Thursday, April 30, 2020

Quote of the Day -- Xun Kuang

The person attempting to travel two roads at once will get nowhere. 
-- Xun Kuang

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Quote of the Day -- Samuel Ullman

Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, fear, self-distrust bows the heart and turns the spirit back to dust. Whether sixty or sixteen, there is in every human being's heart the lure of wonder, the unfailing child-like appetite of what's next, and the joy of the game of living.
 -- Samuel Ullman

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Quote of the Day -- Hugh Laurie

It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There’s almost no such thing as ready. There’s only now. And you may as well do it now. I mean, I say that confidently as if I’m about to go bungee jumping or something — I’m not. I’m not a crazed risk taker. But I do think that generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.  
-- Hugh Laurie

Monday, April 27, 2020

Quote of the Day -- Gabrielle Bernstein

The way that we experience the world around us is a direct reflection of the world within us. 
-- Gabrielle Bernstein

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Quote of the Day -- George Will

It is said that God gave us memory so we could have roses in winter. 
-- George Will

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Quote of the Day -- Stephen Sondheim

One of the hardest things about writing lyrics is to make the lyrics sit on the music in such a way that you’re not aware there was a writer there.
-- Stephen Sondheim

Friday, April 24, 2020

Quote of the Day -- Jane Kenyon

Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.
 -- Jane Kenyon

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Quote of the Day -- Plutarch

Good fortune will elevate even petty minds, and gives them the appearance of a certain greatness and stateliness, as from their high place they look down upon the world; but the truly noble and resolved spirit raises itself, and becomes more conspicuous in times of disaster and ill fortune… 
-- Plutarch

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Quote of the Day -- Marcus Aurelius

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive—to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.
-- Marcus Aurelius

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Quote of the Day -- Dalai Lama

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
 -- Dalai Lama

Monday, April 20, 2020

Egypt -- A Surprising Bucket-List Trip

In early 2011, we visited our older daughter Cindy in Washington D.C. I remember being at the now-defunct Newseum and watching the breaking news of the Arab Spring erupting in Cairo. What better way to see history in the making than on a massive video screen at a museum celebrating news? At the time, we felt hopeful that this represented an important turning point in Northern Africa and the Middle East. But the level of unrest was also evident. And I remember secretly thinking "Rats! Now I might never get to see the pyramids."

Fast forward to late 2014. We were enjoying dinner and travel-reminiscing with our adventuresome friends Valerie and David. The conversation turned to bucket-list trips, which lead us to "I wonder if Viking has resumed doing river cruises in Egypt yet?" A quick visit to their web site confirmed they were, and the four of us booked a trip to Egypt and Jordan for the fall of 2015.

We can count on Valerie and David to have friends wherever we go, and Cairo was no exception. We arrived a few days early and saw quite a bit of the city with our local guides. We explored fascinating mosques and markets. Ironically, I really fell in love with a bronze and iron sculpture featured at our hotel gift shop. It was a pretty heavy piece to acquire so early in the trip -- especially since we wanted to do carry-on only -- but we made it work.

We joined our tour group and headed to the "suburb" of Giza to see the sphinx and the pyramids. They were indeed awe-inspiring but also a bit disappointing. I have no idea how photographers get the amazing pictures of the sphinx and the pyramids atop shining sand with blue sky in the background. They make it appear that these wonders of the world are in the middle of the desert instead of right at the edge of Giza, shrouded in a smoggy haze, and surrounded by evidence of tourism -- barricades and vendors hawking souvenirs. Our visit and photo opportunities were cut short when our guard got spooked by a group of young men hanging about. (Did I mention we had a lot of security on this trip?) So we checked off this item on our bucket-list and headed for Luxor (a.k.a. Thebes) and our boat.

To our delighted surprise, our trip was an uphill journey (metaphorically) from the pyramids, starting with a stunning bird's eye view of the Valley of the Kings and a glorious sunrise from a hot air balloon. During the next few days, we toured amazing temples and learned that they had been relocated by a team of engineers from around the world before the building of the Azwan Dam and the creation of Lake Nasser. The international community rallied with funding and expertise to ensure the survival of these priceless artifacts from ancient times.

