Monday 1 June 2009

We put an "American Spring" into our step...

This is my daily diary explicating a rather complicated itinerary Carole Anne and I set up during three-weeks in May when I took off work to go to America and back.
This trip, necessitated by some personal needs and the desire - after nearly a year apart - to connect to family members scattered in various parts of the country, felt like a "whirlwind" for me because the schedule got even more complex than originally anticipated. (CA's experience was a bit more relaxed, as she stayed on for three extra weeks with family and friends in Massachusetts through mid-June, since she says she is now "retired!" 'Twas a pity indeed that I couldn't stay longer, but someone has to work and I'm the designated earner in our household!) So here they are - the highlights, the "low lights" and all!

(By the way, when you see green, those are hyperlinks leading to photos and other "illustrations.")


Carole Anne was actually gone three months from Canberra, all told, because she spent six weeks beginning the last week in March on an extended visit with her sister Linda and brother-in-law "Guna" Foward. They live in Noosa, Queensland - one of the most desirable vacation spots in all of Australia - quite an advantage to us because now she can go hang out with them at the best times of the year, weather-wise. (Carole Anne can't handle sticky, humid weather very well, which is partly why we live in Canberra!)

Meanwhile I stayed back in Canberra to finish the move out of the manse in Duffy which we were able to rent by special arrangement with Westin Uniting Church over the previous several months. Now, they needed to do some remodeling before their next interim pastor and family came to live in it.

During this process, I also moved myself and a minimal assortment of possessions into a small "granny flat" that Keith and Ruth Blackburn graciously made available to me beside their home in Chifley - conveniently only about 5 minutes by car (15 minutes by bike) from The Canberra Hospital.

Serendipitously for us, Liz Saunders and her husband took initiative to offer their "rumpus room" in the lower level of their home for the storage of some of our "permanent" Australian stuff that isn't necessary to keep with us while we take up a stretch of house-sitting again for the foreseeable future. Thank-you, Liz!

Throughout this whole endeavor I realized how much "stuff" Carole Anne and I had managed to accumulated around us in just nine months of living in Australia! How does this happen? I had a deadline of April 1 to get all this done - but I made it!

CA actually had her own space in Noosa those entire six weeks, taking on house-sitting with a Maltese-Shitzu dog named Emma, about a five minute walk down the same street where Linda and Guna lived in the Sunrise Beach neighborhood. This whole arrangement was ideal, and a wonderful way for these sisters to get together frequently during those weeks. They haven't spent much time together over the last 40 years; this sort of visit was one of the main motivations for our move to Australia in the first place!

Now to describe the saga and reflect on MY experience of this so-called "holiday!"

I had arranged for a rendezvous with Carole Anne in Sydney
Saturday evening, May 2, and we then left Sydney together the next day (Sunday) on a 13 hr flight, arriving in San Francisco 3 hours before we left Oz (according to the watch I hadn't changed yet!) However, I was during this whole flight still recovering from a tough case of food poisoning from bad prawns I injested during my Saturday evening meal.

Here's that story: Carole Anne and I went out Saturday evening to a well-recommended sea food restaurant with two other American chaplain friends whom I had recently discovered were working at the same hospital in Sydney - so of course, we had to meet! One was Muslim and one was Christian, and both have been living in Oz for at least 8 or 10 years, so they had invaluable insights to offer and we all enjoyed a wonderful evening together, getting acquainted.

But I also really "paid" heavily for that meal: I had to "heave-ho" at about 3:00 am Sunday morning, out beside the bushes outside the hotel after writhing around in agony for an hour. I finally got some relief and back to sleep at 4 am after mixing some baking soda with Club Soda down at the hotel's bar/restaurant (Carole Anne's suggested "recipe"!)

