Banksy, my grandmother, and St. Mary’s Redcliffe

I’m writing this post in Bristol, the last stop on our three-week, 14-country marathon vacation. Bristol is a nice city; we saw John Wesley’s chapel here, took a harbor cruise, and saw a recreation of the unbelievably tiny boat that took Giovanni Caboto (who was called John Cabot by his British crew that just couldn’t get their heads or tongues around Italian) from here to Newfoundland in 1497. We’ve also had some really good beer and a dressy version of a grilled cheese sandwich and chutney that makes my tummy rumble happily in remembrance.

Another sort of remembrance is available here as well. We’ve seen a more contemporary side of Bristol, with its street art by Banksy. The artist is from here, and although some cities have painted over his work, Bristol displays them with pride. The city thus honors and recalls a person who literally made a mark on it.

It’s funny how we remember people, and those memories are very powerful. For example, take my relationship with money. I grew up in a family that was always extremely tight-fisted. This attitude may have come from my parents’ living through the Depression, or perhaps because my father’s parents, who were very present in our lives, grew up dirt poor. In any event, we begrudged even the most essential of expenditures and lived in fear that there would not be enough. Two things in my childhood started me on the road to a different relationship with money. One was when I discovered that you could actually BUY the books you wanted but that the library didn’t have. It quickly became clear that, faced with a choice between books and saving for a rainy day, I was choosing Door Number 2 most of the time.

The second reason for my deviation from the family money path was a conversation I overheard when my paternal grandmother died. We were at my grandparents’ apartment, sitting with my grandfather as he received guests stopping by to tender their condolences. I was at their big dining table, eating turnip casserole that someone had brought (bleah, – really, who sends turnips as a balm for grief?!) and listening to ladies from her circle at the Methodist church reminiscing about their departed friend. “She was always so sensible,” one lady with the blue hair so popular with the clients frequenting Lucille’s Coiffures in Beaumont. “Someone would suggest a new program at the church, and she would say, ‘Heavens, no, we can’t afford that!’” Even at the tender age of eight, I thought that this was about the most miserable epitaph ever and resolved to be different.

This idea of miserable remembrances puts me in mind of the pictured church, St. Mary’s Redcliffe. It’s one of many lovely churches we’ve seen this trip. The others include the Church in the Rock in Helsinki, which was hewn literally down into a rock and feels womb like and peaceful. Then there was the ornate Russian Orthodox Church of the Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg, built to commemorate the assassination of Czar Alexander and serving now as the resting place of his ill-fated successor, Czar Nicholas, and Nicholas’s family. We’ve seen Lutheran cathedrals, which I didn’t know existed, and the cathedral in Rouen associated with the equally unlucky Joan of Arc. On a happier note, we admired Bath Abbey, its two stone ladders on the facade being employed by angels busy on errands between Heaven and Earth. (Why angels with wings need a ladder remains a mystery to me.)

St. Mary’s Redcliffe here in Bristol (pictured) is different, though. On some level, it’s just another old English church with an elaborate facade in what was once the neighborhood of wealthy merchants so common in port cities. But what’s different is that these merchants made much of the fortunes that built this church and its prosperous neighborhood from the slave trade. Cargoes of human misery poured into Bristol harbor and were sold into God knows what dreadful fates for God knows how much glittering gold. Today the commentaries on St. Mary’s note that one of the church’s most memorable moments came when William Wilberforce’s anti-slavery legislation in Parliament was defeated. The church bells rang for joy, celebrating the status quo of lucre and lost lives. What a way to be remembered.

So as our trip draws to a close, I’m remembering our great happiness over the course of this holiday and thinking of how I’d like to be remembered. People will say I was smart, of course. That’s always been my schtick; in elementary school, I routinely got Valentines labelled “For my teacher,” because those boxes of flimsy paper valentines always had two teacher ones, and if you had a big class you had to pick a classmate to give one of them to. But I hope that I will be remembered as having been, at least on occasion, kind and generous and fierce and loyal. I hope I will be remembered as hungry for knowledge, for love, and for justice. This IS NOT a bid for kind friends to post sweet comments about yours truly; my ego’s fine, thanks. It’s a reminder to me – and maybe to you – that what we do each day creates the memories we leave behind. May they be the ones we want.