For me, the highlight of the trip -- the icing on the cake that really made this a bucket-list trip -- was the temple at Abu Simbel with the colossal statues of Ramses and his queen. The temple featured amazingly well-preserved carvings and hieroglyphics. We had ample time to explore, and we were able to attend a marvelous sound and light show after dark. This was definitely saving the best for last, and I can't imagine visiting Egypt without seeing it.

Because of the still tenuous security situation in Egypt, this trip tipped the balance toward "tourism" (scenery and monuments) rather than "travel" (exploring on our own and experiencing the local culture). We learned a lot about ancient Egypt, but gained minimal insight into the present day. We were able to snag a few souvenirs from vendors who greeted us whenever we disembarked from our boat or a bus. I acquired a lovely necklace and a clay figure.

And we did have opportunity to visit with the staff on the boat. They were so appreciative of our "courage" in coming to their country and helping them overcome their three-year tourism drought.  A wonderful lady on the boat embroidered shirts with hieroglyphics. Shame on me that I don't remember the meaning of all the symbols on the front (something like "peace" and "light") but I know that the back is a representation of the letters in my name.  

Our final purchase -- from the gift shop on the boat -- was a colorful, glittery picture of an ancient Egyptian couple. The colors blend beautifully with other treasures that adorn our living room.

Our trip concluded on a somber note highlighting the legitimacy of the tight security. On October 31, a terrorist bomb took down a charter plane full of Russian tourists shortly after it took off from Sharm El Sheikh. The cause wasn't known immediately, but fears of terrorism significantly disrupted travel. Fortunately, we were already in Jordan and didn't have any noticeable impact on our trip. A couple we met on the boat had flown to Sharm El Sheikh to scuba dive. They eventually made it home to Boston with their luggage, but it wasn't easy. This event marked the beginning of another tourism hiatus for Egypt. We were very lucky to visit these incredible bucket-list sites during a brief window of opportunity.

Quote of the Day -- Bill Watterson

...having an enviable career is one thing, and being a happy person is another. Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it's to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth. You'll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you're doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you'll hear about them. To invent your own life's meaning is not easy, but it's still allowed, and I think you'll be happier for the trouble. 
-- Bill Watterson

Sunday, April 19, 2020

COVID-19 and a Caring Worldwide Community

Yesterday evening, all three major networks and many streaming platforms broadcast a concert called One World Together At Home. The primary organizer was Lady Gaga. She brought together an impressive line-up of iconic performers -- Elton John, Paul McCartney,  the Rolling Stones, John Legend, and many others. Three late night talk show hosts -- Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, and Jimmy Kimmel -- were the "masters of ceremony." The evening also featured inspirational clips from leaders, including Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Oprah, the head of WHO, and the Secretary General of the UN. 

The purpose of the evening was to celebrate the heroism and sacrifices of the many front-line workers who are fighting COVID-19 and making it possible for the rest of us to stay home. Performer after performer, speaker after speaker, expressed the world's gratitude to these workers and praised the rest of us who support them by staying home. (Ironically, one of the key beneficiaries of the evening was the World Health Organization -- ironic because President Trump, in search of somewhere to pass the blame, just cut the US funding to WHO while his administration "investigates.") Amidst many inspiring performances, the final number stood out as the showstopper. Lady Gaga, Celine Dion, Andrea Bocelli, John Legend and pianist Lang Lang performed "The Prayer." There was probably not a dry eye in anyone's house.

This concert is a dramatic example  of the tremendous sense of community and shared responsibility that has arisen in response to the pandemic. New Yorkers stand on their balconies every evening at 7 pm to give a round of applause to the front-line workers. Performers record bedtime stories for kids. Many are sewing masks for healthcare workers. People are donating to various food shelves and relief societies. It warms my heart and makes me proud.  And yet...

