Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Happy Holidays ... All of Them!

1 November 2014, All Saint’s Day, Minneapolis MN USA
Started the month with a dinner party; guests were Sally, Joan and Carol.  I actually cooked — roasted a whole chicken using a new recipe, added extra root veggies and made a “garbage salad,” that is one where I empty of 'frig' of fresh salad stuff.  Sally and Joan are friends from our days as some of the “old originals,” the first PR persons for our hospitals.  About a dozen of us in all.  Carol is a friend of Sally that I got to know when we both were at Sally’s Greek house for Thanksgiving back when I lived in Skopje.  Sally had us all at her condo a couple of months ago, and I promised to host another.  Always thoughtful conversation — Sally and Carol are both into politics and though from different parties, share some viewpoints.  Joan used to work for the archdiocese.

Cleaned up the kitchen, turned the clocks back an hour, now off to bed.

3 November
In my continuing efforts to expand my circle of friends, I RSVP’d a Northwestern alumni event and attended tonight.  The speaker was a journalism professor who’s spearheading the university’s move into MOOCs (massive open online courses), something I know nothing about.  So the talk was intriguing.  Ran into a friend of my first Minneapolis boss, Roland; introduced myself to him and we chatted briefly.  Also reconnected with one of the women who was at another NU event I attended during the summer.  And met a few others.

4 November, Election Day in the US
Busy day — color/cut with Connie after water ex, then voting and lunch with Barbara S. and finally dinner with Jan.  

Since my precinct votes in the Minnesota Church Center and my friend Barbara’s office is there, we had lunch in their cafe after I voted.  Barbara showed me an awesome collection of clerical stoles.  They number more than 1,000 and make up the Shower of Stoles Project which is loaned to churches and other organizations for exhibitions.  All have some story representing the contributions of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender people to faith communities.  I wish I'd taken a photo.

6 November
Oh, my aching back.  Good thing I started yesterday with a massage or I’d be worse.

Since I was having the carpeting in my two bedrooms cleaned today, all of the furniture had to be removed.  I enlisted Janet & Ed’s son Thom as well as Zoe, their granddaughter who cleans for me, to help yesterday.  Never realized how much “stuff” I had in those two rooms.  The living room is stuffed with the extra furniture, the dining room table is covered with photos, jewelry, lamps and such, ironing-to-be-done is in a pile on a chair.  And the laundry room, bathroom and kitchen are sparkling clean, thanks to Zoe.  

Now the carpets are clean but the place reeks like a bad bathroom deodorizer spray.  I’m off to Janet & Ed’s for the night again.  Tomorrow Thom will help me return the heavy furniture back to where it belongs.

7 November
Be careful what you wish for, right?  When I got back from DC, I made arrangements with K, an OurTime date, to join me at a rare books’ auction at the main library tonight.  Although I took a long hot shower and a naproxen, my back was still killing me as I walked to meet him at a coffee shop on Nicollet Mall.  The highlight of the evening was buying an old copy of Robert Burns’ poems and an original edition of Island of the Blue Dolphins, one of my late son’s favorite books.  (I gave Mickey in DC a paperback version when I stayed with him the last time.)  No gory details about the date but one example.  I told K that I had planned to take him to dinner at Toast, a favorite wine bar not far away, after the event.  At the reception, he had a couple of glasses of wine and cheese, crackers and berries from the complimentary refreshments; I had a glass of wine.  When we left and I said, “So shall we walk to Toast,” he said he was too full to eat.  I caught a bus home. Since I know I’m half responsible for a not-so-successful date, when I got home, I sent him an email to thank him for going with me.  Mom would be proud of me.

10 November, first big snowfall

Winter's first slushy snow piles

Small world story.  I’ve told several friends about my Friday date since I’d told them about my initial, hopeful meeting with K.  Today, despite the heavy snowfall, I drove over to Lake Harriet to meet Linda for our Monday morning lake walk.  Since we walk at 6:30 am, the traffic was fairly light and I made the trip with no skidding etc.  Ditto the return home an hour later.  In between, we talked and I shared my Friday date with her.  Something I said, not sure what, led her to ask his name.   Turns out Linda has seen him.  Another lake walker that she knows had arranged a walk around Harriet with him, and she and Linda were talking when he arrived.  

In other news … Since I was gone a lot in October, this year’s birthday celebrations are really spreading out.  My sister called to say she’s gotten us a reservation at the newest restaurant in her neighborhood; it’s the one whose owner/chef was featured in a New York Times article on important chefs leaving NYC for the “boonies.”  We’re going on Monday night.  And today, MaryAnne and I slogged through the midday slushy snow for a late lunch at Ling & Louie’s, a new eatery on the Mall.  Fabulous food — Asian yet not.  We shared edamame and potstickers, then a brown rice, crispy chicken, broccoli and blue cheese stir fry that was incredible.  Since we were celebrating my birthday, we got an odd but delicious dessert on the house.    