We’re off, but you knew that

We board our Norwegian cruise today. The lovely picture is a graphic done by a fellow passenger, Fiona, who’s a university student from Canada.

img_0082Folks have asked about our itinerary, so here goes:

Away we sail on the Norwegian Spirit

My heart beats faster as I near it.

Wave goodbye to Stockholm, Sweden,

Green in August as the Garden of Eden.

At night we cross the sea so inky

To land at dawn in fair Helsinki.

Then on we sail the salty sweet

And spend our two days in St. Pete.

Stars will sing their great euphonia

As we pull into old Estonia.

I’m sure that it will intrigue ya

To know we dock next in lovely Riga.

All the while there’ll be a mania

For our stop in Lithuania.

We’ll see the highland and the lowland

In that storied nation, Poland.

The next port will knock our socks off;

We’ve heard great things about old Rostoc!

It’s hard to describe with just a pen mark

The delights of lovely Denmark.

Fun awaits one-, two-, three-, and four-way

When we dock in Oslo, Norway

Tulips, windmills, Delft, and such,

Wait for us in the land of the Dutch.

But quieter than the Moulin Rouge

Will be our call in fairest Bruges.

With French cuisine, we’ll never starve

As we tour and lunch in belle Le Havre.

Then to our last call we’re under way

To say “Cheerio” to the great U.K.!


You are now entering the Discomfort Zone

When I was a kid, my parents watched “The Twilight Zone” on TV. Every week, Rod Serling would introduce his show with the famous creepy music and Dali-esque screen sequence. Some of those episodes scared the crud out of me and still occasionally feature in my nightmares. But I also remember reasoning that if Serling bade you enter the Twilight Zone, then by definition you weren’t already in it most of the time. So where were we? Were we in the Daylight Zone? The Sunrise Zone? This issue was never clarified to my satisfaction, and any reasonable suggestions are welcome in the Comments section provided below.

Of course, we all live in various zones. For example, both Spain and Texas are in the northern Temperate Zone, the Temperate Zones being the areas sandwiched between the Polar and Tropical Zones. Too, everyone lives in a time zone. Spain, by the way, is in an awkward time zone, using Continental Europe time even though geographically the country fits better with the U.K. time zone. We’re told that, despite the fact that Spain was technically neutral in WWII, Franco changed Spain’s time to match the one his buddies Adolf and Benito lived in. Perhaps this is one reason Spaniards eat dinner quite late by lots of people’s standards.

My favorite zone, though, involves neither space nor time. My favorite zone is my Comfort Zone. While I’m up for most intellectual challenges, my general attitude towards physical risks spans the gamut from “You go ahead, and I’ll hold your coat” to a hearty Monty Python “Run away, run away!” My idea of a ski weekend, for instance, is a black diamond couch, a book, and a mug of hot chocolate. No doubt this predilection is genetic; Ancestry says I have some Scandinavian blood, and apparently the bit I inherited is the hygge gene. Indeed, I chalk up my line’s survival over the millennia to risk aversion and the ability to bear children easily.

So living in my Comfort Zone has served me well for decades, but it occurred to me about ten years ago that I might, in fact, be missing something by virtue of my reticence. My mother’s closet is what got me thinking along these lines. After our folks died, my sister and I went to Beaumont to clean out their house. My mother’s closet contained not only the few clothes she wore most days, but also a great number of items that still had the price tags on them. When we were kids, we were enjoined to save our new clothes for best, and Mom definitely practiced what she preached. After my closet encounter of the third kind, I started making it a point to wear new shoes out of the store and carrying out the ones I wore in in my shopping bag. Then I started doing that with clothes, although buying swimsuits and formal wear sometimes requires passing on the wear-it-out-of-the-store practice. Sometimes  discretion really is the better part of valor.

So after I had been doing this for a while and patting myself on the back for not saving my new clothes for best, I started to wonder what I was saving my life for. I’m not saying people should go out and do stupid crazy things, like ride motorcycles without helmets or vote Republican. But surely sneaking out of my CZ for the occasional adventure wouldn’t be that disastrous, as long as I kept my head about what those adventures might be. And then late one December, I hit on my solution: I would resolve to do one thing outside of my Comfort Zone every year.

