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England Day 1: A Pleasant Zombie Walk


On the walk to school–pretty, familiar looking northern hemisphere sky, somewhat less familiar street scenery.

The luggage showed up quickly, and that was a blessing.

We flew from Detroit to Amsterdam to get here, and then from Amsterdam to Norwich. We had a fairly tight layover in Holland—but our overnight flight landed a few minutes early, and the connecting gate to our next flight to the UK turned out to be in fairly close proximity to our arrival gate.

But our bags did not make it with us, and we were not alone. At the Norwich Airport following the morning flight, there was a bit of a queue at the lost baggage desk. Sigh.

Still, entering the UK these days is pretty easy. There used to be an odd little customs card to complete, and a separate line for non-European passports that involved a bit more questioning. Monday, we were in line with all the British passports, there was no customs form and the questioning was concise.

We were picked up by our daughter, and met the toddler grandson who we have seen before, but mostly know via WhatsApp video calls. He was a little confused at first—those people from the computer can step out of cyberspace? —but quickly warmed up and even allowed me to carry him about the house a bit in the afternoon.

Our daughter had to leave on an extended errand, which was OK because my wife and I had at best only dozed on the long overnight flight, so we both took a 3-hour nap. And in the afternoon, we walked with her and the grandson to go meet out two granddaughters, who attend two different nearby schools. I felt a bit fuzzy headed on the walk—I’m afraid I was a bit of a living zombie—but the sky was pretty, and company pleasant and it was nice to be out. The strong cup of coffee my daughter made for me did not hurt, either.


Bikes at school as we arrive to pick up granddaughter. It is nice to be in a country were bicycles are “normal” transportation.

I’m not yet used to the local geography. I sort of knew my way around Norwich before, from a previous house that my daughter and son-in-law were renting. They have since purchased a house. It’s in the same general neighborhood, but right now the streets are a bit of a confusing mess in my jet-lagged mind.

Still, despite being very tired, it was exciting to again see our Norwich family. The grandchildren didn’t appreciate my dad jokes, but nobody does, and that’s OK. After all, a dad joke (my oldest granddaughter is studying the Romans, which I suggested were named for their penchant for oars) is at best measured in a scale from “I don’t get it” to outright groans.

England is an interesting mix of familiar and alien. Roses are blooming here, as they are in Iowa. I saw bees among very familiar flowers—my son-in-law and daughter have very pretty foxglove in their tiny back garden, nice colorful blooms you can see from the kitchen window. At the same time, everything is different here. They speak English, but it’s not American English—you can understand them, but there is a bit of work to it. I suppose they feel the same about us. Their tiny row houses are all crowded together, which seems like a more space-efficient way to construct a city, but is not the familiar American ranch home on individual quarter-acre lots. When we were waiting at one of the schools, I looked out over a nearby hillside in view, and the rows of chimneys we could see looked very “Mary Poppins” or “Yellow Submarine.”

We were blessed with a nice day, warm and sunny, and are even more blessed with the warmth of familiar familial re-connection. The grandchildren are bigger and older, and I’m betting we will have some fun over this visit. The luggage, as it turned out, made the afternoon flight from Amsterdam and was delivered to a neighbor while we were doing the zombie walk to school.

UK! I’m tired, and I’m typing at 3:30 a.m., but that’s OK. We are here in Norwich, and I can’t wait to see what adventures await us.

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How to Turn 60

Audrey and I pause for a selfie before riding the Sac and Fox Trail.

My 60th birthday won’t come again, but tomorrow will the only day after my 60th birthday, and that day won’t return, either.

But if I were to be stuck, “Groundhog Day” style, in a 24-hour period that would repeat—well, today might not be my best choice, but it would be a decent choice. Today was a pretty good day.

It began with me fixing a special breakfast for myself—I made plain oatmeal, added some butter, salt, pepper, two over-easy eggs and cheddar cheese. It was a tasty way to begin my birthday.

We’ve had rain recently in Iowa, a pattern expected to return tomorrow, but today was cool in the morning and very pretty in the afternoon. I have been driving to work most of the week, but today I put on the special bicycle shoes and rode my road bike. A day at work is always a better day if I get there and return on two wheels.

And for lunch, my wife took me to Taste of India—probably the best restaurant in Cedar Rapids for a birthday lunch, if you like Indian food. I do.

After afternoon work, I got home about 4:30, and noticed a flat of mums on the front stoop. My wife had already gotten me two Rose of Sharon bushes for my birthday earlier this week, and I will plant those this weekend. Mums are one of her favorite flowers, but I enjoy that splash of fall color, too—and I love to plant pretty things. I think of it as an investment in hope, the future and the wonderfulness of this planet we find ourselves inhabiting. Planting always boosts my mood, so seeing the flower flat was another reason to smile today.

And the house smelled divine when I got home. Someone had baked an apple crisp for me.

Before we watched “Thor: Ragnarok,” a DVD someone got for me on this special day, I attached the bike rack to the van and loaded our mountain bikes on it. My wife had suggested that, if the weather was right, we might enjoy a bicycle ride on my birthday—if I agreed. I did, and I suggested we got to the Sac and Fox, a trail I have been on several times this year, but have not shared with her before today.

