Posted by: marykfurness | September 10, 2014

Once again…September 11th.

I’m not trying to be blasé about it. Or to denigrate the fact that so many died needlessly. Believe me, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing on that day, and I worked myself crazy, shaking like a leaf in the wind for a whole lot of reasons.

September 11th is most definitely a day that will live in infamy, but it is also a day that will live in my mind and heart…..

in joy.

Because it is for me, before anything, a birthday. Our son’s birthday. That day, 9/11/01 was our son’s fourth birthday.

I had baked cupcakes for his daycare group the night before, and frosted them that morning–half chocolate, half vanilla. I packaged them up, got him and them over to daycare without incident, and went into work.

I was met by our news director bringing a TV into the main breakroom area off the cubicles, where we gathered for meetings, lunch, and brainstorming sessions. I worked at the time for the National Public Radio affiliate on the University of Missouri’s campus, and when I asked what was going on, he responded briefly with “plane crash. Could be another one”. Just as we turned the TV on, all hell and chaos began to break loose. The Twin Towers. Then The Pentagon. Then everything else. I had time to send off e-mails to family in Washington, DC about other family in New York, and to make phone calls to my mom and sister-in-law. I texted my husband in Jefferson City–they were locking down the Capitol where he was Museum Director at the time. Then I got down to business; editing sound as stories came in, and sending it into the air booth, where we continued wall-to-wall coverage of the unspeakable.

Would I get to our son’s birthday party at daycare that afternoon? Were various members of my family all right, a thousand miles away? Would my husband get home that night? Every time I allowed my thoughts to spill over into that realm, my stomach would churn and my hands would shake. It took both hands to move the mouse to digitally edit the sound files.

At one point a sandwich and a drink appeared in front of me…I ate mechanically, knowing I must. Then a tap on the production room door, and a message that I could go if I needed to–they knew it was Z’s birthday. I left, but the chaos remained with me.

Fast forward 13 years…our son’s 17th birthday. What a young man he has become! Strong, independent, vibrant, known for his long blond ponytail, his love of good coffee, and his willingness to ride his bicycle in any weather. He is creative, with a deep passion for music and theater. What does he remember of that birthday so long ago? “Tension”, he says, sipping on an iced tea as we sit in the kitchen on a muggy September evening. “A feeling that something wasn’t right…you telling me that everything was OK, but many people had been hurt far away. I thought a big porch or balcony had fallen somewhere.” His dad and I didn’t fully explain what had actually happened until four years or so later, when it was discussed in his second-grade classroom. He would get angry when people gave him strange looks and made comments about how weird it was that 9/11 was his birthday. We celebrate the birthday quietly… joyfully, but quietly.

Right now it’s September 10th, almost 11:30 p.m.–17 years ago, I was in the process of bringing the young man in the next room into the world, and my husband (asleep at the moment) was holding my hand. Thirteen years ago, the world shifted into a whole new and frightening paradigm, and I wasn’t sure what would happen to the three of us in the next 24 hours. Now? I am grateful for each day, each month, and each year. And call me crazy, but somehow, something keeps me hopeful for the future.

Posted by: marykfurness | June 9, 2014

Things Are Not Always As They Seem

Travel. The mere word conjures up visions of suitcases packed full of great clothes, tickets bought for exotic locales, and hotel rooms with comfortable beds and fluffy bathrobes.

Not always.

This latest trip of mine involves clothes and shoes packed for the express purpose of getting grubby; a 5-and-a-half-hour car trip with people I have never travelled with; sleeping on a cot,in a room with 8 other women, in a church in a small town in Illinois.

But this is one of the most mind-blowing and heart-stopping trips I have ever taken.

I have travelled, with four other members of my church, to the town of Rantoul, Illinois, to participate in a Habitat for Humanity “Blitz Build” of two houses in the nearby town of Gifford. Gifford,IL was nearly wiped off the map last November by a massive tornado that either damaged or destroyed 300 of the homes in that town of a thousand people. For various reasons, the town received no SEMA or FEMA money–no trailers, nothing. This was not Joplin. This was not the town of Washington, Illinois, which experienced a tornado at nearly the same time. This town is pulling itself back together with the help of people across the U.S., who give of their own time, their own love, and their own teamwork. I’ve never done this before.

But after 24 hours here, I know I would do it again; and that this is more than just another way of travelling, but a way to give back.