And so the last decade has seen me undertake my annual one thing. The first year I went through a cave. We were on a tour in a relatively big cave, and there were lots of lights, but that was a big deal for me. One year I climbed up onto the roof of our house and actually stood up. It may sound trivial to you, but that was a real wowza for me. A couple of years ago I hired a personal trainer and worked with him every week. And it’s funny. I wouldn’t say that I’ve gotten braver, but I have gotten more comfortable with a little risk in my life. This year we began splitting our time between the USA and Spain; if that weren’t enough, I bought two dresses with hems above the knee, smiled in every picture even though I have crooked teeth, danced like a crazy person till the wee hours in a venue where I actually knew people, and appeared in public in a bikini top. (And img_1546now I’ve told somebody I know that I wore a bikini top in public!) This all may not sound like a lot to most folks, but for me it’s huge.

So how’s all this going? Am I better off with the occasional foray outside of my CZ? The answer is clearly yes, and there’s no better proof than our recent parasailing adventure. While it looks scary, really your job while you parasail is to sit in your harness. I’m good at sitting, so this was a natural area of competency for me. It’s lovely and quiet up in the sky, and you see vantages you’d never get otherwise. It was beautiful, it was fun, and I wouldn’t have tried it ten years ago. So may there is a risk-taking muscle, and using mine a bit at a time has made mine a little stronger and my Comfort Zone a little wider. Maybe this is the Sunrise Zone after all.


Ah, sea – ah, sea

This title is a pun. “Asi, asi” is Spanish for “so-so.” But life is anything but just so-so! We are back in Torrevieja after two months in the USA. Our time there was lovely, with many travels, many friends, and many baseball games. And then there’s the Tex-Mex and barbecue….I need to walk more now that we are away from those temptations. 😉

Mark and I arrived in Torrevieja early on Thursday morning and slept till noon the next day. We’ve been unpacking and stocking groceries, toiletries, and the like since then. As our apartment was rented out while we were gone, things are in some mysterious places around here. And over those months we lost a dozen or so of our best clothespins but gained a green bathmat and a pen shaped like a small, silver fish. Would you call that even?

Life outside our apartment is good, too. The weather is warmer and more humid here than we’re used to, but outdoor life goes on. We had tapas last night with friends and ate at a table outside the restaurant, and today after church we had coffee with friends in the congregation under a nice umbrella at a local cafe. Mark and I are walking and swimming a lot. He’s particularly happy with regard to the latter activity, particularly because here he doesn’t have to vacuum the swimming pool. The Mediterranean is lovely and just the right temperature now for swimming, floating, and generally hanging out in the water.

Besides the weather, the biggest change here is the number of people in Torrevieja. The beaches are packed. Restaurants are full. Red shoulders that are painful just to look at abound.  And there’s a fun fair across the street from us that stays open till 2AM. Soundproof windows deal with the potential nighttime noise issue, and the lighted rides at night are a sight to behold. And best of all, our daughter Jane and her husband J.J. arrive tonight for their first visit to Torrevieja. Hooray! If experience is any indicator, look for us on the rides at the fun fair img_0080tomorrow night.

Hut two three four

The picture and the title are a little obscure this time, but I promise an explanation is coming.

The picture dates to the first weekend we were back home in Austin. After attending a service at our beloved First United Methodist, Mark and I headed to our favorite burger place, Hut’s Hamburgers. For years, we’ve ordered the same thing: a Richie Valens meat and a half order of fries for him, and a Richie Valens veggie and half order of onion rings for me. As you can see, we enjoyed our repast. It was a bittersweet meal in some ways, though, because Hut’s is closing its doors in October. Hut’s opened in 1939 and moved to downtown Austin in 1969, so this is a big deal.

So as Mark and I change by dint of our European adventure, Austin changes as well. I swear the traffic is worse than it was six months ago when we left for Spain. That’s bad. Bee Caves Road has a left turn lane onto Westlake Drive now. That’s good. Oh, and new people are sitting in our usual pew at First Methodist. But the Lord will forgive them, for they know not what they do. But mostly it’s lovely to be here, and that’s mostly because we are seeing scads of family and friends. And generally we’re seeing them at mealtime. We’ve eaten lots of Tex-Mex and barbecue in very good company.