12 November
Here we go again. Larry’s another OurTime contact who seemed interesting.  He likes to travel!  We had emailed a time or two when he announced that his son was having a crisis and he was leaving for South Korea to help.  We emailed a couple of times while he was gone, and he’s back and called last night.  I missed the call because I accidentally put the phone on mute.  (At least this time I found that myself.  Once before I ended up at the Apple Genius Bar for help!)  I decided to take a chance and returned the call when I got back from Jungle Theater.  We talked for about 15 minutes, including a discussion of travel interests and schedules.  I mentioned my Fridays in Northfield with Lois … turns out Larry used to teach in Northfield and took a community ed class that Lois taught. DO do DO do …

Lunch today with Sabrina and Tom, friends that I met in Peace Corps who live in St. Paul. Sabrina’s the mother of my 5th adopted grandchild, Christopher, not be be confused with my nephew Christopher. Tom was the Felix of Szczecin’s Oscar-and-Felix PCV duo, didn’t even want a guest to dry the dishes.  Actually I learned a good way to dry plastic bags from Tom.  We always washed and re-used zip lock-type bags because they were such a rare commodity.  But drying them was hard … unless you turn them inside out and hang them from the clothes line (or set them up on a towel).  When the outside’s dry, you can turn them right side out, dry the outside and ta da … clean bag ready for another use.  But I digress.  

Always good to catch up with Sabrina and Tom.  Tom’s facing heart surgery in January.

Oh, had an email from Liz who was our admin and monitoring & evaluation staffer on the Uganda project.  She reported that one of the tax consultants we used is now the commissioner general of the Uganda Revenue Authority.  I remember her as knowledgeable and helpful as well as just plain nice.  

13 November
As Janet and I walked down the steps of Westminster Church after Town Hall Forum today, Janet said, “Brrr.  It’s going to be a long winter.”  A male voice behind her said, “It’s going to be a short winter.”  As I turned to see who had spoken, I said, “I love an optimist” and realized it was K … who just kept walking and so did we.

14 November
My nephew Chris and I had breakfast at The Nicollet Cafe, then he shoveled my decks for me.  Of course it’s supposed to snow again this weekend, but thankfully Chris has signed on for deck shoveling for the winter.  

16 November
What a weekend.  Had arranged earlier to have coffee with Larry, him of OurTime who had to take off for Korea, at 11:30 am Saturday in a bistro near Nicollet Mall.  Light snow as I walked over there.  My new duck boots are really getting a work out because they are actually comfortable for walking as well as dry and reasonably warm.  Anyway, we had coffee (me) and iced tea (him) and talked for an hour, then he suggested lunch.  We walked down the Mall to Chipotle, and both had taco salads with chicken and kept talking.  Before we left, he suggested dancing that evening, and I agreed.  Unfortunately by the time we left, the roads were getting very icy with the new snowfall.  We saw a car ahead of us on the highway do a 180 and decided to return to downtown on city streets.  Arrived at Rudolph’s safely, had a drink, talked some more.  He asked me to go dancing on Monday or Wednesday at a spot nearer downtown.  Told him Monday was out because that’s when my sister and I are going out to dinner for my birthday but I’d check Wednesday and let him know.  I got home at 11 pm.  Wednesday is clear, other thank picking up Tomery at the airport midday, so I’ll go dancing with Larry.

Larry’s from a small city in South Dakota originally and a retired teacher (and was once a police chief).  He taught instrumental music, loves to travel, has four adult kids … I could go on because we covered a lot of territory.  Bottom line — it was fun and I’m looking forward to Wednesday.  Hope I don’t step on his feet too much!

This afternoon I went over to St. Kate’s in St. Paul to hear my friend Sabrina’s chorus’ annual St. Cecilia’s Day concert, an annual treat.  Then Sabrina, husband Mark, son Christopher, their friend Peter (his wife’s in New Orleans) and I went to dinner.  Lovely evening.

Now to do a load of laundry …

17 November
Spoon & Stable lives up to the outrageously good reviews it’s gotten as well as all of the East Coast-generated hype. The owner/chef left a multi-starred NYC restaurant to return to the Twin Cities, leading a recent trend of top NYC chefs to head for the hinterlands.  He’s from Bloomington, a Minneapolis suburb. 

My sister had put this spot at the top of her “must go” list and snagged reservations in its second week!  Opening weeks for a new eatery can be dicey but this place was spot on.  Whole wheat sourdough bread, pear-pecan-goat cheese salad, cod and couscous main, lemon curd dessert — all perfect, as was the service.  The cod could’ve had a bit less salt for my taste but otherwise was exceptional.  Barbara had pot roast and an apple crumble dessert, equally delish. Oh, and Barbara had told them it was my birthday celebration, so everyone who served us said, ‘Happy birthday,’ and when we were ready to leave, the waitress brought a big fluffy white cotton candy birthday treat that I brought home.  I am stuffed with a big smile on my face.

19 November
No dancing tonight.  Larry’s got the crud.  When we talked last night, he didn’t sound good but thought he’d feel better today.  Not.  It’s probably what Bonnie has (I saw her yesterday).

Bonnie, left, Christy, right, and I

Bonnie, Christy and I had dinner in Hudson WI last night.  That’s where Christy is HR manager for a medical clinic.  Bonnie’s retired. We all worked together back in my corporate days.  We haven’t gotten together in way too long, and finally managed dinner.  I drove to Bonnie’s in Woodbury to see her new grandson, then she drove us to Hudson.  Pier 500 restaurant was a lovely setting for such a cold winter night.  Our table was right by the fireplace.  Good food too.  We talked for a couple hours.  I tried to call Rosalind, another friend from that group, but she wasn’t home (near San Francisco now).  On the way back from Hudson, we had to pull into a rest stop because Bonnie was coughing so hard; she couldn’t stop.  We pooled our money so she could get a bottle of water which helped.  