More on the how and the why–along with pictures and stories–later

Posted by: marykfurness | June 18, 2013

Fun and Fabulous Facts About Travel in the UK

ImageIn our journey lo, these several weeks, we have learned many things. I bestow upon you now this knowledge.

Renting a flat is a great thing, but it is a crap shoot. Never rent a flat from someone who wants the balance in cash or traveler’s checks. We were able to deal with that, but next time I will look at the contract much more closely.  The other flat rental was much easier–all done by credit card, as was the B&B.  Also, always double and triple check reviews on several sites–I did that, and all places turned out well, some more than others.

Make sure your flat is within walking distance of a grocery store, since the first things you will need to buy are paper towels and toilet paper. Then coffee, beer or wine (if you are so inclined), and groceries. Of course, if you’ve rented a car (we relied completely on public transport) the walking point is moot. Directions, however, are vital.

See that chromed, multi-bar thingy in your UK bathroom? That, my friends, is a heated towel rack. Yes a *heated* towel rack. Once you’ve used one, you’ll want one. How I’m going to afford one and install one in my miniscule bathroom in Missouri, is something I have yet to figure out.

Sometimes a flat comes with a washer…which is also a dryer. The dryer part never gets things really dry, thus necessitating draping and/or hanging items all over the flat. Or, as here in Edinburgh, there is no dryer, but a “clothes horse” (aka drying rack), which means it takes a full 24 hours for clothes to dry.

There is the electric shower. Really. Electric–adjust for water pressure, for temperature, push a button, and presto! Shower. Whoa. Do not turn off the wall switch, however; no electricity…no shower.

Need to plug something in? Charge up the Ipod, laptop? Every outlet…EVERY outlet…is on a switch.You don’t turn on the switch, you get no electricity.

Moving farther afield….need a quick, free bathroom? Starbucks. No, don’t buy a coffee… just nip in, look for the bathroom sign, do what needs doing, and nip out. Nobody will care– they are all looking at their laptops, phones, or how many people are ahead of them in line.

However…be prepared to pay to pee some places.  Like at Waverley train station in Edinburgh, where it cost me 30 pence! I only had a 50 pence piece–there was a change machine just before the turnstile.  Also, at the Tower of London, by the ticket offices, it’ll cost you; however, the ones inside the Tower–well, those seem to be free with the admission.

The trains….ah, the trains.  Ridiculously on time. Comes with a coffee and sandwich shop. Pretty efficient, too. When I mentioned this to a gentleman, and how nice it would be if we had a system like this in our part of the US, he launched into a (mild) diatribe about how much better the service was in other countries, how much better it had been years ago, etc., etc.  When I mentioned this to our B&B host, he laughed and said, “if an Englishman isn’t complainin’ about the weather, he’s complainin’ about the trains!”

Some pubs will allow dogs inside, especially in the rural areas. I’ve never seen such well- behaved dogs in my life. It’s also not surprising to see leashed dogs boarding the trains, and behaving beautifully. 

Of course, there are food items–I mean, who serves haggis, neeps, and tatties in the US? And it was quite good; the best version had the tatties (mashed potatoes) on the bottom, neeps (creamed turnips) in the middle, and haggis (like a spicy sausage) on top, in a sort of cylindrical mold, surrounded by a savory brown sauce, and topped with sprouts. I had haggis stuffed in chicken, wrapped in bacon, drizzled with a creamy peppercorn sauce; talk about taking the dish to new heights! My friend Amanda made us BBQ chicken one night, with a side of barley risotto, and we finished up the meal with a marvelous cheese platter admidst great conversation. In Brighton, there was fish and chips at Harry Ramsden’s, with fish pieces the size of the plate! (It was a really big plate)

Wherever we go, there is music; wherever we look, there are flowers. The music might be a single instrument, a trio, or a recording….the flowers might be a field, a window box, or a single plant literally growing out of a stone wall; but it is there. And it is good.


Posted by: marykfurness | June 18, 2013

Rhapsodies and Ruminations

ImageIt’s our last day of real vacation enjoyment on this trip…we will momentarily sally forth upon our last day exploring Edinburgh. Tomorrow we take an hours-long train trip back to London, change to the Underground, and seek out our hotel near the airport. An overnight stay, a last meal with a dear friend, then an “oh-****-early” venture to the airport, security, and the beginning of our re-entry back into Reality.

