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I am in Michigan to attend a family reunion in my mother’s hometown. It is a small hamlet in the Midwest. It is a sort of Lake Woebegon. I’ve been coming since I was a boy, fifty years ago. It is an odd feeling to be back in a place so familiar yet so different. Downtown is nothing is what I remember it to be. West of town where once were fields there now stands Wal-Mart, McDonalds, and such. In the recesses of my memory I am five years old arriving again to visit my grandparents. Now I am the age of my grandfather.

My mother’s side has gathered every year at this time of year for as long as I remember. I think they started this in the 50s, as August 1 is the birthday of my grandfather and his twin sister ‘Grandma Susan”. They would have over their two other siblings (not twins) for the mutual birthday. The four brought their children, who in turn brought theirs and so on throughout the decades.

My mother’s cousins are now the elders. The cousins in my generation now have their own children. The house has been in the family for over 100 years. “The Cottage” is located on a lake, so everyone takes turns swimming or boating. Outside is a well, which has continuously bubbled forth for goodness knows how long. Entering the driveway all stop to take a drink. If we were Catholics I dare say we would call it holy water and cross ourselves before entering the shrine.

I haven’t attended the reunion in some years for it is expensive to fly and travel there from Arizona. I am going this year for the implied reason this may be the last reunion for some of the older relations. This is not spoken out loud, for that would be indiscrete. I wonder how long the reunion will continue as the branches of the four siblings extend further out and the second and third cousins grow farther apart and know each other less and less.

On Saturday morning my parents will drive me to Fremont Lake (a route we all know by heart) where I will ‘take the waters’ . Later, after eating the same potluck dishes they have served since the 60s, I will sit with the aged ones and watch the youngsters (most whom I don’t recognize) and talk away the day. At times I will reflect upon my ancestors who have sat on this same porch since the early 1900s. I may have a snort, and make a joke about ‘the loons, listen to the loons”.  I wonder if I will cry.

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InsanityIt has been a bitch week. Taking time off from work (even with daily check-ins via the internet) always has a price, which is coming back to work to a pile of papers and phone calls. After twenty years of this I am not surprised and I am used to it. I take a deep breath and work longer hours than usual for a few days (think of that!). Eventually things catch up.  However, I had only three days this week to do the work normally done in five.  Tomorrow I leave for Michigan to attend a family reunion. I won’t have the weekend to ‘catch up’.  It’s been exhausting.  Finally, after what feels like weeks, I managed to read my blogs and let people know through comments I have not died. I sense one of two blogger buddies are mad at me for not being around, for they have been silent.

It will be nice to see my family and various relations of course. But there is a part of me that would rather stay home. I hoped to see all my brothers but they seem to be dropping out one by one (one is sick, another has an emergency, and another apparently has to work). Ironically I was persuaded to go as “I was the only one not going”; now I may be the only one going. Stinko.

Blobby may find it amusing to hear I will be traveling with cousin Jack (who lives in Columbus Ohio) I be traveling with a loquacious Buckeye (oh the pain).

On the positive, I will have a hotel room all to myself and some time to do some catch up work as well as read blogs.  I think I am looking forward to the solitude as much as seeing the cousins.  Perhaps The Muses will inspire me to compose a fabulously witty and erudite entry – provided they can get a word in edgewise over Cousin Jack.

Someone (the dirty skiver!) gets to stay home and tend house and Harper but mostly he will sleep and eat (nasty) chips in peace and quiet.  No ADHD in-laws for him.

This one was written during my plane trip going home. If you are reading this, this means we landed safely, the luggage was not lost, The Lovely Neighbor picked us up, and we found no calamity at home. 

A four-five hour plane trip gives me plenty of time to reflect on anything and everything. I am alone in my thoughts Someone who is sitting next to me is miles away, engrossed in a phone game. In fact I am surrounded by people staring into their techie-toys. The plane is crammed full of kiddies. I am grateful to Mr, Steve Jobs for making iPhones and iPads and the like which are keeping the munchkins mute and immutable. There is no distraction to listen for the Muses for some inspiration. Unfortunately they too are surmounted by headphones sitting in first class (Urs Truly is back in coach). I have to wing it as it were.

My passport, which rides in my breast pocket, is looking a bit worn from this week’s travels. From it, I sense the passage of time. Next year it turns ten years old; I will need a new one. I am looking forward to replacing this decade-old document for the young man in its photo no longer exists. His hair and whiskers are dark brown; his skin looks smooth and his eyes look rested. My hair in contrast is silver gray like the back of a schnauzer. The hairs on my chin are now white as snow. There are crows feet around my eyes which have bags from years of allergies and long work hours.

Although I don’t feel ‘old’ I no longer feel young. Many times on this trip my knee would act up or the back stiffen. Going out late was declined for the desire to get to sleep (voiced while nodding off at ten o’clock).

