travel


No matter how much you may deny being overweight, there is one thing guaranteed to make you face reality — economy airplane seats.

I recently traveled to the Midwest on a work trip and all I could think about as I walked down the dimly lit carpeted tunnel to the plane was that I hope I don’t have to squeeze in with someone my size or bigger. (I acknowledge what a hypocrite this makes me.)

As I found my seat, my heart sank because it was a full row, meaning my hip would probably have to duke it out with the hip of someone else for a space under an armrest for several hours. The alternative would be to sit with my muscles clenched, which was unlikely to last but a few minutes.

And don’t even get me going on having to sit next to very broad-shouldered men — it makes me feel like I’m going to turn into someone in an old V8 commercial (the one where people walked sideways because they hadn’t had enough vitamins).

There is nothing like seeing the equally disappointed look on the face of your seatmates when you reach your row to make you realize that you may have been the person they were hoping they wouldn’t have to share the space with.  In other words, I need to get my eating/exercise under control and get fit again.

One thing skinny people may not realize is that fat people, no matter how short, also have less front-end leg room…. for me it’s because my excess pounds seem to congregate around my hips and butt. The bigger the butt, the further out your body extends from the seat and the less room there is between you and the next row.

After four such flights in the last week (I had to transfer planes both times), I think I may finally be motivated to start doing something about it so that the next time I have to fly all I will have to dwell on is whether the plane will make it to its destination in one piece or not.

Last year, I spent a week at a monastery and came back a calmer, happier and more peaceful woman.

I’ve begun to feel the itch to do so again and reboot my soul and mind, although in a less costly way.

I have found a place in Smithsburg, Maryland, where a retired Episcopalian priest has recently started a retreat hermitage where she welcomes guests for prayers, silent worship,  overnight stays, etc. It’s called the Hermitage at St. Anne’s,  a mission of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Smithsburg, MD.

I am signed up to stay there next weekend (December 3-5) from Friday evening through late Sunday.

After checking in, I will spend my two and half days there in silence. Moreover, I will turn off all my connections to the outside world, so don’t expect to reach me by phone, social media or email.

I desperately need more silence in my life. I know this because I have become addicted to noise, feeling anxious when without it.

It used to be that I would relish sitting on my couch crocheting in silence, or riding in my car without the radio/music. But now I need an audio book or music when crocheting.

Moreover, I no longer feel centered, balanced or the inner solitude that I felt after visiting the monastery Mepkin Abbey.

As far as I can tell, the hermitage is a house on a town street. Yet there are some advantages to its location.

I attended high school in the nearby area of Mount Aetna (near Hagerstown) and so I am somewhat familiar with Smithsburg. There is a really beautiful cemetery nearby the house where I can go and sit in relative solitude and think/pray, etc.

I’m also really grateful that the retired Priest, Elizabeth, has inquired into my food allergies and seems keen on accommodating my needs at the hermitage. It will be much easier to eat without talking (asking the ingredients to food) as a result.

Anyway, this weekend will be busy and filled with dinners with family and friends. This weekend I will be thankful for every moment I have here on this earth and for the wonderful people in my life who enrich it all the more.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Hugs and love to you all.

As it seems I am unable to access facebook while in Hanoi, Vietnam, I have decided to blog about my adventures. ps to leave comments please visit my blog (esthernow.wordpress.com) as I will not be able to see the social networking site for two more days.

I am having a great time here and I have had a fantastic trip overall (with the exception of having to buy a replacement camera for the Vietnam part of my trip–silly me left my camera in the back seat of my friends’ car in Hong Kong.)

It’s the evening of my second day here and tomorrow is my last full day before I fly back to Hong Kong.

I have finally overcome my “stage fright”  of being here as a single woman (meaning unmarried), of sticking out as n American TOURIST and the fear of playing Russian roulette with my  life whenever I cross the road or eat street food. As it is, I usually have to walk along the roadsides because the sidewalks are usually taken up by parked motorcycles. By the way, I miss my boyfriend terribly.

I am enjoying the food tremendously.

I have eaten Pho for breakfast, lunch and dinner at local street vendor restaurants and so far have avoided the traveler’s sickness.

My hotel is lovely and I am provided with a fresh bowl of fruit (mango, apple, bananas and a citrus the size of an orange but with a lime green rind) in my room each day. It also has air conditioning, which is a welcome respite from the humidity outside.

