San Malo – the rebels of Brittany

From Le Mont St. Michel, we drove into Brittany, the northwest region of France. Dianne has been here before and she talked about it glowingly for years: the menhirs and dolmans, the cider, the Breton culture, and of course, the seafood. What’s cool is that Bretons have maintained their own identity. And within Brittany, San Malo was the biggest rebel, at one point establishing a semi-independent republic. That was our destination.

Along the way we enjoyed the windswept coast. We saw abandoned windmills, some with their arms removed and renovated into cottages. The wind has now blown in a new industry: go-cart sailing.

Much of what we saw while in the San Malo area focused on the sea. In nearby Concale, the church’s side altar commemorated those who died at sea and the stained-glass windows reminded us that Jesus’ disciples were fishermen.

Here the tides strand boats on riverbanks and beaches. In the 90 minutes that we explored Concale, the tide came in and set them afloat again.

But resourceful Bretons have another way to bridge the gap by using boats that also drive on land. The one we saw was filled with shellfish. At this point, I was not yet partaking of shellfish delicacies.

Brittany was independent of France longer than other outlying areas. The land was settled by British Celts as early as 500 BCE, thus the name, Brittany, or little Britain. Some locals still speak a form of Gallic. During Britany’s Golden Age, (1532 – 1676), San Malo was the main port, regularly serving 3000 boats. Excellent seamen, they fished for cod in the waters of Newfoundland, and sold the cod in Spain and Italy. The San Malo import industry traded with the Middle East, the Pacific and the West Indies.

When Bretons began to lose their sovereignty to France, they demanded and secured many rights. But their independence was finally curtailed in 1631 when Cardinal Richelieu took over as governor, not that he spent any time there. Bretons rebelled in 1675. What started as a spontaneous revolt in several Breton cities turned into organized troops of 10,000 Bretons, finally quashed by the King’s troops. This desire for independence is still evident.

Later (1688 – 1713), around 50 pirate ships operated out of the San Malo port, authorized, but not really controlled by, the King. This “industry” developed because of the trade wars between France and England. It suited these pirates to support the King’s needs, but they did it on their own terms. As could be expected, pirate flags festooned shop windows and a large “pirate” ship sat in the harbor.

We were lucky to find a flat in the old walled portion of the city. Surrounded by ramparts, it is a warren of cobbled streets, some of which allow cars one-way access. We attempted to drop our luggage at the flat before finding parking outside the walls. But after a frustrating 40 minutes of do-not-enter signs and streets clogged with shoppers, “sidewalk” sales, and tourists, we gave up. What were we thinking?

The ramparts provided a wonderful perch to view the sea. Despite the brisk and sometimes rainy weather, people played in the sand, walked the piers, watched seagull acrobatics, and even swam. Along the beach, we saw what looked like a saltwater swimming pool, replenished by the sea. It retained the water when the tide went out and provided a safe swimming area.

Just as fascinating was the old city. Locals raised gardens on rooftops. Street life was lively. Musicians played along the ramparts and in the streets, including an organ grinder who sang opera and taught young would-be performers.

I love shopping for Breton foods in the local shops. Bretons make cider, ranging from non-alcoholic to a distilled version called Calvados from the many apples grown in the region. Other favorites are artisanal soup (so many choices; we tried the langoustine), salted caramels (and salted caramel sauce, cookies, even liquor); Breton gateau in flavors of raspberry, prune and caramel; local yogurt sold in glass jars; and the breads (oh the daily fresh breads!) with our favorite batards and croissants. Produce is still offered in thin bentwood cartons. We found the well-loved Madelaine cookies in the shape of scallop shells (representing Mary Magdalene). Breton butter is supposed to be the best. Luscious, juicy pears are currently in season.

And then there is the locally made salt, ranging from dirty with bits of seaweed and sand, to gray, to white, to flavored with herbs.

I can’t say we bought/ate all of these wonderful offerings, but we are cooking in our flats and certainly need the “basics.”