This is not grief or griping but a pensive reflection on Life, The Universe, and Everything. Sci-Fi fans now the answer to that cosmic question is ’42’, which is how old I was when I was issued said passport. Now I am 53 and the answer ’42’ makes me wonder if I’ve been hornswoggled.
While there is a lot to do this week (laundry, catchup at work, read blogs, back to the gym etc.) one item more is to start the inquiry how to update my passport. I will get a new photo too and afterwards look forward to writing a similar post (Lord willing) in another ten years.

In “The Hobbit” the hero Bilbo Baggins struggles between his two genetic stocks. On his father’s side is “Baggins” – famous for staying put and not leaving home (“Adventures make one late for dinner!”) and on his maternal side is “Took”, who traveled the world and had remarkable experiences. As his name (and lifestyle) is “Baggins” it takes an outsider (Gandalf) to awaken his latent and suppressed ‘Took” to go out and see the world.

This nicely illustrates the struggle to feel safe and snug at home versus the longing to vagabond. My “Took side” has bubbled up thanks to our time in Ottawa with our hosts. They are remarkable men in many ways not least is their travel experiences. They have lived and worked all over the world and they continue to do so. One of them will take a cruise this autumn to see the St. Lawrence river; the two of them are planning a train ride across Ireland. Siren-like they are enticing me/us to come away with them in a fancy to Norway. “Oh the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done! “ They make marvelous Gandalfs to my inveterate Baggins.

As soon as my gut-intuition (nearly always right) gurgles in excitement about going somewhere, my mind kicks in with the usual intellectual B.S. why this is “not a good idea”. The usual reasons are evoked: traveling requires time, money, getting time off, and someone to cover work. If these neurosis don’t work the more neurotic worries are given: language barriers, travel-sickness, terrorism, and 16-ton weight accidents. While this laundry list of losers usually wins out, my inner-Took has the trump card: upon my death bed do I want to reflect back on all the work I did or will I recall the travel experiences? “Baggins” usually wins though via procrastination “OK, someday – but not now”. The abulia is amazing.

We fly home tomorrow; we’ve had a marvelous holiday. I’ve enjoyed the travel and seeing the sights. My Took feels satiated and Baggins wants to see his own bed and dog.  This is a good ending for a vacation.  The challenge afterward is to keep an eye on my bucket list.  On it are four vague travel items:

See Ireland
See a fjord

Visit a tea plantation

Attend a performance at the Sydney Opera House

Hopefully my inner-Took will not lose sight of them.

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A visit to the Governor General (no one suspected I was a Yankee tourist)

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Some Prime Ministers (one hardly four feet)

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An itinerary. Every day we are walking 6-8 miles! 

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A Canadian. He is a fine fellow and knows all the show tunes

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Another fine Canadian. He knows everything else. 

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A kingsize titanic unsinkable Molly Brown spider 

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Love conquers all. 

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General Wolfe and Urs Truly

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A Parliament

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A Barking Squirrel

Here is today’s itinerary:

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As you can see it contains heroic enterprises such as confronting thirty-foot tall spiders. This is strong work for someone who has arachnophobia. I have decided to change tactics. Rather than send a deputation ahead of me to divert its attention for an attack from the rear (I’m very good at that by the way) I will march right up and give it a hug and fill its truculent soul with love and understanding. I hope to get it enough karma before I suffer a heart attack or be eaten or am arrested for lewd behavior in a public domain (alas not the first time).

After victory with the ersatz helicopter crash we get a guided tour of the Gallery by Laurent docent extraordinaire. He is well over four feet.  I want to avoid the blood-heads and naked women with parts missing (it’s morbid!) and go straight to the paintings. I will hold an inspection of “The death of General Wolfe” and see its details.

I see on the itinerary we get to meet Steve today. It is always exciting – and a bit tense – to meet a blogger. The midwesterner within me wonders: what if I fail to live up to expectations? What if he doesn’t like me in person? Answer:  I get fed to the 30ft spider.

Here is a photo of tomato soup cake Will and Laurent made for me:

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As you can see the age is a tad off. Apparently they did not have a ‘5’ so ‘7’ would have to do.

I did some minor movements of the furniture:

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What do you think?  Better, yes? 

Hello from Ottawa!

The train ride was splendid; it had a meal (not bad!), a drink, and hot towels. It felt like an old-fashioned first class airplane ride. It was the highlight of the trip so far.

Laurent and Will picked us up from the depot; they gave us a most splendid dinner, including a belated birthday cake (tomato soup cake). They wore their Spo-shirts. They remain well over four feet. The made for us this exquisite and most thorough four day itinerary. I feel like royalty.

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The B&B where we are staying is in an old house in their neighborhood. It will do as a base.  The weather will be cool enough to be in the 50s at night – no AC for once!

Apparently the area is awash with nature’s bachelors. When I established WiFi connection I was instantly greeted by a dozen gentleman of Scruff, offering salutations and warm welcomes etc.  It reminds me of something I read while touring Fort George in Niagara-on-the-lake:

“The gentlemen of the army are warned against a too familiar intercourse with the adjacent village, as mischiefs grow out of it which are little understood and must be prevented.”
– General Order, U.S. Military District No. 9, Fort George, September 18, 1813.