I have seen all the tourist sites on my agenda in the last two days and I expect to write more about that later.

It’s 8 p.m. and I’m preparing for bed so I can get up early and have Vietnamese coffee at a place recommended by some locals.

So in preparing for my trip to Hong Kong in April, I’ve begun assessing what I will need to survive the 18 hour flight.

Among other things, I purchased (still waiting for it to come in the mail) a set of noise cancelling/music capable headphones.

I have a standard kit that I take on the plane for most trips of 5 hours or more. In addition to personal items, my carry-on kit usually includes cough drops, eye drops, handi-wipes, snacks, a crochet project, a new book, journal and a couple of pens/pencils, small bible, camera, ear plugs, small blanket and head/back pillow, extra cash, printed list of emergency contacts, itinerary/travel documents folder and a PDA phone full of music files and audio books.

This time, however, I’m debating whether I should take a crochet project. It might take up too much space in the bag. However, I could make something to give to my friends when I arrive.

Also in preparation for my time in Hong Kong, I have been emailing back and forth with my friends/hosts in Hong Kong to find out all kinds of details. They are being most helpful. But I did have to laugh when one friend said that girls wear really short skirts and low hanging pants but showing cleavage would stop traffic. I guess I’ll have to do a little shopping for some less revealing clothing. Yay, I love shopping.

Finally, I have invested in a little camera to take on the trip. A Cannon “Elph” PowerShot SD780 IS. It’s bright red and I’m already having a blast with it.  I’m also excited because I’ve purchased an 8 GB memory card that will allow me to take more than 2,000 shots at the highest setting (12.1 megapixels) and the camera also will record high-definition video.

Here are a couple sample photos I took of my doggie with the camera.

Sophie

This is a classic shot of Sophie hoping against hope that my boyfriend will give her some of his food.

Sophie hopes for food

Today, I purchased my round-trip airplane ticket to fly to Hong Kong in April and spend about two weeks there.

While there, I will stay with two wonderful friends who work and live within public transit of downtown Hong Kong. Most of my days will be spent roaming, shopping, swimming and hiking the trails of Hong Kong and the park lands of its “New Territories.”

I’ve been thinking about going ever since they moved out there about two years ago. The timing was just about perfect for me to go in April, especially when my flight has been paid in full with tax-return money. Wohoo!  Plus I wanted to plan to go when I still had vacation time remaining.

In the last few days, I’ve immersed myself in travel books, websites and Google maps online trying to do all that I need to before leaving. Not only do I want to have all my papers, luggage, emergency information, etc. worked out before the end of the month. But I’m starting to gather the beginnings of an itinerary.

I have several primary objectives for the Hong Kong trip.

The overarching objective is to immerse myself in the city and take as many photos and write journal entries/update this blog as often as possible. My friends work during the weekdays so I’m going to have the city to  myself, well, to myself and millions of other people.

Objective 1. Spend time with friends.

I want hear all about their life there and all that’s  happened in the time since they moved, see their fun new gadgets and vehicles and eat at their favorite restaurants.

I’m also excited at the idea of having friends who can help me know where to go, what buses to take from their place, and show me around the area. We have a lot of common interests so I imagine it will be a blast.

Objective 2. Shop, shop shop.

Being a fanatic of teas, and Chinese/Asian decorations and food (and food and personal accessories), I’m guessing I’ll be in shopaholic heaven. I have yet to decide on a spending cap.

In reading the tour books, I’m paying attention to shopping hints and locations. Other than stopping in Hard Rock Cafe for a friend who wants a city pin souvenir, I fully intend to stay the hell out of American franchises and to attempt to buy local products as much as possible.

Knowing I’ll need extra luggage space for the return trip, I’m hoping to take two half full luggage bags (the equivalent of one full bag) and stuff every nook and cranny with gifts for others and things for myself.

Objective 3.  Get out of the crowded city and enjoy the natural scenery.

I read in a tour book that Hong Kong is 40% park and I intend to enjoy that aspect at least a little. I’m not sure if it’s possible yet, but I’d also like to find a way to get out to an island that can be reached only by boat.

I do have one small concern, however, about how I’ll handle my gluten allergy in a world where noodles and soy sauce reign supreme. My friends have already gone to great efforts to find out my options and GF soy sauce in Hong Kong. I’m sure I”ll be able to eat there as there is a large variety of cuisine, but I am somewhat disappointed that I won’t be able to dig into a plate of dumplings.

