a few house rules. Guests were asked to strip their beds before they left and take sheets and towels (only ones they used) to the washing machine.  Often guests would get sheets from the linen closet and make their own beds.

Fun in the Sun

Fun in the Sun

Think having so much company could be expensive? You’re right. But, choose your company carefully and they pitch in. They bring delicious treats with them, go to the grocery store or treat us to a meal out.

We didn’t have to plan activities for visitors to have a good time at the Chesapeake. We had a beautiful white sand beach five minute away ready for swimming, fishing, picnicking or just relaxing in the sun.

view-from-the-water

Taking in the views from the water

We also had “little boat,” an 18-foot bowrider with a 140-horsepower engine, large enough to handle the strong tides on the Bay. Guests enjoyed breakfast, lunch and/or sunset cruises. Going out on the water to see the beautiful homes on the Bay or head up the Bay to the local seafood house on Broomes Island.

While we lived at the Chesapeake, I always said I’d learn to drive the boat. I never did. It was my partner who had “captain” duties. As a teenager, she learned to drive powerboats at her grandfather’s lake house with his mahogany Chris Craft boat.

Sharing our Chesapeake Dream with family and friends was a pleasure and a very important part of our retirement on the Bay.  In fact, it’s the people who visited us at the Chesapeake that I remember most about our time there.

The Takeaway: Trial and error taught us having a day or two between guests was a necessity. Time to be just us and relax was an important component to enjoying our guests.  No matter how close we were with the people who visited, whether they be our children, siblings or best friends, we needed time to be alone.

What unexpected lesson(s) have you learned after you retired?  Let’s start a dialogue that benefits all of us as we prepare or continue on this journey called retirement. Please provide your name and contact information, either email or phone. I will not print your name, but may need clarification or have a question. Contact me at [email protected]

 

February 17, 2016

Battling a Beetle

By Phyllis Bonfield

As I have discussed in previous blogs, retirement is not without adversities, but the skills learned during our professional life can be used to our advantage. Our particular problem was to try and save our home from shoreline erosion. Our home was built in 1995 on a 70-foot cliff overlooking the Chesapeake Bay.

The Calvert Cliff's clay level sloughed off from the high tides after Hurricane Isabel in Sept. 2003

The Calvert Cliff’s clay level sloughed off from the high tides after Hurricane Isabel in Sept. 2003

In September 2003, Hurricane Isabel came up the Bay causing major property damage in Maryland. We didn’t realize it at the time, but our home would be severely impacted by Isabel’s effects.  It happened over time — months and even years before the full impact became clear to us.

We did know after Isabel hit, we needed to apply to the State of Maryland for a wetland’s permit for shoreline erosion control. We applied for a “continuous nearshore breakwater.”  Other names for this type of erosion control include jetty, riprap and revetment.

We worked with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ coastal engineer to design a breakwater that would most effectively control shoreline erosion at the base of the cliffs.  It would be constructed using 500 to 2000 lb. granite stone carefully placed to a height of five feet. In total, the breakwater would be 165-feet long and 20-feet wide.

After submitting our application, officials with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and biologists with the state’s Natural Resources Dept. expressed their opposition to our permit. They were against homeowners on the Calvert Cliffs receiving any type of permit that would disturb the cliffs. Their reason: a “threatened” species, the Puritan Tiger beetle, had habitat on the cliffs and liked eroding sand.  This particular tiger beetle is one of more than 100 species found in North America.

According to biologists, this beetle is only found along the Connecticut River in Massachusetts and on the Calvert Cliffs in Maryland. These two states have placed the P. tiger beetle on their endangered species list.  Other Mid-Atlantic States have not done so and are not involved in efforts to save this tiger beetle.

The Washington Post featured our effort to work with county, state and federal officials to get a permit for shoreline erosion control.

The Washington Post featured our effort to work with county, state and federal officials to get a permit for shoreline erosion control.

Our application for a wetland’s permit began an odyssey that lasted two years. We joined with other homeowners on the Calvert Cliffs, but knew we were up against difficult odds. Homeowners had tried for years but the permitting process meant working through 17 county, state and federal agencies. We appeared before state legislative committees and wrote, talked and worked with local, state and federally elected officials.

To draw attention to our “endangered homes,” we contacted our local as well as Baltimore and Washington D.C. media.  Our efforts yielded television, radio and print coverage, mostly sympathetic, including a major article in The Washington Post.

As we worked to get a permit, major slides continued to take vital land from our cliff. I have always considered myself to be an environmentalist and have even worked for an environmental organization. But I do not believe a beetle should take precedent over the safety of homeowners and their property.

Coastal contractors used heavy road equipment to build the nearshore breakwater with 500 to 2000 lb. granite stone.

Coastal contractors used heavy road equipment to build the nearshore breakwater with 500 to 2000 lb. granite stone.

As you can imagine, I learned more about the Puritan tiger beetle than I had ever expected or wanted to know. I learned its numbers are so low, long-term survival is suspect and between 2000 and 2007 Maryland provided no funding to rehabilitate the species.

Our permit went all the way to the U.S. Attorney General’s office before it was finally issued in December 2006. We were the first on Maryland’s western shores to secure a permit for a nearshore breakwater.  Between January and March 2007, our coastal contractor hauled granite stones to the base of our cliff to build the breakwater.

Our nearshore breakwater completed in March 2007.

Our nearshore breakwater completed in March 2007.

The finished breakwater is 165 feet long by 20 feet wide and five feet high.  My sister’s comment, “that’s a lot of counter tops!”

Even before the breakwater was built, we knew the amount of erosion caused by Hurricane Isabel had severely weakened our cliff. We knew we might not be able to stay in our home as long as we wished, but the fight was worth it. Not only for our property, but for other homeowners on the Calvert Cliffs. After the breakwater was completed, often we would see fisherman sitting on the rocks casting their line into the water.  Over the years as algae grew on the stone, we would imagine all the aquatic life feeding in the area.

Since we built our breakwater, five more homeowners secured permits and are able to help save their homes.  The Bay provides a lifestyle unlike anything we have ever experienced.  We are grateful for every day we lived at the Chesapeake Dream.

The Takeaway: They say adversity makes you stronger, but most of us don’t appreciate such test.  I know, I don’t. What unexpected experiences have you had in retirement or preparing for retirement? What is your takeaway from these experiences?  Let me know at [email protected]ixesandsevensmultimedia.com

February 10, 2016

Trouble in River City

By Phyllis Bonfield

Not really “River City,” but we did find trouble before we moved to our Chesapeake Dream. We learned there was erosion along the shoreline on the Chesapeake Bay before we brought our retirement house. We thought we had done our due diligence when we contacted the county’s environmental specialist to discuss the problem.

We were told the Bay’s shoreline erodes an average of 12-18 inches annually. That was a relief as our property had nearly 60 feet on the bay side. We figured we had at least 20 years before real problems occurred.

The Chesapeake Dream in December 2000

The Chesapeake Dream in December 2000

We planned to put in some form of shoreline erosion control when we moved. We were not told an endangered species, the Puritan tiger beetle, lived on the cliff and nothing could be done on the cliffs that would harm beetle habitat.

As mentioned in previous blogs, our house was used as a vacation rental for four years before we moved to Southern Maryland. We bought gently used furniture and new bedding for the three bedrooms and a sofa bed for the family room. The rentals paid the mortgage and for improvements. We felt good about our decision to buy before retiring. When the house was not rented, we enjoyed it with family and friends.

The year before we moved, in September 2003, Hurricane Isabel hit Maryland especially hard as it came up the Bay. It caused serious flooding in Baltimore, Annapolis and throughout the Bay’s coastal areas. Damage ran into millions of dollars. It taught us a hard lesson about shoreline erosion. While the average loss is 12-18 inches annually, when erosion occurs, it takes feet not inches. Trees have big roots and big trees have even bigger roots. When they go down it causes serious damage.

Chesapeake Bay shoreline after Hurricane Isabel hit in Sept. 2004

Chesapeake Bay shoreline after Hurricane Isabel hit in Sept. 2004

Our house was built in 1995 on a 70-feet cliff. Marvelous for viewing the Bay. Not so good when shore erosion occurs. Hurricane Isabel’s storm surge was eight feet high. That meant water rose eight feet above mean high water and flooded as it moved inland. After a hurricane or a superstorm, it’s the storm surge that usually causes the most damage. We were reminded of the high tides this past January with superstorm Jonas. We kept reminding ourselves we would have had to evacuate if were still at the Chesapeake.

Since we were not living at the Chesapeake, we drove down to our house the day after Hurricane Isabel to check on the house. We were relieved to find the house intact, but we found the shoreline looking very different. The beach was washed clean of previous slides and the many trees that had fallen over the years. The cliff’s base was solid dark clay for twenty to thirty feet up rather than huge mounds of sand that had been sliding down the cliff’s face over many years.

The cliff in front of our house did not show immediate evidence of weakness. Problems arose from loss of “buffer” slides at the cliff’s base. They had built up for so long they looked like a permanent part of the cliff. As high tides hit the cliff’s base, they undercut the exposed clay level and large chunks of clay began to break off. This process weakened the cliff all the way up to the top. Some months later, trees on the cliff’s side and at the top began to lean and slowly tilt downward.*

For the first two years after I retired and moved to the Chesapeake, I had a new job. It was a personal assignment. My job was to try and save our home. We waged a major public relations campaign with the help of fellow cliff homeowners. Our task was to get a permit to build revetment along our shoreline for erosion control.

The Takeaway: Have you had unexpected issues arise when you retired? Share them with this blog and let’s start a conversation. We can learn from each other and your input will help all of us as we face unexpected adversity. Please include your name and email or phone number so I may contact you if there are questions. I will not publish your name. Contact me at [email protected]

*A short geological discussion may provide a better understanding of issues with the Bay’s shoreline erosion. Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs are composed of sand and clay without hard surface like rock with their origin from the Miocene Age — about 12 million years ago.

The Chesapeake Bay was formed as a result of the last Ice Age — about 18,000 years ago. When mile-thick glaciers began melting they carved rivers and streams that flowed toward the Atlantic Ocean forming the Susquehanna River Valley. As water flowed southward, more land was submerged and eventually became the Chesapeake Bay.

Another event contributing to the Bay’s formation was an asteroid that hit Earth about 35 million years ago. About eight miles in diameter, the asteroid hit in the area now Virginia’s eastern edge. Its impact helped form the Bay’s mouth where it meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Many years ago the Bay had a much higher saline content and its aquatic life included scallops, sharks and whales. Now when chunks of clay slough off the cliff’s clay level, scallop shells, shark’s teeth and occasionally whale bones are prized finds by visitors and scientists alike.

February 2, 2016

Finding Our Chesapeake Dream

By Phyllis Bonfield

For nearly 30 years, I held various positions at nonprofit associations in the Philadelphia area. I spent many hours working at large hotel chains doing workshops and assisting with conferences. When thinking about a vacation, the thought of staying at a hotel, no matter how beautiful, held little appeal.

To relax and get away, my partner and I headed down to our favorite bed & breakfast. The Wades Point Inn in McDaniel, Maryland, is located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, a few hours south of Philadelphia. The Inn was beautifully situated on a small peninsula on the Miles River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. Dating back to the 1800’s, the Inn truly lives up to its claim as an historic place “where the stress of the world washes away.”Picture1

As the years went by, we began planning for our retirement and the Bay kept drawing us home. We looked for a home on the Eastern Shore, but houses on the water were out of our price range. Maryland’s Eastern Shore, especially St. Michaels, was a pricey place even before a former U.S. vice president and a defense secretary called it home.

In February 1998, we planned a weekend getaway even though Wades Point Inn was closed in the winter. Searching the Internet for a place to stay, we found a B&B in Solomons Island, on Maryland’s western shore. Our experience in that charming boating community helped us shift our housing search westward. We would still have spectacular Bay views, but with a lower price tag.

On a sunny fall day in 2000, we went house hunting in the Solomons area. As we told the realtor, “we are serious buyers, but not now.” That afternoon, we drove up to a two-story home overlooking the Bay. Even before I walked in, I knew this house was the one. I stood in the driveway looking through the dining room window and I could see the Bay! When we walked out on the deck, a bald eagle flew overhead. That was it. My partner agreed.

Picture2When we went back to Philadelphia, we owned a home on the Bay. We used it as a vacation rental for the four years from 2000 to 2004.

We bought new bedding for the three bedrooms along with gently used furniture, inexpensive dishes, glasses, pots and pans and TV. In no time, we were set with our Chesapeake Dream.com website one of our sons set up. I wrote the copy, another son took the photos and my partner qualified prospective renters. Over the next four years, rentals paid the mortgage. It also paid for improvements including a new roof, water heater and fencing for backyard to keep our dogs safe from our 70-foot cliff.

outside view lower deck 014

Chesapeake Dream living room overlooking Bay
Love at First Sight! This is the one.

The Takeaway: This is the beginning of my retirement story and life on the Bay at the Chesapeake Dream. Share your story about getting ready for retirement. Did you look for a new home — downsize and move to smaller quarters? Or did you decide to chuck it all and see the world while you are young and healthy enough to do so? Share your story at [email protected]

January 25, 2016

Retirement is a Journey

By Phyllis Bonfield

Welcome to my new blog on the subject of retirement. Some come to retirement well prepared for what lies ahead. Others, I dare say, most, are more like me — not as well prepared for what life has in store. I knew approximately when I would retire some years before the actual date – November 15, 2004.

As things go, I thought I was prepared. I knew where I was going to live. I had happily anticipated “the move” for four years. I was moving to a home on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. I bought the house with my long-time partner in December 2000 with retirement in mind.

“Chesapeake Dream” on Chesapeake Bay in Southern Maryland

“Chesapeake Dream” on Chesapeake Bay in Southern Maryland

I have two grandchildren in New Jersey whom I adore. But, my oldest grandson is only four and his brother recently turned one. So when I retired, grandchildren were not part of the equation.

In 1998, I was downsized after 12 years as an executive with a not for profit association serving the financial services industry. The 18 months between full-time employment was tough. I didn’t have the means to retire at age 56. And I feared I couldn’t find another job in my field.

I did consulting and part-time jobs while looking for full-time employment. Through trial and error, my computer skills did improve over those many months. I even learned how to be my own techie.

Eeks! What do I do now!?!!

Eeks! What do I do now!?!!

If something I was trying to do, didn’t work, I had to figure it out myself. I learned how to price consulting jobs, develop Excel worksheets, PowerPoint presentations and more.

My improved technical skills helped me get a new job. But I had to take pay and title cut.

For the four years before I retired, I worked for a regional library network based in Philadelphia. I was grateful to have a job in my field — marketing and communications.

When I retired, I had recouped some, but not all of my lost wages. Thanks to my partner, I did not have to go into my retirement savings while out of work. By 2004, I felt financially secure enough to retire.

Just after Thanksgiving near the end of 2004, we moved to Southern Maryland, relocating near Solomons Island, Maryland, a well-known boating community on the Chesapeake Bay. Our home, on Maryland’s the Calvert Cliffs, was located on a 70-foot cliff with a breathtaking 22-mile view of the Bay.

The takeaway: I had not anticipated retirement would have so many challenges. While many retirement experiences have been fulfilling, this journey is not without peril. My blog will explore the past 12 years as I continue on this journey called retirement.

As I blog on a topic affecting so many of us, I would like to hear from you. I want to learn about your experience/s on your own retirement journey. My hope is to start a dialogue that’s helpful to all who participate – whether as a reader or more fully as a blogging companion. Please provide your name and how I may contact you, either by email or phone. I will not print your name, but may need clarification or have a question. Blog with me at [email protected]

May 5, 2015

FSIS Provides Resources for Older Adults

By Dr. Robert Campbell

The month of May is designated as Older Americans Month and is a time to celebrate all the contributions that older adults have made to our country. Here at FSIS, we are celebrating Older Americans Month by highlighting food safety for older adults.

Adults 65 and older are at a greater risk for hospitalization and death from infections. As our bodies grow older, there are many changes in our organs and body systems that can make us more susceptible to contracting infections, such as foodborne illness. According to the CDC, the foodborne pathogens with the highest hospitalization rates among older adults are Listeria, E. coliO157:H7 and Salmonella. With weakened immune systems, infections from these pathogens have the potential to be fatal. To avoid contracting a foodborne illness, older adults must be especially careful when handling, preparing and consuming foods.