Reality is gonna….well…suck.

Sort of.

Gone will be the days of standing on the ramparts of castles, towers and walls–hundreds and thousands of years old, and wondering what it must have been like back then. Gone will be idyllic afternoons wandering among standing stones, or trying to stand on a pebbly beach–laughing uproariously!–with a newly-found friend. Gone will be the challenges–well met, thank you!–of deciphering train, bus, and Underground schedules, and arriving at the proper place at the proper time.

Gone, most sadly, will be these three weeks of time with my family.  My husband managed to carve this huge amount of time out of his work schedule, and has delighted in the castles and museums of Britain; I have watched our son evolve and grow, almost in spite of himself; and I have revelled in meeting a friend I knew only through email and Facebook, seeing a cousin I haven’t seen in a quarter-century, and sinking into the beauty that is the UK.

We return to heat, humidity, and rains in Missouri…but also to our home, and our cats. We return to friends who have watched over our home, and to our church, which will enfold us in love and music.  I return with new energy and ideas for work; our son still has summer activities; and John has a spring in his step and a light in his eyes.

What will I miss? Really good beer. Incredibly courteous people (for the most part!). Great, affordable local produce in the grocery stores. An awesome pub in the tiny town of Haltwhistle, Northumberland. A lengthy conversation in said pub with a guy who used to be the UK Sales Director for Anheuser-Busch. The cool temperatures in mid-June. The way it stays light until 10:30 at night. The fact that there is an iris blooming in a large pot in our courtyard in Edinburgh…in mid-June. The apology for the train running SIX MINUTES LATE between London and Carlisle. Spending time with my foodie friend wandering London’s Borough Market and wanting to buy or eat everything in sight!! Finding real iced tea in London–Earl Grey, with mint and a slice of lemon (at the Borough Market). Spending my birthday in London, and Father’s Day in Edinburgh. So, so, so much more.

But I will come back. I don’t know when, but I will come back. I will rent a wee flat, like we have done on this trip, and I will shop locally and cook lovely meals and live like a local, if only for a short while. I will meander, and read, and write, and drink a good ale and eat in a pub down the street, and enjoy the music that streams out of the pubs and up the hill and into my window of a night.  Because that is how it should be.

Posted by: marykfurness | June 14, 2013

Random Musings on Travel in England

I will fill in the blanks later, but here are some random musings on my travels thus far in England:

1) I should have trained for months on a treadmill for the incredible amount of walking I have done inside of two weeks..

2) My clothing fits better due to the amount of walking I have done inside of two weeks.

3) The food here is freaking incredible! A lot of it is locally sourced, tomatoes really taste like tomatoes (instead of cardboard), and shopping at Sainsbury’s was a joy. Also, the takeaway sandwiches at M&S are yummy!

4) I can say, with perfect honesty, that I lived in London for 8 days.  Not just visited, but lived.  We lived in a rented flat, shopped locally (where the lady at the checkout recognized us and asked about one or the other when one of us didn’t show up!), took the train, bus, or Tube everywhere, and met up with friends and/or a family member for activities.  I nearly had a work assignment from home to do, but for that story, you must buy me a drink…..

5) Never leave the States without a Smartphone.  I thought I’d be OK with a local Pay-As-You-Go and my Netbook, but in London, for up-to-date train schedules, and quick texting nothing beats a Smartphone.  Our plan seemed too expensive, but I really miss using my Smartphone. A “stupid phone” doesn’t cut it…just sayin’

6) A good WiFi signal is worth its weight in gold. Or pounds sterling.  It truly does suck to have to pay by the hour for WiFi, however, which happens on trains.  I adore this B&B where we are staying right now in Northumberland, but to get a decent signal, I must sit next to *this* door on *this* side of the room….

7) I haven’t yet had a bad meal….or a bad beer.  Or a bad glass of wine.  May I recommend the Black Bull Pub in Haltwhistle, Northumberland? Cozy, comfy, families and dogs welcome. Not kidding…

8) About 95% of the people we’ve met have been incredibly courteous.

9) If you don’t enjoy history, fun and funky shops, entertainment, animals, or good food, then you’d best wander  off somewhere else.

10) There are a lot of very, very, very old things here. Old buildings, old houses, old walls, old forts.  But there are new things too….some blended together well, some not so much.