As our son Jeff reminds me, "That's how people are behaving in our bubble, Mom." Another darker side is starting to appear, egged on by our President. We watched him appeal to people's frustrations and hatred of the coastal elite at the end of this week, encouraging protests. His instincts as a demagogue and wily politician tell him that a strong sense of community and compassion coupled with conscientiously following guidelines for social distancing will not bode well for him at the polls in November.   He's targeting "battleground states" with strong Democratic governors, including Minnesota, in his efforts to stir up unrest. It's quite frightening because his rhetoric now and in the past borders on inciting violence. I hate to focus on politics in these dire times, but I don't want to forget the increasingly crazed words and actions of our president.  Heather Cox Richardson wrote an excellent piece dissecting Trump's behavior and the rationale.

Despite the daily pain and anger wrought by reading the news, I have hope that all the acts of compassion and the strong sense of community will win out in the end.

Quote of the Day -- Ram Dass

The quieter you become, the more you can hear.
 -- Ram Dass

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Quote of the Day -- Desiderius Erasmus

When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes. 
-- Desiderius Erasmus

Friday, April 17, 2020

Quote of the Day -- Martha Beck

I really do think that any deep crisis is an opportunity to make your life extraordinary in some way. 
-- Martha Beck

Thursday, April 16, 2020

COVID-19 and Politics

Things are so vivid now that it's hard to believe our memories of events, and particularly the sequence of events, will fade. But they will. It's important to record a few things while they are fresh.

As news commentators occasionally point out, we are so focused on the news around COVID-19 and the economy that we sometimes forget it is an important election year. In the past week or so, some big events reminded us, most notably Bernie Sanders' withdrawal from the race and nearly immediate endorsement of Joe Biden. As Bernie pointed out, it is critical for Democrats to unite to defeat the most dangerous president in US history. Far different from his lukewarm endorsement of Hilary and his failure to strongly rally his base to support her in 2016. Hot on the heels of Sanders' endorsement, President Obama, who has stayed on the sidelines until the primary race was decided, came forward with full-throated support and a promise to campaign vigorously. Now we await Biden's selection of a running mate. He's promised it will be a woman...

Also in politics, Wisconsin voters came out in droves -- wearing masks and mindful of social distancing -- to express their opinions. The Democratic Wisconsin governor had ordered the primary delayed until June because of COVID-19, but the Republican-controlled legislature took it to the conservative Wisconsin supreme court, where the executive order was overturned. (Republicans understand very well that voter suppression is an important strategy for them.) In addition to choosing Joe Biden (no surprise), the voters resoundingly selected a "liberal" candidate for the Supreme Court and threw out the conservative incumbent. Let us hope that is a good sign for Wisconsin in November.

Meanwhile, we are seeing signs around the country that the outbreak COVID-19 might be peaking. Leaders are starting to discuss what a "reopening" might look like. Governors, mayors, and business leaders are stepping in to fill the vacuum at the top. On both the west and east coasts, governors are forming consortia to jointly plan strategies for gradually lifting social distancing restrictions and getting people back to work. In Minnesota, our governor is also working with other government and business leaders on a plan to gradually "reopen." Given the lack of a successful federal program for the level of testing necessary, Governor Walz says Minnesota will have to "go it alone" in creating an infrastructure for adequate diagnostic and immunity testing.

President Trump has been holding almost daily press briefings that resemble campaign rallies. He and his staff are busily rewriting history to laud his great success in managing the pandemic. He's been searching for scapegoats, and this week he settled on the World Health Organization (WHO). He announced withdrawal of our WHO funding while his administration investigates their "mismangement" of the crisis.

Although he declared a national emergency in March, President Trump chose not to impose any kind of nationwide stay-at-home order. He deliberately left it up to the governors to make those decisions (and shoulder the burden of responsibility and blame). But now that we're talking about reopening, Trump wants desperately to be in charge and take the credit. Earlier this week, he said he would order all the states to reopen and, when he got pushback that such an order would be unconstitutional, claimed that as president he has absolute authority. Later, he walked that back, saying he will meet with the governors and authorize them to make their plans for reopening their states. I could write for days about how poorly suited he is to be our country's leader in this crisis.

But this story of politics is mostly good news. We are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, and many highly competent leaders in state and local government, business, and public health are stepping up to plan an orderly, well-monitored return to work. On the flip side, those of us in the "high risk" category because of age and other ailments will still need to remain essentially under house arrest for the foreseeable future.