As smaller items, also I would really like to catch a Chinese opera and tour/visit a monastery in Hong Kong.

I’m going to be breaking my story about my stay at Mepkin Abbey up into at least three more parts.
In this one I will discuss my arrival, the meals provided, some observations and a description of my lodging accommodations. I will get more into the emotional stuff in the next few entries. I would like to set the scene first.

Day 1:

I arrived at Mepkin Abbey directly from my friends’ wedding in Las Vegas. I was hung over. Wearing one eye contact and sporting flashy jewelry. (I had an unopened fresh set of contacts in my suitcase.)

I also was late. The cab driver didn’t know how to get to the monastery and so we got lost. It turns out the monastery is in the middle of 3,000 acres of land that it owns.

I left the airport 3 p.m.-ish, and it was 4:30 p.m. by the time I pulled my luggage out of the cab. I was 30 minutes late to check in and had 30 minutes before dinner started.

At that time, I didn’t realize how important punctuality is to the monks. If I had, I would have been even more mortified at being late.

Brother Paul, dressed in the catholic Benedictine/trappist monk traditional white robe with black cover and wide brown leather belt, patiently gave me a map of where I was allowed to go in the Abbey and pointed me in the direction of my cabin. My cabin, St. Benedict’s, was the furthest away from the monastic grounds and the dining room, called a refectory. Luckily, my path was a concrete road and sidewalk so it wasn’t a big struggle to get there.

Entrance to monastic grounds, Mepkin Abbey

Note: my suitcase was HUGE and one pound shy of the airplane carrier’s 50 pound limit because I had to pack two distinctly different types of clothes: one set for my weekend in Las Vegas and the other for my time at the monastery. One set had bright green, pink, blue and other sparkly colors, with very low necklines that required special bras, and four-inch heels and flip flops. The other set of clothes consisted of black, white and subdued colored, high neckline T-shirts and dress shirts. Jean pants, a pair of linen pants, Tennis shoes, brown leather flats and sandals.
I’ll let you guess which set was for the monastery.

I pulled my luggage for nearly 10 minutes along the road to the cabin, found my room, which was an adventure of its own, as it took me about 10 minutes to realize the front door was unlocked and that my key was for my cabin room inside.

Then I took off my bright and dangly jewelry, changed into something more subdued and quickly washed my face and went to dinner.

Meals at the monastery are simple and last precisely 30 minutes. Breakfast starts at 6 a.m. Lunch is from about 12:20 until a monk rings a bell about 30 minutes later. And supper begins at 5 p.m.

For breakfast, there was usually a covered tray of hard-boiled eggs, a basket of a variety of fresh fruit, several types of cereal, which were always in the cupboards, and bread with different jams and peanut butter fixings. There were also instant packets of oatmeal and cream of wheat and Lipton tea bags.

Dinner was similar in that there was fresh fruit plus bread and fixings for making a sandwich, including cheeses, pickles and condiments for sandwiches.

I learned an important lesson at the monastery. Although I was allergic to bread, really anything with wheat or wheat flower in it, I was able to survive. For breakfasts and dinner I mostly ate fruit-a banana with peanut butter. On a side note, I didn’t feel right eating a banana in its original form at the monastery. Not that they would have noticed but I didn’t want anything I did at the monastery to hint in the least at something lewd. So I cut the bananas into slices and dipped them in peanut butter.

Often I also ate instant oatmeal for dinner and the cheese slices with mustard on them and pickle spears. Funny, now that I think about it, I didn’t feel it important to cut up the pickle spears to eat them.

I found that if I had a BIG breakfast I could last through most of the day. Confession: sometimes I had to eat an energy bar during the day or after dinner to feel satisfied. That became less and less the situation as the days progressed.

The refrigerator in the guest refectory (dining hall) was always stocked with milk, orange juice, apple juice or water. And we were allowed to get drinks from the refectory at any time of the day.

For lunch, retreatants, the name for overnight guests such as myself, who attended the none (noon) worship would recess from the church to the dining area. This was the only time we were allowed to go through food serving line with the monks to get our food and it was the only officially hot meal of the day.

Later, I learned from one of the “Brothers” of the monastery that all the leftover food goes into a soup the monks eat on Friday, or some meal during the weekend when the guests have gone home – I just can’t remember which night the monk said.