As part of its ongoing efforts to minimize older adults’ risk for foodborne illness, FSIS is planning to reach out to organizations that serve older adults, such as the National Council on Aging, to provide food safety education information for their members. FSIS has two publications that offer valuable food safety advice for older adults:  “Food Safety for Older Adults” and “To Your Health! Food Safety for Seniors.” Since many older adults and caregivers of older adults are active on social media, FSIS will be sharing our new “Baby Boomers and Food Safety” infographic on Twitter and Facebook. Organizations that serve older adults are encouraged to share our messages.

Consumers of all ages can take advantage of our many other food safety resources. The FoodKeeper app is a new application, available for Android and iOS products, that offers storage advice on over 400 food and beverage items. The USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline also has food safety experts available to answer questions Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. ET. Consumers can also submit questions and chat live with food safety experts at AskKaren.gov.

United States Department of Agriculture: Food Safety and Inspection Service

October 9, 2014

Some Listening Guidelines

By Margaret Rappaport

Martin Buber, a twentieth-century existential philosopher and theologian said that” he could never hold a significant conversation with another person until he had heard the other person’s life story.” The reason behind his statement is that trust and understanding of others requires listening as a way to make meaningful connections. Listening needs to come first and immediately among people who are interacting. We need the experience of listening to know that we are not alone in the world. Listening allows us to form relationships and communities that challenge and support us as individuals.

Think about the radical nature of this view of the importance of listening! It changes much of the behavior we bring to situations we encounter in our lives. What happens when we meet others and we set ourselves the task of listening before we start to talk? After introductions and pleasantries what occurs if we ask a question of welcome and forego a statement about ourselves. Likely our interactions take on a different character that structures the time together around sharing.

It may seem a bit daunting at first. It’s not, however, a way of “psychologizing” interactions and relationships. It is a way of finding your freedom to “be yourself” by encouraging another to talk while you listen with attention, respect and lively curiosity.

Approaching interactions as a mutual invitation to experience the opportunity to listen and to speak clears the way for each person to respond and to ask clarifying questions. Time for conversation whether long or short happens naturally and easily, but, it starts with listening.

October 2, 2014

The Importance of Listening for Love, Limits, and Learning

By Margaret Rappaport

Listening is one of the greatest gifts we give to ourselves and to each other. Skillful listening involves attention, gestures and a willingness to engage and focus. All of the questionnaires and “tests” I’ve shared in this blog require listening for understanding and sharing. Listening is the basis for love; listening is the way we experience boundaries or limits; listening is how we learn about others and how we grow ourselves.

There is a distinction between “hearing” and “listening” that is deeply embedded in our English language. “Listen” is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word “hlystan” which means “hearing” and the word “hlosnian” which means to “wait in suspense”. When we listen, hearing what is said is combined with an intense psychological involvement between us and others.

Listening involves hearing several things in any interaction:

  • What is described? (Facts, events, situations, information conveyed)
  • How does another person feel? How do you feel?
  • Where is the energy? Where is the emphasis?
  • What are the bodies saying? Both the speaker’s body and the hearer’s body have actions and reactions that are important for listening.

Effective listening develops from a desire to acquire a skill that brings out the best in yourself and at the same time respects the dignity of other people. Common sense tells us that listening well improves our relationships. Steady practice in listening better is a habit that enhances meaningfulness among us. Listening leads to happiness.

Dr. Margaret Rappaport

September 18, 2014

The Q-sort as a measure of self-concept

By Margaret Rappaport

The following example developed by Dymond has sixty-six items containing positive and negative self statements. Try to determine which are positive and which are negative.

1. I put on a false front 34. I am shy
2. I make strong demands on myself 35. I am no one
3. I often feel humiliated 36. I am impulsive
4. I have a feeling of hopelessness 37. I am a rational person
5. I have a warm emotional relationship 38. I despise myself
6. I have values of my own 39. I am tolerant
7. It is difficult to control aggression 40. I shrink away from difficulty
8. I am responsible for my troubles 41. I have an attractive personality
9. I feel like giving up 42. I just don’t respect myself
10. I am a responsible person 43. I am ambitious
11. I can accept most social values 44. I am afraid of disagreements
12. I am on guard with people 45. I have initiative
13. Self-control is no problem 46. I have a positive attitude
14. I usually like people 47. I can’t make up my mind
15. I often feel driven 48. I am assertive
16. I express my emotions freely 49. I am confused
17. I feel helpless 50. I am satisfied with myself
18. I have a comfortable life 51. I am a failure
19. My decisions are not my own 52. I am likeable
20. I am a hostile person 53. I’m attractive to the opposite sex
21. I battle with myself 54. I fear accomplishment
22. I am disorganized 55. I am relaxed about most things
23. I feel apathetic 56. I am a hard worker
24. I am optimistic 57. I always give in
25. I don’t trust my emotions 58. I feel emotionally mature
26. I’m liked by most people 59. I am intelligent
27. I often kick myself for things 60. I am self-reliant
28. Its pretty tough to be me 61. I have to protect myself with excuses
29. I’m not facing things 62. I am different from others
30. I make up my mind and stick to it 63. I understand myself
31. I don’t think about my problems 64. I am a good mixer
32. I am contented 65. I feel adequate
33. I am reliable 66. I am poised

September 11, 2014

Self-Disclosure

By Margaret Rappaport

An important part of people’s interactions is the way they communicate with others. The impact individuals have on one another depends upon what they are willing to share about themselves and their impression management in a variety of social situations. Often, however, are unaware of their disclosing style and, therefore, are either surprised or disconcerted at the reactions of others to them. The Self-Disclosure Questionnaire by Sidney Jouard encourages people to reveal their feelings about disclosure and assess their interpersonal impact.

Who Knows You?

Introduction

People differ in the extent to which they let people know them. Naturally, the things that are true about your personality, your feelings, your problems, hopes, and actions will change over your life time. Therefore, the idea that others have about you will be out of date from time to time. What was true about you last week or last year may no longer be true. When you see people after a lapse of time, and you want them to know you as you are now, you tell them about yourself so that they have a more up to date picture of you. If you don’t want them to know, you don’t tell them, even if they ask you personal questions.

Some of the things about yourself you will regard as more personal and private than others; people differ widely in what they consider appropriate to let others know, and what they consider is nobody’s business but their own.

Instructions

Below there is a list of topics that pertain to you. You have a reasonably good idea of how much about yourself you have let the people in your life know about you. Choose one as a reference and follow the directions for answering the questionnaire. This will yield an accurate picture of you as you are now.

Use the scale to indicate your answers:
0: The other person doesn’t know me in this respect because I haven’t disclosed this.
1: The other person has a general idea of me but I haven’t updated or completed it
2: The other person fully knows me because we have talked about it recently.
X: This is something I wouldn’t confide even if asked.

1. What you dislike about your overall appearance.
2. The things about your appearance that you like most, or are proudest of.
3. Your chief health concern, worry, or problem at the present time.
4. Your favorite spare time hobbies or interests.
5. Your food dislikes at present.
6. Your religious activity at present.
7. Your personal religious views.
8. What do you like to read?
9. What annoys you about your closest friend?
10. If any, what problems do you have with sex?
11. Your perspective on your love life.
12. Things about your own personality that worry or annoy you.
13. The chief pressures and strains in your daily work.
14. Things about the future that worry you.
15. What are you most sensitive about?
16. What you feel guilty about or ashamed of in the present.
17. Your views about what is morally acceptable.
18. The kinds of music you enjoy listening to the most.
19. The subjects you didn’t like in school.
20. The things you do to maintain or improve your appearance.
21. The kind of behaviors in others that make you furious.
22. The characteristics of your father that are/were unlikeable.
23. The unattractive characteristics of your mother.
24. Your most frequent daydream.
25. The feelings you have the most trouble controlling.
26. The biggest disappointment you have had in your life.
27. How you feel about your choice of life work.
28. What you regard as your handicaps in doing good work.
29. Your views on race in America.
30. Your views on race in America.
31. Your thoughts and feelings about religious groups not your own.
32. Whether or not you have planned some major decision soon.
33. The kind of jokes you like to hear.
34. Your savings amount or that you have none.
35. The possessions you are most proud of and take care with most often.
36. How you usually sleep.
37. Your favorite TV programs.
38. Your favorite comics.
39. The groups or clubs or organizations you belong to.
40. The beverages you don’t like to drink and your preferred beverages.

September 4, 2014

Internal Control – External Control: A Sampler

By Margaret Rappaport

Julian B. Rotter is the developer of a forced-choice 20 item scale for measuring an individual’s degree if internal control and external control. This I – E test is widely used. The following are sample items taken from an earlier version of the test, but not, of course, in use in the final version. The reader can readily find for himself/herself whether he/she is inclined toward internal control or toward external control, simply by adding up the choices he makes on each side.

 

I more strongly believe that: OR
1a) Promotions are earned through hard work and persistence b) Making a lot of money is largely a matter of getting the right breaks
2a) In my experience I have noticed that there is usually a direct connection between how hard I work and the results I get b) Many times the reactions of others seem haphazard to me
3a) The number of divorces indicates that more and more people are not trying to make their marriages work b) Marriage is largely a gamble
4a) When I am right I can convince others b) It is silly to think that one can change another person’s basic attitudes
5a) In our society a person’s future earning power is dependent upon ability b) Getting promoted is really a matter of being a little luckier than the next guy
6a) If one knows how to deal with people, they are easily led b) I have little influence over the way other people behave
7a) In my case the rewards I get are the results of my efforts b) Sometimes I feel my efforts don’t matter
8a) People like me can change the course of events if we speak out b) Wishful thinking makes people think they can influence society
9a) I am the master of my fate b) What happens to me is a matter of chance
10a) Getting along with people has to be practiced b) It is almost impossible to figure out how to please some people
11a) Getting involved in political and social movements is good b) Ordinary people are powerless to make their convictions felt
12a) Through determination and will power, people can change b) Early experiences determine us and attempts to change will fail
13a) Most auto accidents are the result of careless driving b) Weather conditions and poorly made vehicles causes most accidents
14a) People who commit crimes are usually the products of poverty and emotional deprivation b) People become criminals because they would rather profit at the expense of others rather than work
15a) Friendships are founded on “chemistry”, if it is wrong you  can’t make it right b) When I behave in a friendly and   interested way, people will probably like me
16a) Most people would like to support themselves but are unable to do so sometimes b) Dependent people are often sick or lazy and cannot or won’t  work
17a) I believe that I can achieve my goals if I clearly define them and direct my energy toward achieving them  b) It is best to resign yourself to the fact that the future is largely determined by the circumstances into which you were born
18a) Passing from childhood to old age is like travelling in a canoe without a paddle; one can only hold tightly to the sides and hope not to be dashed against rocks   b) I feel that my life is like a sailing vessel, and I am its Captain firmly in command at the helm
19a) Inequality has existed for all of history so we must accept it as inevitable and part of the human condition b) Inequality can be overcome through the concerted efforts of political groups and governments
20a) Certain people are “meant” for each other, if they are lucky enough to encounter one another b) An enduring relationship between two individuals is largely the result of empathy, consideration, commitment

 

August 28, 2014

Nonverbal Communication of Love, Limits and Learning

By Dr. Margaret Rappaport

Spoken language is not the only way people communicate. Some of the most meaningful acts of communication occur soundlessly. By using facial expressions, gestures, posture, and movement, we make a wide variety of communications. Kisses, a smile, a wave, “say” something in body language.

There are ten different forms of nonverbal communication using body language:

Body contact. Some forms of body contact are aggressive, some are not. Aggressive behaviors include hitting, shoving, and pushing. People differ greatly in what is acceptable as nonaggressive body contact but it is most often experienced in greetings and farewells. Getting along with other people requires an understanding and appreciation of body contact behaviors.

Proximity. How close people stand to one another is easy to spot but not easy to interpret. People tend to stand closer to individuals they like and farther away from those they dislike if only by a few inches. Generally speaking, maladjusted individuals stand farther from others than do well-adjusted people.

Orientation. The angle at which people stand or sit in relation to others is another aspect of nonverbal communication. If people want to engage one another they tend to stand opposite each other. The friendliest and most cooperative encounters tend to occur in side-by-side positions.

Appearance. Clothes, grooming, and other aspects of appearance communicate information about social status, occupation, social group and so forth. Gender and age have extraordinary impact on the power of appearance to communicate.

Posture. The different ways in which people sit, stand, or recline may communicate friendly or hostile, or superior, or inferior messages. People may more easily control their facial expressions but posture can’t be rigidly controlled under ordinary circumstances, at least not for very long.

Head Nods. Head nods serve many functions. By nodding each time another person uses a specific word or gesture it become possible to get the person to increase the frequency of that word or gesture, for example. A head nod during a conversation may indicate when each person can speak. Rapid head nods signals that the “nodder” wants to speak.

Facial Expressions. Human facial expressions are similar across cultures and apparently are not learned. The eyebrow flash, when the eyebrows are raised very rapidly and kept maximally raised for about a sixth of a second, is a sign of greeting, recognition, and welcome. People tend to be able to control their expressions quite well and accompany their spoken words with appropriate expressions. Pupil size in eyes is not under people’s control and often provides clues to the impact of verbal communication.

Gestures. Gestures are very helpful in communicating. Hands, head, feet can be used expressively. Some gestures indicate general emotional arousal, whereas others convey more specific messages. Closely allied with speech, gestures may either emphasize a point or replace speech altogether.

Eye Contact. People look at each other about 25 to 75 percent of the time during conversation. Eye contact, when both people look at each other’s eyes, occurs less often than does looking at the other person’s face without meeting his or her eyes. Looking at another person indicates interest in what is being said, and people end to look at other people they like.

Nonverbal aspects of speech. Inflection and pitch are on the borderline between verbal and nonverbal communication. The way we say something, such as our tone of voice, and how loudly we speak, can alter the meaning of words. For example, take the words, “well done”, and think about what they can mean – spoken sincerely they indicate approval; spoken sarcastically, they indicate quite a different response. How we say something indicates whether we like or dislike the person we are speaking to.

Nonverbal communication may sound very complicated, and to an extent it is. Yet each one of us engages in it rather naturally. Perhaps if we agree to think about it and learn more about ourselves as nonverbal “speakers” we will communicate more accurately with each other.

Dr. Margaret Rappaport

 

August 20, 2014

Abundance of Love, Limits, and Learning

By Margaret Rappaport

There is a game of questions through which you identify yourself to other people, who in turn may or may not identify themselves to you. The game may be played at many levels that are more or less intimate. No matter when it is played, however, the goal is to disclose who you are as a person. It may be played with a perfect stranger, with a close friend or an acquaintance, with a spouse, or any family member. The set of rules by which it is played probably varies with each relationship. Basically it is a game of “invitations” that involves the process of making ourselves known to other people and in turn getting to know who they are.

Directions

Both you and another person have a list of 40 questions varying in their degree of personal intimacy. When the game begins, both you and your partner will have selected 5 questions to ask each other from a list. The only firm rule in playing the game is that you may not ask your partner a question which you, yourself, are not willing to answer. Otherwise, you are on your own and may explore the questions at any level of intimacy you choose, until one of the players declines the invitation to answer the question. At this point you should move on to another question.

Scoring

For each question on the questionnaire, indicate how much information you, yourself, would be willing to tell the other person. Mark each question on your score sheet as follows:

  • Mark a 0 for each question you would be unwilling to talk about with your partner.
  • Mark a 1 if you would be willing to talk about that question in general terms with your partner, but would not be willing to reveal any extremely personal information about yourself.
  • Mark a 2 only on those questions which you would be willing to confide completely and very personally to your partner.

Score Sheet

Name_______________   Partner’s Name______________

My Willingness To Disclose
1_____ 9_____ 17_____ 25_____ 33_____
2_____ 10_____ 18_____ 26_____ 34_____
3_____ 11_____ 19_____ 27_____ 35_____
4_____ 12_____ 20_____ 28_____ 36_____
5_____ 13_____ 21_____ 29_____ 37_____
6_____ 14_____ 22_____ 30_____ 38_____
7_____ 15_____ 23_____ 31_____ 39_____
8_____ 16_____ 24_____ 32_____ 40_____
Questions I Intend To Ask My Invitation Refused
1_____________ ___________
2_____________ ___________
3_____________ ___________
4_____________ ___________
5_____________ ___________

How to accept or decline an “invitation” to answer a question

In playing the game you should try to feel comfortable and unembarrassed. If you do not wish to answer a question your partner may ask, simply say “I decline” and you both move on to another question. Remember there are only five questions to ask the other person and you must also be willing to answer them yourself.