As for eating out, creperies abound in San Malo. Buckwheat came into Brittany in the early 1500s. It wasn’t taxed, and peasants could grind it themselves in handmills, avoiding the milling fee. So farmers sold their wheat and rye, and ate their buckwheat, making Breton galettes. Creperies sell both the sweet crepes, and the buckwheat galettes with savory fillings. For my part, you can keep them; the wheat crepes are too sweet and the buckwheat ones don’t fit my mental model for crepes.

But I did find a new love, mussels. I never cared for them, but now I’m obsessed. Dianne had been urging me to try them. I went from dubious to delighted in one meal. Later I tried and loved snails. That’s when I could urge Dianne to try. “Eeww! No way!” All of a sudden, I am feeling somewhat French.


Our flat is on the second floor (Europe’s first floor). see the open windows.

For other essays on our rural France journey, see:

Giverny – gardens behind walls

Omaha – reflections on sacred ground


Touring around rural France, relying on Brigitte


Le Mont St. Michel – stairway to heaven


If you like my blog, you’ll enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.

Posted in eating, enjoying other cultures, getting out of my comfort zone, learnng new things, travel in rural France | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Le Mont St. Michel – stairway to heaven

Like Giverny, Le Mont St. Michel is best savored after the day-trippers are gone. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is the third most visited site in France, very evident during the day. Luckily, Dianne arranged for us to be here for three nights – plenty of time to see the Abbey and pay our respects to St. Michael.

Dianne had warned me that there would be much climbing. After all, Le Mont is just that – a huge rock sitting off shore with a tiny village (population 50) and Abbey clinging precariously to it. We could see it when we were still a fair distance from the coast. It floated above the fields, like a mirage in the quirky light of dusk. As we drew near, we could see the mud flats and the salt marshes where sheep graze. It’s isolated.

In historic times when the tide came in, the community was cut off from the coast. In 1879, a causeway connected it. The French government built a new causeway in 2014, but the buses that deliver visitors from the parking lot stop some way from the island. This is not a place to drag all of your gear. So I pared down to just my backpack and we left the rest of our stuff in the car. It turns out that was a smart move, because we had to climb 162 steps to get to our room, most of them stone and outside, taking us from the lower level hotel lobby to the annex up the hill where we were staying.

Our room had a splendid view looking back toward the coast, where we had the pleasure of a brilliant sunrise every morning. We didn’t need the sun or an alarm to wake us; we had the seagulls. Laughing gulls, screeching gulls, clucking gulls; I’m not sure if each had his own sound or if they all made the range of vocalizations we heard.

Early mornings were also a time to see the inner workings of the island: deliveries, trash removal, sweeping. It’s critical to get supplies moved early up and down the one street in the village, because it’s impassible once the tourists arrive. Seeing this early flurry of activity gave us an appreciation for those who make their livelihood in this tiny village, dependent almost exclusively on tourism.

Our room also gave us a great view of the tide. When it was rising, we could hear the water rushing in and see it rising by the minute. Locals say that “the tide rises faster than a horse can run,” so it’s best not to stay out on the mud flat once it starts coming in. Most days the water does not come in that far. But high tides and king tides do occur and one completely submerged the causeway in 2015. Personally, I won’t go out there – it has areas of quicksand, bringing to mind a childhood fear of drowning in sand.

That one cobbled street winds its way up the hill, switching to steps about two-thirds of the way up, culminating at the Mont St. Michel Abbey at the top. The first monastery was built in the 8th century. According to legend, St. Michael the Archangel instructed the bishop of the nearby town to build a church there in 708 BCE; thus the name of the island. Pilgrimages to St. Michael began soon after, and Benedictine monks started building the present Abbey in the 10th century. With the exception of an amusing glimpse in a courtyard of the dragon (presumably the one St. Michael smote), there is little adornment in the church or elsewhere in the Abbey. This place was about prayer, and later prisoners, not impressing ordinary people.

When I saw the changes to Le Mont in a series of models, I wondered at the amount of material that had to be brought in and the skill required to build here. The monks left in 1790 during the French Revolution when the Abbey was turned into a prison. It has since been restored, and a community of nuns and monks from the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem, has been living here since 2001.