What is it about breaking bread – or tortillas- with someone that cements a relationship? I suppose it’s partly because everyone, however lowly or lofty, has to eat. Eating here also reinforces our cultural ties – hence, the Tex-Mex and barbecue. Writing about this idea brings to mind the story a friend told me after reading an earlier post involving my desire for American peanut butter. She told me with a laugh that when she was traveling frequently to Germany for business, expat pals would ask her to bring along foods from the US that they craved. She said she felt like a peanut butter and Cheerios mule, which is an image that still makes me smile.

But besides reinforcing our common humanity and culture, eating also is a tangible, gentle reminder of how little in our lives lasts. I guess that’s why Ecclesiastes and Isaiah both command us to “eat, drink, and be merry.” Wise people who knew mortality up close and personal wrote these books; in fact, Isaiah finishes his commandment to prandial pursuits and jollity with “for tomorrow you may die.” Presumably he was always the life of the prophetic party.

So what’s the best meal we’ve shared while in Austin? At the risk of sounding super corny, it was Communion at church the second Sunday we were home. No tacos were involved, so it’s a close call to pick this as the best, but we were lucky enough to be asked to help serve. After six months away, we were sharing a meal with all of the people who came through our line. Not everyone was familiar; probably not everyone was even a churched person, because our denomination practices open table and offers Communion to anyone seeking God in his or her life, in whatever form that quest may take.

And so we went. Mark held the cup, and I preceded him and tore off the bread and placed it into the cupped hands each person presented to me. I can’t say I did a great job tearing the bread; some pieces were minuscule, and others were so large I found myself hoping that the curriculum in seminary included administering the Heimlich Maneuver. But no one choked up, except for me, when I got to lightly grasp each person’s fingers, press bread into the waiting palms, and look into welcoming eyes. This is humanity and culture and mortality and transcendence, all in one bit of King’s Hawaiian (gluten free available at the north station). Best meal of the trip, for sure. Maybe the best meal ever.

I’ll close by leaving you with what we all said together after Communion. It’s way better than anything I’ll ever write.


Prayer After Receiving 

In gratitude, in deep gratitude

   for this moment, this meal, these people,

   we give ourselves to you.

Send us out to live as changed people

   because we have shared the Living Bread

   and cannot remain the same.

Ask much of us,

   expect much from us,

   enable much by us,

   encourage many through us.

So, Lord, may we live to your glory,

   both as inhabitants of earth

   and citizens of the commonwealth of heaven.




The long and whining road

lnd_651d2237-810b-4d82-97bc-ef9a89c7ddda-1The title is with apologies to the Beatles. While our trip in the US thus far has mostly been lovely, we’ve had a few bumps along the way. Just to make sure that I haven’t fallen into the trap of making our lives sound perfect, this post will basically function as the blooper reel for our travels.

Blooper one actually occurred in Austin, even though we haven’t gotten there yet. We carried two large bags across the ocean, one of which was filled with items we were taking back to Texas. While visiting Jane and JJ in Cleveland, one of us (apparently we’re both prone to taking the blame, so we can’t agree who) had the bright idea of shipping the Texas suitcase to friends in Austin. The shipping fee was less than the bag fees for hauling it on our road trip, and we’d have to do less schlepping. The theory was pretty good, but the execution left a lot to be desired. In short, UPS claims that the suitcase was delivered, but it never arrived at our friends’ place. Gone, I take it, are the dress I wore to Jane and JJ’s wedding, one of Mark’s suits, our best laptop, a pie knife I’d bought at a Paris flea market that matches our flatware, an embroidered table runner from Madeira, two rocks from a Mediterranean beach brought for a friend who collects rocks from different places, and other items. I’m trying to think of it as involuntary decluttering.

Then there’s the saga of the hotel in, I think, South Dakota. We arrived late at our hotel, where it was obviously amateur night at the front desk. As you can see from the key folder pictured here, we didn’t end up in the first room to which we were assigned. That room’s electronic lock wouldn’t unlock, despite new batteries and lots of fiddling around by a well-intentioned but truly puzzled IT guy. The hotel then assigned us to room 417. Hallelujah – except there was a startled guy in red boxers already in there. Thank God for the boxers is all I can say. We slogged back to the front desk and informed them that the current occupant was disinclined to share. The woman at the front desk the reassigned us to yet another room, which I’m happy to say the IT guy checked before we hauled our bags around again. It, too, was already occupied. Finally, by the grace of God, sheer luck, or whatever other force you may wish to ascribe this occurrence to, we were assigned to a room that actually had no one else in it. After a little negotiating, which started with an offer from the hotel of a free bottle of water, we ended up staying for free that night.

