It has been a busy year of traveling, biking, and agility training and trialing with Louie. Luckily, I have been in great physical shape for all of it, until now. After a pause over the winter, Louie and I got back to trialing in the spring, and he earned his Open Jumpers with Weaves title at the Princeton trial in April – hurray! On one hand it is great to earn a new title and advance to the next level, on the other hand, then you have to advance to the next level where the courses are longer and harder and you are allowed fewer, or no mistakes. After Greece and Idaho, I had us registered for three weekend trials in a row in the hope of getting our Open Standard title at one of those events. It was a tremendous high to have a clean run and get a qualifying score and the third needed leg for the title on the first day back in the competition ring. The next weekend, we were finally with all the “big kids” in the advanced courses, and even though Louie did really well and stayed with me with minimal mistakes, we didn’t qualify in either the Excellent Jumpers class or our first time at Excellent Standard. The third weekend was a bust for Louie and for me.
It has been a whirlwind year of travel for me! Back in April, a girlfriend of mine from my bike club told me about a trip she was planning to complete her “50 in the 50’s challenge” – a physically active trip in all 50 states while she was in her 50’s. Idaho was the last state she needed, and even though she was now 61, she was allowing for the lost years of fires and COVID. It sounded like a great adventure and I signed on. We would be camping with mountain biking, hiking and white-water rafting, quite a challenging itinerary. My attitude at this point is, “if I am in good physical shape, I might as well do it while I can!”
We had this trip mostly planned for June of 2020 and my 60th birthday, but COVID struck, and we cancelled it along with everything else. Luckily, we hadn’t bought plane tickets or paid any money to the tour organizer. Then, one January afternoon in Maui as I meditated on the hillside overlooking the sea and islands, the thought floated into my mind, “I think it is our 40thanniversary this June…we should take that trip to Greece!” It was very easy to reconstruct the itinerary with the incredibly helpful travel agent, Takis, who plans trips for the Hellenic Studies Department at PU. Prices were more expensive than they were in 2020, but still very reasonable compared to the rest of Europe. Traveling in early June we were also very lucky with the weather, which was cool and cloudy before the blistering heat of the summer set in.
After an uneventful direct flight from Newark to Athens, we arrived in Greece on June 11, our anniversary day. We were met at the airport and taken to our lovely hotel, the Herodion, only a short walk to the Acropolis Museum and charming Plaka district. We walked around a bit and rested in the afternoon before a delicious cocktail at the hotel’s rooftop bar, followed by a magnificent dinner at the famous Dionysis Restaurant overlooking the south face of the Acropolis – a suitably grand way to celebrate this major milestone in our relationship!
I learned about this trip a few days before I was leaving for Maui for a month. It seemed crazy to make plans for another adventure, but the dates were perfect during Spring break, a lot of my bike friends from Morris Area Freewheelers would be going, and you couldn’t beat the very inexpensive price, so I put down a deposit. Emily would be accompanying Michael and the PU Orchestra on tour to Sofia, Belgrade and Budapest, and the pet sitter we had for Maui was available again to stay with Louie. After three years of not traveling at all, I guess it was time to start making up for it.
I am writing this a number of months later, so the experiences have settled and softened. I have practiced with meditation teachers Steve Armstrong and Kamala Masters for almost 20 years and have always wanted to visit their retreat center on Maui. With all of Michael’s health issues, it has been challenging to find a time when I could be away for a month, but December/January looked like it would work so I made the reservation last June and hoped for the best. As the holidays approached, everyone was healthy, including Steve, who was doing miraculously well five years after a glioblastoma diagnosis. Michael, Emily and I planned a family vacation for 4 days before my retreat. We arrived on Maui in a terrible rain-storm that diverted planes and cancelled flights. Luckily, we landed safely and stayed in a beautiful condo near the beach in Kihei. We only had one good swimming day after the storm, but we did a lot of driving around the Island and visited our old Princeton friend Maida Pollock. She had retired to her son’s farm in Kula, which was, amazingly, right down the dirt road from the retreat center! Michael and Emily went on to spend Christmas on the Big Island at Volcano National Park, and I started a monthlong retreat in Paradise.
I rented a cool and funky house in Berlin MD for a family beach get-a-way this summer. I was very happy to avoid a complicated trip to Europe, or anywhere that involved flying, especially after the travel hassles of Utah. I was even happier that Emily could join us. The house was attractive and comfortable with a fenced in area for Louie, AC, WiFi, and beautiful outside garden areas to cook, eat and even watch TV. The host lived in a trailer at the back of the property, with “Boyfriend” and three dogs. Louie made friends with Laurie’s dogs through the fence, and “Boyfriend,” a chef at a local restaurant, even shared some fresh off the boat tuna with us one night. Laurie was a warm and generous character with unending helpful advice about everything.
Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks have been on my bucket list for a while, and I finally got to see them on a wonderful Backroads bike trip. I still had a deposit with them from the Greece trip that I had to cancel the first summer of COVID. I have been hesitant about traveling in general, but I made the reservation back in January when I was safely nestled at home. Cases were down in NJ in the early spring, but started to pick up again as the warmer weather approached. I did the best I could to stay healthy before the trip, and would hope for the best while traveling with 16 new friends on the trip itself.
I just got home from 12 glorious days at Forest Refuge and feel much revived and restored. It was the first time back in almost exactly two years when I was one of the last yogis there before the beginning of the pandemic shut the world down. Rebecca Bradshaw was teaching again, and it was also her first time back since March of 2020. At my interview with her the day after I arrived, she said “so, we return to the scene of the crime!” Yikes. The preparation for being away on retreat is always quite involved, but this time was especially stressful due to the strict testing protocols necessary to even enter the IMS buildings let along stay for 12 days.
I have been remiss in adding blog posts for the second half of 2021. Maybe it is because the pandemic seemed to be ending, which was scary and stressful as we went back to more normal activities, but then it came roaring back and kept on going. Life continued with both a sameness that was discouraging as we just made the best of it all, and a new anxiety as we tried to integrate a return to regular life in the midst of an ongoing pandemic and a changed world. Maybe what I thought was equanimity was actually a dullness masking anxiety. Even so, Michael and I have a lot to be thankful for: we remained healthy and safe and I enjoyed a lot of lovely bike rides on my new bike. Here are some highlights:
I have to say it: I hated teaching in person this semester – mostly. Private voice lessons with me wearing a mask and the student wearing a mask were frustrating and almost completely useless. The students were thrilled to be back in person, and OK, it was nice to be able to accompany in real time. But the technical instruction that the students needed was impossible to convey. I took them through their exercises and guessed at what they were doing with their mouths and tongues. I did try to do some hands on physical adjustments in posture and movement but I also wanted to keep my distance. In general, I was not comfortable being in a small room for an hour with someone deliberately exhaling at me. And the students were all incredibly sick with everything else but COVID: strep throat, bronchitis, laryngitis, colds, mono, stuffed noses, coughing, you name it. They called it the Princeton Plague and it got most of the students at one point or another. OK, I didn’t have to sing at all, but my historic trauma with worrying about getting sick, combined with the past 18 months of being conditioned to be afraid of getting sick had me extremely triggered.
At the other extreme, I was teaching Singing American Musical Theatre as a performance class again and it was wonderful.