Despite the prominence of the Abbey, our favorite place on the island is the local parish church for the village, Eglise St. Pierre (St. Peter), with its sanctuary of St. Michael. It was built in the 11th century and extensively rebuilt in the 15th and 16th centuries. It’s mostly ignored by tourists who focus on getting up to the Abbey. The church is only steps from our hotel, so we stopped at this quiet refuge daily, lighting candles in front of St. Michael.

I’ve gained a new appreciation of Michael, the Protector, since my visit here. In fact, my favorite times of day are morning and in the last hours before sunset, when I can see the sun glinting off the statue of St. Michael at the very top of the Abbey spire. It feels like he is here, protecting this place.

Dianne and I were lucky to be on the Le Mont during the full moon, with its magical light – such a treat to watch the moon rise right outside our window for several nights running. It’s something the day-trippers never get to see. We were blessed on so many levels.

Despite the constant up and down, I highly recommend a visit here, but only if you can stay overnight. The visit just wouldn’t be the same in a day-trip.

Stained glass window in Eglise St. Pierre, the parish church for the village

For other essays on our rural France journey, see:

Giverny – gardens behind walls

Omaha – reflections on sacred ground

Touring around rural France, relying on Brigitte


If you like my blog, you’ll enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.




Posted in friends, gratitude, Prayer - Pule, Serenity rituals, Travel, travel as a transformation tool, travel in rural France | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Touring around rural France, relying on Brigitte

Dianne and I are spending a fair amount of time in our rental car. The point of this journey is to SEE rural France. So we take the back roads when we can. But our recalcitrant GPS, whose voice we have begun to affectionately (and sometimes not so affectionately) call Brigitte, keeps trying to take us on the big highways.

So then there’s a fight – Dianne against Brigitte. Brigitte always remains calm, even when we are frustrated. At times, it takes getting off the road to play with the GPS, though Dianne eventually finds a way to get Brigitte to do what we want.

But sometimes it seems that Brigitte is getting back at us. The latest trip comes to mind, where we tried to take a shortcut across a section of France. Brigitte dutifully redirected us, despite what she might have thought about the dubious route.

The road was quite rural, with farms very close at hand, or rather, wheel. The horses we passed seem so close that they could hit the car with a swish of their tails. We could almost smell the cows’ breathe, and could definitely smell their merde.

The road became smaller and smaller, just a bit more than a car’s width. At times we were sure we were on some farmer’s driveway.

It was along a wooded one-lane section with vegetation boxing us in like a tunnel that we came face-to-face with a huge cutting machine. Luckily, he was moving slowly enough that Dianne had time to back up (the only thing we could do) to reach a small indent in the woods next to an open field beyond some aggressive barbed-wire. She expertly backed into the tiny spot, wedged so that we could no longer see the lane.

We waited about three minutes, expecting the large machine to rumble past us any moment. Thankfully his blades were working the other side of the road, so there was no concern that he’d cut off a side-view mirror. But he never came. My egress was obstructed by the barbed wire. “Dianne, look to see where he is,” I whispered. She climbed out of the car and looked down the lane with an astonished look. “He’s gone – disappeared!”

She edged the car back onto the lane and we continued our journey. We saw no exits, no roads where the huge machine could have turned off, not even a driveway. And we were certainly moving faster than he could have, if he were trying to back up to give us room to pass. Queue the Twilight Zone music: do do do do.

Brigitte withheld her judgement, and took us back onto a larger road. Meanwhile, I give thanks that Dianne is driving. You couldn’t get me to drive here for love or money. Besides, I get to take pictures from the passenger seat.


For other essays on our rural France journey, see:

Giverny – gardens behind walls

Omaha – reflections on sacred ground


If you like my blog, you’ll enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.

Posted in travel as a transformation tool, travel in rural France | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Omaha Beach – reflections on sacred ground

Normandy. When I hear that word, I immediately think of the beaches where so many soldiers lost their lives, trying to take a toehold on the continent that had been all but engulfed by Hitler during WWII.

Between our visits to Giverny and Mont St. Michel, we stopped along the beaches of Normandy. It’s only right that being in the area, we should pay our respects to those who gave all to ensure peace and freedom in our world. It is places like this that make me feel like a World Citizen, yet very proud of our part in it.

