How to Take a Viking River Cruise-Part 2

OR…Do A Grouch A Favor

Yes, I’m in the middle of a story. If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.

Refresh your memory, then come back because, you need to know that in the U.S. February 16th is “Do A Grouch A Favor Day.”

I began walking long hallways like a tiger, pacing the cage

Keep this in mind because I was in a grousing mood when I left Amsterdam and began cruising the Danube in a Viking ship. It didn’t take long for me to start bellyaching about the “confined” feeling of the ship. Occasionally we got off to traipse around a castle, and then we resumed floating past many, many more castles. I was trapped, listening to the stories of somebody’s brother’s health problems, or Aunt Whowho’s cake decorating business, or tales of “my son, the successful doctor.” (Shoot me now.)

Escape was difficult. The exercise deck was flattened. (Literally). Chairs, railings, and posts had been folded, hugging the top-deck so the ship could pass under low bridges and locks. You could sit (or pace like I did–inside) and watch the world go by.

But in Melk, Austria, the ship’s tour director arranged a treat for me and Dallas-Cowboy-Fan. A company close to the docks rented bikes. We checked in on-line, and the company sent us the combination of the bike locks. We unleashed our sturdy wheels and off we rode.  Our mission was to beat the ship to Krems, twenty-five miles away.

Now…a word about these bikes…when I say sturdy…I mean…like tanks.  Each bike weighed 40 pounds, had 3 gears with only back-pedaling to stop. But I was glad to be free, doing something, exercising, exploring. (Yahoo!!!!)

We took off like children at recess. About 4 miles out of town we pushed our wheeled-freighters up a hill to a bike-bridge over the Danube.

A group of cyclists we’d seen in town passed us, laughing about our WWII era bikes. It was the first of many snickers about our rentals. But I was glad to have the sturdy steed beneath me as we rushed down the concrete bike bridge, 3/4 mile long, picking up speed until we were flying over the Danube around 30 m.p.h. My stocking cap, which was in the front basket flew out, and I snatched it mid-air, petrified I’d somersault into the river and die if I took my hands off the handlebars again.

Charming villages in wine country

We should’ve taken pictures from the bridge, but neither of us were sure our gears wouldn’t strip if we tried to stop. The path turned into a winding trail through miles of countryside. Shrines of The Madonna or Jesus stood in vineyards or at the entrances/exits of tiny villages (prayers for a good harvest and blessings.) People were friendly, except the two old fraus in leggings who looked at us as though we were riding dead chickens.

The boat had already docked by the time we reached Krems. As I pushed my bike past it, a man asked me in German to take his picture in front of the boat. I told him, “Ich spreche kein Deutche.” (I don’t speak German). He cocked his head, confused.  “Keiner?”  (None?) I shook my head and continued looking for the kiosk where we could  self-check-in our bikes and stop the clock ticking up the fee of 5 Euro an hour).

In 5 minutes, we got back to the ship. The man was still there, admiring the boat. I felt like a donkeybutt for being unkind after such a glorious ride. “Willst ein foto?” (Want a photo?) I asked him. “Ja wirklich?” (Really?) he asked.

I nodded and he handed me his camera and began waving and calling people sitting on the benches. Aunts, uncles, grandma, kids…ten people hurriedly assembled in front of the gangplank, with the red Viking banners proudly waving on either side of them.

And that’s when the trip changed.

I’d been pacing, walking hallways, wanting to get off that ship. In front of me were ten people, hoping, dreaming that someday, they’d get on that ship and go somewhere. Until then a picture would have to do. It would sustain their hope of someday.

And then they gave me a kindness. I asked for their story, and they shared it. They told of their time of living in eastern Europe, of bananas as birthday presents (because they were rare), of cotton shortages and only polyester clothing, of Levis that were 2 week’s wages on the black market. When the wall fell, they made it out. Life was better—GOOD!  But someday…

My grouchiness died right there with the dawning that I was blessed. Fortunately, that gift has mostly stayed with me.  When I have too much to do, or hate our politics, or don’t want to cook another frickin’ meal, I’m back standing on that dock, seeing the world through their eyes.

