Category Archives: Travel

The Storm Before the Storm, and the Actual Storm: Everyday Magic, Day 819

IMG_5891 2Driving home from teaching Curvy Yoga tonight, I was delighted by the flashes to the north and south. A parade of storms was circling its wagons. Because I love a good storm (good thing too, considering I live in Kansas), I drove foot loose and carefree, despite Wagner’s dramatic “Tannhauser” blaring dramatic build-up on the radio. Barely to the southern edge of Lawrence, Ken called: a blinding rain was here, and I would be driving right into it. I told him it was dry where I was but he assured me that the road to our house, just three miles away, was barely visible for him a moment ago.

There’s nothing like listening to Wagner while lightning illuminates a vast, dark grey monster you’re driving right into at highway speeds. I was surprised at how quickly (in a flash, so to speak) my happy storm anticipation turned into wheel-gripping apprehension. By the time I turned onto our road, I realized I was in a lucky pocket, arriving between waves, skirting the fingers of intense downpour.

Now, some hours later, I’m writing in the dark while big wind pours across the land, the rain sheets down, and rapid-fire lightning powers from all sides. The weather radio makes it buzzing sound to say something is upon us. The dog in the back room, the one with few windows and my sleeping son, claws anxiously at the door. The cats rumble across the living room floor, attacking each other and then forgetting their attack in the hunt for another hair tie to kill.

Usually, Ken is out of bed, checking radar for any hook-shaped blotches threatening tornado or hail, but this time it’s me, occasionally pausing to run to the porch and feel the wind, watch the soft gray edges of the traveling clouds, and listen to tens of thousands of raindrops make ground fall. The storm of the storm, unlike the storm before the storm, is the real thing. As I wrote in one poem in Stephen Locke’s and my book, Chasing Weather, you’ve got to respect that.

Respect the Storm of the Storm

Watch like your life depends on it.

The first wave pushes the blackbirds

over the seam of the darkening west.

Uplifting wind multiplies and divides the world.

Flags tatter themselves in its speed. Then sirens.

From the overhang of your porch, wait

for the imprint of lightning to open your eyes.

Surrender to the wide yawning of thunder, the tendrils

trailing the supercell, and the one sweet songbird

at once unaware and aware. Follow

the storm of the storm, not the storm you expect.

When the rotation makes landfall, go inside swiftly.

Rush the stairs to the basement, grabbing the small cat

and photo albums on the way. Call the neighbors

from the crawl space. Press the anxious dog to your chest.

Turn up the weather radio and let the tone of danger

vibrate through your beating heart.

Obey the hunter you once were thousands of years ago.

Northerning: Everyday Magic, Day 815

Hello, my name is Lake Michigan

Usually summer aims me west, the direction any self-respecting Kansan wants to go when the temperatures heads for the hinterlands of triple digits. This summer was a northerning thing instead with three trips to the Twin Cities (visit our daughter, help her move, and attend a newphew’s wedding), a lovely vacation in the northern pinky tip of Michigan (to see a friend), and the usual airport-infested trek to Vermont and back to teach. Whatever the reasons, it seems I as just getting back from one northern catapult  when it was time to pack (or just not completely unpack from the last trip) for the next one.

There’s a lot to said for getting in a tiny car early in the morning, guzzling ice coffee, and driving from 90-something degrees to less than 80 degrees. Just that shift in temperature can shift perspective, not to mention what’s blossoming up yonder that thoroughly finished its gig here months before. I inhaled lilac in June in Michigan and July in Minnesota after lamenting it finishing in Kansas by late April. There’s nothing like a little travel to scramble seasonal markers and wake me up to how much “whatever is” isn’t necessarily so. Of course, there’s also the Twilight Zone restaurants in Northern Missouri or Iowa we have a talent for finding, but that’s another story.

In the middle of a Minneapolis neighborhood

Cooler bouts of air also meant wearing pants frequently all summer instead of shorts. I’ve lived many Kansas summers when slipping my legs into jeans in September felt positively exotic.

Mostly though, all this northerning brought me face to face woods and water. Everywhere I traveled, I inhaled the smell of pine and glimpsed (or waded hesitantly into) clear water.

The lakes of Minnesota spill out across the landscape and throughout the cities. A few weeks ago, as Ken and I walked a Minneapolis neighborhood, we happened upon one lake (Lake of the Isles), that seemed a pond until we turned a corner.

The northern climes of Michigan are surrounded of course by Lake Michigan, which I hadn’t really seen up-close before with its Caribbean blue of the turquoise water, the jewel tones everywhere. Having spent some time with Lake Superior, which is a living being that changes pastel tones all day, I was surprised by the different look of this lake. I wasn’t so surprised by the crazy cold of the water though, and only made it in up to my knees (although I did swim in a cold and white-capped pond later on).