Indeed!

I will now have my croissant and breakfast tea and other jentacular actions and then it is off to see the sights. I plan on wearing my Canadian spo-shirt to all the local sites. I hope I am not arrested.

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I had an hour to kill and there is now WiFi; it was a good time to write a blog entry and post it prior to departure.

I am sitting in the Toronto Union Station, waiting for train #42 to take me to Ottawa (Land of poutines). It has been a very long time since I last took the train. I am excited.  I love train rides.

Train rides are treats; they are not practical. They are expensive, inconvenient, and never faster than other means of travel. So, when taken,  it means I have “time on my hands” with no need to rush anywhere. If good luck prevails I will have a window seat that sits forward in quiet part of the train (business class tickets were purchased to better assure such). After four days of car rides (mostly in grisly Toronto traffic) this will feel a breeze. The trip is scheduled for four hours. American trains are never on time; let’s see how timely are the Toronto trains.

I become introspective and thoughtful on trains, for they are a quick and easy metaphor for Life’s Journey: Where am I going? What am I doing? Do I like what Life is showing me? (I think there is a song here). There is nothing so serene as contemplating cosmic questions while staring out the window, watching the world whiz by, and going into a dwam (there’s that word again). Trains allows a self-hypnosis seldom seen in car travel.

I’ve become quite relaxed on this Canadian holiday. I hadn’t realized how tense and wound up I was prior. The last few months of work have been more inimical than I knew. I should take travel and take more vacations – and work less. No “karoshi” for me.

I am looking forward to what I may experience in the train-induced trance.  Perhaps I will achieve satori. Perhaps I will realize the answer to Life, The Universe, and Everything (after all I am on #42).  More likely I will experience nothing as my mind will go blank.

When did that last occur? Perhaps on the last train ride. Long overdue, no?

Whizzing down the QEW going from Niagara-on-the-lake toward Toronto gives me plenty of time to scribble down my thoughts. Rather than look out the passenger window and count the Tim Hortons passing by (or going into a dwam) I can be introspective. For a few days I’ve had this odd neutral feeling which feels familiar but I could not quite figure out what it is until it dawned on me I am relaxed. I am not working. I can’t remember the last time I felt this at peace . I ought to not work more often. It does wonders on the complexion let alone my blood pressure.  There is a Japanese word “karoshi” meaning literally working yourself to death. The closest we have in English is ‘working”.

The annual trio of NOTL to Toronto to Stratford is altered to a quartet with Ottawa. All is going well. We saw five splendid shows; we’ve had several good meals. We are off to T-town to visit a few chums and have a Keith Alexander beer on Church St.

There was only one stinker: a certain restaurant had service so bad we walked out. We were not the only ones to do so. As the patrons left in a huff we compared notes what each one was told was the matter.  No one had the same explanation. Someone and I waited 90 minutes before we scrammed. We witnessed not one but two tables sit down after us, get served and even move onto desert and still we hadn’t received our entree. We figured out our bill for the drinks and the appetizer and paid that. Some of the others who had walked out did not pay.  The element of this debacle that really upset me was the waitress who not once came over to explain or apologize or convey vexation about our predicament.  That was the straw that broke this camel’s back.

We had an impromptu ‘supper’ at a local coffee house.

It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good. I purchased the British sweetie “Jelly Babies” which have have heard of but never tasted.  They are sort of like gummi-bears with a dusting of powdered sugar. As a dinner they were most delicious and the lack of a heavy meal allowed me to stay awake (for once) for the 8PM show.  We saw an Ibsen play, which seemed apropos after such as supper.

Greetings from Ontario. We are in Niagara-on-the-Lake at our usual B&B. It is the start of our week-long holiday.

As I age and become wiser the more suspicious I become about speed. I’ve come to the conclusion speed is inimical to health and well-being. Throughout my work week I try to keep a speedy pace to keep all on time; I gobble lunch often in 15-20 minutes time periods often while working. Now I am on vacation; this evening we had a leisurely dinner followed by a evening void of texts, television or homework. Lovely.

Why is it whenever we are surrounded by ‘time saving devices’ we feel we haven’t any time but when we are deprived of said devices we suddenly find we have all the time in the world?

So much of my days are rushing around trying to stay on time and get things done and what has this accomplished really. Every year my birthday seems to come sooner than the last one. Enough already. It’s time to get in touch with my inner- tortoise. I need to chew slower and hustle less. The timers are turned off on the Suduku and puzzle games and I am looking to turn down off my own.

Tomorrow, other than needing to be on time for a matinee and a dinner reservation, I have no need to do or go anywhere. I can think of nothing more salubrious for health. Perhaps I will stroll around at a snail’s pace, looking into store fronts or at the passing tourists. Breakfast and lunch may linger for hours.  Even as I type this out I feel a dissipation of tensions. People may ask me later ‘what did you do on your vacation?”  Rather than being shocked or bewildered at the reply of ‘Oh, nothing really” they will be relieved.

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