Questionnaire

1. If someone sent you a bouquet of flowers what kind would you like?
2. What do you dislike the most about having a complete physical examination?
3. How do you feel about engaging in sexual activities prior to or outside of marriage?
4. With whom have you discussed your dental health?
5. What are your favorite spare-time hobbies or interests?
6. What do feel the guiltiest about, or most ashamed of in your past?
7. How many brothers and sisters do you have?
8. What movies have you seen lately?
9. What were your favorite subjects in school?
10. What questions would you ask a potential date?
11. What are your favorite colors?
12. How many people have you been attracted to in the past year?
13. How can you tell when you are falling in love?
14. How often do you kiss someone?
15. What age do you think a President of the United States should be?
16. What type of foods do you enjoy/
17. What thoughts have you had that repulse you?
18. What techniques do you use to attract people?
19. What do you like to read?
20. What are your feelings about your friends?
21. What foods are best for your health?
22. In what ways do you think various members of your family may be “maladjusted”?
23. Where would you like to go on a trip?
24. What kind of furniture would you like to have?
25. How many colds do you usually have per year?
26. What are your favorite sports?
27. How do you feel about your love life?
28. Would you like to travel to some part of this country?
29. What kind of group activities do you usually enjoy?
30. How tall do you like men to be?
31. What is your favorite look in a woman?
32. What schools have you attended?
33. What are the persons like whom you have loved?
34. How important do you feel education is to a person?
35. What do you think about fitness?
36. How do you feel about people of the opposite sex touching you as they talk?
37. How do you feel about same sex people touching you as they talk?
38. Which celebrities do you like the most?
39. Which of your family members do you resemble?
40. What do you think makes a book a bestseller?

July 21, 2014

Congratulations All Around

By Marcia Kaiser

I began this blog over a year ago, wondering what it would be like to be a grandparent, worried that I might not be all I should be, and hoping that I would embrace the role and my grandchild would embrace me. For 51 weeks, Winnie has loved, educated, and embraced me as her grandmother, changing my life as her mother did years ago, and the experience has been . . .magnificent.

Winona has enriched my world by causing me to study it closely as she delves right in, head first, mouth first, fingers first. She is enchanting and delightful and outrageous and loving. She has the curiosity of a scientist, the expressions of a mime, and the bravery of an astronaut. She is precious to me.

A friend of mine is a great-grandmother, and has been for twelve years. She is my “go-to” grandmother, as her kindness, optimism, and patience is legendary and as strong as ever as she reaches her 90th year. I always learn from our conversations and realize why she says that her relationships with her grandchildren are her most precious. According to Ruth, “there is no greater thrill than to be a grandmother for the first time.” A few weeks ago, as she awaited the arrival of her great-grandson from California, she said she was counting the minutes. The thrill of being a great-grandparent is something she can discuss eloquently, but what I most needed to hear was something she told me last week. “It is not easy for me to watch my daughter do so many things at once. First I am a mother.”

This brings my role as mother/grandmother to where my discussion began thirteen moths ago. Ruth said what I have been thinking for all this time. First I am a mother. But what I realize, thanks to Winnie, is that that is exactly what helps me have the relationship I have with both my daughter and granddaughter. The love I need for this is there. I needn’t have worried.

Ruth knows this. “I don’t worry,” she says. “I pray a lot.”

It has been a year of tremendous love and learning. And as Winnie blows out the candles on her first birthday cake, a banana-blueberry sugarless creation with cream cheese frosting, I will learn that cake without sugar is delicious if you are sharing it with a grandchild.

June 24, 2014

Screens and Fish

By Marcia Kaiser

My ten-month-old granddaughter has never watched television. I hadn’t either, at her age, and waited four more years until my parents could afford to purchase one. Even then, my father placed his large fishtank on the top of the imposing piece of furniture that pre-dated the flatscreen, and I spent lots of time watching the hundreds of guppies come and go and occasionally jump out, which was, for a time, much more interesting to me than anything on the screen.

Thinking about the absence of television in Winnie’s life, I realize how television became so important in mine. John Gnagy’s soothing, instructional voice drew me to the set on Sunday mornings when he taught viewers to draw an entire picture; I was mesmerized. That same evening the four of us, my whole family, would watch the Ed Sullivan Show and be entertained together.

Daytime television was only viewed if I were home from school and ailing, when the living room couch became my bed and I started the morning with “My Little Margie,” progressed to “The Gale Storm Show,” continued with Arthur Godfrey or “The Real McCoys,” and then “Our Miss Brooks” in the early afternoon. Six o’clock on weeknights I’d watch “The Mickey Mouse Club” and end with “Terrytoon Circus.” Saturday mornings were all consumed by “The Howdy Doody Show,” “Andy’s Gang,” “The Lone Ranger,” and “Sky King.”

The casts of all these shows played with my imagination and stayed with me. And so I can’t help but wonder how Winnie’s inner life will compare. If she continues living the active life she was born into, she’ll be running, swinging, swimming, biking, hiking, and practicing yoga on Saturday mornings. Will weeknights be spent helping to cook the evening meal with her food-enthusiast parents? Perhaps books (on screens?) will be her go-to favorites on a day home from school. Will she begin where I did, watching guppies, but proceed to surf-casting or a day on the water instead of in front of a screen?

As computer, television, and phone screens loom large in the world around her, I am curious to see how our newest family member spends her leisure time. Her grandmother logged many hours watching screens. Will Winnie go to screens to relax? And I wonder how different this grandmother’s life would be had my father put the fishtank on a table and taken us all, with the money not spent on a television, on a fishing trip.

May 6, 2014

Children = Love Squared

By Marcia Kaiser

Becoming a grandmother has meant more than falling in love with my granddaughter, which I expected to do and so easily did. It has also made me fall in love all over again with my children.

Not lack of sleep or time alone, nor constant demands to be simultaneously flexible and scheduled have made Winnie’s parents any less loveable. In fact, the depth of my love for them grows when I witness how they care not just for Winnie but for each other. She is the most important person in their lives, but she is not all they discuss. After making her food and nursing and pumping and filling her days with words and music and all kinds of weather, after dealing with the work they do, they remain engaged with the world. They are good company and jovial hosts, and Winnie is reaping the benefits. Their smiles are genuine and grateful, and when a smile is sent in my direction, the effects carry me through my week.

Winnie’s aunt and godmother scoops Winnie up and surrounds her with laughter and smiles and hugs. Winnie is adored and when her future uncle sings to her with his guitar, she clearly adores him back. When I look at my granddaughter with her aunt and uncle, I know she will always be a part of their lives. They choose that. Can I love them more?

Children clearly inspire a love that grows. Who knew? I would have told you, as my daughters were growing up, that I could not love them more. But then they become parents and aunts and the love multiplies and grows even deeper at a time in life when I am happy to share in it, when I need to know it’s there.

April 24, 2014

Engaging the Practice of Walking the Labyrinth

By Margaret Rappaport

After much experience facilitating labyrinth walks, I have a mantra that guides my interactions with people: engagement is caught not taught! I can’t teach it, only model it. I can’t motivate it, only encourage it. People come to walk the labyrinth with some inclination or curiosity but the level of engagement in the walk varies greatly.

With a reassuring, warm welcome and equipped with my own eagerness and high level of engagement I offer people the simple opportunity to know the walk. As is true of myself, no one knows everything about the experience. Through practice however, what isn’t known can slowly be understood and result in a deep personal understanding. I urge people to recognize that what you don’t know today, you might feel or know the next time. Engagement is a process. It demands attention, intention and above all practice.

There are at least two aspects of engagement that are part of the labyrinth experience. Firstly, the individual determines his or her level of engagement during the walk and subsequent walks. The context in which engagement happens is a unique combination of interior and external events. Since the ritual is focused on walking, not talking, a person has the freedom to proceed according to what he or she desires. Just as the pace of the walk is personal, the speed and depth of engagement is idiosyncratic.

Secondly, engaging others on a walk may be included or excluded as useful and important parts of people’s experience. Some walks may be more communal while at other times the sense of companionship may be more abstract. Enjoying a variety of different types of walks is probably the best advice I have for individuals and groups. Successful engagement in the practice of walking the labyrinth equals satisfaction either way, anyway.

Margaret Rappaport

April 17, 2014

When “It” Seems Too Much, Take a Strengthening Walk in the Labyrinth

By Margaret Rappaport

There are times in life when stale routines, money problems, quarrels and turned backs leave us depleted. We realize energy is low; we find ourselves at a dead end and in darkness. We feel bad; we feel living is asking too much of us. There is no compassion to be found and we have lost our daring and persistence. We are in a sorry state!

Walking into the labyrinth provides some nourishment. Walking into the labyrinth promises some gladness and hope. Walking into the labyrinth offers encouragement to journey from bad to better.

As we release our bruised hearts and our harried minds to the fresh rhythms of the pathway we open to music and laughter and celebration of life. As we reflect in the center of the labyrinth the very air changes as our spirits are uplifted. On the return walk out of the labyrinth we lose our confusion. We find the strength to go back into the strain and stress of living. We are renewed. Something marvelous has happened!

I believe God is present when we seek to pray and meditate by walking the labyrinth. The transformation of our human perspectives occurs because we enter the spiral of faith and retreat from the negative preoccupations of life. Embracing this sacred time and space for communicating with God is life enhancing. We rediscover our strengths and we share with each other the common intention to ask for help. We become different as we recover from our indifference to God’s grace. We have to do this more often!

April 10, 2014

Be Ready for Surprises as You Walk the Labyrinth

By Margaret Rappaport

I was facilitating a group walk in an outdoor labyrinth on a pleasant and cold day last week. The people who ventured forth in early spring on Cape Cod to spend thirty-five minutes slowly walking in brisk air surely had only one common intention. They wanted to walk the labyrinth for whatever surprises might be in store. They brought a playful mood to the experience. All of them felt exhilarated in the fresh air. Their eagerness shone from their smiling faces.

We began the walk with a brief focusing exercise. I suggested that “thinking about God’s enduring presence in our lives is always reassuring and often leads to serene feelings during a walk in the labyrinth. Today, however, let’s think about the surprises we might experience as we walk. Let’s notice the random thoughts or feelings that might come up.” I talked about a research survey which found that one in eight people report hearing holy voices or seeing spiritual visions. “Whether entirely explainable or not, let’s be ready for surprises as we walk the labyrinth”, I said.

There was laughter and some joking as we quieted ourselves before stepping into the labyrinth. The sounds of wind and the “early” bird songs replaced our voices as we set out on our journey in search of surprises. Each person appeared to adopt a sincere individual focus as though expecting to find a treasure just ahead.

At the end of the walk, we gathered for sharing. Once again there was hilarity and fun in the words and actions of the group. The group wasn’t any less connected as a result of our personal experiences in the walk. However, the enrichment and inspiration that came from the humor of the “surprises” we shared was uplifting for all of us. God is ready to surprise us; what an idea!

Margaret Rappaport

April 3, 2014

Healing Meditation in the Labyrinth

By Margaret Rappaport

Meditation is widely recognized as an adjunct to therapies and other healing strategies in health settings. There are examples of meditation that enhances relaxation in prolonged treatments. Praise abounds for the clarity of mind that meditation induces for understanding and bearing chronic illnesses. Meditative visualization allows healing to proceed more quickly and consistently because it encourages people to imagine a premeditated scenario of health. Meditation connects people to their intuition and mobilizes their spirituality to help meet health challenges.

Illnesses and their treatment often result in people feeling lost. They are cut- off from the spiritual purposes of their lives and the meaningfulness of their life’s journey. Opportunities to connect to God and to spiritual experiences become fewer and farther away from the events brought by illness and treatments. People may recognize the need for changing their mindset and their circumstances but in some ways usual behaviors are no longer useful to accomplish those goals. It takes every bit of energy simply to cope with the problems. Another approach such as walking or using the labyrinth must be introduced.

Walking the labyrinth or using a finger labyrinth for meditation is remarkably effective in promoting healing. It frees people to focus in a unique and different way. It inspires new outlooks. Positive feelings and hopes spring from quiet reflection in the labyrinth. Expressing renewed commitment to personal wants and needs is easier during a contemplative time in the labyrinth. Trusting as a result of being in the labyrinth ignites self-worth and creates an enhanced perception of one’s value in the world. The shortages of energy, money or companionship inherent in dealing with ill health and the healing process suddenly seem less consequential with the help of meditative walks in the labyrinth.

More and more labyrinths are being built on hospital grounds and in mental health facilities. Healing gardens are appearing in communities all over the world. People are bringing life to the labyrinth. The labyrinth is a space that renews life, even rekindles the life of the spirit, with heartfelt use.

Margaret Rappaport

March 27, 2014

Simple Action Yields a New Attitude in the Labyrinth

By Margaret Rappaport

The simple act of walking the pathway of the labyrinth has remarkable consequences. When you take the initiative and persist in regularly scheduled follow-up walks, the action results in new momentum for your life. This newly acquired attitude quickly begins to foster perspectives and goals that were not even on the horizon. Outlooks are expanded. Outcomes are facilitated. In other words, you become a new you.

People who say it cannot happen should recognize those who have done it and are doing it!

There was a woman, for example, who long ago gave up on persistent weight gain. As her body mass increased her health deteriorated. Still she wasn’t motivated to get control of the issues that were contributing to her obvious problem. Once she began to acquire the discipline of walking the labyrinth, the issues became more apparent. Then she felt on the brink of addressing some of them. Persevering, she sought both spiritual and practical advice. Finally she made plans for changing her way of living. She kept walking until she succeeded.

There was a man whose self-imposed loneliness caused him to try walking the labyrinth. The first few attempts made him feel uncomfortable but he valiantly kept coming to the labyrinth at his church. Most of his walks were solitary, so he wasn’t walking for company. He developed a habit of talking to God on his walks. Gradually, he was able to examine some of the unexamined feelings he had stored inside and had left un-communicated for years. Finally he joined a men’s coffee club in his town. A few friends and a predictable social calendar raised his confidence but he is still walking the labyrinth. He has acknowledged that he may be a spiritual seeker of sorts.

Well, if any and all of us are sincere seekers, walking the labyrinth is a simple action that provides a gateway to growth and change and vision.

March 20, 2014

Finding and Giving in the Labyrinth

By Margaret Rappaport

“The meaning of life is to find your gift; the purpose of life is to give it away,” said Picasso. I often think of his remark when I stand at the edge of the labyrinth before stepping into a walk. The labyrinthine design draws me to recall Picasso’s paintings at certain periods of his work. Looking at these paintings has a similar effect on my thoughts and feelings as walking the labyrinth affords.

Finding our gifts is not easy. We have to reflect on our possibilities and potentials. We have to practice our choices. We have to grow into our excellence. Finding our gifts and their meanings is a task for us as individuals as well as a communal effort. No one finds his or her gift alone. The world in which we live helps to form our self awareness and our self appraisal. We succeed in a context, whether in spite of it or because of it.

Sometimes, as we go about living and working our gifts come naturally to us, or so it seems. Sometimes something stops us in our tracks and we have to take the time we need to consider our gifts. Walking the labyrinth provides an opportunity for discerning and for envisioning our gifts. The experience of walking forward to the center and returning clarifies the direction of our lives, its meaning and purpose when we seek it.

Finding, however, is not keeping. That brings up the matter of giving our gifts away. Walking the pathway of the labyrinth we may dare to consider “if” and “how” we are to share them. Gifts are not important when they are hoarded. Gifts are of no benefit if they are scattered. Our gifts have a purpose to serve when they are given in gratitude to others whether in formal or informal ways. Walking the labyrinth provides encouragement for finding and giving.

Margaret Rappaport
Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator

March 13, 2014

Recollecting By Walking the Labyrinth

By Margaret Rappaport

“When the mind, divided and torn, is drawn into so many and such weighty matters, where can it return to itself, so as to recollect itself…?” Pope Gregory the Great was guiding us to prayer in sacred spaces by acknowledging our desperation. He was pointing us to our inner spirit of serenity that comes as a gift from God and is always on offer to us. Only our choice to access it is limited, never the potential to experience it.

Walking the labyrinth encourages us to bravely link our human desperation and our God given sense of serenity. Attaching ourselves to God’s presence and promise in prayerful contemplation becomes an active, heartfelt choice. As we retreat from specific daily cares into meditation on our walk, we encounter strengthening thoughts and feelings. Desperation may frankly be seen as an all too human “sickness” that comes as a result of emotions that have no ready spot in our life situation. Serenity may be recognized as courage, a cardinal virtue manifested by many others in times of peril. We may reflect on our heroic but limited capacities for human struggle. We may humbly enlist God’s power through the wisdom and revelation of Scripture.