So … how do you take a Viking cruise (or any journey)?

Yep, I’m going back out with Viking and try it again. A different river. Different countries. Different attitude. Instead of clothes, I’ll worry about being be more alert, watching, looking for how we’re all different or the same. I’ll write stories when I can’t exercise. Maybe I can ditch my expectations  (connections, weather, and grumpy peeves I drag around).  And heaven help me, I’ll learn to listen, especially when I hear  Auntie Whoever say, “my daughter, the successful banker….” (but honestly, I’ve already got a list of topic-changing questions in my pocket).

And if my attitude fails?

That’s where you come in. Remember, “Do A Grouch A Favor” Day?  February 16th?

Maybe they’re grouchy because they already feel so small?

There’s no reason it can’t be extended. Nothing kicks butt out of a bad attitude like receiving a kindness. If you run into someone cranky like me, please take a moment to be kind. Sure, the person doesn’t deserve it, but your small gentleness will help the healing. (Trust me). And….who knows what changes will come? That grouch may carry the thought of you with them for months and perhaps over an ocean miles way.

Practice grace, everyday.

But especially on Feb 16th. Please come back and tell me what you did for a grouch.

And we continue the journey….


How to Take A Viking Tour…Part 1

Don’t use the back door when the blades are on that side.

It’s been a while since my last post. We have a bit of catching up to do.

Last Christmas, we decided we didn’t need any “stuff,” instead, we said we’d save our bucks spent on  anniversary, birthdays, and  Christmas and give ourselves an international experience in the upcoming year instead.

Okay, we were probably watching too much Public Broadcasting. The beguiling violins and cellos of the Viking Cruise song lured us like sirens … and shoot, darn, heck, who doesn’t want to travel to foreign places to learn to knead bread, make pancakes, and run between the blades of the windmills. (Okay, maybe not that last one.) We signed up.

The Grand European Tour: Amsterdam to Budapest

1.  PACK RIGHT:  I’m a small packer. I feel righteous about only traveling with a carry-on

Smart packing techniques.

and a backpack. Of course, I look like a charwoman most of the time, but when I’m traveling, I figure I’ll never see these folks again, so why risk a dislocated spine?

But on a river cruise, you DO see these folks. Everyday. Every night. Almost  every meal. Almost every tour. So I had to bring a slightly bigger suitcase and more clothes. Now here’s a travel-secret: Use the JEANS-TECHNIQUE: No one is sure if you’ve previously worn your jeans, OR if you’ve got on a fresh pair…so you could probably do a 15-day trip with 2 pair of jeans.  Except all my jeans look like they should be made into Raggedy Ann dolls, so instead I simply packed black clothes. I looked like Johnny Cash with a scarf. The good news is that no one cares what you wear (unless you’re naked). These trips are pretty laid-back.

2. ARRIVE AT YOUR DESTINATION EARLY: I have a lot of talents. Most of them are useless (like counting backward in Pig-Latin or juggling sponges), but my favorite skill is being able to sleep on airplanes. I snap on noise-canceling headphones, a blindfold, warm socks, blanket, air pillows, nearby snacks, water, and Chapstick, and I’m snoozin’ by the time we reach mid-Atlantic ocean. I arrive only slightly less jet-lagged than Dallas Cowboy Fan, who has watched four movies through the overseas flight. We try to arrive early and soak up some sunshine in our new locale; it’s supposed to help the body reset. I don’t know if it works because every time I sit in the sun, I fall asleep like a cat in a warm spot.


Yeah, sure, the cruise folks provide local lectures and tours in every town.  But these are


Welcome back to the boat. You were only gone two hours. That’s okay. Welcome back and have a drink.

the usual touristy stuff. If you want to mix it up with the locals, you’ll have to find your own adventures.  And honest-to-Pete, our unplanned forays were some of the best parts of the trip. (See Part 2-coming)


Why?  Because you’ll be spending A LOT of time sitting around, watching the scenery go by.  Yes, most of it is lovely and interspersed with the groans and squeaks of going through 67 locks, but it’s sort of like being at a party for 2 weeks with strangers. People start hauling out cards, board games, dominoes, or telling you about relatives that you may (or may not)  care about.  One experienced traveler brought his taxes to work on; others brought knitting, puzzles, Kindle readers stuffed with books, journals, and several brought work from their offices. (There’s a lot of down-time).