In Vermont, I spent a day hugging the shore of Lake Champlain, one of the loveliest places I know with the Adironacks to the west and Green Mountains to the west. The wind is always big there, photo 1-1and I slept in a darkness interrupted by the heartbeat flash of a lighthouse. I also swam daily in this pond surrounded by woods and sky, and often shiveringly cold. Even when well-immersed and swimming for a while, I could skirt pockets of deep cold from the depths.

Back home, my northerning ways come full circle. The fog that enveloped the world this morning, the cool and damp air, and the recent rain bring me back and forward at once. The lakes around here are muddy and surrounded by a protective army of chiggers. The pine I inhale is only from an essential oil. I’m happy to be finished, for a while at least, with propelling myself north. As for that desire to get on I-70 and drive a long way west, I tell myself next summer can be for westerning again.


Running with the Ruling Class: Everyday Magic, Day 812

Here I am in my bigger, better first class seat.
Here I am in my bigger, better first class seat.

When I saw those stark words — “Flight Delayed” — on my computer at 7:30 this morning, I went from barely awake to fight-or-flight (without the flight) caffeination. Within 30 minutes, I had speed-showered, rushed over to my office (one of the few places on the Goddard campus where I could use a phone that didn’t drop every call), and discovered all was well, if not delayed, in the universe, and something else too: a welcome to First Class.

What? I had to read it several times. Seems that my projected two-hour delay was bumping me from downstairs to upstairs. Having never flown first class before, my mind doggie-paddled with possibilities. Would there be champagne, caviar, jumbo shrimp, hot chocolate chip cookies? Maybe I’d be offered a steaming towel to refresh my face after the complementary manicure. What actually happened behind the blue curtain?

The whole thing reminded me of a lodging upgrade a few months ago in Kalamazoo when my cheapest-room-within-walking-distance-of-the-train-station was suddenly upgraded to a grand suite. When I checked in, the hotel clerk asked if I wanted dishes sent up, which was my first clue that something was different. “Why would I need dishes?” I asked him. He politely explained that they could be handy in the kitchen I was getting.

I was hanging out with my friend Stephanie at the time, who had driven me to the city and was going to look at my room with me before we dined and parted. Having just spent five days in her small book-lined house in the woods with a woman who wrote a book called Epicurian Simplicity, I was more than dazed when we went up to the suite. “I can’t stay here! It’s much too big,” I told her as we tentatively opened cabinets, ran from room to room, and opened the drapes to reveal floor-to-ceiling windows curving around the corner of the large living room/dining room/kitchen. I have no idea why I was given that space, but after detailed discussions about whether I should beg for something more humble, I surrendered to luxury. Amazing how fast we can get used to fancy digs: by the next morning, I was reluctant to leave.

It’s interesting to glimpse how the upper 10% (or whatever percent) lives, but the most fun part of it all was speaking with a U.S. Airways rep before the flight when I told her I had a stupid question to ask her. “There are no stupid questions,” she said.

“Actually, I think there are many stupid questions in the world, but here’s mine: do they feed us in first class? I usually grab some dinner at the airport, but is there going to be fine china and gourmet food in my near future?”

She checked the computer as if what I was asking wasn’t so stupid, then told me the truth. “No, not on the 5:15 p.m. flight.” Instead, there are slightly bigger seats with more room between them. Also, the plastic drink cups are a few ounces bigger, and we were offered a choice of a treat (pretzels, tiny packs of cookies, or potato chips). The cookies I surely don’t need are not baking on board, and there’s no hot wash clothes being doled out with sterling silver tongs. So I do have to wonder why people would pay hundreds of dollars more for a packaged fig bar with their slightly-taller glass of ginger ale.On the other hand, no need to look a gift horse in the mouth. Instead, we ride on, the whole plane engulfed in some turbulence right now, first class as well as coach class being jerked around in our seat belts as we dream of solid ground.

Traveling By Train: Everyday Magic, Day 803

From whence I come
From whence I come

I had this illusion that train travel would be serene, a rollicking cradle of comfort up and down the tracks as I dozed off and dreamt of unfurling horizons. So when I booked my ticket to go to Michigan — two trains, three hours between them tooling around Chicago — I was thrilled at the sauna-like travel experience I was sure would follow. Having done a whole lot of driving and a whole lot of flying, train travel always seems to me to be a vacation to get to the vacation.

Amusing and intriguing? Maybe. Scenic and rhythmic? Definitely. But this is not the spa version of any kind of self-propelling through time and space. Exhibit A: the hour the first train comes to fetch me is long before dark’o’thirty. I wake at 4:30 a.m. into a universe I barely know. Once onboard, the swaying back and forth I imagined is more like being flung from one side of the world to another. As I leave my seat to check out the bathroom or find the cafe, I have to lunge at other seats to keep my balance while everyone around me is doing the same. Have trains always been like this, and I just forgot?