Of course long before the Invasion of Normandy and the five campaign points of Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah, the Normandy coast was a holiday destination dotted with charming seaside resort towns. Even on this cool and sometimes overcast day, families were enjoying the beaches. Some were even in the water.

We stopped first at the beach at Lion sur Mer in the Juno section of the invasion. Here local people dragged boats out to the water’s edge using their tractors. I stretched my legs and cleared my mind after riding in the car for two hours, walking along the high tide point on the beach. Automatically my eyes searched back and forth, and I found a couple of nice shells and my first scallop shell. Then mentally I chastised myself for doing something as meaningless as beachcombing on this sacred ground. But they have since become tangible remembrances of this visit.

We continued to Omaha Beach. The weather turned drizzly, evoking a somber mood. As we drove through the small villages, I could imagine combat scenes along these narrow streets with their stone houses. These walls might have concealed frightened young German boys, fighting for their lives, too.

We first paid our respects on the beach itself, this site where Americans charged ashore. I found it a place for comforting prayer. It was about an hour to closing when we went up to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. I knew I would find it horrific, but had no idea how much. Crosses and Stars of David filled the landscape. More than 9000 American soldiers are buried here. I walked to the central aisle, and just started walking toward the back of the cemetery. Row after row of headstones met my eyes. It was shocking.

At first they were just one large vista, too vast to really fathom. Then I began to search the headstones for familiar states. I found a few Wisconsin and Hawaiian soldiers, and paid special respects there.

Most of these brave soldiers, many of them just beginning their lives, died on June 6 and 7 at the start of the invasion, in the cross fire from the German bunkers on the hills. But I also began to see dates as late as December 1944, and then into 1945. One man from a bombing squad died in 1943, before the invasion – an early casualty. He was a real person – Donald B. Armstrong, from Ohio. Most of the graves had names.

But there were also the headstones of the unidentified, 307 of them, “known but to God.” That’s when I really broke down. These graves will never be claimed by a nephew or grand-daughter, never be decorated by someone who had a direct connection to them. Their descendants, if any, only know that he was lost “over there.”

In a subdued mood, I retraced my steps, walking back to the memorial at the beginning of the cemetery. The Visitor Center was already closed, and I was not able to absorb facts and figures at the moment anyway. So we spent time here.

To either side of the soaring central figure are great stone maps, one of the Normandy Invasion and the other of the movement of troops in the European Theatre. To the side of the European Theatre map, a series of smaller maps showed the Pacific operations during this truly world war. That’s where my dad served, and I finally allowed my thoughts to go there.

I’ve written about his service before. Being here in this place of so many dead, I reflected on how fortunate my family was that he survived the insanity of this war. His service took place long before he met my mother, but even then, he was thinking about a future family. In one battle in New Guinea, he saw his friend fall from a direct hit by a bullet, a bullet that would have hit him, had his buddy not been there. This friend was constantly singing “Smile for me, My Diane,” recorded just before and during the war: Tommy Dorsey in 1939, Bing Crosby in 1941, and Vic Damone in 1942. My dad held his dying friend in that battlefield and promised him he’d name his first daughter Diane to remember him. His buddy died in his arms. So you see, a part of me comes directly from this war.

If you have the chance to visit the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach, or the Punchbowl or Pearl Harbor on Oahu, please consider it an honor to do so. We live free because they died.


For my other essays on WWII see:

It could have been my Dad – Pearl Harbor

A Punchbowl full of sorrow

For other posts about our rural France journey see:

Giverny – gardens behind walls


If you like my blog, you’ll enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.

Posted in links to my past, Prayer - Pule, travel as a transformation tool, travel in rural France, Wisconsin family | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Giverny – gardens behind walls

France: the land of croissants, Monet, sumptuous food, and fruitful vineyards. I’m traveling again, this time in rural France. Yes, I just went to Spain in spring. But I’m 65, and am taking every opportunity I can to live full out. My girlfriend, Dianne, has been itching to go to France. She told me that all I had to do was pay my share and enjoy – she’d take care of the details. So, of course, I said yes.