Tomery’s here for a week.  Picked my “baby” niece up at the airport this afternoon.  We had lunch and did a few errands, then I dropped her at her mom’s.  It’s great to have her back even for just a week.  I’ll fix “Thanksgiving” dinner on Sunday — Barbara and Chris requested prime rib so that’ll be our turkey.  Chris’ girlfriend Jen and my niece Michelle and maybe her husband Jon will join us.

Oh, and I bought a new MacAir today.  Had the nicest Genius who walked me through some issues I have had with this one and how to do the transfer myself.  I need to make a Genius Bar appointment, and they’ll wipe this one clean for Marek.  I’m selling it at a bargain basement price but he’s wanted a Mac forever.  I’ll probably do the data transfer when I got to bed tonight.

23 November
I knew in my gut that getting the new laptop would create problems, but time was of the essence so I ignored it.  And we know what that leads to … 

I am on Day Three of Laptop Hell.  First, I couldn’t get the data to transfer at all nor could I make a Genius Bar appointment on line to have them take over.  Finally I was able to get someone on the call-back service who told me how to fix things.  Then the transfer stalled at 22 hours 8 minutes … and I couldn’t access iCloud on my sister’s iPad that I borrowed work.  I was ready for a Genius …

After a lovely lunch and visit with Lois in Northfield, I arrived at the Apple Store in Southdale an hour early, got a walk-in appointment for the iPad and sat down with my Kindle to wait.  iPad Genius came first and two minutes later, laptop Genius.  iPad Genius signed me into iCloud so I could get my email … laptop Genius signed me up for One-on-One, a service contract that would cover the transfer and future help for the same cost as the transfer.  

Today as I put the rib roast into the oven, Apple called to say my laptop was ready.  My sister came over so that I could bring my new baby home.  

We had our family Thanksgiving dinner today, and it was great though we missed Jen who had to work and Michelle and Jon who were stuck in California.  Following Lund’s directions always leads to a perfectly cooked rib roast … and it did.  And the rest of the meal was good too. 

24 November
Winter’s here!  Icy rain as I drove to Lake Harriet to walk with Linda, but I made it.  And we walked around the entire lake.  Her dog Daisy is ancient and not always able, shortening some of our walks.  We almost had the lake to ourselves because of the weather.

Tomery borrowed my car.  So an old friend that I haven’t seen in a long time, another Kathy, picked me up.  We went to lunch at the renovated Birchwood Cafe.  It’s noted for its broad menu with lots of organic, locally sourced, vegetarian/vegan items … all incredibly delicious, as was my luncheon salad with chicken.  Afterwards I got my car back and headed for the Apple Store … again … to have my old laptop scrubbed of files.  Had a Genius and a Genius-in-Training help me.  When they scrubbed the files, they also checked to be sure the laptop was in good condition, and it was, even the battery.  Didn’t take long so I got to my condo board meeting in plenty of time.

26 November
Whew!  I’m tired.  Busy day, plus last night Larry and I went to Lee’s Liquor Lounge to dance to a country-western band.  We practiced the Pretzel, a new move that Larry found on YouTube.  Pulled it up on my laptop at home, and we watched again on my iPhone.  We laughed a lot as we tried to duplicate the move.  This is such fun — I love to dance, and he’s a great dancer.

Driving this morning was tense as the forecast snow was falling wetly.  Thankfully fewer cars were on the road.  I got up and out of the driveway without incident. 

Water ex this morning was boot camp with a sub who definitely was channeling Andrew.  We really worked hard.  Stopped at the post office and mailed Inga’s scarf and hat to her.  Cold and snowy in DC so she’ll need it.  Somewhere between the Y and post office, I must’ve dropped my small fabric eyeglass case with my regular glasses.  I called the PO and no one had found them; if they’re in the Y parking lot, they gone … snowfall would’ve covered them in about a minute because it was still snowing hard when Tomery called to borrow the car. She was at Barbara’s and going to lunch with Christopher.

I walked most of the way from Barbara’s to the mall, ran a few errands, then gave in to a bus at home.  Snow on the streets was very slushy.  

Tomery’s flight was delayed until 8:30 which would mean arrival at midnight.  Not a good time to be on her own in NYC or to ask someone to come pick her up.  Thankfully I was able to change her reservation to tomorrow morning.

Now for a nap.

27 November — Happy Thanksgiving!

28 November
Yesterday was a busy day.  Up at 4:30 so I could take Tomery to the airport at 5.  That went smoothly; thankfully the roads were clear of snow and ice and such.  A quick cat nap, then off to the Y by 7:45.  Four us decided to do a water ex class on our own since none was scheduled, and we did a vigorous Tabata workout.  Home just in time to run a load of laundry and get ready for Thanksgiving dinner at Loring Kitchen with Barbara, Christopher and Jen.  A great meal was had by all.  I walked to and from, meaning I felt slightly less guilty for all the carbs I ate — probably more in that meal than I’d eaten in the last six months!  Stopped to see Susan and drop off a package for Marilou — tape recorder, tape and a segment of Lois’ memoir that Marilou is going to record for me.  I’ll do the next batch when I get back.  That way Lois will get more than one voice to hear and won’t be bored when she listens; then we’ll edit.

