My mother-in-law called us, in tears. “I’m scared,” she said. “D____ is in trouble.” As she described the phone call she had received from her grandson asking for money and pleading with her not to tell anyone about his desperate situation, we knew immediately that she was being scammed.

In a town several states away from us she walked from her apartment to her bank to check her balance, to see what she could afford to send to the man who kept phoning, asking her to send as much as she could. But before she took the next critical step, withdrawing funds from her bank, she did what she’d been instructed to do by her family. She called her son.

It took us awhile to calm her down. First, we listened as she poured out her story.  It took some time to convince her that her grandson was just fine; had not made that call; never would make such a call.

It’s difficult for elders unacquainted with communications technology to understand how someone in Jamaica (where the local police said these calls initiate) could get her phone number. Apparently predators can check random phone numbers against social security numbers to determine the age, and therefore the vulnerability, of a mark. Our call to her local police department turned up that information and a policewoman followed up with her to dispel her fright.

“She was laughing when I got off the phone with her,” the deputy reported back to my husband. Good to know that local police still perform these types of services in small rural towns across America. Continue Reading »


Relics of faith

Mucha window in Prague

More precious than any stained glass windows were the few people I saw in Poland who entered a church to pray. Early in the morning a father leads his young son across the threshold of one of many cathedrals. As tourist swarm the altar like bees drawn to gold inlay a local woman kneels, contemplating her prayer book. In the evening a working woman pops into a church on her way home from work.

The Poles have kept their faith. Many visit their church on their way to work to ask for strength for the coming day; on their way home they stop in to thank God for His provision and blessings.

Sadly though, most cathedrals in Central Europe are preserved as history. No mention is made of God’s activity in the world; instead they testify to man’s striving for significance in the world. Christianity is presented as a relic.

A church devoid of worshippers is a museum; I can appreciate the beauty of the construction but I wonder—where is God if He is not in the hearts of people? If the faithful no longer gather in the church, where are they?

At St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest, the patron saint replaces the figure of Christ except at Christmas and Easter. It’s interesting to note that although religion is often blamed for devastating wars it is nationalism that is most often the culprit. Christ, the mediator between people and God is shoved aside for a host of saints who advocate for special interest groups.

Plitvice Park in Croatia

On a meditative walk through magnificent Plitvice Park in Croatia, I had a thought.  It is man’s perspective that is relative, not God’s truth. Our challenge is to examine our perspectives (“know thyself”), challenge our thinking (active listening) and seek God’s truth (“be still and know”).  How many of us are willing to do that soul work?

King Matthias

Crossing the border from Slovakia into Hungary our guide began our orientation by listing Hungary’s enemies and recounting the wars they mostly lost. The late 19th and early 20th century years were bright – a burst of economic and artistic growth; then two devastating wars, after which they were shoved behind the iron curtain. Recently there has been some growth mixed with much uncertainty.

It is impossible for me to imagine what my mindset would be if I hadn’t been born in a country that has always been free. What if I looked back on a history that dated to the ninth century and could only point to 50 good years? Continue Reading »


Brides roam the square in Praque with an entourage that includes a mother, a groom and a photographer. They pose in front of all the major attractions for the tourist paparazzi.

I began to suspect they might actually be audience builders for a designer label and in fact, some are models for wedding catalogs. Prague is a popular nuptial destination that draws young couples from all over the world.

Continue Reading »

The official seal of the Kingdom of Wallachia

The Czech town of Stramberk near the border of Poland is the seat of the Kingdom of Wallachia, the figment of a marketer’s overactive imagination. Tomas Harabis issued passports to the tongue-in-cheek mini-nation and established it in the hearts of the people with a flag, currency, stamps, a patron saint and a beer god.

Despite a coup that resulted in a court case and a deposed monarch, the economy of the fictional kingdom flourishes, so much so that the townspeople are building beautiful new homes off the money they get from tourists to their idyllic town.

If you go: Try a tasty ear! Legend has it that the Mongols used to slice the ears off people who annoyed them. In the spirit of making a profit out of a painful situation you can buy a gingerbread “ear” filled with fruit nestled in rich cream. The entire town of Stramberk smells like gingerbread.

Our Hungarian tour guide Peter

Our tour guide Peter encourages us to change our thinking. How you think about the heart of Europe (calling these countries Eastern Europe offends the residents; if I tried to explain I’d have a Master’s thesis) changes depending on what framework you use: history—who held the power; ethnicity—what backgrounds and religious faiths make up the population; geography—where borders get drawn and redrawn; and generations—what people have experienced. For example, after the communist regime fell, opportunities opened up for the young people with language and computer skills, but their parents lost their jobs and the security they depended on under communism.

Loss is a theme in this part of the world. With every regime change whole populations lose their homes and this has been going on for centuries. There have been bright spots: when a king was generous with his people (good King Charles IV of Prague); when peace settled long enough for the people to get ahead (early twentieth century) and today, with the establishment of the European Union and open borders, although some would disagree.

local guide Katka, praguewalker.com

The young people have hope. They value education, enjoy travel and embrace change. That’s as lovely to see as the stunning architecture in the city squares.

Havekska Market

Lokal (The Dump) features updated Czech classics at low prices in a 1980s retro style designed to recall a charmless train station. A menu note says they subscribe to the Slow Food movement that combines honest work and fresh ingredients “caught up with spices, bad fats which keep longer, and other tricks to make the food faster and cheaper.” That’s either incredible honesty or a bad translation but it was packed with young people, the décor was clever and fun and the food was fresh and tasty (I ordered a roasted portion of duck with red cabbage and apples to avoid any possibility “bad fat.”) Continue Reading »


Each ring is a story in the family tree

I don’t print my digital photos anymore. I file them away in computer directories and post one occasionally on a blog. Albums with yellowing pages herniate generations of family photos from their centers. They weigh on my closet shelves and on my mind. I don’t want leave any messes for my children to clean up, but I do want to leave them stories.

 What I’m throwing away

All photos of scenery. (None of us possessed the talent of an Ansel Adams)

Faded photos and blurry snapshots

Anonymous portraits*

Photo frames & portrait folders

All pictures that are duplicates and photo strips, nameless pets and posed soubrettes*

*unless I can make up a great story about that lass with the feathers

What I’m keeping

Photos that tell stories; I’m not in the record keeping business. I’m in the story telling business. Continue Reading »

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