Quote of the Day -- James Clear

Whenever there is a gap between your habits and your goals, your habits will always win. 
-- James Clear

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Quote of the Day -- Albert Einstein

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.
-- Albert Einstein
Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.
Read more at:

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Sweden -- My Patriam

My mom was a first generation American. Both of her parents were born in Sweden. My dad's maternal grandparents were also born in Sweden. So that makes me 3/4 Svenska flicka (Swedish girl). Sadly, my grandparents chose not to speak Swedish so neither of my parents learned it. But we definitely learned some of the traditions (especially the food), and I've always felt that I'm Swedish.

My first visit to Sweden was in the fall of 1998 when I was invited to speak at a conference in Sundsvall, about 225 miles north of Stockholm. I don't remember the routing I used to fly there. I do remember arriving foggily jetlagged and being hustled into a bus for a "quick field trip" to visit an amazing new bridge. I don't know where the bridge was, but I do remember gazing out the bus window as I struggled to stay awake and feeling like I was home. The landscape -- the rocks, the trees -- looked just like northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. And when I looked around the bus, the people looked a lot like me too. 

The conference organizers presented me with a lovely speaker's gift -- a hand-blown vase with highlights in Sweden's signature blue and yellow. I was a pretty novice business traveler at the time. I was headed to several destinations and hadn't learned essential packing skills. I had way too much stuff and no capacity to carry my lovely vase. I asked one of the local IBM people to mail it to me. Several months later, I was contacted by a customs agent in Chicago who wanted my credit card to pay for charges associated with importing my vase. They took pity on my ignorance and found a way to get my vase to a warehouse in Minneapolis with minimal charges -- still more than the value of the vase -- but to me that Swedish vase was priceless. And I learned valuable lessons about packing and never shipping things home.

My second trip to Sweden was in December of 2003. Despite the short days (dusk at 2:30 pm) and brisk temperatures, I fell instantly in love with Stockholm. I wandered Gamla Stan (the old town), completely entranced with the narrow streets, the wonderful shops, the warm, friendly people (who looked a lot like me), the Christmas decorations, and the scrumptious baked goods. I came home with a delightful pair of figurines sitting on a bench. On a later trip to Stockholm, I scored another coquettish little girl. Alas, in searching out the maker of these lovely pieces, I discovered they are made in Norway. But for me, when they smile at me from their shelf, they remind me of my Swedish heritage and of Stockholm, one of my favorite cities on the planet.

When Jim and I started planning our somewhat unusual 35th anniversary trip in 2006 (3 European cities in about 2 weeks), Stockholm was at the top of my list of places that I had visited and wanted to share. Jim fell in love with it, too, and it remains one of our favorite cities and rare "repeats." We never tire of walking through the charming, bustling old town, Gamla stan. We relish getting out on the water in the vast archipelago on a harbor cruise or a ferry. And we enjoy the museums. One of the fond memories from that trip was a lunch and tour with my mom's cousin David Holmes (who has since passed) -- a friendly and delightful "old Swede" who proudly took us to visit the large Lutheran church where he served as pastor for many years.

We've had the good fortune to return to Stockholm several times. In 2008, we made a whirlwind one-day tour as part of a Baltic cruise with Jeff and Jessi.  In 2014, shortly before Jim retired, he had the chance to visit Stockholm on business -- one of my rare opportunities to join him on a trip instead of the other way around. While he worked, I wandered, enjoyed, and got lost. (That was a 30,000+ step day!)  And in 2018, we spent several days sharing Stockholm with our dear travel buddies Acey, Jackie, and Suzanne at the end of trip to Norway and Finland. Although shopping opportunities abound in Stockholm, we were selective. We added to our Scandinavian Christmas collection with a charming "Father Christmas" piece, and we purchased a small, modern sculpture.

Quote of the Day -- Marilynne Robinson

When things are taking their ordinary course, it is hard to remember what matters. 
-- Marilynne Robinson

Monday, April 13, 2020

COVID-19 and the Future of Travel

Today, I feel fortunate and grateful. Last year, when we submitted our applications to renew our Global Entry, we had to list all the countries we had visited in the last five years. We knew our total count, but hadn't really looked at our adventures from that perspective. We were pretty surprised at the total -- and a bit impressed with ourselves. Since then, I've kept the list updated. Starting from March of 2014, we have been to 59 countries (including a fair number of repeats).