Guests can be weekend visitors but most overnight guests arrive on Monday and leave Friday morning at 9 a.m.
The retreatants eat in a room attached to one in which the monks eat. The doors to the monks’ refectory are glass so you can see them eating coming and going. I tried my best not to be nosy and stare. I knew I was a guest in their very private and spiritually-intimate lives.

The retreatants eating area has wooden tables, but wider than the ones the monks eat at. The guests’ tables allow for people to sit facing each other, while the monks’ tables are just wide enough for their food trays. At least that was the way it looked to me based on only a few casual glances.

Our dining room chairs have four legs and backs. The monks sit on wooden stools.

Guests are supposed to eat in silence. And this brings me to another point.

I learned during my stay that I wrongly assumed that everyone would be coming to the monastery for silence and privacy. Some people were there just to get away but didn’t participate in the monastic religious services, which was optional. Some would chat with each other outside, and all too often, inside the eating area. And some came to work on projects in their room. It seemed that only a few came to be silent and solitary.

I was lucky that my cabin mate — I had only one for the first two days of my stay — also wanted to be silent.

The night she arrived I talked with her briefly and we agreed not to talk but that we would like to walk together each morning to the 3:20 a.m. service. Yes, you heard me right,  3:20 a.m.

And I went to every 3 a.m. service while I was there, except on Friday, when I mistook some Spanish moss and sticks on the ground as an alligator. On Friday at 2 a.m., I decided I was safer having a private worship in my room.

The cabin I stayed in had three rooms, a living room, a kitchen and one bathroom that I could find, although there were signs for a second bathroom in the back porch area. But the bathroom was right next to my room so there was no need to seek the other out.

The kitchen. p.s. I loved the old fashioned sink in the cabin. It was fashioned before dishwashers were invented so it assumes you need a place to dry dishes. I want one for my apartment, which is dishwasher-less.
Kitchen in St. Benedict's guest house

The cabin had a wood floor; in fact, most of the furniture was wooden.

My room was more than adequate. It contained a single-size bed with soft texture white sheets and a lightweight blue blanket. I had a desk, desk chair, green leather rocking chair, big dresser, a lamp table and a closet. The room had two large windows. One faced the monks’ farm, an area that was off limits to guests. The other window faced a field.

cottage bedroom

The monks recently switched from being chicken egg farmers to growing mushrooms.

At the end of my first day there I was exhausted by 6:30, partly because I’d had less than 3 hours sleep in the last 24 hours.

After writing in my journal for a bit, took a contemplative walk through a labyrinth that is outlined by tall wildflowers, and read some of a book I was dead tired. I fell asleep by 7:30. Clearly I had plenty of sleep and had little problem waking up in time to make it to the 3 a.m. service the next morning.

One more thing. SILENCE.

Before I went to the monastery, I thought it would take a couple of days for me to reach my panic point in which the solitary lifestyle would make me face myself so deeply that I would either panic and ask to leave or move past the breakthrough.

There were several occasions where I clearly reached a new milestone. But in retrospect, my first night there was the hardest.

The silence, while at first was a salve to my soul, became my enemy in the night.

I woke in an attack of anxiety, my whole body shaking and damp with sweat – the room was not hot that night. I couldn’t define the feeling other than as an overwhelming sense of fear, sorrow, joy, loss, gain, nakedness and solitude.
It had been a long time since I’d prayed. It had been a long time since I’d really prayed in an intimate way. I didn’t pray that night, my heart was still hardened and clouded by years of hurry, scrambling and rushing to and fro in a busy city life.
Instead I cried. I cried for nothing in particular. I just needed to cry. I can’t recall any other time that I’ve cried without knowing, or at least thinking I know, the cause. Having blown my nose a couple of times and fully soaked one side of the pillow cover; I flipped over the pillow and went back into a restless sleep.

It was so quiet in there that the sound of wind crossing the pilot light on the little gas heater in the corner of my room kept waking me up.

Well that’s enough for now.

Check back in a few days and  I’ll tell you more about my adventure and life changing experience at Mepkin Abbey.

So there is a lot of things to tell about my time at Mepkin Abbey and I might have opportunity to write a good amount tomorrow, so please check back in. But in the meantime I wanted to share with you a photo of the path from one of the gardens.

mepkin green path and road

I also can summarize my stay by saying that I returned feeling rebooted, relaxed and an inner peace that I haven’t had in a very long time. I also returned with a longing for a more intimate spiritual relationship with my creator and as it says in Psalms I now long for him like a desert for water.

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