Changes in our perspective are the experiences we seek in bringing our lives into the labyrinth. With God’s help we may be as startled as St Paul or as relieved as occasionally being glad we are alive. Change of any kind, however, may be counted as success. Recollection doesn’t result in all or none or sick or well, miserable or happy. More likely we experience more or less, better or worse. We only do what we can to handle something better, to suffer less. To gain the most from walking the labyrinth and gain it more quickly, we must have the heart and will to keep going forward in our lives, in conversation with God.

Margaret Rappaport Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator

March 6, 2014

Is the Labyrinth Useful?

By Margaret Rappaport

You may have heard the labyrinth called a tool. I know I have used this idea to guide people in understanding the reasons we walk the labyrinth in a variety of settings. I’ve also suggested that the labyrinth is a metaphor. I have asked people to consider the labyrinth an imaginary and mystical space. I’ve told people that artists and gardeners claim the labyrinth as part of their work in the world. Obviously, the labyrinth can be seen in many different ways.

Today, I’d like to comment on what it means to use the name “tool” in the context of describing the labyrinth. I think the labyrinth is a “tool” because it it’s something that can be adapted at whatever level that might be appropriate for those who seek to benefit from it.

Walking the labyrinth can be an exercise in meandering relaxation. It can just as well facilitate concentration or aid clarification regarding some issue or problem. It affords contemplation time without interruption. It can be an attractive meeting place for purposeful activity.

In sacred settings the labyrinth can be used as a meditation tool that tunes prayer and more broadly spiritual growth. Walking the labyrinth clears the mind of the extraneous and the everyday matters as a broom, a mop or more efficiently a vacuum would do.

In secular settings walking the labyrinth focusses the mind like a camera or microscope. When I’ve asked groups to free-associate to thinking of the labyrinth as a tool to use for transforming their experience, they offer wrench, hammer, drill, screwdriver and other common mechanical tools. Often their imaginations take them in an electronics direction. The bottom line: the idea that the labyrinth can be useful is familiar to people.

Finally, I think seeing the labyrinth as a “tool” gives it a more every day appeal. The easier it is to feel comfortable walking the labyrinth, the more often people will seek out the benefits of doing it. Responding to the appeal and popularity and usefulness of labyrinths is bound to motivate people to include them among life’s best things. as they have proven to be over thousands of years.

Margaret Rappaport
Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator

February 27, 2014

What Led Me To This Place?

By Margaret Rappaport

I’ve been thinking about “bringing life to the labyrinth” as a theme for facilitating people’s meditative walks. This week it occurred to me that the labyrinth is particularly suited for pondering where we are in our lives and how we got to this place. All of us have found our lives to “be” far from where they should have been. We all have experienced the realization that our lives are not exactly what we wanted them to be. Most of us, however, give little time and attention to what decisions or circumstances led us to the place we find ourselves now. Often, even less attention is given to growth and change, as we are busy with the demands of simply living our lives as they have turned out.

Entering the labyrinth we sense a “place-less-ness” that clears our way to take a fresh look at life. In the labyrinth it doesn’t matter how much money we have, how healthy a body we have, how nice a home we own, or how intelligent and clever we are. Status and many of the identifying characteristics we possess are left at the gate. In this place for a period of time, we are spontaneously let loose to create new perspectives. We may not be able to fully transform our lives but we surely can discover the means to reform choices and behaviors for our own benefit.

Walking the labyrinth we also have the opportunity to acknowledge the important connections we have to other people on our life’s journey. For some of us, our relationships are a big part of why we are where we are in our lives. None of us lives life alone. Whether we see ourselves as rugged individuals who control our destinies or we are compliant followers in families and communities, in the labyrinth our views of ourselves can be reshaped, if we desire.

Margaret Rappaport, Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator

February 20, 2014

Making the World Our Own

By Margaret Rappaport

Walking the labyrinth with a point of reference such as prayer makes a sacred space for meditation and pious contemplation. The time intentionally set aside for praying creates a yearning for an opportunity to connect with the divine while traversing a human space. Encountering the magic and mystery of personal existence leads to joy, meaning, hope and peace as we walk in and out of the labyrinth absorbed by prayer.

When the focus is prayer, walking the labyrinth is a significant statement of faith in God. The walking becomes a journey in Christian symbolism in anticipation of meeting God on the spiraling path of the labyrinth and of life. Walking acts as a meditative service equal to reciting the psalms, canticles and the reading of scripture. Meditation highlights the continuity in time between finite, human experiences and the infinity of God.

It is not unusual to experience encouragement, gratitude for blessings, even startling inspiration while walking the labyrinth. There is frequently increased calm, clarifying insight, release, and rejuvenation and healing. Combining walking and praying yields both dark and light moments just as living does. Being perplexed is followed by joyfulness, confusion follows hope, and sometimes hurt and hope tumble over each other until there is simply curiosity at the power of God’s spirit.

Walking the labyrinth in prayer is like planting a fairy garden with seeds collected from other spiritual events in life. As with any garden venture, at first the garden sleeps, then it creeps and later, God willing, it leaps. That’s is precisely why some people walking the labyrinth start to dance, some get up on tip toes and some are apt to skip. The spirit moves everything: plants and flowers, wind and water, human minds and hearts. All that people have to do is walk and pray.

Margaret Rappaport Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator

February 13, 2014

Assessing Your “Grit” While Walking the Labyrinth

By Margaret Rappaport

There isn’t a more necessary modern skill than resiliency. We live with challenges that in the best circumstances require courage and risk tolerance. In more traumatic circumstances, we must come to terms with our feelings and behaviors even when we haven’t yet absorbed them. Modern living is hard and complicated.

I’m thinking particularly of the information we get from political and social situations in war zones. A report or story about horrific events such as school shootings or the slaying of zoo animals calls forth thoughts and feelings that must be managed. Even the awareness that our technological heroism may be mistaken, such as the “Jade Rabbit” “dying on the moon, may cause us consternation and concern. Add to the situation the fact that some of this information isn’t even personal but we know about it in detail anyway. Things are simply just out of our control.

It may be hard to believe, at first, that regularly walking the labyrinth can help us manage our reactions to the sensations and perceptions that bombard us in our information saturated environments. Believe me, it can, because walking the labyrinth builds resiliency.

Resiliency guides and protects us. It makes us feisty; it helps us have confidence in our abilities to lead self-sufficient lives full of puzzles we can attempt to solve, to use insight and spiritual strength to live stable and rewarding lives. Often it is our personal resiliency that encourages us and allows us to ask for support and help. This is especially true when we ask God, through prayer, for perseverance.

Walking the labyrinth we may find in its spatial patterns and its time demands a successful response to the matters we wrestle with in our hectic and distracting lives.

Margaret Rappaport, Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator

Gramboni

By Marcia Kaiser

One day soon, I know, Winnie will call me by the first syllables of a name. It might be “Gram,” which is what I’d signed up for before she was even born.

And then The Winter of 2014 descended upon us. This grandmother hoisted a shovel, albeit an ergonomically designed one, and hasn’t put it down yet. It’s become an appendage. I’m thinking of buying it a bracelet.

More than a few times Winnie has been here as I cleared the walks in my slightly obsessive (but actually ice-preventing) way, and she’s heard her parents rename me; “Gramboni” has become my seasonal name.

Will Winnie repeat this name bestowed upon her strong and determined, ice-phobic and salt-pellet- dispersing grandmother?

No matter what she eventually calls me, she will know that I am undaunted by weather, shovels, and a foot of snow. And when she skates at her first ice skating rink, she will smile and perhaps even giggle at the machine whose name she’s always known, and think of me.

February 6, 2014

Try Something New: Walk the Labyrinth

By Margaret Rappaport

Personally, I don’t entirely endorse the never-ending quest to try something new or exciting or even creative. Living a rewarding life in a busy world is difficult enough without an over- load of choices and activities that demand time and energy, in my view. So, it’s exceptional that I would ask others to consider walking the labyrinth on a regular basis. Let me, however, assure you of the benefits.

There is a spirit of active, imaginative adventure that derives from a walk in the labyrinth. The adventure may be internal but it is deeply exciting. It is a kind of ingenuity that motivates new outlooks and new goals. It is ingenious play that spontaneously explores novelty in the corners of living. It is an alternative form of exercise that engages mind and body in fresh ways. It is magically habit forming!

Without a doubt walking the labyrinth opens doors to more robust wellness. It alters attitude. It uplifts mood. It clarifies perspective. It calms feelings. It stretches the muscles and soothes the nervous system. There is some recent research that suggests that this type of walking meditation results in positive changes in gene expression. All of this may help explain the sudden popularity of labyrinths and the practice of walking in them.

Trying something new is not always successful, as we all know. Trying out the labyrinth, however, doesn’t require an investment in equipment. Walking the labyrinth usually occurs in relative privacy. Silence often prevails so critical comments of others are at a minimum. Manuals and lesson books are nonexistent. Abundance, enthusiasm and self-love are plentiful and available on-demand in the labyrinth. Wisdom, both secular and sacred, is accessed as we encounter the challenges and risks of our personal experiences in walking the labyrinth. Well in this case, new may be better.

Margaret Rappaport
Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator

February 3, 2014

Time, Not Timing

By Doug Sivco

Unless you were completely risk adverse, 2013 turned out to be a fantastic year for many of you stock market investors.  Gains of +20 to +30% were made in stand-alone or retirement accounts. Congratulations. But as we all know, past performance is no guarantee of future success, so we must turn the page.

2014 has started out very differently from the end of last year.  Much more volatility, bigger swings up and down for major stock market averages. The FEDERAL RESERVE’s recent policy move to begin tapering its bond buying has indeed begun to impact capital flows in the emerging markets. Countries from Turkey, Argentina, South Africa, along with Venezuela and the Ukraine are having difficulties. This has caused a surge in the major currencies such as the Dollar, Yen and Euro, and a rally in major bond markets.

When all is said and done, 2014 may be lucky to record anything above a +2% growth rate. This will play out at a time when the FED is mostly likely to continue its tapering policy. While the impact on the domestic economy is likely to be small, if it in anyway contributes to problems in global markets, then our exports will be impacted which would be a negative for growth.

Consequently, January ended up as the first down month for equities in almost a half-year. Without sugar coating it, this will be a tougher year for all asset classes, but stocks remain the best alternative. Bonds, emerging markets, commodities all have much higher risk profiles.  The good news, is that we have the advantage of hindsight. We have seen gyrations in capital markets before. The key is to stay calm and ride out the volatility.  As my mentor at Morgan Stanley once told me, “time, not timing is what wins for investors”.  

January 30, 2014

I Thrive By Walking the Labyrinth

By Margaret Rappaport

I sometimes think I was born in a Library! Words ignite my imagination and pique my curiosity; reading is one of my greatest pleasures. Writing about the labyrinth has become one of my most satisfying achievements.

Preparing this week’s post I got lost in juxtaposing two words that rhyme and signify much of my life’s journey. They are ‘strive’ and ‘thrive”. Consulting the Thesaurus, I enjoyed the related words for thrive: flourish, prosper, bloom, blossom and succeed. Related words for strive were very different and more complicated: struggle, make every effort, attempt, try hard and do all you can. Both words, however, seem to proclaim that in my life I should pull out all the stops. Whether I am striving or thriving I should hear a boom!

I chose ‘thrive’ to take into a walk in the labyrinth this week. Those related words seemed better suited to the mood that settles over me when I walk there. Almost from the outset, I feel growth and renewal beckoning. A spirit of joyousness surrounds me. I sense a divine presence urging me to connect with all creation. Deep gratitude flows inside me. I thrive to the fullest while I walk.

In my busy working life there are many opportunities to strive. Those offer distinct satisfactions. Professional activities that include a variety of contacts with people are a source of wonder. I look forward to each day. Opportunities to stop and appreciate how striving and thriving are linked in my life, however, have to be shaped; the labyrinth’s very structure reminds me to do it!

Commitment to walking the labyrinth guarantees I will make the time and space in my routines to pause my striving in order to spend my life beautifully and “thrive”.

Margaret Rappaport Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator

January 24, 2014

Bringing Life to the Labyrinth

By Margaret Rappaport

Walking the labyrinth becomes devotional when it is frequent and purposeful. Often that doesn’t mean having an agenda or set of goals for each walk. It means being open to new thoughts and feelings whatever they may be and however they may come to you as you walk. Bringing your life to the labyrinth with an attitude of hopefulness and trust is freeing. It is also courageous. Making time and space in your life for growth, renewal, insight and transformation is risky!

Walking the labyrinth is a place to rely on for inspiration which is why it lends itself to devotional practice. Like other opportunities for prayer, worship and meditation, walking the labyrinth creates an environment for transcending, uplifting, and enriching life. A sense of abundance pervades every walk. Enthusiasm for fresh possibilities and unimagined potentials flows through and in and around every walk, every time.

Devotion to walking the labyrinth has an obvious effect. It invites with regularity the spiritual, the divine presence into your ordinary experience. In that way walking the labyrinth becomes a pilgrimage, a journey towards personal expansion and knowledge of God. Walking the labyrinth promotes a greater awareness of the meaning and purpose of your individual life in relation to God’s plan for humanity.

My personal experience after eleven years of devotion to walking the labyrinth has led me to author a book. “Bringing Life to the Labyrinth”(TM) shares images of labyrinths, discusses mystical and wellness uses of labyrinths, and brings together ideas and concepts of the contemporary importance of labyrinths. It is written to be a companion to walking the labyrinth. It seeks to connect people to one another in their devotion. Its resolve is to pilot the formation of a labyrinth community. I am humbly grateful for the inspiration that underlies “bringing life to the labyrinth.”

Margaret Rappaport, Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator

January 16, 2014

Walking the Labyrinth for Personal Transformation

By Margaret Rappaport

Signals from just outside our ordinary awareness are faint. We can barely recognize them. Personal change is nearby but rarely are the messages blaring. We may begin with thoughts and feelings but we have to make more of an effort to connect with our inklings and intuitions. We have to let go of preoccupations with the “whys and wherefores” of everyday life. We have to spend some time being receptive to the unconscious, the macrocosmic mind, the artistic mind that creates images. Wishing to transform some part of ourselves requires imagination and a mobilizing of personal creativity.

We may be seeking education or guidance. We might want our everyday life and relationships to be different but can’t envision it. Our sexuality may be puzzling. Our ambitions might seem out of reach and still they don’t let us alone. People’s progresses aren’t determined by our DNA and so we constantly need updating. That is easy to say, not very easy to make time and design a place for doing it. Transformation is especially hard because it demands that we take a different route from those we use to solve problems or design our plans. If we desire personal change we have to take the risk of being inactive, quiet and wait for what occurs to us. The two outstanding risks lie in not anticipating or liking our own creative outcomes and having nothing occur to us for a long time. And furthermore it’s something we have to do for ourselves.

Happily we can make use of the labyrinth as a meditative tool. Walking the labyrinth for personal transformation centers our attention and presents the ambience for reflection. It is amenable to secular or spiritual attitudes and therefore it is personally customized. The labyrinth is a secure physical place to let images flow slowly or fast and furiously because it contains and embraces us. We are free to wander in body, mind and spirit. Whether we meet ourselves, each other, or the divine spirit, we can be assured that what happens will have meaning and will be important. A flash of insight, a sunlit image, a whispered sound, a breeze might convey a treasure for us. Another’s smile, a hug from someone passing us on the pathway, a pleasant glance across the labyrinth may offer all the support we need to confirm our transformations.

Margaret Rappaport, Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator

One Thousand Books, Grandma?

By Marcia Kaiser

Winnie is approaching her sixth month and already she has favorite books. Though she can’t articulate her criteria, it’s easy to see how the colors and texture and repetitive phrases delight her. Her family is careful to select books that respect her intelligence, her sensibilities, and her growing attention span. But if the books just decorate her shelves she’ll never reach the 1,000 mark.

What is the 1,000 mark? According to Mem Fox, children’s author and early literacy advocate, children should be read to many times in the course of a day. “,,,read at least three stories a day; it may be the same story three times. Children need to hear a thousand stories before they can begin to learn to read. Or the same story a thousand times.” Whew!

