Category Archives: philosophy

No Reservations

Next month I’ll be traveling to South America- my first time on that continent. Brazil -Peru- Chile at least. I’m  excited.

As usual, I have no confirmed flights. I travel space available on UAL because my generous friend, Cecil, works for them. The passes he shares with me are greatly reduced,  and usually I travel business or first class, but occasionally I don’t get on the airplane-for hours, or days. Mine is the lowest priority. Full fare passengers go first, followed by  employees, their relatives & finally friends. We board according to the enployee’s seniority.  Sometimes that’s the adventure.

A few years ago I spent 5 days with my then 16 year old grand daughter, Cooper, in “Tokyo’s Narita Airport-along with a slew of other ‘buddies.’ We spent the nights partying with other guests in a  hotel on the opposite side of the runway; the days hanging out in the airport: playing cards, eating, shopping, laughing and complaining- waiting for available seats going anywhere in the US. New buddies with higher priorities than ours came and went. I learned never to travel at the end of summer.

Finally, the day before Cooper’s school started in Santa Monica she flipped. She cried actual tears-for school.  “I need to go to school! she insisted.” This was a new Cooper. One I had not seen since maybe sixth grade, when she looked forward to going to school. I hoped it was a turning point in appreciation for education. Capitulating, I paid  2grand! for a ticket for her to fly home.

Cooper & me

 That evening I got a seat to Hawaii, where I spent the next three days with my friend, Jessica, in Hilo.

Once I spent countless days at a friends while trying to get out of Chicago due to lousy weather. Another time, another city, hours and hours waiting for a seat because an entire class of students booked all of the seats. Once I had to fly into Denver after two days of waiting to get out of Anchorage to Los Angeles. 

Sometimes these happen because: I forget and travel on major holidays, when schools let out for the summer or spring break, or I’m just an idiot. I love it when it’s a good thing. I flew to Singapore with new Canadian friends when the flights to Bangkok were full due to it being the Chinese New Year holiday. I’ve been incredibility lucky to get the last seat on the plane more than once. 

Not having a plane reservation, means making hostel or hotel reservations pointless. Finding one on arrival requires patience, luck, and perseverance, but can have unexpected pleasant results.

Monos playing on hostel roof Manuel Antonia, Costa Rica


New friends in Ulaanbator, Mongolia

Once, some folks who showed me how to use the airport phone in Bangkok at 3am, helped me find a room, and gave me a tour of their incredible diverse city the next afternoon.

In Casa Blanca I arrived at the Guimere Hotel in a cab. “Do you have a reservation?” the desk clerk asked. “No. But, I’d like to have one. For 4 nights.”
“We are full, but wait a minute.”
“I have a cab waiting. I need to either go to another hotel or pay the driver and let him go”
‘Ok. Let him go.”
I spent the next few hours with their truly delightful chef, Mohammad while they evicted someone. He took me to the market, showed me the surrounding area, and back at the hotel, poured me a glass of wine while I talked to other tourists who had shown up. 

Chef Mohammed

 In that room  in 2009, I, and several  European guests and a couple of Moroccans watched Obama become the 43rd president of the United States. I cried. The following day the hotel owner gave me the daily newspaper written totally in Arabic. Front and center was a big photo of President Obama on stage surrounded by American flags; a corner insert showed Jessie Jackson weeping. I was so proud of my country. He stamped and signed the front page.It’s framed, waiting for me to settle somewhere.

No reservations. Perhaps it’s also a metaphor for being unrestrained, flexible-ready to light anywhere. It’s not extreme adventure, nor is it necessarily out of the way or weird- just free and freeing somehow. It’s a way to meet folks you wouldn’t ordinarily meet, eat places not in a guide book, and do things unplanned.

You are in charge of your time: to spend it with whomever you like, doing whatever you desire. 

drink & soak


On the Siberian Express train with the Aussies

Never Say Never

” The best baby-sitters, of course, are the baby’s grandparents. You feel completely comfortable entrusting your baby to them for long periods, which is why most grandparents flee to Florida.” -Dave Barry

It’s a quote steeped in truth-and American culture. I used to joke that my grand kids would see my Mini Cooper passing on the freeway and say, “There goes a Mini Cooper. That could be Grandma.”
My female students in China would not think these jokes are funny. They all assume their mother’s will take over the responsibility of rearing their children after they graduate, begin working, and start a family. Thats the norm in their culture.

It was evident on campus. The teacher’s who had a child had at least one set of grandparents living with them. During the mornings when the kids were in pre-school learning English or French or both-and the rudiments of reading, writing, and arithmetic, the grandparents practiced Tai Chi, gardened, and bought ingredients for the evening meal-that they would cook.