Spent the afternoon making “Happy Thanksgiving” phone calls to various family and friends.  I was glad to catch my former sister-in-law Joan whose son had died suddenly and unexpectedly a few weeks ago.  I am so grateful to have had time with Peter before his death; her situation is much worse, unbearable.  The rest of my day was restful — reading, a bit of Netflix, popcorn for dinner and finishing laundry.  I was so pooped that I went to bed early.

Those who know me well, know that my reading consists mostly of mysteries, and PD James has been a favorite author for years.  I recently finished her last book, Death Comes to Pemberly, and knew she was quite old but didn’t realize she was 94 until I read her obit today.  I wonder if anyone will take up the Adam Dalgleish series as someone has Robert Parker’s Spenser?  

Because of today’s snowfall, I’m not going to Northfield as planned.  I talked to Lois this morning.  We’ll get together when I’m back from Poland.  So I have time to pack all the items that are piling up by the suitcase, maybe go for a walk later … or take a nap.  

No nap but a trip over to the clinic for a Quick Check.  I could feel a sinus infection coming on this morning (congestion and a sore throat typical of sinus drainage).  But since I’m traveling soon, I wanted to be sure.  No strep but was given a prescription for an antibiotic in case I need it while I’m gone.  Unless something’s changed, I would not be able to get an antibiotic in Poland unless I were hospitalized.  In the meantime, I was a decongestant and cough syrup.

29 November— “Small Business Day”
Marilyn, Barbara and I visited lots of boutiques in Barbara’s neighborhood, including C’est Chic, one of our favorites and one of the originals.  Barbara found gloves that match her winter scarf.  I stopped to pick up something from Sarah at Mitrebox; she did her usual excellent job with the framing.  Then over to Cuzzie’s, our favorite neighborhood bar that serves great burgers.  I ate the whole thing!  Nice way to spend a Saturday in November.

30 November
I would pick the busiest travel day of the year to leave for Poland.  But all went incredibly smoothly.  Larry picked me up and we stopped at Pho 79 for delicious Vietnamese soup before heading into traffic for the airport.  At its entrance we hit four lanes of stop and go.  Nothing to worry about since I had three hours before my flight.  Once inside, the Delta folks were quick and courteous, ditto TSA as I went through security.  I don’t think the whole exercise took 30 minutes from when I exited Larry’s car.  Amazing on any day.

Now I get some exercise walking around the airport while I wait to board a full flight.  I’m very congested so bought a face mask in case my seat mate is concerned about my coughing.  

Onward ...

1 December, Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam
Arrived 30 minutes early and had to wait for our parking spot.  The pilot kept giving us updates.  Got through immigration and security efficiently, got some coffee and food  … couldn’t see my favorite cafe so stopped at another.  Now that I’ve checked email, I can walk a little.  I have a two hour layover.

Later, Warsaw, Poland
As I waited at Chopin Airport in Warsaw, I powered up my old Nokia with the Polish SIM card … and it rang!  Gina calling to find out where I was because Dorota was worried.  Apparently I only sent Dorota my MSP-AMS itinerary and this trip I have a separate one for AMS-WAW because of my layover in AMS later.  Gina called Dorota to tell her I’m safe and on my way.

2 December, Warsaw, Poland
A doctor making a house call … where am I?  1950s America?  Nope, 2014 in Warsaw.  

Franio, Dorota and Jacek’s seven-year-old son, has been sick.  And tonight the pediatrician stopped by to check on him.  While his temperature is down, he hasn’t been eating well at all.  He gets to stay home one more day.

3 December, Sandomierz, Poland
Last night I thought my sinus infection was over, and this morning I awoke at 4 with a whole different kind of sore throat, one reminiscent of the tonsillitis I used to get as a kid.  I’ve dipped into the antibiotics and will stay the course for 10 days.  No Macedonian wine.

I cabbed over to Hotel MDM to meet the Center's driver; he’s uneasy driving in Warsaw and might never have found Dorota and Jacek’s apartment.  We stopped in Piaseczno where I bought some gifts, then headed to Sandomierz.  I read for a while, then snuggled under my coat, closed my eyes and dozed off and on for three hours.

After settling my things into my room at Hotel Basztowy, I went home with Hala for the night.  I need to get my clothes for the weekend.  After the board meetings, I’ll return to Hala’s until Monday morning.

4 December
Sandomierz is clothed in fog and I’m a redhead again.  The fog was thick as Hala and I drove from her village into town and has continued all day.  At least it’s not quite so cold and there’s no wind.  I drove myself to the hair dresser, taking along my new colors for mixing.  Unfortunately she ignored my instructions and used too much of one color, so I’m back to the old red.  Doesn’t look bad and probably no one would notice, but I like the new color Connie picked and that’s what I wanted.  Thankfully I have an appointment with her as soon as I return.