In California - we had originally allocated a couple days to recover together from our leap across the Big Pond, which we truly enjoyed the balance of Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, May 3-5, based near San Jose (Los Gatos) and visiting Santa Cruz and Monterrey, as well. We ate Cal-Mex food and watched lots of surfers on/off the beaches while getting our own bodies in sync with the time changes so that we wouldn't feel like "zombies" when arriving in Indiana among family and good friends. (Later, as I reflect on this time Carole Anne and I had alone as "just the two of us" there in California, it was probably the best, most relaxing and re-energizing part of my entire three weeks away from the routines in Australia.)
We flew to Chicago Wednesday, May 6 after interminable waits in heavily packed lines with raised security alerts out there at SFO, some of it due to the N1H1 flu. Thus I missed my flight because I had the ONE bag we were required to stow under my care and missed the cut-off deadline to get it checked in by about 10 minutes. Mercifully I was able to fly standby two flights later. (Meanwhile, Carole Anne had gotten on by the skin of her teeth on her ORIGINAL flight!)
My flight itself went fine, but lots of regional rainstorms created delayed air traffic overhead in Chicago, forcing my plane to circle for an extra 45 minutes or so. After finally landing, lightning struck the grounds area of O'Hare forcing our plane (and who knows how many others) to wait there on the ground another half hour before we could get our turn to unload! Carole Anne and I were finally able to meet about 6 pm after she had walked A FULL HOUR with her own carry-ons, from the one extreme end of O'Hare (American Airlines) to the other (United) to be able to greet me as I disembarked - bless her soul.
I couldn't get a message to her in time to head her to the CTA station instead, however, her recent house-sit for those 6 weeks in Queensland, which included walking Emma the dog twice a day, had greatly improved her stamina and fitness. Without that Carole Anne could not have pulled this off (and what was about to come!)
With all my various delays totaling 2 hours, including the precious minutes ticking away to start an hour-long CTA (subway/elevated train) ride downtown to the Loop, we missed catching the last South Shore train "home" out of the city to South Bend Indiana by just a few minutes, emerging from the depths of the subway on Lake Street, feeling bedraggled in a downpour after lugging everything up a several "fragrant" flights of dingy stairs.
Dashing into McDonalds a couple blocks later, we strategized over chicken McNuggets and a salad, found an internet cafe where we booked a nice rental car deal through American Express, and slouched our way on the CTA for another 40 minutes back to the closest airport -- Midway this time.
After what felt like an INTERMINABLE zig-zag walk involving numerous empty hallways each several blocks long allllllllllll the way from the train to the Alamo rental desk inside Midway (it was at least, literally, a kilometer but felt like a mile) with no baggage carts to be found anywhere to help things (whew) -- we finally managed to get shuttled to their car lot and tried to pack ourselves and our bags with Carole Anne in the back seat so she could start getting some sleep. It was now 11 pm.
HOWEVER, I discovered as I explored and examined "the features" before driving out the gate, that they somehow had rented us the wrong class of car because THIS one - a so-called E-car (basically a sub-compact) with no cruise nor power locks/windows, being waaaay too tiny and "tin-ny" for either one of us to relax or stretch out in the back seat - had been inexplicably and inappropriately placed into THAT parking lot, and being the only one left there in the "Compact" category!
Carole Anne now pried herself out as I unloaded all our stuff - again! (But in just a drizzle now.) They would not give us the customary upgrade. NO. We had to wait some more until they hauled the proper one out of the clean-up garage at 11:30 pm and we got everything exchanged over. Then I hauled ourselves home with a sleeping wife in the back seat through two and a half MORE hours of rain, arriving in Goshen at 2 am this morning, Thurs, May 7. We now indeed felt like zombies! But, we had finally arrived home safely in spite of "it all" - THANK GOD!
Thurs, May 7: Goshen and Nappanee (Elkhart County) IN: I hauled myself out of bed to spend 3 hours this morning at Goshen General Hospital, first having a high ole' time during a planned "surprise visit" with my old Hospice IDT team around 8 am, and sharing in some birthday food with someone (who shall remain unnamed) turning 60. Then over at the hospital I experienced a few hours of sheer delight, bumping all around into surprised friends there among the nurses, doctors and various staff and volunteers. I was astonished at the intensity of many greetings and spontaneous embraces - my first time back since leaving the staff 14 months ago. The memories were strong after having served there for ten good years.
Carole Anne and I had a scheduled lunch with some great catch-up time in the Nappanee area "back home" with my brother Verle, who left later today for Honduras - and which was why I kept pushing on to get home yet last night so we could have some quality time to talk before he left! That lunch was a fine little family reunion with my aunts - Dad's two sisters, Miriam and Mary Ellen - plus my brother, and afforded me some private time afterward in his home nearby to reflect one-to-one with Verle about our lives, our futures, and family dynamics.
Among other things, I dusted off my old 24" unicycle stored at Verle's place, having missed it greatly. It's the one that went with me through Europe and all over the Middle East during college years, and now it's definitely going back with me to Australia to see another continent this round. My "red Ferrari" - the speed demon Big Wheel with the 40" diameter tire - is already over there, but it's still no substitute for "The Original!"