And the bike ride on the trail was delightful, featuring perfect late afternoon golden light, and clouds enough to keep us from warming up. We had ridden maybe 5 of the 7 miles on our way to the south end of the trail, and I had noted to Audrey that, although it had been a very pretty ride (the Sac and Fox is the prettiest bike trail in Cedar Rapids), I was surprised there had been no deer. I had encountered deer on my summer pre-RAGBRAI rides on this trail.

And almost immediately, on cue, there, up ahead—a group of maybe seven deer, adults and fawns, loitering on the trail. They moved north off the trail as we approached, but stayed nearby in the woods, so I paused and photographed them.

Two of the deer.

Yes, the ride went well. And we felt we had earned our post-ride supper of apple crisp with ice cream (that’s all we had—but honestly, after a Taste of India buffet, how much could we have possibly eaten?).

My birthday season hasn’t really ended yet. The weekend after Labor Day, we’ll probably host a family brunch with kids and grandkids, and that will be fun. And probably there will be cake.

I don’t know that I would recommend 60 all that much. My body is aging, and showing its wear and tear in various ways. I’m still battling a stubborn ear infection, and getting to learn what my father’s life was like as his hearing faded away. My arthritic knees and hips dictate a certain slowness to my gait, when they don’t inflict pain. My family has a weight-loss challenging going, and I truly am trying, but at the start of your seventh decade on this planet, trust me, weight does not melt away. Well, I suppose apple crisp suppers (or savory egg and oatmeal breakfasts followed by spicy buffet food) don’t help, either.

But, whatever. I’ll do what I can and also try to enjoy myself. I’m 60. The little things don’t matter any more. And today I had a very good day—thanks, mostly, to my wife. Shout out to my delayed twin, my four years to the day younger sister, who still lingers in the midst of her sixth decade.

Sis, 60 is coming, knock on wood. And when it gets here for you, I hope its arrival is at least as nice as it was for me.

We ride off into the sunset.

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The Sac & Fox Trail One Year Later

One of the perks of living in Cedar Rapids is its fairly nice park system. It’s not perfect—there is a “park” along Dry Creek in my neighborhood that had been a nice mowed meadow a couple of years ago that the city has apparently decided is too much of a hassle to mow—rendering it a large, impassible weed patch—but there are lots of nice parks.

Several years after we had moved to Cedar Rapids in 2001, we discovered the Sac and Fox trail, a 7.2-mile walking/biking trail. We used it several times during the summer when the kids still lived here, although our family usage has fallen off as we have become fewer in number in residence.

Still, once I discovered a more-or-less OK biking route (Cottage Grove hill is still a challenge) to the north end of the trail, I would visit it two or three times a summer. It’s a challenging bike ride, at least for me, which takes about 2 ½ to 3 hours. Doing the trail is a 14 ½ mile ride, and it’s about a 15-mile round trip from my house, so I’m cycling at about 10 miles per hour.

Last summer was an exception. Between the flood and Amanda getting married, the whole season passed without me riding the trail. So today, June 3, 2009, a beautiful sunny cool early summer day, perfect for a bit of a bike romp, I decided it was time to visit the trail again.

If I had thought to check the city’s web site, I would have ready this ominous notice printed in red type on the “trail” page, http://www.cedar-rapids.org/parks/walktrail.asp:
“Due to June 2008 flood damage, the Sac and Fox Trail is not safe for use along any part of its 7.2 mile length. The trail may not reopen before fall of 2009.”

I rode the street route to the trail—traffic was light at 9:30, and it was around 10:15 when I arrived at the Cottage Grove Parkway trail end.

Well. What a tragedy.

Right after starting on the trail, around the first bend when the trail goes under East Post Road, the trail was basically destroyed. It was an aggregate gully, not a trail. 20 yards into my ride and I had to “portage” my bike around a big pit.

I had not seen any “trail closed” sign.

I continued my ride. Beside the trail, in many places, a “mini trail” has sprung up, where people have gone around the washed out areas. I rode about half the trail, but didn’t enjoy it much—was too busy not planting my face in the turf.

And I rode over a lot of rocks and soft sand.

I was able to ride, for the most part, rather than walk, except when I encountered the bridges. The trail surface had been washed away from the first two bridges I encountered, so they were definitely pedestrian passages.

It took me about 20 minutes to go the first two miles. Incredibly slow, even for me—about my jogging speed, and I know I am a very slow jogger.

About 3 miles into the trail, I came to a place where a bridge used to be. The bridge itself had been overturned and pushed downstream—and was still there, upside-down.

I was all set to write a rant about this trail being in such poor shape a year after the flood, but I’ve lost my steam, a bit. For one thing, there is so much work to do in Cedar Rapids, and much as I loved this trail, I can see there are many other priorities. For another, when I checked the city’s web site, it clearly stated the trail would not be repaired until this fall.

Which means, at least, there probably are plans to repair it.

I spent some of my time on the trail praying for my father-in-law, George Schultz, who is being treated for a lymphoma. The trail, treacherous as it is, is still a good place for thought and prayer.

I hope it and he are both back in good condition by this fall.

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