Then there are all the first-world-problems: food okay but not as good as I IMG_0650remembered, bathrooms that seem to not have been cleaned since 2011, overcrowding to the point that some people boarding have to wait in the lounge car, and in the lounge car, someone narrating historical and geographical features in a booming voice. My favorite moment: when he pointed us all toward a bald eagle in the field before introducing the dirt road we were riding over.

Chicago, a place I haven’t really been since 1981, is bigger, faster and louder than I remembered. While I made my way to Greek Town for Linner (dinner + lunch at 4 p.m.), my back and arms strained a bit with all the luggage, but the fresh air, after 9 hours on the train, was luscious.

The Great Hall isn’t green

Back in Union Station, my train fantasy burst. Maybe taking a train at 6 p.m. on a Friday, in retrospect, wasn’t the calmest way to go, but as I walked up and long long slanted floors toward wherever I was supposed to be (or thought I was supposed to be), rushing people slammed into me or halted abruptly, looking at me as if I had landed in front of them from Mars. Once at “D,” the place I was supposed to go, I joined a long line as someone ordered her to go to “the Green Hall.” We scurried away, confused. “What is this Green Hall?” a woman asked me. I told her I didn’t know, but let’s go find it, and in no time, facilitator that I am, I was leading six of us through a maze of shops and turns, escorted part of the time by a kind security officer, to the “Great Hall” (no green in sight) where, in the vast emptiness, we saw a sign with our train number on it, and a long line of people waiting.

30 minutes later, many of us confused and asking each other why we were here in between speculating about whether we were going to be put on a bus instead of a train (the horrors!), someone came, yelled at us to follow, and the rushing forth of the lemmings began. We went a long way back until we got to the train platform, occasional Amtrak personnel herding us with sticks (well, not sticks, but plenty of yelling). Then it was onto an kindly but old train to sit in full sun without the a.c. not kicking on yet. I know, more first world problems, and not really problems at all.

Now we’re moving north, we’ve cleared downtown Chicago, and out my sun-blasted window, I see old houses and new baseball fields, hear the long and lonely whistle of this train, and in the distance, glimpse a vast stretch of refineries. Nothing is what we think it is most times, and while this has not been a day to rest and replenish, it is a day with its own gifts, like this gorgeous cottonwood we just passed, eeking out its life between a cement wall and broken sidewalk while the blue of the sky sails back.

Death Tour 2014: Everyday Magic, Day 797

Portrait of the artist recovering with her cat
Portrait of the artist recovering with her cat

Within one week, I attended my uncle’s moving funeral in New Jersey, our dear community friend Maggie’s beautiful memorial service in Lawrence, and gave four Holocaust book presentations in the Kansas towns of Newton, Hutchinson, Hillsboro and McPherson. I’m beyond weary, but also inspired by the love that edged everywhere I went and most everyone I met.

The funeral for my very funny and lively uncle took place on a brilliantly blue day, where we gathered at the grave site for a short ceremony. The rabbi told about my uncle’s spirit, and his unwavering love for my aunt as the wind lightly blew and the sun brightly shone. We took turns dropping three or more shovel-fulls of dirt on the simple wooden coffin, and then the Bloom men (nephews, son, cousins, brother) continued until the grave was filled. While my trip did entail long days of flying each way, and a whole lot of driving through New Jersey, it was full of appreciation for family, great meals at diners, and laughing hysterically and mom while rolling down various highways.

The service for our friend Maggie today was sparkling with soul. Beautiful music, especially a bass solo played by one of Maggie’s nephews, and heart-opening remembrances her her brother, son and husband all culminated in the 500 or so people there standing up to sing “This Little Light of Mine” together. This is the same song a bunch of sang at her window about a month ago on a snowing March day as we sheltered our candles from the wind and leaned into each other for warmth. There’s a lot to say about the injustice of such an alive person dying from cancer at the age of only 49, but there’s even more to say about her legacy of love.

In between the funerals, I traveled with my friend Liz to a bunch of south-central communities to give presentations on my book Needle in the Bone: How a Holocaust Survivor and Polish Resistance Fighter Beat the Odds and Found Each Other. Four talks in three days meant I occasionally forgot what I told each audience, and what was left to tell. Nevertheless, the audiences surpassed expectations and numbers everywhere, especially in the small town of Hillsboro, where over 100 people came out to learn more about the Holocaust and the Polish resistance. When I showed photos of Lou’s extended family, all of whom were killed in the Holocaust, I was reminded of how, in some small way, of how right it is to remember and acknowledge these people and their lives.

Now that the week is over, I sit on the porch with Shay the dog, the wind blows fiercely, and we await whatever comes next, which might likely be another nap, with a grateful heart.