Grandparents and kids in the community garden on campus.

 When school ended around noon, they were outside, sitting on benches, gossiping with friends and neighbors while the kids played.

One of the teachers whose mother and father lived with her, told me, “I feel frustrated sometimes because my daughter seems to like my parents better than she does me. She certainly listens to them better. But it is the way it is.”

My students and I had many discussions about my life style. They  were curious and intrigued about  me, a woman of my advanced age- older than some of their grandmothers– living in China-on the other side of the world away from my family-my home.

“Who watches your daughter’s children?” they asked. Who helps them out when they need help? Wouldn’t they like for you to be there? Don’t you miss your family? Aren’t you lonely?”

” In America we have after school programs, summer camps, and day care facilities. They do fine without me. I spent many years being a mother. It’s not my job to watch my children’s.” I explained. I was adamant. I couldn’t see myself in that role. It’s not on my bucket list, in the game plan. Won’t happen.
Never say never.

Back in the states I went to my youngest daughters in South Carolina intending to visit a month or two before I continued on to California where my stuff is in storage and most of my friends are. ‘Welcome home.” she said, hugging me at the airport.

That was nine months ago.

As her husband moved out, I moved in. For nine months I’ve been the nanny, tutor, and basic domestic Gramma for my daughters’ two children ages six and nine.

Ireland with flowers for garden

 We shop and garden together. We’ve cooked, discussed sex, divorce, racism, and our ancestry. We don’t always agree. I’d forgotten that children so young have definite opinions and I respect theirs-mostly. I’m the bad guy who forces them to study, eat green things and look at issues from different angles. We’ve also adopted a rowdy puppy. Training him has  taxed all our patience but, the process has made us allies.

Trace & Paws

 Because there was an election going on when I got here the boy and I discussed politics. He would have voted for Obama and can’t imagine why everyone didn’t. And this is the conservative south. I’m proud of him.

The six year old girl tells people I know everything. Yesterday she asked, Where is your house?” “I sold it. I don’t have one.” “Oh, she said, then this is your house.”

It’s been a difficult adjustment for both them and me, but we’ve prevailed. However, the truth is I don’t have enough patience or energy for this complex job. I’m falling short of my own expectations; on the other hand maybe they don’t expect perfection. Perhaps I’m taking it all to seriously.  I just don’t feel nearly as serene as the grandma’s on campus appeared to be.

I’m an American woman. I like the old way-visit awhile, love them and go home for a rest.

Soon I’ll be leaving the country again for several months. When I come back I’ll find another house to buy, however, in the mean time, I have a home that if I have to go there-they have to take me in. No questions asked.

Off My Head There Is a Path

Popping up all over China are these engaging signs-like fortune cookies on wood. When I happened upon this one in Lijiang it beckoned me to stop for a minute, to pause for reflection. That’s what Chinese signs do. They don’t sell, harangue,cajole or promise something they can’t deliver. Like the cookie fortunes, their intent is simple; to improve our lives by offering sound advice, food for thought-or food.

Garden path -Chongqing University

Bai village, SW China 

Sometimes signs are warnings;

sometimes brief philosophical homilies, but they also advise us in fashion, gently remind us to be appropriate in dress or demeanor and to use our common sense.

Soometimes they make you laugh.

Condom machine on an outside wall.

Or put out a fire

The ‘Off my head there is a path sign,’ struck a personal note for me- because I actually have a path that leads off my head. Call it metaphorical if you like (or schizophrenic), but it’s there and I’m compelled to follow it frequently without knowing exactly where I’ll end up.

There’s something exhilarating about the unknown, having to use ones senses, trusting your intuition, and those you meet along the way.

Street artist with cerebral palsy

Warming up around fire at Garden Hostel

Ancient path in Chongqing, China

If you don’t get lost, there is no story.

Bus stop in Managua, Nicaragua


Bus in Nicaragua

Sign in Olmetepe on Violence against women.  ‘Live Without Violence’ Women defending the community.’

Maria, my hostess, in her outside kitchen cooking us a chicken she just killed. Olmetepe, Nicaragua. Also one of the women defending the community against male violence by taking in guests.


Family picnicing on Isla de Olmetepe, Nicaragua

Statue in San Jose Costa Rico

I’ll be leaving for Brazil in a few months. I have perused the guide book and am completely overwhelmed. Of course I must trek in the rain forest before it’s gone, and dance in Rio, and kayak on the mighty Amazon: 10 million years old and the second longest river in the world with a mouth that can measure 300 miles wide during the rainy season! Oh my goodness! Hose me down.

” Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”  

         Mark Twain