And then there are the highways that run in directions that only a character from Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 could love. At one point in our ramblings we drove on North IH 35 West. That probably makes sense to somebody, but not to me. And we drove 45 minutes out of Fargo towards Minnesota and then stopped for gas. The signage doing what could loosely be termed “guiding” us back onto the highway was so bad that we ended up back in Fargo. No wonder Facebook keeps showing articles about how Google maps directs people into fields in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere appears to be everywhere!

In fairness, I’m fully aware that our problems are minute in comparison to those endured by many. The kids in the #TrumpCamps, for example, would be thrilled to have their accommodations be as good as ours and our journey as smooth as ours. And as for the suitcase, it’s just stuff. Some of it was stuff we care about, but it’s still just stuff. We’ve seen our amazing kids, seen a lot of fun baseball, hung out with dear friends, and visited the last of our 50 states. (N.B. The award for the most random national monument goes to Mount Rushmore. Who looks at a mountain range and says, “I think I’ll carve the heads of presidents on that”?) So perhaps I should switch from the Beatles to Sheryl Crow. Every day is a winding road, indeed. And tomorrow we wind to Austin! Here’s hoping we have no addenda to this post.



Nifty fifty

Mark and I rolled into North Dakota yesterday, thus now having visited all 50 states. We’ve seen 48 of them together and have agreed that our having seen Mississippi and Georgia separately is going to have to suffice. We’re not going back to either, along with a few others I could name. One Facebook buddy told me that he thought we ought to get a patch or something for our accomplishment. I agree, although it’d be even nicer if the prize were a percentage point off the top marginal rate on your income tax, or at least a BOGO coupon to Pizza Hut. At least we got the refrigerator magnet pictured here. You’ve gotta give North Dakota credit for a sense of humor.

We’ve picked up our last states on the longest road trip we’ve ever taken with each other. We started in Minneapolis and have hit Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota since then. It’s a long time in the car, but we’ve listened to some fun audiobooks (the Janet Evanovich Fox and O’Hare series, which careens between elaborate con schemes and gigantic explosions), talked a lot (we’ve covered, inter alia, the meaning of baptism, climate change, our differing views on how empty the gas tank is before it’s time to refill, and why the Astros just dropped three straight games to the Reds). We also are okay both with silence and with the other person gasping at close calls in your driving. Mark does a disproportionate amount of the driving, so I do a disproportionate amount of the gasping.

Gasping aside, this is not even close to the worst trip that we’ve had while seeking out a new state. That dubious honor goes to our jaunt to Idaho. In 2009, we took Mary and a friend to Yellowstone. The park was fabulous, and we added Montana and Wyoming to our list. Because we were pretty close to Idaho and unlikely to be in the vicinity again any time soon, we decided on a quick drive to Idaho. So we packed up the kids and headed west. Sure enough, we crossed the state line and were rewarded with views of lush meadows and small blue lakes. Because our rule on state visits is that it doesn’t count if you simply drive through or never leave the airport, we decided to stop at the only convenience store we came upon. We parked and noticed that this shabby, no brand building was adjacent to a big, silver, new Airstream trailer that was surrounded by a padlocked chain link fence and had Dobermans barking in every window. Even more surprisingly, when we entered the store, we realized that the entire building contained approximately two dozen items for sale, comprising mostly Cokes and beer in a freezer case, two dusty bags of Cheetos, and three gallon containers of bleach that could have stood a good bleaching themselves. Having read a lot of murder mysteries, I suddenly realized what was going on. We’d taken two adorable teenage blondes, one of whom wasn’t even ours, into a meth lab. Crap. I grabbed two Cokes and the Cheetos and pulled out a wad of bills with which to pay the rail-thin guy with greasy hair and suspicious eyes who stood at the register. “Gosh,” I chirped, channeling Beaver Cleaver’s mother for all I was worth. “We’re from far, far away, and I have no idea where we are! And now we’re leaving Idaho after a stop at your fine store!” I think he thought I was stoned, too, so he just handed me some change. We hightailed it back to the Park.