Enter grandparents. What a pleasure to help with this challenge! Sitting with our grandbabies on our laps, watching their fingers help turn the pages, we can read to our hearts’ content. The softness of our voices, our intonation, our delight in certain words, our interpretation of what we see, all wrapped up with loving arms equates the reading experience with softness, delight, and love.

For me, all those years ago, it was Nurse Nancy and Doctor Squash The Doll Doctor and The Pokey Little Puppy and more. Mem Fox wasn’t writing books yet when my mother first read to me, but I’m sure we hit 1,000 hours early on.

So, it’s Goodnight Moon and Alpha Blocks and, yes, The Pokey Little Puppy with Winnie. Books and my granddaughter in my arms. Pinch me.

January 9, 2014

Walking the Labyrinth for Professional Transformation

By Margaret Rappaport

I’ve been fortunate to facilitate meditative walks in the labyrinth in breakout sessions at major conferences for professionals in healthcare and in aviation. Over the years I’ve had a learning curve to discover ways to approach professional development in these two unique contexts. I would like to share a general perspective from my experiences.

A majority of healthcare personnel have some knowledge and sometimes familiarity with labyrinths. Physicians, nurses and medical technicians encounter them in hospital settings, nursing facilities and churches. Community labyrinths sometimes figure prominently in their experience. They feel somewhat comfortable conceding to a labyrinth walk focused on change and bringing new perspectives to their professional roles.

Aviation professionals, most often pilots and mechanics, do not initially appear at ease with walking the labyrinth as a way to promote professional growth. That doesn’t mean they are uneasy; it’s only that they find themselves in a novel context for exploring professional transformation. They require some preparation to benefit from walking the labyrinth. Happily they are usually pleased by the new vocabulary and community spirit.

Professional transformation for everyone is a goal to extend work skills. It starts with intention. Although it may be difficult and needs prompting, it is contemplating letting go of the professional roles we have learned and repeated; looking at the jobs we are used to doing and thinking of ourselves otherwise; examining the status and delight in what we have achieved; questioning ourselves as the leader others admire. Transformation anticipates that we might reinvent, even re-envision ourselves. Why would we want to do that? Some outcomes include: setting new work goals for ourselves is rewarding; analyzing our connections to and the inspiration we get from our work life renews our energy to do our work; reflecting on ourselves as professionals contributes to an overall sense of self-esteem. Why, if given the opportunity, wouldn’t we take the time to walk the labyrinth as an impetus to these transformations?

Margaret Rappaport, Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator

January 2, 2014

The Labyrinth Defined

By Margaret Rappaport

As 2014 begins I want to let go of my personal objection to defining the labyrinth. Throughout the previous blog posts you may have noticed my preference to describe and to explore the labyrinth but not to offer a definition of what exactly it is. Definitions are often confining and exist outside the imaginative, the metaphorical and the creative. I would rather my readers have an infinitely creative concept of the labyrinth. I’d rather encourage them to discover the labyrinth for themselves as they have their own experiences with it. I favor highlighting the mystery of the labyrinth, as art, as cultural history, as spiritual inspiration.

Enough readers, however, have asked for a definition. They have good reasons for needing one. Wanting to share their interest in walking the labyrinth in conversation they require ways to put their experiences into words. Often they have to start by stating an answer to the question, “what is a labyrinth?”

The most encompassing definition I can offer is, “the labyrinth is a walking meditation tool for personal and professional transformation and community building. It is used in sacred settings for spiritual growth, worship and prayer.” Labyrinth activities include presentations, unguided and facilitated contemplative walks, workshops and breakout meetings during retreats and conferences. Labyrinths are used in supportive healing ceremonies for people challenged by physical and mental illnesses. Labyrinths help to focus and encourage people seeking health and wellness discipline. Labyrinth programs are sometimes tailored to people seeking to unleash their creative potential. Labyrinths can also serve as a core feature of a community, becoming a meeting place and a place of respite in a busy environment.

There are as many reasons for and uses of the labyrinth as people can envision. We are ready to relate to walking the labyrinth in many different ways. In that respect it is a providential resource for all of us to use and cherish.

Margaret Rappaport
Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator

December 26, 2013

It’s All About the Coze!

By Marcia Kaiser

In this world of increasing metals, plastics, and iClouds, I am finding it more important than ever to help surround my granddaughter with the warm and fuzzy elements of our lives that emphasize the organic sensibilities of a young human. What a lovely task!

Winnie’s parents are especially good at filling her world with soft blankets, squishy toys, and gentle fabrics. She is treated to long walks in the sunshine, rain, and snow. She has come to know the morning smell of a bagel shop and the aroma of brewing coffees at the local café. Screens are not a big part of her life but the sky over Brooklyn seems to fascinate her.

I am always on the lookout for toys that operate under their own steam, and was as delighted as Winnie with the little wooden elephant that walks down the wooden inclined plank quietly but determined to reach the end.

Much of the music Winnie hears is sung to her, and she responds to the human singing voice by joining in. It may be nineteen degrees on the other side of the window, but when her father picks up the guitar and sings with her mother, Winnie is treated to the coziest of afternoons. Her grin and rapt attention let us know she’s on board.

For the first five months of her life, Winnie has heard the sirens, horns, subway screeches, and elevator dings that urban kids come to know. Computer clicking and smart phone ring tones are ever present. But she sings when she is cozy. Now, more than ever, it’s all about the coze.

Walking the Labyrinth: An Imaginary Vantage Point

By Margaret Rappaport

To become deeply involved in the spiritual practice of walking the labyrinth is a simple matter for people. The desire to walk comes first. Then predictably we experience ourselves as figures on the pathways. Then we recognize others, real or imagined who may be walking with us. Slowly as we walk over and over for a period of time we go beyond the limits of our personal outlook. We begin to perceive everything as a wonderful whole. We identify with as many people as possible. We seek and search for an imaginary point from which we can expand our vision as much as possible. The vistas of human spiritual life spontaneously present themselves.

These steps along the path into and out of the labyrinth don’t happen according to a predetermined schedule. Walks may number in the hundreds before a sense of meaningfulness emerges. Years may go by before time changes our usual outlook. Transformation won’t be hurried and it can’t be faked. Walking the labyrinth doesn’t leave room for posturing or pretending. Spiritual practice demands a space and time of its own.

As we practice, entering the center of the labyrinth encourages us to take the time we need to exercise our imaginations. What are our sensations? What do we perceive? What is happening to us in this particular surrounding? What do we see and hear? What in our thoughts and feelings is clarified? Is walking really a prayer?

Holy Scripture tells us many stories of the kind of expansion of spirit that occurs when human beings strive to encounter God. The stories recount that God is also searching for us. These experiences occur in a variety of settings, although the time and place is always made sacred. Perhaps the Labyrinth can be viewed as a space that humans and God have agreed upon as having the potential to be sacred. The labyrinth looks and feels unique, as it has for centuries. In churches, especially it shines forth as poetical, artistic and it draws people forward on to its pathways, into its center. It’s not an impossible idea to think of it as an imaginary vantage point where human spirit meets divine glory, is it?

December 19, 2013

Labyrinth Walking and Creativity

By Margaret Rappaport

Where do writers and painters find their inspiration? How are creative artists motivated to work? What’s behind the impulse to create something novel and artful? Perhaps many of us ask ourselves these and other questions about our own creativity.

I want to suggest that walking the labyrinth assists in manifesting creativity, especially when walking routinely happens. Matthew Fox, an Episcopal priest, says that creativity is the time and place “where the divine meets the human.” He suggests that “the most prayerful, most spiritually powerful act a person can undertake is to create, at his or her own level, with a consciousness of the place from which that gift arises.” Walking the labyrinth has an ambiance which encourages us to focus our attention on our personal creative impulses. It quiets the mind to make space for transformation of vague notions into potentials and beyond into actions. As the walk goes forward, the spirit of creativity can soar.

As this spirit shines, some of the time in spite of ourselves, there develops a sense that if we keep on the path maybe it’s possible to create something different from what we do in everyday living. Perhaps we contain within ourselves more and better talents than we acknowledge. We might perceive that being busy and productive isn’t the only goal in life. A realization may waft over us that other “contents” need to be worked out of ourselves. With these experiences our mood changes. We may accept that the divine, likely, is breathing on us. What a fantastic idea that is! Anything is possible. “All is well; and all manner of things shall be well” said Julian of Norwich. We may become, quite literally, part of God’s creation.

As we return along the labyrinth path, we may feel eager to share the gifts of insight the walk has facilitated. Yes, we respond, I will make beauty, I will give blessings, and I will bring my best self to my community. In thanksgiving for my creativity, I will grow my heart.

December 13, 2013

The Labyrinth and Time for Reflection

By Margaret Rappaport

It’s the season to be jolly. It’s the season of joy that most of us look forward to all year. It’s also a time when the quiet of the labyrinth beckons us to reflection. Standing at the start of a walk, we pause to discern what purpose we might have that fits this time of year.

Reflection may include those things we need to let go of in order to find space within ourselves for the joy and jolliness of the season. Evelyn Underhill, mystic and author, suggests we pray, “O Lord, penetrate those murky corners where we hide memories and tendencies on which we do not care to look, but which we will not deter and yield freely up to you, that you may purify and transmute them; the persistent buried grudges, the half-acknowledged enmity which is still smoldering; the bitterness of that loss we have not turned into sacrifice; the private comfort we cling to; the secret fear of failure which saps our initiative and really is inverted pride; the pessimism which is an insult to your joy; Lord we bring all these to you, and we review them with shame and penitence in your steadfast light.”

Reflection may lift us above the ordinary to find a truer inspiration of the holidays. Reflection strengthens our resolve to express thanksgiving, gratitude and love. We take this opportunity to take the time that we need to feel and think our way into the spirit of the season. Contentment, wrote Francis de Sales in the sixteenth century, is feeling the providential care of God. God’s supreme gift feels as a child feels going out for a walk with her parents. Holding hands, picking fruit and delighting in the world might be the path to jolliness and joy for all of us.

These reflections and so many more come easily while walking the labyrinth.

Margaret Rappaport
Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator

December 12, 2013

We sixes and sevens are growing at an astounding rate in America

By Doug Sivco

Hello again,

We sixes and sevens are growing at an astounding rate in America. Currently 13% of our citizens are 65 or older. In thirty-five years, this number will increase to 22%. Politicians already pay more attention to us, because we vote. But younger generations will be forced to treat us more fairly, if not better because of our size.

Our life expectancy has ballooned. In the 1940’s the average American lived to 47. Now it’s 76. This is very good news. The tough part is navigating your later life years while having enough resources to enjoy a reasonable quality of living. Let’s be honest, our Government is not exactly flush. Soaring debt in the U.S.A. has been met with support from the Federal Reserve to keep our economy going. The Fed would like to get out of its quantitative easing policy, but it is in a bind. First, it has a new and very dovish Chairman due to take over next month. Her name is Janet Yellen. Ms. Yellen does not want to do anything to hurt the economy in 2014 when the mid-term elections are due to take place.

Fittingly, she cannot and will not risk causing a major hiccup to the stock market. on the other hand the data is neither improving nor collapsing, so the question is what purpose is now being served by this extraordinary policy. The answer is they simply are afraid to find out what a “tapering down” of fueling the economy might do.

Secondly, there are many programs firmly in the pocket of funds earmarked for our checking accounts. Vast sums of money are being paid out to sustain ballooning costs of welfare, disability, unemployment and illegal immigration. Toss in a new debate about doubling the minimum wage, and you could see further pressure on our already stressed economy.

The key, is to have a financial plan in place, or at least a household strategy to hold onto what you have earned over your lifetime, and try to grow it conservatively (if possible) at the same time.

My father turns 91 near Christmas day. He is part of what Tom Browkaw famously penned the “greatest generation”. A World War ll veteran, Charles is all set with a modest retirement account, monthly social security checks and reasonable outlook on his future. He earned those benefits, and can live comfortably on them. Many of us are not as lucky. Different times require a sharper pen to be sure we can enjoy the golden years as well. After all, we are growing!

December 6, 2013

Have Grandchild, Will Travel

By Marcia Kaiser

Although they are separated by three thousand miles, my friend Jane is one of the most loved and trusted people in her young grandson’s life. Modern technology has made this possible. I know that Jane is appreciative of her ability to Skype on a daily basis as well as her good fortune to live in a time when she can climb aboard an airborne conveyance and, in a matter of hours, kiss her grandson goodnight. Because of these and other inventions, Jane is able to be a participating grandparent.

Born too soon for the computer and jet aircraft, my grandmother said good-by to her mother, boarded a ship for Ellis Island, and never saw her mother again. How different her life, her daughter’s, and mine would have been with the power and convenience available now! So many scenarios run through my mind. Face Time with her mother, or possibly an overseas flight, could have made the life of a young immigrant, soon to be a young wife and then mother, easier. My own mother might have known the richness and depth of a grandmother’s love. Many stories would have crossed the ocean, as well as answers to questions we could never ask.

How many of us travel to be a part of our grandchildren’s lives? Whether it’s crossing a bridge, an ocean, or an entire continent, every mile is worth the hugs and shared lives at the journey’s end.

December 5, 2013

Walking the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Practice

By Margaret Rappaport

The joy I feel when I walk in the labyrinth transcends age. I was uplifted when I was young. I was energized when I was a busy professional in mid- life. Now I am astounded by the appreciation I feel for this contemplative opportunity. I am a mature adult in the prime of my life and I realize how much I value this particular spiritual practice.

There is purpose and meaning that reveals itself as I walk the labyrinth. I have an increased awareness of aging and its importance. Walking guides me in adapting to changes that accompany my sense that time is more and more precious. I have thoughts of cherishing myself as I am right now. I feel the letting go of who I was in favor of who I am. I look forward to the challenges, struggles and the surprises that make my life unique. I believe God is with me as I walk. I feel heartened on each and every walk.

Most of what I know about the purpose of living a long, active life I learned from boating with my grandfather and praying with my grandmother. They were the ideal people I loved best as a child. One from my mother, the other from my father, they are still my guides. They both prized healthy bodies, satisfying relationships and most importantly earnest spiritual lives. I always knew I couldn’t go wrong if I followed their paths. The spiraling path of the labyrinth is more than a metaphor for me.

Walking the labyrinth raises my expectations not only of following my grandparents’ example but also developing my own spiritual goals. I know meditation is an essential part of mind, body and spiritual wellness. I think I need thoughtful moments, freedom to imagine, time to feel around inside my inner privacy. Truly, walking the labyrinth facilitates these experiences for me. I am grateful for it. My life is enriched because of my devotion to it.

Margaret Rappaport
Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator

November 28, 2013

The Labyrinth Is a “Thin Place”

By Margaret Rappaport

Let’s consider what makes a “thin place” before we look at the way the labyrinth fits the description. The term,”thin place”, like the name”labyrinth” has ancient origins in many different cultures. The Celtic people used it to indicate mesmerizing places in the environment. They suggested that heaven and earth are only 3 feet apart but in thin places that distance is shorter. Thin places are deep however, and they afford us glimpses of transcendence, infinite time and space, the divine.

Early Christians viewed a thin place as a meeting place between the material world and the spiritual realm. It is where the eternal seeps through to the physical world and thereby to us. For them, thin places were often sacred spaces in Basilicas and Churches. Mirea Eliode, author of “The Sacred and the Profane” discusses the religious context of thin places, “some parts of space are qualitatively different from others.” Thin places transform us and we become more fully ourselves having been inspired by being in them.

Buddhists tell us that sacred spaces get us in touch with “suchness”. While these places may not be beautiful or tranquil, as we might expect, they usually jolt us into fresh ways of thinking and feeling. We find within ourselves new, unanticipated sensations and perceptions that stir us. We become quiet, relaxed and beguiled.

Perhaps you can see the comparisons emerging. If you’ve been following our progress in understanding and walking the labyrinth in this blog space, you might realize that you can plan for encountering thinness. You need not wait to discover thin places, although that will always happen. You can choose to increase the opportunity to find this solitary experience. I recall the Apache proverb, “Wisdom sits in places”. Some or many of us may find wisdom in the labyrinth. One person’s walk in the labyrinth will not be the same as another’s, of course, but often when we walk together we enhance each other’s awareness of what we seek from our time on the spiraling pathway.

As usual, have no expectations and don’t follow another’s style. Simply let loose, unmask, lose your bearings and find new ones on your walk in the labyrinth.

Margaret Rappaport
Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator

November 25, 2013

A Grand Thanksgiving

By Marcia Kaiser

My granddaughter is about to experience two family traditions through her four-month-old senses, and this both delights and reassures me.