Unpack in your cleverly engineered room. You’ll be pulling up to the food tanks about every 4 hours During this cruise-time, Viking will treat you like a queen or king. So IF your ideal vacation is eating and visiting OR not having to cook, do housework, or laundry, then you’re going to be very very happy. IF you need to be a bit more activity… you’ll need to come up with a plan.

Of course, not all of our plans turned out like we expected. We’re in 4 different countries, don’t speak the languages, and can’t read the signs. What could go wrong? And that’s the joy of travel. Stay tuned…but in the meantime…

Merry Christmas…may you have a few surprises among your presents.

“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.” 
― Anita Desai







The Best Day of the Year

WhooHoo!! My most favorite day of the year.pn6iimgm-wo-joshua-hibbert

The shortest daylight of the year.

Here in mid-North America, we spend much of today in twilight.

Maybe you weren’t aware  there are 3 types of twilight.

Civil Twilight: This is the brightest form.  It’s light enough you can see to do outside chores.

Nautical Twilight:  This dates back to the time when sailors used the stars to navigate the seas. During this time, bright stars can be easily seen with naked eyes.

Astronomical Twilight: The sky is no longer illuminated by the sun. All stars can be seen.

There were less than 9 hours of daylight today….

But that’s okay…

The Earth is now tilting back the other way. (Sorry Australia).330px-axialtiltobliquity

We’re headed back into the light.

We’ve come through the night.

Perhaps through the long darkness you found comfort by giving, sharing, and supporting each other. Bless you.

Take heart and continue your kindnesses.

Light is ahead.

Merry Christmas, my friends!!

(To my friends in Oz…you know I love you, but WhooHoo! It’s our turn to head into the light!)

How to Lie and Spy

Lutheran Lady secretsI wish I were a better liar.

Dallas Cowboy Fan will ask, checking the fridge for a late night snack. “Hey who ate the last of the ice cream?”

“Uh… the cat?” It’s the first thing that comes to mind since I blame the cat for everything.

I’ve often thought that I need to work on my lying skills. I suppose that “lying’ is a sad thing ,but it would be handy to have a quick comeback for the neighbor who’s always asking how much I paid for something.

I’ve come across some research about women spies during the Civil War, and wondered how they pulled off their lies.

Already, I’ve learned a lot from Belle Boyd, a seventeen-year-old Southern belle who

Belle Boyd (wiki)

Belle Boyd (wiki)

stumbled into her espionage career when Union soldiers tromped into her West Virginia home. The men insulted her mama, so she pulled out a gun, shot, and killed one the bluebellies. Then she charmed the soldiers who were keeping sentry over her, was exonerated, and ended up marrying the captain of the  unit. This put her in the perfect position to hide in closets and listen to her hubby’s conversations with  fellow officers.

The young, sneaky vixen wrote down their loose-lipped war secrets, pressed the paper into a hollowed-out watch, and sent her maid scurrying past enemy lines to the Confederates.

(NOTE TO SELF: This is what it takes to be a good liar: an accomplice and an ordinary item with a secret hidey-hole in it.)

Then there was Rose O’Neal Greenhow who ran a boarding house in the nation’s capital. She made connections with presidents, generals, and military officers, and then passed whatever information she gleaned to pro-Confederate members of Congress.

It was Allen Pinkerton, head of the Secret Service,  who finally caught her and her 26-symbol cypher for encoding messages. Even confined to her house, she allegedly continued to send messages using  the position of her blinds or the number of candles in her window.

(NOTE TO SELF: Work out a code system.  BLAH!!! Already this is starting to sound like too much work. I can’t even keep track of sticky notes.)

She was arrested and released several times, finally running the blockade and escaping to London where she wrote her spy memoirs which sold like hotcakes among the Brits.