Especially since Jim's retirement in mid 2014, we've eagerly sought out new adventures, perhaps a bit too eagerly at times. As Jim emerged from cancer treatment, he said "I'd like to visit the German Christmas markets." It wasn't in our plans or our travel budget for that year, but we made it happen. Similarly, when our travel buddies said "would you like to join us in Tanzania next December?", how could we say no? It wasn't in the plans or in the budget, but...

When friends and family raised their eyebrows, we'd shrug and say "You never know what might happen. We're doing this while we are able." Or "You can't see the world on just one trip a year." We assumed that at some point, one of us would get ill or incapacitated in some way and we'd have to cut back on our travels. We never anticipated that the whole world would get sick and that travel would come to a standstill indefinitely. We are so glad that we were overly ambitious and often blew the budget, because, as we said, "you never know..."

This morning, I watched a panel discussion featuring four seasoned travelers / travel writers discussing what they think travel will look like for the next several years.  The women in the upper left, Barbara Weibel, writes a travel blog called Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel, which I read regularly. She's much more adventuresome (meaning unplanned) than we are, but has a similar interest in going beyond the iconic tourist spots and really learning about people, culture, and history.

All four panelists make their living primarily from their travel writing and photography. They all seem fairly intrepid, so I expected them to be upbeat and eager to be on the road again. But the discussion was very different -- sobering and realistic. Their assessment left me feeling grateful and fortunate (as described above) and really wondering if this is it. Will it ever be viable to travel internationally in a time horizon when we are still "young enough" to enjoy it?

Following are a couple key take-aways from the discussion:
  • International air travel, particularly for tourism, is unlikely for the rest of 2020
  • The cruise industry (especially massive ships) is probably toast for the foreseeable future
  • Trip insurance, particularly for travelers over 60, may become harder to get, more expensive, and may include a COVID-19 exclusion.
  • Right now, many countries have closed their borders. In the future, it is likely we will see something like the yellow medical card people carry for yellow fever shots. In order to travel, we will need to demonstrate that we have COVID-19 immunity or have been vaccinated (which puts many of us at fall 2021, optimistically).
  • Travel will become smaller scale and deeper -- small groups staying longer in a single country, focused more on learning than getting that Instagram shot. Travel the way OAT and similar companies do it... if they can survive through 2020 until we are able to travel again. I think this might be a bit of wishful thinking on the part of the panelists because this is the style most seasoned travelers prefer. But if they are correct, it probably also means that international travel will become once again limited to the affluent or the people who are willing to go it alone -- no giant cruise ships, no big buses.
The future of travel -- and everything else -- is so uncertain right now. But I think we will need to supplement our world map adorned with pushpins with a companion map of the US national parks. I see at least one road trip in our future.

Quote of the Day -- Dr. Paul Nussbaum

Travel is good for the brain:

When you expose your brain to an environment that's novel and complex or new and difficult, the brain literally reacts... Travel by definition is dropping your brain into a place that's novel and complex. You're stunned a little bit, and your brain reacts by being engaged, and you begin to process on a deep level... Travel sticks with us and brings back positive memories and experiences. You have the ability to go back there in your brain. 
-- Dr. Paul Nussbaum

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Reading Randomly

Over two millennia ago, Julius Caesar wisely said "A room without books is like a body without a soul." We don't have books in every single room in our house, but almost. Which I guess means that our house definitely has soul. 

I've often sheepishly said that I'm incapable of leaving a bookstore empty-handed.  So our house has a "real library," crammed with books that we've read and can't bear to part with. And then I have my "aspirational" library, scattered around the house, populated with books that I haven't yet read. Seeing them often fills me with a combination of guilt and embarrassment. But now I've discovered that my affliction is common around the world and has a wonderful Japanese name: Tsundoku.

One of my COVID-19 projects has been to tame my Tsundoku. I've collected unread books from around our house, alphabetized the fiction by author, and loosely categorized the non-fiction by topic. They are now neatly arranged on a bookshelf in my office, beckoning me to read them. They feel delightfully aspirational, and because the library is closed, they aren't competing for attention with my equally aspirational library reserve list.