Goshen, IN: Fri, May 8 - Carole Anne and I spent a good chunk of this day going on a wild treasure hunt: sorting through a bunch of stored things to find the special items on a whole list of "more essential stuff" we compiled over the past 11 months: Things we wish we had with us after all, but which got left behind when we packed up three pallets worth of "essentials" and got it sent via sea freight to Sydney last June-July (via It felt like Christmas all over again - e.g. "YES! Here are my missing Bose headphones, buried in a box of miscellaneous things "someone" apparently threw just together when we packed!" ...and so on... It was hard to quit - the job was huge - because we realized we had to sort through "everything."
We knocked off to make another 2 hr drive to Chicago Saturday afternoon, May 9 (for some scheduled FAMILY TIME with my daughter Megan - she and her husband Justin Boley live there in the neighborhood of Andersonville - and my son Jordan, who joined us for Sunday and Monday.) Another main reason we were back to visit, after almost a year.
Carole Anne and I booked in at an "iconic" world class hotel in downtown Chicago known as The Palmer House - Hilton, which CA had secured for an amazingly low fee via "Priceline" (apparently due to the state of the economy.)
We had a very nice time with the Boleys on Saturday, visiting their wonderful apartment and the surrounds (even though Justin had to severely limit his time due to preparing for finals since it was the end of the current semester in the midst of his law degree at Depauw/Chicago. At least we could enjoy some good meals together -- thanks for taking the time, Justin!) Then Sunday came and Carole Anne couldn't really enjoy it much as she felt quite sick and spent the whole day in bed at the hotel until Monday's mid-morning breakfast with Jordan (who lives, works, and studies in Kalamazoo, MI)
Sunday, May 10 -- 'twas such a nice spring day in Chicago! Megan and Jordan and I spent time together eating and walking around, beginning at Millenium Park. We had a wonderful breakfast at the restaurant there, where I gave Megan her 26th birthday present (a week early), then enjoyed photographing each other around various sights like "The Bean", etc.
We happened onto an "unintelligible" music recital going on under the incredible Tiffany domeChicago Cultural Center (in the old Chicago Public Library building along Michigan Avenue, across from Millenium Park.) We then commenced a great walking tour with Megan leading us around and pointing out various "classic" architectural highlights in the downtown Chicago "Loop" area while taking some photo shots.
and some art galleries.
As an art director and an avid photographer, Megan's camera is constantly snapping. She shares some of her best, along with thoughts about her own life and experiences in Chicago, in a very interesting blog: MegaGood, which features selected "Daily Pictures of Happiness" -- you can check it all out here!
In the process I somehow lost our wonderful 10 megapixel pocket digital camera (I think, by the process of elimination while back-tracking the next day, it must have spurted out of my back pocket on a bus, I think.) And Carole Anne had just purchased a 16 MB memory stick for it a couple days earlier - ouch, expensive loss!
In spite of the inconveniences - and the reality that our little "family reunion" in Chicago seemed way too short - it was sweet while it lasted. For example, it was special to watch Megan's response at this moment.
We were back in Goshen by Monday late afternoon, and had a VERY nice time that evening catching-up with some friends from our "home" congregation - Faith Mennonite Church - at the home of co-pastor Kay Bontrager-Singer.
Tuesday morning, May 12: I went down to the Goshen General Hospital again early in the morning to have breakfast with my successor there: Chaplain Shawn Gerber, as the new Spiritual Care Coordinator. Even though we tried to hide in a nook off to the side of the dining area of the cafeteria, there were constant interruptions by surprised staff - but it felt good to discuss and see how things were in very good hands back where I had just invested ten years of my life.
I finally pried myself away from that place on Tuesday and dragged myself back to the BIG PROJECT. Our "permanent" stuff had been stored in a single friend's nice dry, climate controlled basement (Joan Troyer) in Goshen for the past year. It all needed to be totally re-sorted, re-moved, and re-stored before leaving the USA because that basement was due to be finished soon to prepare for an exchange student from Asia.
Wednesday, May 13:
But the job proved to be more than I/we could chew before we HAD to leave Wednesday - and the airline ticket people weren't cooperative, and the cost wasn't realistic about my idea to come back for a day or so by adding in an extra stop at O'Hare in Chicago the following week on my way back to California from MA. They wanted $800 extra bucks to do that. Crazy!!
We had no choice but to stick to the plan for now - and dashed back in our rental car to Chicago late Wednesday afternoon, in order to fly on to Charlotte, NC that evening, May 13, for a scheduled visit with my brother Lee and family.
However, though we needed to fly out of O'Hare, because of what happened earlier (described above) we obviously had to return the rental car to Midway. Anyone familiar with Chicago, knows the implications: a long convoluted public transportation "hassle" getting there while dragging all our stuff behind us in what would be a very arduous process.
After breathing a prayer beforehand, I somehow managed to sweet talk the manager of Avis at Midway, once there in person, into letting us drop off the car over at O'Hare, which saved us well over $200 in extra drop-off fees -- something we were told earlier on the phone COULD NOT BE WAIVED with the contract we had. One of Carole Anne's life mottos came in very handy once again: "You have not because you ask not!" We made it to the gate "just in time", but certainly wouldn't have otherwise!
North Carolina: Thurs-Fri, May 14-15: This visit with my brother Lee, his wife Susan and children Laura, David, and Sarah - now living near Waxhaw, NC and working at the headquarters of Wycliffe Bible Translator's technical service arm: JAARS - was way too short (not quite 48 hours.)
Lee and his family have spent the better part of two decades in training and then working as Wycliffe Bible Translators in West Africa (in the extreme southeast corner of Mali, way out in isolated bush country) while raising and homeschooling their three children. This was the first time we had a chance to visit them where they've settled into a nice home they purchased near Waxhaw two years ago in order to refurbish their family life and selves emotionally, spiritually, and educationally. We listen to them talk about what is happening in their lives now that they are back in America. All good stuff.
I thoroughly enjoyed the visit with Lee to their JAARS headquarters, and especially the tour through their amazing museum portraying the history and development of the alphabet and all the world's languages! The kids are so bright, and well-integrated now into that community. I can see they are living in the right place for now.
(Laura, 17, and graduating from high school later in May, has managed to secure a "full-ride" four-year scholarship to Asbury College, and will begin studies there in the fall after spending this summer in Cairo - living with a family there and learning Arabic. See Laura's current blog)
Late Friday night, May 15, I flew up from Charlotte, NC to Providence, RI - Carole Anne and I flew on separate planes - she flew to Boston an hour earlier and drove the 50 miles with a rental to the hotel in Providence (so we could drop it off later at the SAME SPOT we rented it from - having learned from our previous experiences the consequences of NOT doing that) and we arrived together at the hotel at exactly the same minute!
Providence, RI: Sat, May 16 (am) - we "chilled out" in a hotel there until it was time to drive to Springfield, MA in the afternoon for a visit with long-time friends: Joan and Bob Toriani - it was a good time indeed, through Sunday...
Worcester, MA: Sun eve, May 17 thru Tues morning, May 19 - We visited with Carole Anne's son David and family, and (for Carole Anne) some more of her "best friends." I had not originally planned to go back to Chicago/Northern Indiana mid-week, but duty this little visit was indeed waaaay too short this time, from my perspective. However, I managed to get in a bit of fun and general goofing around amidst some wonderful young people that have tended to call me "grandpa" (among other things) over the last 10 1/2 years.
Verrrrry early Tuesday morn, May 18: (Getting up at 5:15 am) I drove the rental car to Logan airport in Boston to fly to Chicago. The plan was to catch the South Shore train that afternoon, to northern Indiana, but with the CTA connections from O'Hare and all, I missed it by five minutes. While on the next train which I caught 1.5 hours later they told me to walk up to the first two cars at a certain stop (to the part that would end up in South Bend.) While in the process of doing that transfer along side the train with all my luggage (Carole Anne sent a batch of her stuff with me) it took off immediately before I could get back on! (The conductor's mistake, not warning the engineer I needed some extra time.)