Goodbye, Old Friend: Everyday Magic, Day 756

DSCN2269Today we emptied out my beloved Toyota Sienna so it can become a trade-in for Forest’s new (and yet to be named) used car. Cleaning out the plastic door pockets, under the seats, the glove compartment, I came across years of small trash and treasure: a nickel with a hole in the middle, a triangular-shaped black stone from Lake Superior, pennies stuck together with mud, many manner of writing instruments, pieces of maps. For close to a decade, I basically lived in this vehicle by day, hauling to school and back little kids who morphed into teens who exploded into young adults.

The van ferried us great distances: to the Rockies many times for camping disasters that ended in all of us rushing into that van in the middle of the night to escape a tent in which two of our three children threw up on each other. It took us to The Farm in Summertown, TN for a bioregional congress that brought together people in love with the earth from throughout the Americas. We drove it far north and south, east and west, diagonally too, especially during my poet laureate term when it carried bundles of poets around Kansas.

As a rite of passage van, it’s what I drove after delivering Natalie to her college in Minnesota, crying so hard in my navigation of the Twin Cities that I kept DSCN2272confusing which city was which. It’s what we had to get back into, nervous and heartbroken, while Daniel waved goodbye to us when he started college in North Newton, KS.

The van was famous for many things, not the least of which was hauling couches. We brought a large red couch up to St. Paul for Natalie, stuffed an extra-large futon couch (and futon) into it to the amazement of our friend, who sold us the futon. The van easily carried an extra-long and super-heavy tip-top condition couch I found on a curb (and loaded on top thanks to strangers who came to my aid).

I have cried in this van, laughed so hard I cried again, changed my clothes in it a thousand times (usually not while driving), and eaten hundreds of meals at the driver’s seat. Kelley and I have used the van to haul her piano, guitar, our clothes and sundries for a week and all the Brave Voice supplies to Council Grove and back. I have loaded dogs and cats into this van, family members from near and afar, stray furniture to take in and piles of clothes to give away. I’ve made big life decisions in this van on highways that rose and fell across expansive lands.

All the time, this van has been exceptional, “a magic car,” Ken calls it. Yet now that it will cost twice or three times what the van is worth to fix all that’s wrong with it, we made the sorrowful decision to let it go (thanks for the great assessment and car-transition-counseling, Slimmer’s Automative!). So on this cold and nearly-final day of the year, we say goodbye for good to a very dear old friend. I wish our old friend a new home with a lot less driving and hauling, spanking new brakes and a shiny new timing belt, and most of all, to find people who will see just how good one big, red, old but reliable car can be.

You Can Go Home Again Even If It’s Someone Else’s Home: Everyday Magic, Day 740

DSCN1937As I was photographing the side of the house where I grew up in Manalapan, New Jersey, a handsome man came to the window and opened it. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” I told him. “I know this looks strange, but you see, I used to live here.” It turns out that at the moment I was creeping around his office, he was working on a film, thinking to himself, “I need a writer.” Sometimes the universe cracks itself up.

Residents present and past

Within moments, Adam, the man who lives with his wife in the house where I lived from ages eight to 19, was shaking my hand, and allowing my daughter, mom and me inside. The synchronicities abounded. “This is the house where I became a writer. It’s an artist house,” I told him. He understood — he’s a photographer and filmmaker, and his wife, a painter. We talked about the bad mojo of my parents’ divorce in this house, and the subsequent divorce of the people who moved in after my family, as well as the healing energy of this place.

Adam and my mom discuss the backyard, past and present
Adam and my mom discuss the backyard, past and present

Inside and out, the house has flourished. Gone are the walls dividing the kitchen and ornamental dining room, and family room and living room. Spaciousness, light, color and life whirl through house instead. When we got to my bedroom, I shared another wall-removal story: what it was as a 16-year-old to wake up one morning after a 12-hour shift the day before at the Englishtown Auction (largest flea market on the planet as far as we were concerned), open my door, and see all sky. That was beginning of my father’s removal of most of the upstairs to create another common room and a few more bedrooms.

Outside, the gardens were lush, artistic and inviting, and I was especially thrilled

The view from my old bedroom window
The view from my old bedroom window

to see that Adam raises tomatoes and bounties of flowers. The hill where I sat nestled among bushes and trees for hours, journal in hand, was still mildly wild and steep. The railroad ties that framed a 25′ x 15′ sandbox — my dad never did anything small — in lieu of a fabulous deck and oasis of peace.

So I got to go home again to the place I held onto for dear life as a teenager when the rest of my world and family spun out of control. I lived here with my family of origin, alone with my dad, and with a big stepfamily and Trinidadian housekeeper. During all those years, I tucked myself between the pussy willows on the left-side of the house, just outside Adam’s office window, and wrote plays and poems. Now I return to discover the place continues to shelter artists, having come home to its best self.