Poor Krystyna, one of our board members who’s from Warsaw, drove to Sandomierz alone.  Not an easy drive, I can attest from experience.  And when she got to town, it was already very dark and she drove around for almost an hour trying to find the hotel.  I can understand that too.  Because cars cannot traverse the Old Town, it’s not easy to get to our side.  She was very frazzled when she arrived for dinner.

5 December
Long day of talking and eating … typical board meeting.  We didn’t take a field trip which is disappointing as I like getting out and seeing our clients.  On the other hand, I’m probably better off not going into and out of overheated buildings right now.  The antibiotic seems to be helping and I want to keep it that way.  No wine, no Źbrówka, no Malinówka.  Ah, well, fewer calories.  I’ve been pretty faithful to only consuming half of what’s put before me.  Our meals here are always too large — size of portions and number of courses.  We always have a delicious soup first; Poles are THE best soup makers.  And their mashed potatoes are always quite excellent and plentiful.  To help my effort, I ordered vegetarian meals. 

Today’s discussions centered on the new strategic plan for the foundation.  Always lively.  Some board members like to hear their own voices and talk more often, sometimes even saying something of substance.  I’m actually one of the quiet ones since it’s either bastardize my Polish or use a translator.  But at the end of today’s session I had to present a final recommendation for a new performance evaluation system for the president.  We’re trying to prepare for Hala’s eventual retirement which could be as early as two years from now.  We’ll actually evaluate the president based on predetermined objectives, always including one related to budget management.  Ewa translated things for me, and we circulated them this evening for finalization tomorrow.  

6 December, Czermin, Poland
Still foggy as board members took off for their homes or to walk around the town; a couple are staying the rest of the weekend.  I packed up and returned to Hala’s for the weekend.  The driver will take me to Warsaw on Monday morning.  In the meantime, I can veg at the farm with good company, good wi-fi, good food etc.

While I napped, Hala talked to Steve, our other US board member.  He wasn’t able to attend the meeting this time, so she recapped things for him — our spirited discussions yesterday about the strategy and today about the leasing of the restaurant, change in the number of Management Board members and identification of new members.  We also agreed on the three objectives for the President’s 2015 evaluation … and forgot to discuss her 2014 performance! 

7 December 
The Brits would call this a “pea soup day.”  I just call it typical Polish winter — gray and thickly overcast, damp and chilly to the bone, depressing and tiring.  Plus it’ll be dark at 3:30.  The one thing I have never learned to like about Poland (along with flacki, tripe soup).  To counteract our sluggishness, Hala and I took a long, brisk walk through the fields, vineyards and orchards behind their farm.  Felt so good to be outdoors and breathing fresh, albeit cold, air.  Once again, my duck boots have come in handy.

9 December, Warsaw, Poland
Just finished online checkin for my flights to Skopje via Vienna tomorrow.  I leave just after the crack of dawn and tonight am staying at the Marriott Courtyard, literally across the street from the airport entrance.  No worries about slippery roads or late taxis.

Driving in from Sandomierz yesterday was quite an experience.  Hala and I weren’t able to leave the village on our first try.  The long, narrow, tree-covered road out of the village is all uphill and was blocked by a driverless truck wedged sideways; must’ve slid on the ice.  The driver probably went for help but no point in us sitting in the car.  We returned home and had a cup of tea until Michał checked and gave us the go ahead.  

Hala and Michał have added a lovely driveway and sidewalks to their landscaping — red brick pavers set in sand that lead past the main house to and around the eventual B&B house.  This morning the pavers were a skating rink, covered by a thin layer of “black ice” (red ice?) that made walking hazardous to one’s body.  I chose the grass, pulling my suitcase down the drive. 

Thankfully the roads were in better shape since cars had been melting the ice.  The trip to Warsaw was pretty uneventful other than a detour at Kożenice and a fruitless stop at Imprezija in Piaseczno (N.B. for future reference: It’s closed on Mondays).

Shortly I’m off to do a bit of last minute shopping and later will attend Franio’s concert with Dorota; Jacek isn’t sure if he’ll be done at work in time to join us.  Franio is taking guitar lessons and plays quite well for a seven year old.  He practices every evening.  It’s fun to see how he’s growing taller and maturing.  Dorota says his English is better than she expected, and he does occasionally use a few sentences with me.  

11 December, Skopje, Macedonia
It’s a beautiful day in Skopje … after a foggy overcast dreary one when I flew out of Warsaw and again when I arrived here.  Both flights were uneventful despite a late departure due to de-icing.  Slobodanka picked me up, and I got to see her new apartment which isn’t too far from our old office.  

Wow.  Skopje has quite an airport — very new and modern, not the dumpy place I flew through the last time.  Must get a photo on Sunday.  Before she dropped me at Iva’s, Slobodanka and I had lunch at Enriko, my favorite place for a tuna sandwich on flatbread.  I also got a local SIM card for my phone, which holds two so I’m not worried about losing my Poland SIM; it’s int he phone.