Winnie will be in the arms of her parents, aunt, or grandparents when the menorah is lit and Chanukah begins. The Chanukah story can wait for a few years, but the candle glow, the singing of prayers, and the hugging will make an impression on her. We will repeat this ritual for all the Chanukah nights she spends with us. She will receive a little gift each night, taking in the crunchy sounds of the tissue paper (funny how I wrap presents differently as a grandparent) and bright colors of the ribbons and bows.

As her family gathers once more for a full day of Thanksgiving, her senses will once again be on alert. The smell of roasting turkey, Poppi’s stuffing, and fireplace embers will mingle with the sounds of laughter, conversation, guitar strings, and her name being said over and over again. Will she come down on one side of the apple cider versus dry brine debate? Probably not, but she will feel the words and the voices as she is held, and she will learn the traditions of her family, who gathered from Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey to enjoy the pleasure of her company … and a terrific meal.

And if we continue to gather and share traditions when we can, and if we include Winnie in our conversations and celebrations, our family will continue to be strong and hearty in the face of anything that comes our way.

November 21, 2013

Labyrinth Meditation

By Margaret Rappaport

The place to start a meditative walk in the labyrinth is before you step on the path. Prepare to be open to the unexpected places the walk will take you. Stand at the entrance for a period of time and think about yourself. What feelings or images, needs or concerns occur to you? Calmly gaze at the patterns that make the labyrinth. Commit to a self-contained experience, free from distractions. Walking the labyrinth is a gift to you. There is treasure to be found and cherished.

As you walk inward toward the center of the labyrinth, breathe deeply and relax your body. Trust the path to guide you to a significant thought, feeling, image or insight. These may come to you in simple ways or in flashes of the miraculous. You may notice things around you as though for the first time. Serenity may evolve from the peacefulness you discover. Resilience might shape your perspective of something troubling. You might identify a new source of energy to carry you forward. Pay attention to yourself as you walk.

Time spent at the center of the labyrinth allows you to deepen the meditative state of your mind and body. Here you can acknowledge that you are a seeker, a pilgrim, and a petitioner on a life’s journey of your own. Here you can recognize the support you are ready to ask for or accept. Here you can frame the love that keeps you strong in the most personal way. Don’t hurry out of this part of your walk. Take the time you need.

Walking outward on the spiraling path you may now be somewhat lost in your sense of time and space. Have confidence in the pattern to make you feel safe. The pace may be slowed, your thoughts may be fleeting and disorganized. Try to give up routines of self-observation. Refrain from judging yourself. Take advantage of the remaining minutes of the walk for appreciating what you’ve gained from walking the labyrinth.

Margaret Rappaport

November 14, 2013

Playing an Infinite Game in the Labyrinth

By Margaret Rappaport

Theologian James Carse, Professor at New York University, and author of”Finite and Infinite Games” identified two types of games. Finite Games are familiar and Infinite Games are novel. Finite games end. They have a winner and a loser, even when only one person plays. I’m sure you can list all the ball games and the card games and the puzzles that are finite games. Infinite games, however, are games that don’t end. They are games that stay in play from time to time and from place to place. These games are observable if you are prepared to look for them but describing them is hard.

Walking the labyrinth is an infinite game. As long and as often as we walk it never has an ending. When our current walk concludes, we are aware that there is a next time and the labyrinth will always be the same. We may not be the same and the walk won’t be the same but the space will be the same welcoming shape it always is. Our experience will be different and familiar at the same time. One walk is in some ways like another yet in most ways it is unique.

Walking the labyrinth gets us in touch with the infinite as the spiral paths won’t yield to our sense of time management and control. We are unable to predict our pace and our thoughts and feelings as we walk. Often we have an awareness that time has slowed down or sped up. We feel detached from everyday life and yet we find ourselves in the insights that come to us.

The infinite game of walking the labyrinth doesn’t have an outcome. It begins and continues. We pick up unconscious currents that shape us. We may experience transcendence from the ordinary without fearing loss of control. It is an infinite game that is played to lose our usual sense of security. As an infinite game it is played to embrace freedom. The labyrinth is an infinite game because it is played to find out, to find ourselves, to go beyond.

Looking forward,
Margaret Rappaport
Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator

November 11, 2013

Working Gram

By Marcia Kaiser

Many grandmothers today are employed, and I am one of them. Like all the others, I had nine months to think about how my life would change when a grandchild arrived. But I never anticipated the strength of Winnie’s tug at my heart from across the bridge and how it makes me want to drop everything and go to her.

And I do. On weekends and holidays and days off, I look forward to spending time with my granddaughter and her parents. And her parents are key in allowing me to continue working at a job I love, as I watch them nurture Winnie and guide her through her days and nights, and accept the responsibility they are so fortunate to have. No one does it better than they do, and though we help, we know this.

So I head to work each Monday morning with a head full of Winnie thoughts and visions, and learn as I teach. And across the bridge, Winnie is doing the same, learning at an incredible rate and teaching all of us to parent and grandparent in all good ways. How fortunate we are.

November 7, 2013

Practice Patience as You Walk the Labyrinth

By Margaret Rappaport

Each time we enter the labyrinth an opportunity presents itself. The thought may come in different ways to each of us but it often contains a question. “What is in my heart?” “What are the things that are unresolved in my feelings?” “What will I experience today since I can’t look at everything in my life in a single walk?” “How can I trust myself to find meaning and answers to my most pressing questions?”

When I facilitate a group walk, I suggest to people that they try to embrace, even love their questions. Don’t search for the answers; live the questions! The point is to live now, here not there. Live the questions and be present with your quest. Think of your questions as though they are spoken in a language you don’t understand or barely hear. Tell yourself that answers would not be recognized if you got them. You are still in a questioning phase of your life journey. You’re at the start or at some middle point, not the finish and that may be a reason you’re walking the labyrinth.

Walking the labyrinth is an exercise in valuing the “gradual”. It raises our awareness that, without noticing it, we live our way into our choices and decisions. If we are patient with ourselves and honor our questions, we will, perhaps, find meaningful answers. The resolutions may be near or far but they are often in our future. We can’t know that place and time. We must patiently wait for it.

Walking the labyrinth encourages us, of course, to access our spiritual resources for guidance in our questioning. We may not, however, get answers but only more deeply felt questions. Be patient. Just as the walk requires an attitude of patience; (you will eventually walk out of the space!), so living well and happy is best done in a spirit of practiced patience.

Labyrinth walks are always a friendly reminder of our loves, our limits and our life long need for learning. Try to live and love the gradualness of a labyrinth walk. It perfects the practice of patience which benefits our journeys.

Margaret Rappaport
Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator

October 31, 2013

Respite in Walking the Labyrinth

By Margaret Rappaport

So much of modern life is exciting and stimulating. Part of the time that suits most of us. We are motivated to keep up with the demands of knowing as much as we can, performing at our best and staying on top. If we’re smart about it and we get the right amount of sleep, make the best nutritional choices and put some time into exercise we are golden.

There is something lacking in this pretty picture. Don’t read on unless you dare to consider there is probably very little respite in your routine and you need some. Respite is an important pause, a rest, time away to breathe and think and feel something besides the rush of living.

Living well requires that we sort through our daily choices. Like accomplishing our spiritual goals, such as making time for prayer, we have to arrange and plan for respite. It can’t just happen and you know yourself it usually doesn’t in the day to day hubbub. Our lives are spent in the blare and glare of the technology age. We are distracted by the sounds and lights urging us to keep going rather than looking forward to our health and happiness.

Walking the labyrinth is a practice, really a tool that helps us dial back and shut out the blare and glare. In place of the demands and the distractions the labyrinth focuses our attention on our inner lives. We come to experience our private thoughts and feelings. We exalt in our personal worth, detached for fifteen or twenty minutes or an hour, from the external conditions of worth. Dare I suggest we find ourselves?

And the most interesting aspect of walking the labyrinth is that we can do it together, if we wish. Community doesn’t invade our respite at all.

Margaret Rappaport

October 28, 2013

Winnie Space

By Marcia Kaiser

Along with her parents, my granddaughter Winnie has been staying with us for a few weeks while my daughter’s wrist heals, and her presence has taken over every minute, every day, every night, every room. There is no space into which she has not made her presence known. But this weekend she returned home with her parents for a brief homecoming visit, and our house is empty.

Once again I am struck by the impact the past three weeks of living with Winnie, and the past three months of knowing Winnie, have made on my life. She has made my busy life busier in a way I had forgotten about; every moment is about the present. There is no time to reflect, which my students will tell you is one of my favorite tasks, unless I am writing, because there are so many ways to interact with this captivating baby.

Until a month ago, I often sat back with a cup of coffee in the late afternoon, and thought about life and death and staying and moving and doctors and technology and my aging wardrobe and chocolate and the need to stare at the ocean.

Now, as I hold Winnie in the late afternoon, I think about her lips forming words, her eyes taking in the room and her ears the sounds, her hands grabbing for what’s just out of reach, the way her sudden smile becomes the best part of my day, and how much I don’t care when she spits up on any of my aging wardrobe. I remind myself to master the technology that allows me to visit with her when she returns home.

Staring at the ocean will always inspire me but right now I’d rather stare at Winnie. She, too, holds the peace and the wonder and the eternity that the ocean allows me to feel.

I can’t wait til she returns. I think I’ll have a piece of chocolate while I wait.

Retirement

By Doug Sivco

Hello again.  If you have a retirement plan of any type, odds are its tied in some way, shape or form to the performance of our U.S. equity or bond markets.  The good news, is that since the recession of 2008-2009 began, those asset classes have staged a steady, if not impressive comeback. Your “pile” has probably grown, net of any needed withdrawals. The not so good news, is that stock and bond markets don’t always go up, and eventually, some sort of correction is bound to occur.

According to an analysis of the latest census data, the typical U.S. household headed by a person age 65 or older has a net worth 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35. We have more investments to protect. But we are living longer as well, so striking the right balance between investing and security has never been harder to achieve. I remember years ago, when as new broker at Morgan Stanley, they encouraged us to employ a “clients age in bonds” strategy. In other words, if you were 69, 69% of your portfolio would be invested in bonds, 31% in stocks… If you were 50, it would be more of an even split between stocks and bonds. This thinking doesn’t work in our current world.

Interest rates from bank CD’s and Money Markets, which used to help pay utility bills or at least a nice dinner out, are so paltry, they don’t cover the cost of inflation. Unless you go into speculative bonds, the yields aren’t much better. If you are counting on your retirement dollars to get you thru, those investments need better returns, and by definition, somewhat more risk.

Dividend paying stocks have become one clear answer. Solid companies which pay quarterly or monthly dividends can give an investor a way to achieve a reasonable rate of return, say 3% – 8%. At the same time, the value of the stocks owned  can increase with a rising stock market. This may be out of some Sixes and Sevens comfort zone, but the new normal requires us to be at least more aware of this low interest rate environment which has been with us for several years now, and will most likely be with us for several years to come.

Remember, the stock market is at all-time highs, and someday there will be a correction. But that day hasn’t come yet. I heard plenty of smart people on Wall Street claim the markets would crumble in 2013, and they were not even close to getting it right.

October 24, 2013

Labyrinths Large and Small

By Margaret Rappaport

With some confidence we can say the labyrinth symbol is more than 4,000 years old. Jeff Saward wrote a thorough history of small labyrinths from many cultures in the ancient world. They were drawn on rock faces and pottery and notably coins. His work is well worth reading, not because what is known is conclusive, but because what is known about the labyrinth over time is important for understanding its meaning and use.

Over two thousand years hence, as the appearance of the labyrinth became more prevalent, its popularity continued to grow. Our certainty also increased about its importance in people’s experience. For example, when Christianity pervaded the territories of the Roman Empire following the conversion of Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicaea in 325CE, the labyrinth symbol was absorbed into Christian philosophy, architecture and domestic life. European labyrinths abounded during and after this period.

Today there is another astounding resurgence of interest in labyrinths, large and small. There are organizations, libraries, schools and health centers focused on the labyrinth as a source of spiritual development, as well as health and wellness. A good resource for information on the current world wide popularity of the labyrinth is www.labyrinthos.net

Many recently built labyrinths are large enough for individuals or groups of people to walk. They are made like gardens and often are associated with towns and neighborhoods and other civic institutions. They are indoors and outdoors. Workshops and facilitated walks are offered to guide people to the potential power of walking the labyrinth design.

Simultaneously, there is a brisk market in table labyrinths, finger labyrinths and small labyrinths to look at and ponder. What do we do with the labyrinth when it is too small to walk? As the ancients did, we take contemplative exercise. We gaze at the design and we think, feel and imagine just as we do when we walk. The longer and more concentrated the looking, the greater the spiritual impact and the better our physical and mental health.

Margaret Rappaport

October 21, 2013

Watching the Words

By Marcia Kaiser

Locking eyes with her father or mother, Winnie stares open-mouthed as they repeat a sound or word. Soon she purses her lips and, when she’s ready, imitates the sound. I am enthralled.

Both my daughters acquired language successfully, and named names and sang songs and even made up their own words while playing with syllables. But I don’t remember taking the time to watch and appreciate the process. They learned to speak while I cooked, cleaned, did laundries, and chatted with friends on the phone. We sang together during bath time, but I was too busy soaping and rinsing to observe lips pursing and words forming.

But the world stands still for a little while when Winnie’s language tutorials take place. Winnie  enjoys the gift of her parents’ complete attention. Their smiles and coos and kisses encourage her. In their laps, she is safe, fed, and ready to learn. Her parents’ delight washes over her. She speaks through smiles.

I know this because I am a grandparent, and the privilege of observation is mine. I have the time. I make the time.

October 17, 2013

Walking the Labyrinth as a Metaphor of Life’s Journey

By Margaret Rappaport

Standing at the entrance to the labyrinth, one thing is certain. Beginning the walk calls for a self-expressive response of one kind or another. Some people approach this moment with resolve, even eagerness. Others hesitate and look around for cues. This describes those people who show up for a walk. Some never expect to walk and withdraw from trying because of misgivings. Walking the labyrinth prompts asking questions of oneself. Walking the labyrinth opens a space within that requires a response to those questions.

Response is a very interesting word. The Latin verb “respondere”, to engage oneself or to promise shows us the meaning of “responding to our own questions.” Walking the labyrinth is the epitome of promise and engagement for everyone who is earnest about their experience.

As we walk the labyrinth we make a requisite act of trust. We breathe deeply and mark a new point in the intimacy with ourselves. We ready ourselves for ideas and insights about living, here now, in the past or in the future. We take on the walk as a metaphor of our life’s journey. We release the limits of description and explanation and embrace the events and mysteries that move us. We seek the heart of ourselves. We recognize that the response we make is spontaneous. The response is freely mine and it is mine alone. We respond to ourselves because “we feel like it.”

Some of us think this is a wonderful way to live our lives. Our responses in the labyrinth are really quite simple. To be ourselves uncluttered, without calculating all the “ifs”, “ands”, “buts”, “however” and “maybes” that punctuate our lives. No need for qualifiers and clarifiers. Our value and worth is determined by our inner honesty. Our spirits are uplifted and we know ourselves better.

Margaret Rappaport

October 15, 2013

Financial Markets

By Doug Sivco

Financial markets have now become a function of how investors are guessing the drama in Washington, DC will play out. Stock prices on Wall Street are moving up or down based on the latest debating points emanating from Republicans, Democrats and the President.  On the world stage, we are not looking very grown up as the world’s greatest democracy. There will be a resolution, of course. A compromise will be hammered out eventually to preserve the full faith and credit of the United States. But the public relations cost has been an expensive one.

When it is clear that our country has not fallen off a cliff economically, our will focus will turn back to our own financial situation. In our first update, I spoke of the great concentration of wealth 60 and 70 year olds possess. Many of us have worked hard and achieved much. There is, of course, a flip side to this coin.

According to a recent New York Times report, more Americans 65 and older are descending into poverty at a faster rate than ever before. 3.1% of women are now classified as extremely poor, and 2.3% of men. This is not good. The Census Bureau considers someone with a yearly income of $11,011 or less, living alone as extremely poor.  The increase in poverty requires our attention. For the most part, Social Security has protected older Americans from later-life destitution. But some older Americans are among the long-term unemployed, whose jobless benefits have been cut or run out. Or, they could be having trouble qualifying for benefits from the government in the face of administrative cutbacks at the state and federal levels.