The next train to come by only went as far as Michigan City, soooo I had to wait another 1.5 hours there to catch the LAST train of the night coming through to South Bend, where FINALLY, quite late Tuesday night my aunts picked me up and took me to their home for some much needed rest. I dropped into bed at 1 am, after finalizing there the emails and payments with the shipping company related to what needed to happen the next day (since my laptop had run out of juice on the train) but felt like I had "wasted" ALL day traveling. It was a very short night!
Wed, May 19: "the day that never ended" [Nappanee - Goshen - Chicago - Goshen - Board Meeting - packing/trucking - Nappanee: all in a day's (and a hard night's) work...]
At 6 am on Wednesday morning I got up to start the trek with my brother's truck to gather up and finalize the stuff in Goshen that I had isolated for shipping to Australia and then haul it all back up (2 1/2 hours) to Chicago late yet that morning to the proper shipping terminal near O'Hare. I condensed a dozen totes and assorted items into a big 4'x4'x4' pallet, got it plastic-wrapped for sea-worthiness during a six-week trip, then took off for the 2 1/2 hour return, arriving back in Goshen at the appointed time to have a meeting for several hours yet that afternoon.
I met with Dan Shenk and Titus Oyeyemi, board member and CEO of APPLI (African Projects for Peace and Love Initiatives) plus Victoria Oyeyemi, Titus' daughter. Since I'm still chairing the board, though now based afar, they felt it was vital to discuss some crucial matters in person, now that I had returned to the area - and I had somewhat reluctantly offered them half a day.
We finally had to end the meeting, but the end of that day hadn't come yet for me. I dragged myself back to my friend's basement in Goshen (our "old" permanent storage site.) I still needed to "boil down" everything in the boxes that remained, vacate that place completely, pack it all into my brother's truck and then unload it all and re-store it all up in my aunts' garage's attic down at my boyhood stomping grounds near Nappanee. But I also had to isolate certain things that dare not freeze (like slides and pictures and such) and get that all tucked away into appropriate places in their house. (This whole process ended up taking me all night; my head never hit a pillow at all!)
Thursday, May 20: I had no choice but to get everything re-situated before the deadline to connect with my friend Titus Oyeyemi and his daughter Victoria in Goshen on Thursday morning. They had driven from Chicago for that board meeting and were my ride straight back there so that I could still catch my scheduled flight for early afternoon back to Logan airport in MA. (Several days earlier I had finally purchased a cheap extra $150 round-trip ticket from Boston-Chicago-Boston, to resolve the problem of United wanting that extra $800 to make the changes on the original ticket.)
But that's not all that was on the agenda this before leaving for Chicago! I had earlier, before realizing how tight the schedule was really going to be, arranged to have breakfast Thursday morning with my aunt and uncle Mervin and Marilyn Swartzentruber at Greencroft in Goshen - my only chance to visit anyone on my mother's side of the family during this entire trip! Miriam and Mary Ellen drove me there and I managed to keep it together sufficiently to have a decent (albeit short) visit with the Swartzentrubers before taking off with the Oyeyemi's for Chicago. We made it to O'Hare OK, and I got to the gate "just in time" for the scheduled flight.
I could have relaxed all along and never needed to rush because I discovered at the gate that an announcement had just been made: There was going to be a "short delay" before we could board (which turned out to be a THREE HOUR delay) due to the mechanics not being able to decide whether or not the air conditioning system on that United flight could actually be fixed. It took them THAT LONG to make a decision and find us another plane to get us back to MA!
Of course, I arrived way too late Thursday evening to be able to have our scheduled meal with Carole Anne's daughter Sarah and her husband Avi and daughter Shoshi in Worcester - losing out on my ONLY chance left to see them. Dang!
I did however salvage the evening by enjoying a drive we took along the river and over the bridge, then walking around a bit on the campus of Harvard (my first time there) with Carole Anne and Emily - CA's 11 year-old grandaughter. I also got to taste some of the best homemade ice cream in Boston at J.P. Licks near Harvard Square - ahhhhhhh - before we hauled ourselves back "home" to Worcester late that night.