Last night as Iva and I enjoyed my favorite kind of dinner — cheeses, bread, olives and such, she told me about some of the big changes in the center city.  Like statues, statues and more statues plus a lot of new building facades with Greek columns.  I remember when I was here last time she said the country had allocated $1 million euro to new statues, and like her and many of my Macedonian friends, I couldn’t imagine (a) spending that much money on statues when so much needs doing and (b) where they’d all be located.  Iva mentioned new boats on the river, and I thought of the floating restaurants in Belgrade.  Nope, Iva said they’re more reminiscent of Pirates of the Caribbean. Her description made the square and surrounding area sound like a Balkan-Disney, and I felt guilty for making the comparison.  That said …

Today I spent most of the day walking around and taking pictures, buying post cards for the kids in the Old Town and generally enjoying being outside without freezing.  And I have to say, that Disney comparison isn’t far off.  The square isn’t that big and the Alexander the Great statue is taller than some of the buildings.  And he’s accompanied by a hoard of other statuary.  In the river are tow huge boats ala Pirates.  (One is covered in plastic so I didn’t photograph it.)  Two new bridges span the river and are lined with statues, ala the Charles Bridge in Prague. They lead to the new archeological museum with a facade of Ionic columns.  The old stone bridge leading toward the Old Town opens to a small plaza with more statues, including Phillip II, Alexander’s father who was unquestionably from here (the Greeks strongly dispute Macedonia’s claim Alexander).

Alexander the Great, in center
of main square

Philip of Macedonia,
father of Alexandria

Olympia nurturing her son Alexandria,
just outside Old Town Skopje

Tonight a gathering of some of the neatest women I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with — those from the MCA project.  (Tomorrow lunch with a similar group from KPEP in Kosovo).  It’s such fun to see them “all grown up,” some for real as they were quite young in 2003-2006 when I managed the project.  We had a great time catching up.

A few of the "ladies" of MCA

12 December
Another beautiful day in Skopje and equally so when I arrived in Pristina just before noon.  Getting my rental car at Hertz went pretty smoothly as did the longer-than-I-remembered drive to the border and crossing through.  After that it was all up hill, literally … a narrow, two-lane, patched-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life roadway that curved through the mountains.  The whole way I followed two oil tankers and three semi’s (two were doubles).  When we finally got to a flat surface, I was pulled over by a policeman.  Thankfully after a quick look at my passport and car documents, he let me continue on my slow journey.  I averaged 50 kilometers per hour (about 35 miles per hour).  The road finally widens into four divided lanes 10 km outside Pristina.

Pristina is a city for which the word “teeming” was invented.  I got to the first traffic circle at the edge of the center city and people were everywhere.  It always reminds me of the shot of New York City at the start of television programs like “Sex & the City” and “The Newsroom”:  Waves of people making their way along city sidewalks.

I was proud of myself for finding my way through town and the parking garage my friend Dori from MCA had told me about.  After maneuvering into a spot in the underground parking lot, I walked across a big intersection and found a cab driver to ask about the restaurant’s location.  I was meeting KPEP friends for lunch in 15 minutes and didn’t want to get lost.  He exited his cab and pointed to a building about 25 feet away.  

Lunch was great fun, again catching up with people that I so enjoyed working with.  They are all doing well … several of the women have had bouts with cancer and thankfully, are in amazing health now.  Skender made it back from Afghanistan safely and is working for a development  contractor in Kosovo, as are Gani, Blerim, Musli, Valbona and Shuki.  Arta and Bardha  transitioned to the private sector.  After lunch, I walked around a little, did some shopping in an outdoor holiday market on  Mother Teresa pedestrian mall and had coffee and bought the International NY Times where I had done so when I lived in Pristina.

Some of the KPEP staff

Gani had told me that traffic returning to Skopje and at the border shouldn’t be too bad despite it being Friday, and he was right.  I remembered an excruciatingly long line and wait on a Friday years ago when I drove to Macedonia from Serbia through Kosovo.  Not recommended since the line between Serbia and Kosovo was in dispute (Kosovo hadn’t become independent yet).

When I left MK, I had told the Hertz rep that I’d be back before he closed up at 4:30 and much to his surprise, I made it.  It was 4:15 and he was busily turning out lights when I showed up at the door.  He graciously checked me in and I walked the couple or three kilometers back to Iva’s flat.  Tonight we’re meeting friends Marija and Dona for the evening.

Dona & Iva pose with some new statues
on Skopje's main square
Dona, Iva and a few of the many
statues on bridges to the Old Town
Archeology Museum
How I remember Old Town Skopje

Rug bazaar at entry to Old Town Skopje

15 December, Pristina, Kosovo
Kosovo's Independence sculpture
has taken on new colors
I was awake this morning before the sunrise call to prayers.  What, you’re asking, is she doing in Pristina hearing the call to prayers?  Ah, well, therein lies the tale of something out of a bad road trip movie, or maybe one with zombies.  Or at least that’s what my Dutch colleague, Jokë, and I decided yesterday.  I met her in the Austrian Airlines line at the Skopje airport; we were both wondering about whether we’d be taking off at all, let alone on time, seeing as the place was seriously fogged in.  (Oh, the sun was shining in downtown Skopje — and later in downtown Pristina too.)  Eventually our inbound flight was diverted and the Austrian rep got us seats on a flight from Pristina.  We had time to make that one, and Jokë’s driver agreed to take us.  I said “thank you and good bye” to Iva, and off we went.  Border crossing went smoothly and fairly quickly, but the fog continued and eventually got thicker.  Driving was slow and slower as the fog literally seemed to envelop us.  We laughed about zombies suddenly appearing at a window.  We decided Meryl Streep would play me and Jessica Lang her in the movie.  Soon we left the highway under direction from the GPS voice.  Alas, he took us down a road that was newly under construction and along with other cars, we turned around in a muddy mess.  (An aside about GPS voices in Central Europe.  So far, those I’ve encountered have all been men.  And the ones in Poland thanked us at the end, telling us their full names!).  But I digress …