My grandfather told me back when he was in college around the start of the first World War,  “we all learned to paddle our own canoe”.  In other words, he and his classmates were expected to take personal responsibility for their situation. Some 100 years later, it’s never been for difficult for less fortunate Americans to keep their heads above water, let alone keep the oars moving.  And the trend is still edging lower.

 

 

 

 

October 10, 2013

Mindfulness in the Labyrinth

By Margaret Rappaport

When we are mindful, we feel rested and content, although we remain awake and alert. The sensations and perceptions we usually experience as a result of internal and external stimulation are slowed down. They are still bombarding us but we are less attentive to them. Their urgency is diminished. We take our time, all the time we need, to accommodate them.

Being mindful is a more serene encounter with ourselves and the world around us. We have permission to drift a bit as we think and feel and act. This deliberate or mindful meditation isn’t evasive. It is a choice we make to change channels. Instead of being pressed into motion, we ask ourselves to be quiet.

When we walk the labyrinth we enter this special space of quiet. The walk quiets are steps. We slow our pace. The walk suggests that we hear only the whispers of our hearts because we don’t speak unless it’s time for communal prayer or conversation. We observe unique and polite manners in order to leave quiet space for others. We actively breathe correctly in order to nourish our bodies and spirits.

Walking the labyrinth, alone or with others, awakens us into a state of mind that is much harder to experience (unless we practice, practice) in everyday living. It’s a special time and place because we suspend the usual and dare to suspect there is so much more to our experience. We allow for being our best selves. We strip away the worries, the demands, the motivations, and all the trappings of our lives in order to be mindful of what really is and might be. We quietly search while we walk, aware that there are answers of all sorts, all around. Perhaps inkling will brush by; maybe an insight will shine forth. Looking forward, we are mindful.

Grander Still

By Marcia Kaiser

I knew I was a Mother when I realized, with a fierce passion, that my baby’s well-being came before mine. As a grandmother, I realized again that my granddaughter’s well-being was once again more fiercely important to me than my own. I carry a huge basket of good wishes for my daughter and granddaughter and the pleasure of carrying that basket is all mine.

What was hard but heart-warming was watching my daughter put her daughter’s well-being first as she struggled with a fractured wrist and a determination to keep Winnie’s days wonderful and healthy. As she rallies her support troops and gives clear instructions to guarantee Winnie’s needs are met, she coos through the pain and makes Winnie giggle. She juggles endless lists in her mind and makes the best of a difficult month for her and a loving month for Winnie.

It might seem that the Grand Life is a little less grand right now, but, in fact, it’s grander. I have the privilege of watching my daughter be the mother her daughter needs no matter what, and I am comforted by it all, as the meaning of “grand” expands again.

October 3, 2013

Silent Reflection in the Labyrinth

By Margaret Rappaport

“Breathing is the first act of life, and the last”, remarked Joseph Pilates describing the foundational principle of his fitness method. “Therefore, above all, learn how to breathe correctly.”

Walking the labyrinth is the perfect place to learn and practice breathing. Stop at a place of your choice on your walk. Place your feet flat about a hip width apart on the pathway or in the center or along the boundary. Put one hand on each side of your lower rib cage with your fingertips touching. This gives you a tactile point of reference so your breathing is regular and rhythmical. Slowly breathe in through your nose. Visualize the movement of your diaphragm and feel your ribs move laterally into your waiting hands. Your fingertips will separate to accommodate your breath expanded diaphragm. Don’t lift your shoulders; let your mind and core muscles do the work.

Then reflect on exhaling. Your body’s core is like a cylinder from the pelvic floor to the diaphragm. Breath fills the cylinder when you inhale and leaves the cylinder when you exhale. Again rest your hands lightly on your rib cage. Exhale through pursed lips until your fingertips meet. Exhale as fully as you can.

Inhaling and exhaling in this way is called cleansing breath. It is a ritual which improves with practice and customization. It brings refreshment, calmness and deep inner satisfaction. Outwardly, you sense a keenness of perception and a quickening of energy.

Breathing in silent concentration and reflection during your walk in the labyrinth lets you experience the path to a healthy center. With time you may find cleansing breath to be your habit in and out of the labyrinth.

Peace
Margaret Rappaport

September 30, 2013

Grand Scale

By Marcia Kaiser

The arrival of a grandchild certainly has made life richer, fuller, busier, and definitely grand. I now often think on a grander scale, on into the future that now will have my children’s children in it. Suddenly my children’s lives will extend another century, and my thoughts travel there often, that world that will present them with pleasures and perils that I will never know and can not help them with. But I look at my two-month-old granddaughter and already see such strength and determination, and I know she will be worthy of the challenge.

Winnie had her first vaccinations this week, and for the first time, something painful was purposely done to her, albeit for a greater good, but caused her pain just the same. Oh, the insult of it! Her reaction was a wailing cry that her mother had never heard from her before, a cry that lasted a full minute. Nursing soothed her somewhat but was interrupted by cries. She settled down on the walk home, but I could not help but wonder what she was thinking. What did she learn from the unexpected shock? What does she think about now that she did not before that afternoon? How did she file away this new experience? By the next morning, Winnie was all smiles, woke up smiling, and spent a lovely day taking in the world.

Back to the grand scale. This episode in my granddaughter’s life made me wonder once again about other babies, and what they are experiencing in parts of the world where there is no safe place, not even for them. How are they processing the noise and pain and lack of things babies need to thrive? What life lessons are they taking away? Do they have days when they smile too, wake up smiling?

Thinking on a grand scale has become unavoidable for me now. I have never felt as challenged, or as privileged.

September 26, 2013

Strengthening Your Faith by Walking the Labyrinth

By Margaret Rappaport

When you enter the labyrinth there is an immediate sense of flow. The path starts to spiral and your steps change pace. You know this is a novel place. You feel ready to surrender to the design. You immediately give up any idea of making something happen here. You release your will to control the walk. In fact, you are aware that there is no longer the need to decide anything about the walk. An easy acceptance settles over you. Things will flow as they will and you will flow with them.

How does this flow experience connect with faith? How is faith strengthened by letting go and letting flow do its work in the labyrinth?

Faith flows naturally out of love for your relationship with God. A sense of security and centeredness is present because God is always there in your thoughts and feelings. You’re in a state of perpetual trust in God’s sight. Vulnerabilities and imperfections and life’s painful experiences are balanced by the significance of your faith.

I’m suggesting that the experience in the labyrinth and the experience of faith are linked. Flow leads to learning and to exchange and to relating in both instances.

People thrive through a strong faith. They value and respect each other. They give and receive trust. They serve one another from a genuine love and concern. Walk the labyrinth with other people sometimes. I’ll guarantee your faith will be affected and strengthened.

Margaret Rappaport

September 19, 2013

Guidelines for Walking a Labyrinth

By Margaret Rappaport

After considering the unique American labyrinth in which people ride, perhaps it’s a good idea to look at some guidelines for walking a labyrinth. Don’t think, first of all, that there is a right way or a wrong way. There are guidelines not requirements and the only purpose in following those is that one wants to walk the labyrinth. People need not walk perfectly, nor are they expected to perform in exact ways. To walk freely is the point and the first guideline.

The patterns that make a labyrinth require that people do what comes naturally when they meet in the labyrinth. They step aside or around each other with or without acknowledgement. This casualness comes easily to most people because it mimics walking on trails or on roads and sidewalks. When people know each other and are walking together they greet each other in whatever way seems appropriate at the time. People are always allowed to be alone on their walks. Therefore, spontaneity is the second guideline.

Walking the labyrinth is self paced, not prescribed by others or dictated by the forms and shapes of the patterns. Walkers follow the pace that suits their own inward and outward needs. Some people walk very slowly, even stop at various points. Others prefer dance-like movements through different parts of the labyrinth. At various ages, people often show distinct styles of movement during a walk. The third guideline is to be ourselves. Following a personal flow enhances the experience of metaphor and imagination.

Think of the labyrinth as a tool to help people nurture the spirit, the body and the mind. All of us know instinctively how to use the tool. No need for self-conscious poses and attitudes. Just go for the walk and be encouraged.

Walking forward,

Margaret Rappaport
September 19, 2013

September 15, 2013

Being There

By Marcia Kaiser

When I was about four years old, my mother would put the Nutcracker Ballet record on the Victrola, and my little sister and I would spin ourselves silly to “Waltz of the Flowers” in our tiny living room in an apartment I think of often, over my grandmother’s liquor store. Usually, as we reached the point of dizziness close to collapsing on the rug in giggles, my uncle would call from downstairs to tell us that “the bottles are doing the rumba” and begging us to stop. My grandmother would be laughing in the background.

This memory, at this point in my life, reminds me how important it is for Winnie’s family and extended family to welcome her into our nest with love and laughter. Whether it’s traveling over a bridge or two, or Skyping, or using FaceTime, Winnie will know I’m there, and that she makes me smile, and that her smile is important to me.

This memory also reminds me how much fun it will be to enjoy a performance of “The Nutcracker Ballet” alongside Winnie, giving her a memory not only of beautiful music and dance, but of music that her mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-great-grandmother enjoyed.

No clue what her opinion of the music will be. But I look forward to hearing it.

September 12, 2013

A Unique Labyrinth in America

By Margaret Rappaport

There are numerous labyrinth designs. History shows us designs on the ground, on rock walls, in buildings and on objects. It took America, however, to devise a labyrinth that takes the design from the ground to the sky. I’m talking about the roller coaster. Yes the labyrinth that we see and experience at amusement parks all over the world originated in the late 19th century in the United States. One design was developed in Russia at about the same time. It was called in Russian “American Mountains” Later in the 20th century,  the American space agency, NASA, used a roller coaster as a means of escape from a rocket that might fail to launch.

Think about it for a minute. The roller coaster consists of a track that rises and falls with many inversions in a pattern that begins and returns to the same place. It’s not a maze because it has a single path. It also may not be viewed by some as a true labyrinth because people ride it at breakneck speed rather than gently walking it. It is however, a spiraling pathway that directs the visitor to follow. It transforms time and experience although briefly. It takes our breath away and some find it genuinely enjoyable.

What does it mean that this unique labyrinth design requires that we sit in a locked seat as we speed around the pathway? What does it mean that we think of this labyrinth experience as a thrilling ride?

It may not mean anything in particular but the roller coaster labyrinth certainly peaks our imaginations.

Looking forward,
Margaret Rappaport

September 5, 2013

The Luxury of Walking the Labyrinth

By Margaret Rappaport

What if every time you walked the labyrinth you accepted a sense of power to change the world for the better? What if I told you that your imagination could be so stimulated by the experience of walking the labyrinth that you could make change happen? Would you believe me?

Bear with me, for miracles large and small do abound and people are often the catalysts. The imaginative process released while walking the labyrinth is real. It comes as a truly luxurious experience. It grows like magic as you practice. The more you do it the more progress is made in hope and ideals and wisdom. That result alone is enough to change the world for the better. What would the world be like if many people believed in this consequential change and began in earnest walking the labyrinth?

Let’s imagine that we want to change the way our culture encourages us to degrade our environment or promote health crises through poor nutrition decisions. Suppose we take the time to center these ideas in our mind. Then let us take them into the labyrinth and walk with them. Enjoy the luxury of quietly thinking during a rhythmical and slow walk on a single pathway. Try to feel the importance of unspoiled nature. Try to aspire to healing, health and happiness in your own life. Espouse to the community the possibility for positive change in interacting with the environment. Unleash the wonder of dynamic healthy behaviors. When you step out at the end of your walk breathe deeply and exhale luxuriously.

Enjoying the luxury of walking the labyrinth we embrace the age-old human skill of freeing our imaginations. We bring poetry to life and that’s a change from the ordinary.

August 29, 2013

30 Love

By Marcia Kaiser

After thirty days of being a granddaughter, Winnie is now able to lock eyes with her grandfather and me and smile, and continue to smile while we enjoy the magic of her enthralling gaze. I do believe Winnie can feel the love I feel for her, and when her smile and her eyes return it, I can look nowhere else. She’s got me.

The U.S. Open was on the television screen, but even Roger Federer couldn’t capture my attention for an entire volley. Winnie was the magnet. The power behind the Williams sisters’ serves caught my attention but couldn’t hold it when Winnie was in the room.

I watch Winnie stretch as she slowly awakens, extending her arms above her head and her legs straight out with all her strength, and I am again impressed with her might. Mighty Winnie will hold a tennis racquet herself one day, and when she does, I will think back to the 2013 Open, when she had no competition. She’s got me.

A Single Path

By Margaret Rappaport

The most striking difference between a labyrinth and a maze is the path. The single pathway into and out of the labyrinth encourages us to enter with reverence because we recognize that the end is the same as the beginning. Only life experience at its most fundamental can be characterized that way. That awareness makes us focus. In the labyrinth we are urged forward without regard for choices or direction. The beginning will eventually become the end, although there is no way to know how long the walk will take. There is also no way to prepare for what thoughts or feelings, images or whisperings of the heart we might find along the way.

In a maze there is mystery and fun. Direction requires discernment and making good choices if we are to enjoy the experience. Whether walking, running or hiding in a maze, our actions are not prescribed or predicted by the pattern. Solving the maze takes our attention. The maze distracts us from the rest of our concerns. It encourages us to play. All human cultures construct mazes, just as they create labyrinths, but the purpose of each type of garden or structure are not similar.

People seem to require the renewal we get as we walk in labyrinths and wander in mazes. Time spent in them relieves the urgency of living. Each is a means of learning about us. Each offers encouragement to the seeker, the weary, the puzzled and the unwell. Each changes our frame of mind, our behaviors and our spirits.

The labyrinth urges reflection and for some, meditation and prayer. The maze urges relaxation, freedom and play. They both call us away from life as usual for a period of time. We benefit from listening to those calls to be well and fully human. Some of us believe we should pray often, laugh and play more because it’s the way to love one another.

Looking forward,
Margaret Rappaport

August 28, 2013

Brown ground beef?

By Dr. Robert Campbell

I have had people ask me in the past why supermarket ground beef is red on the outside and brown in the middle. Surprisingly, due to the nature of the pigment in ground beef, that is actually an indication of fresh ground beef – as long as it is bright pink on the outside and about half an inch into the package you see brown spots or brown through the center but pink on the outside. You only need to worry about ground beef if it is brown on the outside. That is an indication that it has been out too long. Ground beef has 3 normal color states – bright red (oxymyoglobin state), dark red-purple – deoxymyoglobin (no oxygen) and a state called met-myoglobin that is brown.

The meat starts out in a state oxymyoglobin (bright red) just after it is ground. When it goes into a package the inside portion isn’t getting oxygen any more, so it turns brown (met-myoglobin) before turning purple red (deoxymyoglobin). It takes about 2-4 hours for the ground beef to turn dark red after it is in the package. It has to go through the brown color before turning to the purple color – if you spread the package out and leave it in air it will re-bloom to bright red in 15 to 20 minutes. If you look carefully the first 1/4 to 1/2 inch; the meat will still be red. Sometimes it is splotchy brown because oxygen is getting to parts of the package but not all the way through. If the meat is old it gets brown on the surface first when it runs out of met-myoglobin reducing capacity. The meat at the surface runs out first and gets stuck in the brown state once the enzyme system runs out of energy.

Basically if the meat is brown on the inside when you open it up, and pink on the outside, the brown meat will turn pink in a short period of time showing that the meat is fresh.

3-colors-of-gb

August 22, 2013

Thoughts on a Labyrinth Walk

By Margaret Rappaport

As I walk the labyrinth it is sometimes hard to sort out what’s what. Although I feel the meaning of being in this space and I have many reasons for walking here, I am quiet but still unsettled. It’s hard to separate what inspires me from what dispirits me. Distinguishing the high spirits from the false spirits occupies my thoughts as I slowly walk the spiraling path.

The labyrinth is a symbol of centeredness and it puts me into greater awareness of my spirit. St Augustine famously said, “Solvitur ambulando”; “It is solved by walking”. I agree. I walk the labyrinth by following the path inward and then outward from side to side. It helps me understand where I have been and where I may go.

At times I walk the labyrinth with other people. I celebrate with them the winding pattern that connects our stories and our life journeys. I imagine the coincidences that have brought us together. We all have something to learn from this connectedness. I find the sense of community uplifting.

Looking forward,
Margaret Rappaport

August 15, 2013

Power in the Patterns of the Labyrinth

By Margaret Rappaport

Taking the Chartres style labyrinth as our example we are immediately struck by the patterns we see. There are six rosettes that make the center. There are lunations, small half circles, around the outside edge. As we begin to walk we experience the lines that outline the lanes we are following. We walk the lanes into the center and walk out from the center following the same pathway. There is one single lane but there seem to be many lanes. This spiraling pathway is 860 feet in length.