More later, perhaps even pictures; but tomorrow, onward to the north, and Edinburgh..

Posted by: marykfurness | June 1, 2013

All My Bags Are Packed……

Everyone travels differently.  Some prefer driving, some love the train, and some can’t get enough of the energy of an airport.  I love them all. I do!  I get an adrenaline rush from the planning, the lists, the search for a great place to stay, then packing my bags, locking the door, and getting on the road in or on whatever mode of transportation meets my need.

Whether it’s loading the car for a trip to our fair state’s parks or historic sites; a lengthy drive across the country to visit family and friends; or heading off to the airport, my blood fairly sings in my veins–I’m off on some kind of adventure!  Those of you who know me, know the truth of that statement…adventure seems to follow me and mine wherever we go.

This trip will be no different….three weeks in the United Kingdom.  London and its environs; a walk along parts of the old Roman wall; and nearly a week in Edinburgh, exploring that fine city and taking day trips out to castles and battlefields. We will fly of course, then take trains, busses, a friend will drive us several places, we will walk….explorations galore!  We have rented apartments, and have a bed and breakfast stay planned….sinking into local life as much as possible, and travelling as lightly as possible.

Some are fortunate–they can make reservations quickly, get the time off work, pack in a flash, and be off!  For the three of us, this trip has been years in the making, months in the planning, and now….lift-off!! We are ready to go.

Posted by: marykfurness | July 30, 2012

Soaked, steeped, shaken, and stirred

Vacations are interesting things.  Some are stressful–you spend all your time moving yourself and/or others here, there, and everywhere, and never stop to enjoy the moment. Or they’re stressful because of the people you’re with, or those you must see–i.e., “duty visits” to relatives. Some are too short…some are too long.  Some are too confined–one’s entire family in a small hotel room with far too much luggage, and everyone bound and determined to do the same thing. At the same time.

This was not….repeat NOT…that kind of vacation.  First a visit in DC with my brother and his wife and boys, where we swam in his pool, soaked in his hot tub, ate good food, drank good wine, worked jigsaw puzzles, played music, discussed music, listened to music, and went to a Quidditch match (yes, you read that right, and it was a blast!).  John, Zach and I spent an afternoon at memorials downtown as well.  Then there was the renewing of near and dear friendships from my elementary, junior and senior high school days–Sally, Mandy, Linda, Kathy, Rebecca; what joy to spend hours together, knowing our friendships will always be there.

On to Williamsburg/Jamestown/Yorktown for yet more steeping in history…the College of William and Mary, where we were shown the special nooks and crannies by my dear friend Leslie and her family; only an alum would know these things. Colonial Williamsburg; Jamestown Settlement; Yorktown….beautiful, especially with the reproductions of the ships that sailed over with the first settlers.  And all the shops and restaurants that make W’burg special–Aroma’s Coffee; The Cheese Shop (bread ends and extra house dressing, please!); and Mermaid Books!

And what has shaken and stirred me?  The sea….it always does.  Our 4 days at Virginia Beach, with the ability to see and hear the ocean every time I turn my head (our room faces the ocean) never fails to stir my heart and shake my soul to its foundations.  Having spent so much time by the sea as a child, I truly feel like I am returning home.  This has been a bit different, as fighter jets from a nearby naval air station roar overhead at odd intervals–also accounting for a bit of shaking up!

Tomorrow, we head back to Missouri–no more the smell of Coppertone; no more soaking myself in the salty, briny, bouyant ocean; no more watching my nearly-grown son diving through the waves, coming up and flinging back his long, sun-bleached hair; no more the lovely ladies in the hotel coffee shop; no more long talks with childhood friends.

But there will always be long talks with my husband; chats with our son;nights spent listening to both of them play music; and cats.  Because that’s my Missouri home


Posted by: marykfurness | July 22, 2012

Recharging, rejuvenating, and rejoicing

Planning a road trip vacation involves a lot of stress…locating hotel rooms, making sure the house and pets are cared for, getting the vehicle in road-worthy shape, and tying all the other loose ends into a nice, neat package.  Then there are the endless miles cooped up in a vehicle with the family members, which makes you want to leave them at the next truck stop…..  