(NOTE TO SELF: Stop writing books about Lutheran Ladies. Become a Lutheran spy, then write a book about being a spy.)

A few years later when she sneaked back into the U.S., her boat was chased by a Union gunboat. It capsized and she drowned at Cape Fear. She might’ve survived, but she’d sewn the royalties from her books ($2,000 worth of gold) into her undergarments. Down she went.

(NOTE TO SELF: Do not use underpants to hide secret loot.!!!! )

So in honor of “change”, I’m learning a new skill. I’m practicing lying, cyphering, and hiding stuff, by using several secret hidey holes to stash my important treasures: chocolate, mad-money,and postage stamps [because everybody raids my stamps when they want to mail something]. Unfortunately, I’ve run into a few glitches.

I forget which place I’ve stashed what. I write myself notes, but then misplace the notes among the million pieces of paper on my desk.

At this point,  I’m not sure if I”m simply hiding stuff from myself, or if Dallas Cowboy Fan has actually found my stash and is lying about it.

It was easier when I just blamed the cat.


How Not to Give Criticism


I’ll get to the point, just wait a minute.

Okay…no matter how old I get…I still keep learning something. Whether I want to or not.

I needed to hand out criticism to a committee member. What I would like to use is the kick-butt approach:It goes like this: ” For the love of St. Pete, we’re talking about the book fundraiser, Lulu. After the meeting is over, we can talk about  your achy knee and  strange-mole problem and all the books you’ve used to diagnosis yourself..”

I’ve used this kick-butt technique a couple of times. I felt kind of skunky afterward..  But no one was insulted enough to volunteer to take over chairing the meeting, which would’ve been a nice side benefit to offset the skunky feeling..

So I switched to the ol’ interrupt-and-refocus technique.

“LuLu what in blithereens does your topic have to do with what we’re talking about— which at the moment, is the BOOK FUNDRAISER?”

Again I feel skunky for such a shut-up-and-get-with-the-topic approach. But that quickly goes away because LuLu can relate anything to the latest topic. She simply says (quite officiously) “Well, just wait…I’m getting to that.”

Five minutes and four doctor visits later, she finally reports that she has books that didn’t help at all and she’s going to put them in the book-fundraiser…if we ever get one planned.

So finally I used the OREO technique. (A suggestion for improvement is sandwiched between a couple of compliments)

“Lulu, wow that sounds like you’ve really done a lot of thorough research into in-grown toenail problems. How about you  hold those thoughts until we finish talking about the fundraiser,then we can hear your amazing information after the meeting.”

Mother Mary, Joseph, and all the baby donkeys!!!! It worked. WhooHoo. (and no skunky feeling)

There’s only one catch. I have to hang around after the meeting and listen to the FULL info dump on toenails.

I learned more than I ever wanted to know. But I figure someday it’ll be me, blathering on about the ridges in my fingernails or accidental  farts or how I don’t sleep well during a full moon.

Someday I may be lonely and the only way I know how to relieve my desperate ache is to join committees so I can be with people and hijack  conversations so I can talk about myself.

I hope they know the OREO Technique.

By Ismael Nieto

By Ismael Nieto

Have you ever dealt with a conversation hijacker?

Things that Comfort

Because I’m a writer, I keep a list of:

Things That Comfort

That way, I can siimply throw a few comforting elements into a scene and the reader will relax along with a character, and I can bring them down from big drama in the previous scene or set them up for a big scare in the next scene.  A literary trick. Warmth from a fireplace, a sunny day, the cat lying on the heating vent.  Aaaah, We all feel relaxed and soothed.

Recently our digital version of our Oregon newspaper pointed out “the least creepy thing on the internet, lately”. So I hurried over there see if it qualified for my comfort list.

Google Sheep Views

Carmel, North Wales. Photo by Howard Hughes

Carmel, North Wales. Photo by Howard Hughes

Google Sheep View is a blog in which folks post pastoral pics of sheep. Yep.

One photo isn’t much of a relaxer, but scroll through the site of woolie after woolie and you’ll feel your blood pressure start to drop. Maybe you can even imagine yourself someplace where no one wants anything from you.