The patterns both expand and limit our choices as we walk. They give us the sense that our steps count for something because the slow walking changes our breathing, not just our pace. Walking the spiraling lane we become aware of “things changing” and of “transformation” as we can’t see ahead or behind. We are just on the path; we turn inward; time seems to expand.

Every walk in the labyrinth is a journey of self-discovery. Every walk in the labyrinth is a connection with people here and now and in times past. Every walk in the labyrinth connects us more fully to ourselves and to people in hundreds of diverse cultures.

Another set of patterns within our human bodies may be the inspiration for the sense of connection to self and to others. For example, the winding lanes resemble the cerebral spirals of our brains, as well as the structure and motion of our gastro-intestinal tract.

Spirals in nature abound and we may recognize them as we walk the labyrinth. We remember Fibonacci spiraling sequences in roses, pinecones, daisies and that we are dazzled by them. In shells and vines and galaxies we sense connections, convergences and coincidences in our experiences in the labyrinth.

Awareness of the myriad spiraling in nature and the similarities in patterns we experience in our bodies lead us as we walk the labyrinth to a greater understanding of the meaning of images, ideas and feelings as we live our lives individually and in community.

Margaret Rappaport

Vocabulary Lesson

By Marcia Kaiser

Our granddaughter Winnie was born on a lovely summer Saturday, and the moment was immersed in tears and relief and joy, and words. Rather quickly I realized that the descriptors I needed didn’t exist. I needed a lexicon of appropriate words to describe a variety of observations, experiences, and emotions that being a grandparent demands.

So I’m putting it out there – the inadequacy of our language at the time one becomes a grandparent can be remedied if we all try. You know the transitional state you might find yourself in between the time your daughter gives birth, and the relief you feel, and the time you realize that there is someone else to concentrate on – your grandchild? There is no word for that transitional time from mother to mother/grandmother. I needed that word.

There was no adequate word to describe Winnie’s face as I first saw it. A newborn’s face deserves its own adjective.

Parental exhaustion – those words do not begin to cover the bone weary, sleep-deprived condition of new parents at this emotional, overwhelming time. Need a word.

Mother love perseverance demands its own descriptor. I watched my daughter love, feed, and nurture her daughter moments, hours and days after Winnie’s birth, when she herself was regaining strength and dealing with the days after delivery. What might seem impossible on an ordinary day or week becomes the norm for new mothers, and watching my daughter embrace her baby with love, patience, and intelligent response to every need and cry put me at a loss for words.

There’s a dearth of words for father love as well. As I watched my son-in-law’s face during the hours of labor, I could see how much he felt her discomfort, and it was empathy and love and concern rolled into a word that does not exist. Now, when Alex holds Winnie in his arms, their eyes lock and he soothes her in a gentle yet fiercely parental way, and I imagine she feels safe and loved. This love needs a word. And for the love and care he extends to his wife and daughter, I am more than grateful. Need a word.

Two words, however, are just perfect the way they are, and I am delighted that granddaughter and grandparent now describe Winnie and me.

August 8, 2013

A Not So Modern Human Need for the Labyrinth

By Margaret Rappaport

Origins of the labyrinth remain a mystery. Although these designs date back 5,000 years and examples are found throughout the world in many diverse cultures, there is no definitive explanation for the labyrinth. From the earliest examples in Europe on rocks, tiles, pottery and stone and wooden tablets to the reemergence of the labyrinth today, the only thing known for certain is the importance of the labyrinth for people.

Labyrinths are designs featuring a single spiral path that leads from the outside to a center space. Walking in or on the labyrinth follows the path to the center and back again to the outside. In the western hemisphere, Native American tradition features the labyrinth as the Medicine wheel and in Man in the Maze designs on baskets. In northern Europe and throughout the Roman Empire, Celtic people called the labyrinth the Never Ending Circle and it appears often and in random places. In Judaism the labyrinth is referred to as the Kabala and is thought to have mystical power. Not all labyrinths lay on the ground to be walked but when they are made of earth or stone they are usually used for walking. The labyrinth, however, is a compelling example of artistic expression as it enhances human environments whether seen on doors, wall plaques, gates or on inside floors or outside on the earth.

Walking the labyrinth or seeing it displayed may help people feel centered and more peaceful in living their lives. This has been described by some as a clarity which promotes a connection between the body, mind and spirit. People also describe a quieting of thoughts or of having an innovative, meditative state of mind. Others say walking the labyrinth fosters insight and self-reflection. Many wellness advocates say practice in walking the labyrinth reduces the stress of life and opens space within people for celebration and happiness despite external circumstances.

During the middle ages in Europe, the labyrinth design started to appear in churches, on village greens and even on off-shore islands as far north as the Arctic region. Now again, in the twentieth century, communities of people are building labyrinths because of a resurgence of interest. In the United States labyrinths can be found in parks, churches and cathedrals, schools, medical centers, spas, cemeteries and memorial parks, retreat centers and in many yards and on other personal property. The materials these labyrinths are made from are as various as their locations and uses. The central distinction, however, is that people are building them and gathering in and on them for a purpose that, apparently, reflects a human need to meet in concert to follow a meaningful path.

August 6, 2013

Name

By Marcia Kaiser

My granddaughter carries a name that was unexpected, and it has become my joy these past ten days to watch her own it. The way she holds her head, darts her eyes, purses her mouth – I hold her in my arms and feel her Winona-ness. She is teaching me who Winona Louise is.

I brought no pre-conceptions to the name Winona Louise both because I’ve never known a Winona and because the name came, as the poet says, “out of the everywhere into the here.” My face registered surprise and wonder when my daughter Lis told me her three-hour-old daughter’s name. Winona?

Winona is a Sioux name meaning “first born daughter,” Lis informs me. Winnie Mandela is one of the strongest, most respected women in the world, my friend Julie reminds me.

But Winona Louise is herself, simply herself, and she is teaching me who Winona is. And that definition will be correct and ever-changing, and unexpectedly wonderful.

August 5, 2013

Face

By Marcia Kaiser

A face the size of my palm has the power to completely enthrall me. It is Winona’s face, the face of my ten-day-old granddaughter, and it has become what in the world I want to see.

Winnie’s face is more expressive than much of what I read or even write. Her mouth purses into a heart, or stretches into a cavernous yawn, and I am captivated. Her two blond eyebrows rarely knit together, but when they do her concern or concentration or frustration rocks my grandparent world.

From the moment of her birth, Winnie’s eyes, now the color of slate, have been intent and thoughtful and serious. She’s a Brooklyn girl all right, a New Yorker to her core, and her fierce, intelligent eyes remind me of that.

People look at Winnie’s face and see other people: her mother, her father, her aunt, a far-flung relative. I see only Winnie, owning her face and all that it conveys, all the beauty it presents. And I am beginning to interpret the world by reading Winnie’s face. It’s telling a good story.

Hamburger happiness means just a little more fat

By Dr. Robert Campbell

There is good news! Your hamburger doesn’t have to be the expensive hockey puck which happens if you use ground beef that is too lean. Based on my years of experience as a butcher and some insights I got during my Ph.D. research, I have come to the conclusion that ground beef provides the best hamburger eating experience when you start with 80 % lean (20 % fat) ground beef. Anything leaner tends to have the consistency of a hockey puck. The best part is the edible portion of a burger which starts at 80% lean, is fairly close to the fat level of a leaner burger. During cooking, the fat melts out leaving voids in the patty – these voids make a less dense texture and also leave a place for the other juices and aromas of cooking burger to accumulate. Then when you bite into the burger, you get a “blast of taste and aroma” which improves eating satisfaction.

The really lean patty will shrink into a dense, void-less mass that is tough, and has no place for the juices to stay in-so they all evaporate, and the lean patty is dry as well. Finally, since most of the cooking loss in a lean patty is moisture, you have almost as much fat in the patty you eat as one from a fatter starting point. If math isn’t your thing take my word for it: eating a very lean patty doesn’t improve the nutritional value of the edible portion. However, if you want to understand a little of the science behind my hamburgerology, read the paragraph below.

If we start with (2) 100g (about 3.5 oz) patties, one with 80% lean and 20 % fat and the other with 95 % lean and 5 % fat, and we put both of these patties on the grill to cook, we’ll end up with 2 cooked 80g (2.8 oz) cooked patties – cooking loss is about 20g for each patty. The interesting part is that the 95 % patty loses about 19.5g of water and 0.5g of fat, so it ends up with 4.5g of fat in the 80g cooked portion. Therefore, in the cooked portion, there is 4.5/80 = 0.056 or 5.6 % fat in the finished patty – not bad – except it is tough and tasteless. The 80% lean patty loses about 13g of fat and 7g of moisture, leaving 7g of fat in the cooked portion, or 7/80 = 0.875 or 8.75% fat in the final patty. So for just a little more fat, you have a much tastier hamburger !

August 1, 2013

On Walking the Labyrinth

By Margaret Rappaport

Whoever you are and wherever you are in your life’s journey, you are invited to explore walking the labyrinth with me here At Sixes and Sevens Multimedia. If you are seeking a resource for inspiration, some new ideas about the power of labyrinths to enlighten and heal, or simply a place for support through whatever the changes and chances of life bring you, there is space for you in the labyrinth.

We who are walking the labyrinth are a growing community in the United States and in many other parts of the world. The ease and practicality of walking encourages all ages to get involved but is especially attractive for people in their sixties and seventies. Being in the labyrinth offers us a wide range of opportunities to learn or relearn about ourselves and each other. Walking the labyrinth engages the whole person and the entire group of participants in a meaningful activity that has remarkable consequences. The benefits of walking the labyrinth cannot be overstated. I invite you to get to know the labyrinth better. In future posts you will find information about labyrinths in your local areas.

I will share the various reasons for walking the labyrinth for wellness, stress reduction, spiritual growth, solace, and the development of wisdom. You will also read about the history and design of labyrinths, including why they have particular structures and are made of various materials. I will offer virtual facilitated walks that you and groups can take into familiar labyrinths near you.

Looking forward,
Margaret Rappaport

July 23, 2013

Yells, Bells and Qvells

By Marcia Kaiser

Finally, the royal wait is over, and a future king has been born. As I write, my screens are filled with live coverage of the easel birth announcement, and the colorful announcer on the hospital steps sporting a plumed headdress and large brass bell, calling out pertinent information to the cheering crowd.

I scanned the easel for the bit of information I’d been waiting for: both mother and son are doing well. Mothers of mothers need to know that first.

Soon, I’m sure, Prince Charles and the Queen and the Middletons will begin the royal qvell,* to which they are mightily entitled, not because a future king has been born, but because they are grandparents and great-grandparents. Kate and baby are fine and this child will be exceptional (do all grandparents feel this way?). Royal or not, “Baby Cambridge” is someone to love and cherish and fuss over and sing to and grandparent. Life is good.

And the Duchess and Prince? They had the birth they had planned for, we are told. They are not only Duchess and future king. They are lucky ducks. And as I wait for my own grandchild to appear, I am eager to quack myself.

*qvell is an old Yiddish word meaning to burst with pride

July 18, 2013

Wait For It . . .

By Marcia Kaiser

As of this post, no text or call has alerted me that my grandchild is ready to meet the world. So I must do what is hardest for me to do: wait.

My daughter, on the other hand, is gracefully dealing with the last days of pregnancy in ways that delight me. We joined the expectant couple for a long walk to a late dinner last Saturday night, in the middle of a New York City heat wave. And yesterday, at her suggestion, we went to the beach, where 96 degree sand led to a cool ocean. Watching my very pregnant daughter swim and laugh and emerge refreshed reminded me how it is possible to bring style and joy to the last weeks of the ninth month. I watched her, under an umbrella, enjoying a summer plum, and allowed myself to relax a little, too.

How do grandparents-to-be pass the time? I’m hoping that the phone will ring before I run out of ways. Until then, suggestions are welcome.

July 11, 2013

Baby Prep

By Marcia Kaiser

In a week, perhaps two, a new baby will grace our lives and change our world forever. And although we’ve had months to prepare, I’m still left with a list that is not entirely checked off. So I wonder, is it possible for a grandparent to ever be ready?

We began with our immediate surroundings. We deemed a glass coffee table, one that our daughters had grown up with, dangerous for small children, and got rid of it. We went from room to room, de-cluttering the girls’ childhood home and reclaiming space necessary for the baby’s visits. A chess set and table was removed, after thirty years in the den, to the attic. Things were re-arranged, removed, or banished.

Next came the ordering of necessary grandparent items. A pack-n-play, still boxed, sits expectantly in the den, where the chess set used to be. Leaning up against it, also still boxed, is a collapsible cradle, and a borrowed infant bathtub. A stroller, now part of what is called a “travel system,” sits alone in the living room near where the glass table used to be. Check!

Lower down on my list are the items to have on hand, swaddling blankets, washcloths, towels, bibs, and toiletries, to make a trip across the bridge easier and more tempting for the new parents. We’d like to be able to say, “Just bring the baby and yourselves” – but none of these items have been rounded up yet. Tomorrow?

As time draws near, and the baby readies itself to meet us, we are still scurrying. Will we, the new grandparents, ever be ready? Luckily, this wonderful baby will decide for us.

July 10, 2013

Waiting With Music

By Marcia Kaiser

First grandchildren can take a while to arrive, and the trick is to pass the time without counting each minute. My daughter unknowingly helped me with this by reminding me of the songs she remembered me singing to her when she was tiny. That set me off.

All week I’ve been singing or whistling tunes I haven’t sung for years. I don’t know how many infants these days are treated to “Come Josephine With Your Flying Machine” but my grandmother sang the first three lines of this song to me, over and over, and I know I will pass it on to this sweet new child who lives in a world of rather sophisticated flying machines, to say the least. Although I don’t know who first sang this song to my grandmother, the mystery and music will be shared with my grandchild. She’ll ask, I know she will. Curiosity gallops through her veins.

I may not do them justice but I will try my best to sing the sweeter songs of Billy Joel, as I did with my daughters. And Joe Raposo’s songs are high on the list, as are the Beatles. I can sit on the porch and remember such sweet music surrounding the baby in my arms and me, and I marvel at the chance to be surrounded again.

July 8, 2013

What Mothers Know

By Marcia Kaiser

To hear my mother and grandmother tell it, at the age of two I began lifting my pointer finger in the air and pontificating on whatever it is I knew at the age of two. I apparently did so with urgency and determination, so convinced I must have been of the importance of my twenty-four month wisdom and the need to share it.

Sixty years later I am often overtaken by the same compelling need to share accumulated wisdom, and nothing compels me more than having a pregnant daughter. From food choices to delivery room advice to nursery décor, there are things I know.

But I hold my tongue.

For the past nine months, my daughter has taught me. Midwifery, doulas, inoculations, wardrobe, rocking chairs, hospital policies, pacifiers, diapers, baby food . . . the list is long, and I listen and learn.

I know to make way and respect the discoveries of a soon-to-be mother. Holding my tongue forces me to listen and even re-position my ideas on pregnancy and infancy.

My daughter joins the ranks of knowing mothers because her child has already captured her mind and put it to work. Soon it will capture her heart. I know.

July 7, 2013

Beginnings

By Marcia Kaiser

July will bring a new person into my life, a brand new earthling, a thoughtful, wondering, open-eyed individual who will wrap my brain, body, and soul around a new life, for the rest of mine.

This person is scheduled to meet me, and everyone else, sometime in July, and the waiting is hard. And yet, selfishly, I don’t feel quite ready. Am I wise enough? Grandparents should be wise. Am I calm enough? I don’t want to impart fear or worry; infants sense those feelings immediately. Am I able to love this baby as completely and devotedly as I love my daughter? The universal answer seems to be “yes,” but I hope I’m of that universe.

Someone asked me today if I thought the baby’s first words would be “grandma.” My answer was, “the first word will most likely be an exotic vegetable, perhaps fennel.” First words are not often “grandma.” That’s as it should be. And this particular baby will be surrounded by mangoes and shallots and kiwi (now there’s a great first word) and lots of fennel. I will not try to compete.

The word “grandmother” holds so much dignity and wisdom and generational significance. It’s laden with expectations and promises. At first, this word will have no meaning for my grandchild. When she begins to connect faces to words, she’ll find a suitable name for me. Whatever she decides, when she calls it, I’ll be there. I hope she finds me worthy.