The hourlong journey to Pristina airport took two, but no fear, our flight not only hadn’t taken off, the incoming hadn’t landed.  Shortly we learned it wouldn’t and started making plans.  I spent more than an hour on Skype with Expedia changing flights to Warsaw and from there to Amsterdam.  Very frustrating as the calls were dropped on three occasions and I had to start over each time.  On the last I made the rep stay on the line until a necessary transfer to another person was completed.  Success at last.  Via Skype I reached Hala in Poland; she contacted the Marriott Courtyard which changed my reservation and called her daughter to say I wouldn’t make it for dinner.  Sent Ana in AMS text messages which thankfully went through because neither of my SIM cards is working.

Jokë reached her friend in Pristina and got us a ride into town.  Her driver called Shuki, one of my KPEP friends, who gave him directions and me a bed.  She has been a lifesaver.  She’s on the fifth floor (fourth in the US) and carried my 15 kilo (35 pound) suitcase while I carried the smaller ones.  I was glad I had a great bottle of Macedonian wine to offer as “thank you.”

Of course, the sun is shining here in Pristina … but Shuki’s husband Driton’s flight to Istanbul has been cancelled so it’s still foggy at the airport.  He is waiting to see if he’ll catch one at 11 or go to the airport with me at 10:30.  So far this morning, I’ve been on Skype with Hala in Poland, a handy back up for help, and ATT in the US (no help at all as the digital voice told me that their service centers keep US hours) and in the EU (nice, helpful fellow but also not so because they have no coverage in Kosovo).  In the meantime, coffee …

Many tense hours later …
OMG … Austrian just landed and is supposed to take off.  I am forever grateful to Shuki and her family, Gani and Dreni for their help in this mess.  Now to see if I can find Jokë.  Have walked around quite a bit with no luck.

30 minutes later …
Up in the air somewhere between Pristina and Vienna.  Sunshine above all the clouds and fog.  We’ll be a bit late in landing but I have a long layover anyway.  Jokë’s driver got stuck in a road block of some sort so she was very late but in time.  We boarded together with a couple of dozen other passengers, got all the instructions in three languages (German, English and Albanian), heard the pilot loudly rev up the engines and off we went.  The take off was as smooth and easy as any I’ve experienced.

Vienna Airport
Arrived safely and without so much as a bump.  Even got a jetway.  Because their planes are small, I’m used to Tyrollean flights parking on the tarmac where buses await passengers.  Now for some food; I am starved.

16 December, Amsterdam, Holland … Hanukkah starts tonight
Wasn’t sure I’d ever get here when I sat fogged in in Pristina.  But here I am.  Happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish friends and others who observe this holiday. 

I had a smooth flight to Warsaw yesterday.  Marriott Courtyard had my reservation and the bag I’d left.  After rearranging everything, I headed down for a salad and glass of wine, then decided on just the salad.  I wanted to sleep and sometimes when I'm tense (and flying makes me tense), wine keeps me awake.  Marriott makes the best Chicken Caesar salads and I inhaled mine with some sparkling water.  In the room I took a long hot shower and went to bed.  The alarm on my mobile awoke me at 5 this morning, and by 6, I’d walked across to the airport, checked in and ordered coffee and an “American muffin.”  That’s apparently what they call blueberry muffins.  Another smooth flight, this time on LOT, the Polish airline.  I closed my eyes and rested until landing.

Ana was waiting for me by the Sheraton Hotel across from Schiphol.  I spent a lovely afternoon at the Rijksmuseum, mainly enjoying the Modern Times photography exhibition in the new Philips Wing.  I love how the architect joined the two facades and took photos.  Afterwards I cabbed back to Ana and Art’s flat, read my INYT and The Economist, and promptly fell asleep.  When Ana and Art return, we’ll go to dinner.

18 December, Minneapolis MN USA  It’s snowing!
Home again, home again, jiggedy jig.  

Despite the comfortable beds provided by friends in far-off places, it was wonderful to fall asleep in my very own flannel-sheeted bed last night.  Slept normally:  one wake up for a potty break, back to sleep and wide awake at 5:30, up at 6.  Did water ex at 8:15 but had to skip the coffee-and-cookies afterwards as I had an eye doctor’s appointment.  And as a result, I am officially old.  The doctor said I am in the very earliest stages of cataracts, something virtually every one of my friends-of-a-certain-age has or has had.  Now I’m off to Connie’s for a much needed color and trim.

Copy/paste the link below into your browser.  It’s a hoot.  I was actually in the Warsaw airport that morning but earlier. 

20 December, Cookie-Baking Day
Jodi and her daughters, Ada and Lydia, came over today for what is our Second Annual Cookie-Baking Day.  We made sugar cookies and gingerbread people after having a quick lunch.  Then we enjoyed a few of the fruits of our labors with some hot cider.  Wonderful way to spend the afternoon.