You wanna know the truth?

I met a bunch of sheep on my trek across England last year. Day after day after day. Right through their pastures. Baaaaaaaaing each morning at the whisper of dawn. Right next to my pack whenever I set it down.

Here’s the truth about these gals. Not only are they wool machines. They are crapping machines.In a defecation contest between a goose and a sheep, my money would be on the woolie. I doubt if there is a square foot of the Yorkshire dales that isn’t peppered with sheep doo (unless it’s indoors.).

This won’t bother you if you’re in a car. If you’re walking fifteen miles, then you’ve spent the last 14.9 miles looking for a place to sit down and  eat. Honest to mud, a few times we sat ourselves in somebody’s  gated front yard.

These animals chew grass at one end and spit pellets out the other end. AT THE SAME TIME.!!!  CONSTANTLY!!!

Most of the sheep are spray-painted, like you see here, because all the farmers run their animals together on the moors. And the great sheep round-up is something to behold.  Not comforting to the sheep.

There’s lots of yipping and howling (that’s the humans who are riding 3-wheelers). The dogs (3-4 of them) are quiet and running the fringes of the herd.  Thousands of sheep baaaaaaing in every note within human range.

There’re sorted by colored spots (which represent different farmers). They’re sheared, doctored, and then back to the fields they go….

Naked and happy to create more sheep pellets.

And maybe that’s the comforting part. Maybe that’s the lesson here: No matter how much hair you lose—life goes on. Keep doing the things you like: eating and crapping.

(But sheep still didn’t make my comfort list). (Creepy list coming in October)

Cuppa Fancy-Pants Dishes

High Tea by Lucas AlexanderWe had a fundraiser. A High Tea at church. I love and hate these shindigs.

First the love: 

The rule for being a hostess for a table is simple: NOTHING HAS TO MATCH. So the women who “mother” a table drag out every bit of their fancy garage-sale-finds, heirlooms, and grandma-gave-it-to-me linens.

It’s charming. It’s lovely. It’s so much work. And It makes me as nervous as a fingerless-short-armed tyrannosaurus to pass around their delicate plates which are often as translucent as paper. That’s probably how the tradition of cutting off the bread crusts got started… so the added crust-weight of a pile of cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches (who thought of this combo?) wouldn’t make a heritage plate shear into eleven pieces when it’s lifted.

The amazingly architected cups (with bone-thin saucers) hold 4.3 oz of liquid which is about two good sips. If we were drinking like we were sitting at a Starbucks, the “Table Mother” would need arms like an octopus to constantly refill cups, but according to the Tenant of Tea rules (which were secretly handed down from southern woman to southern woman, allowing a sort of snobbish superiority over uncoached Yankees, whose participation in the Boston Tea party created a sort of unlimited right to tea supping),  well tea rules dictate that a woman eats BEFORE she goes to a party. Thus she will only sip 2.4 oz of tea and nibble a quarter of a tiny scone with clotted cream.

Fortunately, this is Oregon, and the need to survive a frontier of logs, beavers, and 8 months of rain has left us with a culture that allows the delicate plates to be piled high with savories and at least 2 pots of tea grace the table: caffeinated and unleaded.

And then comes the guilt

I keep telling myself I should invest in some tea service doo-daas and help out with the serving. But I don’t possess a Martha Stewart gene. Honest to Pete, I’m too lazy. The only fancy plates I have are boxed in attic. They’re the type every Lutheran church possesses and doesn’t use anymore because we church ladies have saved soup labels and box tops and bought new sturdy stuff that fits in the dishwasher better.

So I buy tickets to the tea. I love going and nibbling at the dainties (because, of course, I’ve eaten beforehand). The admission is worth it when I think about myself handwashing/drying every saucer and cup, and then wrapping it and putting it away.

And lemon curd. I love lemon curd. So I’m glad someone organizes a tea, but now that Downtown Abbey is off the air, perhaps life will change and the work of the afternoon teas will go away?

Or perhaps not?  Because what else can be done with all those fragile dishes? Perhaps some things won’t change?

Do you have fancy-pants dishes? Do you use them?