But arriving here at my brother’s, and spending time with him, my sister-in-law, and their boys has been a revelation.  As I have listened to everyone interacting– playing music, exchanging philosophical thoughts, laughing and joking, working puzzles together, I have realized that–despite long-held differences of political opinion–we can have exciting, positive discourse.  And it  has been joyful.  I am sitting upstairs writing, while downstairs everyone else is gathered around the drumset as my husband gives an impromptu drum lesson.  I listen and smile–this is as family should be, and the thousand miles it took to get here was worth it.

Part of my goal here has been a reunion of sorts–Friday was spent with a friend from my school days, and I spent this morning over coffee with 4 other women from those long-ago days; surprisingly, there was no awkwardness, no nervousness– only laughter, stories, and the easy conversation that comes from shared experiences then and now. 

And there’s more!  We leave for points south tomorrow, for yet more adventures, to see more friends, to discover new places.  I’m kinda liking this….I’m rejoicing, recharging, and rejuvenating…and I’m enjoying my family again.

Posted by: marykfurness | January 1, 2012

…And a Tropical New Year!

I’ve spent New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in various places; newly moved into an apartment for example, with boxes all around me, waiting for midnight to strike before crawling into bed exhausted.  I’ve worked the holiday in various jobs, and spent it at many celebrations with friends and family.  But nothing prepared me for this.

Streets full of people.  The low growl of the ocean, mere steps from our hotel. Bonfires on the beach. Drum bands, sounding disturbingly like the MU drumline, playing calypso rhythms as people swayed and danced. All this action punctated by the regular boom of people setting off fireworks. 

Then at midnight, as I sat on the beach with two friends, we watched fireworks directly overhead…then more to our right.  And then again, more and more down the beach to the left….and then again to the right. And again overhead, as though they would rain colored fire down upon us. It went on and on, until a ground firework went slightly awry and sprayed sparks far too close for comfort!  We decided that was enough fun for one night.  As I went up to the 4th floor room I shared with a number of young women from the tour, another drum line started up at a bar behind the hotel–this one as though M-U had come back for round 2 and brought a brass section along!  And was playing inside our room! Details are hazy after that, but the last time I recall looking at a clock was around 3 a.m………..


A glorious day on the beach today, in perfect aquamarine water, on a quiet beach that required a 15 minute walk to find.  Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the jewels in Costa Rica’s crown of parks, and I had the treat of falling into a lengthy discussion with two of the rangers about the difficulties they face in a park of that size. More on that another time.  But a day of relaxation and rejuvenation for this woman who loves salt water so much; my only disappointment was the lack of waves for body-surfing, but that was a small price to pay.

I write this by the pool at our hotel, across from the beach where I can hear the breakers.  Tomorrow is our last full day in this diverse country– we will visit a town known for its handicrafts, and tour a coffee plantation.  I will write much more and flesh out this very bare-bones blog when I return to the States.

Posted by: marykfurness | December 30, 2011

Three Peccaries, Two Green Macaws, and a Toucan. And More.

Yesterday and today we have spent either driving to or in Monteverde, on the Pacific side of Costa Rica’s Continental Divide–in certain parts of this area, if you arehigh enough, you can see the Pacific Ocean. The wind seems to blow constantly, and the climate is very different from the Atlantic side.

We have kept up such a hectic pace that I must backtrack a bit, so as to explain the title of today’s entry, which actually occurred a day or two ago.  We visited the La Selva Biological Research Station near the Arenal Volcano, a biological reserve and research station.  We walked well-marked trails with an excellent guide, and peccaries (a species of wild pig) wandered past us as though we were bits of rather unappetizing vegetation. Toward the end of our walk, a commotion high in a tree at a distance caught our attention, and our guide–Jaime–looked through his binoculars and announced a rare sight–two endangered green macaws copulating in said tree!  By the time I got my camera focused up there, I only got a shot at one of them (I think). As we were returning to meet the other groups and board the bus, our attention was diverted again–toucans!  Just like Toucan Sam on the Fruit Loops box! Preening and bobbing, turning their heads this way and that to make sure we knew exactly what manner of superior bird they were.


I have seen shimmering waterfalls, tasted coffee with a complexity like wine, soaked for an hour in the hottest of hot springs, and watched howler monkeys! And taken exhausting hikes that made me push myself past all limits.  The pace of the trip is excruciating, but the discoveries around each hairpin turn in the very bumpy Costa Rican roads are worth every minute!

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