Cookie bakers & the fruits of our labors

21 December
Typical Minnesota winter day — can’t decide what to do: rain, snow, sleet.  But definitely overcast, no sunshine in sight.  Typical Suzi Sunday — Sunday paper and crossword, “CBS Sunday Morning,” water ex, errands, “The Theory of Everything” at The Heights theatre.  On the way home, I picked up vacuum from sister and later reconnected with far-off family and friends.  Oh, and of course I ate, including a few of those delicious Christmas cookies from yesterday. Mmmmmm.

22 December
The December holidays have never been my favorite, even when I still lived at home in Pennsylvania.  Too commercial, even back then, for my Scottish mother for whom Christmas was a religious holiday (New Year’s was the celebratory one).  For me, no matter the year, the holidays never lived up to the expectations built into the commercials and television specials.

The month has only gotten worse over the years. On this day in 1996 my mother died in my sister’s apartment.  Mom had a heart attack and despite the EMTs’ best efforts, she could not be revived.  My son’s initial diagnosis was made on the final day of December 1997, and my sister’s husband died in December 2008.  It’s fitting that today is an ugly overcast day, alternately rainy or sleety. 

And it’s fitting that some good news should squeeze through the gloom.  My niece Tomery’s coming home!  She is being transferred to a club in Minneapolis and is to start work right after the New Year.  I hurriedly conferred with her, then made a reservation to fly to White Plains on Sunday to help her with the move and drive back with her.

25 December, Merry Christmas
Last night I ushered for the family service at Westminster, then joined Barbara and Christopher for dinner at Cosmos.  We hadn’t been there before and it was excellent, worth a return trip.  Today we’ll do a movie, then have dinner here.  I’m making spaghetti in honor of Barbara’s family tradition.

Had an email from Larry (of dancing days), and he’s returning from South Korea on Sunday … just as I leave for New York.  Ah, well.  Hopefully he’ll still be interested in dancing with me when I return!

Had an email from another Larry today that he and Doug have moved into their new place.  Doug and Larry are old friends from the Brunch Bunch.  I’ve been thinking about them and wondering if they’d moved ever since Marilou told me they’d sold their townhouse.  Doug loves IKEA so I want to recruit him for my trip out there to buy a dresser for Tomery to use while she’s with me.

26 December, Boxing Day …
… So I gathered up boxes and tossed them into recycling and trash, depending.  Okay, I know that’s not what Boxing Day means … but I’m all out of servants to gift.

Had a personal training water ex this morning as I was the only one to show up.  Thank you, Andy, for agreeing to teach.  Afterwards, Christopher came over and in exchange for breakfast, helped move a few things — deck furniture is now in storage, my late son’s toy chest is now in the living room awaiting Tomery’s jeans or whatever.  Then I ran errands and stopped to see Janet and Ed, arriving just as they were leaving for a movie, Turner, about JMW Turner, the British artist.  It had gotten fantastic reviews, so I decided to join them.  After two and a half hours, we three agreed the reviews vastly overrated the film.  It was very hard to understand a lot of the dialogue, especially at the beginning,  The scenes were disjointed.  And the film was waaay too long.  

28 December, White Plains, NY
Arrived to damp but not-too-cold weather.  Smooth trip despite late departure from Minneapolis and a long schlepp through DTW to make the connection.  Tomery dropped me at her flat, then returned to work.  I wandered over to the center of town wearing only jeans, t’neck and sweatshirt with a scarf.  Amazing.  Found Tomery’s favorite restaurant and had a sandwich for lunch, then back again to try for a nap.

30 December, Packing Day
Promptly at 10 am "Bob" rang the bell … the movers had arrived as scheduled.  Three-plus hours later Bob, Nelson and “the driver” (he never told me his name) finished.  In between, they’d disassembled, paper-wrapped or shrink-wrapped, covered in pads, boxed, removed all and cleared their debris.  Oh, and they helped me clean out the vacuum cleaner, replace overhead light covers, put the bedroom door back on (the bedroom was too small for a queen-sized bed and a usable door).  And at the end, they were still smiling!  

Having only had a very early coffee-and-muffin breakfast, I headed out in late afternoon for lunch, then back to the apartment where I laid down on the floor and fell asleep for almost two hours.  Later Tomery picked me up and we checked into the hotel, then she went off to her going-away party and I vegged with a few snacks and TV before sacking out.

31 December, New Year’s Eve
Drove Tomery to work today so I could use the car and finished some errands — removed the last of the pile of things that goes to MN with us, dropped off two hugs bags of clothing and some nonperishable foods at a local church, returned the electronics (wifi router etc.) and drove to Costco for gasoline.  Unfortunately Costco doesn’t have a gasoline station here, and the cheapest place I found ($2.75 a gallon!!!) had an exceptionally long line, extending out into the roadway, so I couldn’t stop.  We have 200 miles left in the tank.

Tonight we had dinner with Tomery’s Uncle Jack and Aunt Rose who live here and have been so good to her.  It was fun to finally meet them.  Jack has picked PF Chang’s, one of my favorite chain restaurants, and we all ate well.

Tomorrow it's off on our road trip, back to Minneapolis.  Hurray!

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