Friday, May 21: Leaving Carole Anne in Worcester at 5:15 am this time, I trekked back to Boston's Logan airport to return our rental car (just a hair over an hour now with the Big Dig finally done and an expressway straight to the airport!) then commenced flying clear across the entire country to Frisco.
I had a wonderful 10-hour layover there, long enough to get a cable car ride and freeze my tootsies in a very cold wind around Fisherman's Wharf and gaze once again at a fogged-in Golden Gate Bridge. I did enjoy the opportunity to traipse around alone on my unicycle (my original one, now coming along as carry-on luggage) while checking things out in one of my favorite cities, before flying out for Sydney at 10:30 pm Friday night (California time, that is, which would be 2:30 am east coast USA time.)
Saturday, May 22, completely evaporated as we crossed the international dateline, and I arrived in Sydney Sunday morning on the 24th at 6:30 am, waited a couple hours until I could catch the first Murray's bus out to Canberra (a 3.5 hour ride.)
That was good: I managed to catch some winks on the bus and arrived back in Canberra (after being "up" for 41 HOURS!!) just in time to join a big dinner party hosted by the Blackburns at their home for some friends from Canberra Baptist Sunday afternoon. Great conversation! Forced myself to stay awake until 11 pm that night then slept like Rip Van Winkle - for about 11 hours!
In spite of some of all the "ordeal" involved in such extensive (yet necessary) travel this time - I am very thankful:
- My jet-lag recovery strategy worked and I seemed to have no problem, from a physical perspective, after only one day of "recovery." I was able to muster up the strength and courage to go back to work by Monday afernoon, after being gone three whole weeks, although I now felt, from an emotional perspective, like I really need a vacation!
- Thank God, I never got sick from anything on the plane and managed to avoid the swine flu completely throughout my travels. However, many persons, when hearing where I'd just been, would initially physically draw back from me! I felt like a pariah until I stopped talking about my trip - or people stopped asking me.
(Another friend from our congregation here in Canberra who had returned home from her trip to America the day after I did, was back here three days and all around town, at meetings, etc, before she got a phone call and the command to be self-quarantined in her home for a week! A fellow on her plane had been diagnosed with the H1N1 swine flu and was now quarantined with it in Canberra, as well, being the first person known to have that diagnosis in this city.)
Carole Anne stayed with her peeps in MA three more weeks: May 22 - June 11, arriving back in Sydney on Saturday morning, June 13, at 6:30 am. (June 12 evaporated for her.) I drove up the night before, took her to a nice hotel in Sydney - The Stamford in North Ryde - for our reunion and a couple hours of sleep, then kept her awake all the rest of the day on Saturday, including dragging her around in the evening to view the last weekend of the Luminous Festival -- some special light shows/installations all around Sydney, especially the illuminated sails on the Opera House.
Carole Anne dropped exhausted into bed on Saturday night - but waiting until then to have a ten-hour sleep stretch in a nice comfortable hotel room was a strategy that really worked. She managed to deal with the jet lag admirably the next day, and get her days and nights turned around in record time, in spite of a very sore toe (ingrown toenail) that had to be examined on Monday. (I think it is easier, though, to fly around the globe going westward, at least in our experience.)
The "coupe de gras" to our reunion in Sydney was a wonderful buffet luncheon - we won't talk about the price - at the The Stamford before heading home Sunday afternoon and arriving at our new house sit at Throsby Crescent in Griffith that evening to take care of "The Spice Grrrrls" for the next two months!
A great mystery still remains! After sorting through all our stored bins at the Saunders - actually twice now since Carole Anne came back - BOTH of our rather expensive winter coats remain missing. Fortunately we don't need those heavy things here in Australia in the winter, nor to travel with when going to America or elsewhere in the northern hemisphere during this time of year. It's just crazy, but I suppose it's anyone's guess on where they are and how long it will be until we find them!