Next problem. What to read first? Alphabetical order makes me cringe -- too pedestrian. Closing my eyes and pointing feels too childish for my aspirational library.  No eenie meenie or pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey for my Tsundoku. Then the geek in me had an aha moment. Random number generator. And Mr. Google quickly delivered just what I needed. With a click of my mouse, I spun the metaphorical dial and now find myself reading Angela's Ashes by Frank McCord.

As a final note, many of the entries in my Tsundoku are a mystery to me, meaning I have no memory of when I bought them or who recommended them. But so far, I'm glad that Angela's Ashes ended up on my shelf.

Quote of the Day -- Hubert H. Humphrey

The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.
 – Hubert H. Humphrey

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Book Review -- Edward Tulane

When Ann Patchett recommends a book, I listen...
That night I read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and, well, it changed my life. I couldn’t remember when I had read such a perfect novel. I didn’t care what age it was written for. The book defied categorization. I felt as if I had just stepped through a magic portal, and all I had to do to pass through was believe that I wasn’t too big to fit. This beautiful world had been available to me all along but I had never bothered to pick up the keys to the kingdom.
"Kid lit" isn't exactly my go-to genre when selecting what to read next, but Kate DiCamillo is wonderful. I enjoyed Because of Winn Dixie just as much as I enjoyed Edward Tulane. The writing is both lyrical and stripped to its essence. The messages are both obvious and profound... and appropriate for children of all ages. 

I'll keep reading Ann Patchett's recommendations. Her taste is impeccable.

Guatemala -- Fire, Water, History, and Treasure

Jim has always wanted to go to Chichén Itzá in Mexico, but it hasn't risen to the top of my bucket list. I, on the other hand, have been fascinated by Lake Titicaca (and I have no idea why). A brief visit to Guatemala in early 2018 satisfied my desire to see this vast, high-altitude lake and scratch Jim's itch as well. The lake is indeed vast, in fact it is so large that expert builders of reed and bamboo boats inhabit its shores. We met the son of a boat builder who was enlisted to help Thor Heyerdal build the Kon-Tiki to sail across the Pacific Ocean.

Guatemala is also home to rich Mayan history, shared with neighboring Belize and Mexico. The ruins of Tikal aren't as impressive and well-preserved as Chichén Itzá, but Tikal is one of the most important Mayan sites. It also draws much smaller crowds than Chichén Itzá, a definite plus in this world of rapidly expanding tourism. Secondary sites like Tikal can provide valuable insight into history and great photo opportunities without jostling crowds in the process.

Before we experienced either the serene beauty of Lake Titicaca or this rich history of Tikal, we had to pass through flames that weren't exactly metaphorical. As we enjoyed a lovely breakfast on the terrace of our hotel in Antigua, we watched flames shoot out of the Fuego volcano, about thirty miles in the distance. The local people assured us that the mountain spews fire periodically and hasn't erupted in several decades. Guess what happened eight months later? A major eruption that killed nearly 300 people. (We feel a bit like a bad omen. We were also in Puerto Varas, Chile, in 2015 just a few months before the major eruption of the Calbuco volcano. We have pictures of it with its snow-capped lid still intact.)

As usual with an OAT trip, we also had plenty of opportunities to interact with local people. It all started in Guatemala City with a spontaneous encounter with a "goat guy." This gentleman was wandering the streets of the downtown, goat in tow, selling cups of freshly squeezed goat's milk. Our quick-thinking guide asked if anyone would like to try milking the goat, and of course our adventuresome friend Debbie volunteered. She discovered it takes strong hands and a lot of skill to quickly produce a cup of milk. What fun!

And of course, no trip to a new country is complete without a visit to local artisans and the opportunity to support the local economy. We bought sweaters from the family of the Lake Titicaca boat builder, and I bought a beautiful embroidered shirt. But we really fell in love with this stunning glazed pottery mask. I smile when I pass it and think of the fiery volcano, the grandeur of Lake Titicaca, the ancient history of the Mayan ruins of Tikal, and the warmth of the people of Guatemala.