Most of our state visits have been far less eventful. We’ve seen gorgeous scenery, including the aforesaid Yellowstone National Park, glaciers in Alaska, the Maine and Oregon coastlines, the Grand Canyon, a live volcano in Hawaii, Big Bend, and, just now, the prairies and the Badlands. We have marveled at spectacular structures such as Monticello, the US Capitol, and the cliff dwellings and pueblos of the Southwest. We’ve met some great people, too, like the widow in Grundy Corners, Iowa, where we stopped for malts at a local drugstore. She opened a friendly conversation by asking where we were from, and we fell to talking about traveling (Florida was her favorite), how she and her late husband used to ride bikes for exercise, and how her father-in-law embarrassed her by telling a waitress to “put a little cow” in his coffee. I don’t actually understand why this comment was so embarrassing, but this happened in 1992, and she’s still mortified. Or there was the dad in the hotel where entrants in a baseball tournament were staying. Dad and son stood together in the elevator. The boy, who was maybe eight, was in a baseball uniform that had seen some recent and fairly substantial slides and showed a face that’s that odd kid face that combines anger and a deep desire to cry. Wisely, Dad wasn’t talking to his son, but he did rest a gentle, reassuring hand on a sad loser’s shoulder. Or the mother on the tram, hardly more than a kid herself, alternating peekaboo and assurances of love with the tired, squirming toddler whom she was holding. Yes, there are some pretty great things in the USA.

But it’s not honest to say that all is well in our country. We may be the home of great milkshakes, but we’re also the birthplace and continuing home of the KKK. A pimply fellow in a grungy video game T-shirt at an overlook in one of the parks we just visited felt the need to have a handgun strapped to his belt. Rural areas may be scenic, but if you look at the houses en route you’ll notice peeling paint and rotted roofing and porches that list to port under the weight of dirty loveseats. The houses’ occupants sit out on the porch during the day because they don’t have jobs to go to and at night because there’s no AC or money to run one if they had one. And in an alarming number of fast food restaurants, tiny grocery stores, and gas stations, young kids are tucked away with iPads and sodas, spending much of their summers with a parent or grandparent who can’t afford to miss work or pay for childcare, much less a summer camp like the one our kids loved, full of busy days of swimming, riding horses, and buying ice cream treats at the camp store.

Perhaps the contradictions of contemporary America can best be encapsulated in the baseball game we attended last night. We drove to Dickinson, North Dakota, to see the Badlands Big Sticks (Mark has asked me not to repeat the ribald jokes I made about the team’s name, so use your imagination) play the Freemont Moo. Seriously. The mascot for the Big Sticks is a felt version of Theodore Roosevelt; he appears on the T-shirt I bought, the acquisition of which was my main motivation for attending the game. The Moo did not bring their mascot, which presumably is a cow. But I went to the University of Texas, where Bevo, the Longhorns’ mascot, is as ubiquitous as traffic jams in Austin, so the cow’s absence was no great loss to me.

But here was America in all its glory, right? College players from as far away as California and Florida had come to the Plains to play that quintessentially American game and perhaps get an edge that would make them college stars and, for a lucky few,  players in the Major Leagues. Blonde kids, Latino kids, African-American kids, whatever kids were out on the field, making a few spectacular hits and catches and quite a few more spectacular non-hits and non-catches. The local Bank and Trust sponsored the stadium, and the Ford dealership, according to the announcer, sponsored the pitching changes. I still haven’t figured out how anybody but the pitching coach sponsors pitching changes, so please don’t ask me to explain that part.

The crowd looked to be mostly local folks, including the giggly teens behind us and the girl two rows ahead of us who was proudly wrapped in her “State Golf Champions – Girls Division B” jacket. All of the teenagers, of course, were on their phones for most of the game. Families were everywhere, which is both heartening and heartbreaking. Mothers juggled more children than they really could look after, barking orders at older kids, sticking pacifiers in the mouths of anyone too young to be yelled at, and growing more frazzled by the minute. Guys looked to be farmers, mostly, and they drank more beers than anybody driving probably should and worried aloud about recent rains flooding out their crops and wondering why severe weather seemed so much more frequent over the last few years.

The home team won, and all of us American contradictions wrapped our jackets a little tighter around ourselves as we walked from the park. Are we a good nation? Are we a troubled nation? Are we both? I still don’t have answers, even after seeing all 50 states. Nevertheless, I’m proud and excited that Mark and I have achieved this goal.