We are flying in and out of Paris, but our focus is northern rural France: Normandy, Brittany and the Loire River Valley. First stop: Giverny, home of Claude Monet, the famous impressionist painter. It’s a tiny village (population 502 in 2008) inundated every day with day-trippers from Paris eager to see Claude Monet’s gardens and home.

Giverny is a quiet place, with one main road and a few cross-streets that lead down to the highway. The buildings appear to be old, though some were repaired / rebuilt after bombing damage during WWII. The gite (French vacation home) where we are staying had its fourth floor ripped open by a bomb; the owners decided not to rebuild it, so it’s now a three-story house. At one time it was the presbytery for the town’s medieval church (built 11th and 12th centuries) next door. Now it’s been thoroughly modernized on the inside with conveniences and reliable plumbing.

But it’s the historic aspects I love the most: the solid stone walls, the tall windows, the shutters. It’s cool inside our flat with a breeze flowing through it when we have the windows open, no matter how warm outside.

We arrived in the afternoon. The little main street, Rue Charles Monet, was filled with tourists, so we took a nap first, and set out about 6 pm to explore. By then, the visitors had departed, leaving the little village to those of us lucky enough to be staying here. Villagers seem to take a cue from Monet, filling every spot of dirt with bountiful flowers, and training (or maybe allowing) vines to climb walls.

The tiny streets were mostly deserted, the locals seemingly hiding in their homes. I would hide too if two thousand people descended on Honoka’a on a daily basis. Each home was secreted behind a gated wall, or was the wall – houses often ran right up to the edge of the street with their gardens behind or to the side, like Monet’s pink stuccoed house.

At times we could see sun-lit gardens or rows of fruit trees (apples and pears) or grape vines behind the formidable gates. The style is so different from American front lawns sprawling to the curb.

That evening, we had dinner at the Ancien Hotel Baudy, a place where artists congregated and painted when Monet lived here (1890-1926). The dining room looked inviting, but we chose to sit in their garden across the street, in this village of gardens. It was so easy to linger over our dinner, wine and dessert, despite the occasional bee visitor.

On our second day, we walked over to see Claude Monet’s house and garden, second in line only to a college student touring Europe. This early-bird start allowed us to walk straight to Monet’s water lily garden, with views of the Japanese bridge without people on it.

At every turn on the path there was another beautiful view. While I had assumed the boats in the pond were decorative, one of the scores of gardeners used it to tend to the water lilies.

In his later years, Monet’s health and eyesight were failing. So instead of traveling around France to paint, he created the water garden and his famous flower garden right on his property.

He painted them again and again, in different seasons and times of the day. Many versions were available in various sizes and quality in the gift shop, which had been his painting studio.

The house gave me further insight into his life and priorities. Walls are covered with art: the many Japanese prints he loved and likely the inspiration for his water garden, his paintings, and the works of famous contemporaries.

The spacious kitchen and bright yellow dining room suited his large blended family. While the furniture is not original, the house was refurnished to look like it did when he lived there with his two sons, his mistress (he later married her) and her six children.

The rest of the day was consumed with the ordinary things of life like laundry, and deciding what to do the next day (visiting the Musee des Impressionnismes with its current exhibit – Manguin and Fauvism, and walking the grounds of the village church with Monet’s grave).

By the fourth day, we were off to our next adventure, but not before we stopped at the boulangiere (the bakery), a dozen doors down the street, for a couple of croissants to go. I noticed that even they had a potted garden and topiaries in their outdoor eating space. Everyone in Giverny has the gardening bug.


If you like my blog, you’ll enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.

Posted in enjoying other cultures, friends, gardening, learnng new things, living full out, travel as a transformation tool, travel in rural France | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Family Traditions – 63 years at the lake near Boulder Junction WI

This year is the 63rd family reunion we’ve had at Fishtrap Lake. Not much changes over time up here. We still sit on the dock with our morning coffee, ride around the lake on my brother-in-law’s pontoon, and play Scrabble day and night. But it never gets old. Enjoy this essay about the early days Up North, reprinted from my book, Manifesting Paradise, published in 2014:

Steve’s Point, the section of Fishtrap Lake where Grandpa Steve used to fish. Dad heading to the fish-house to clean his catch.

Our strongest family tradition is the annual trip to Boulder Junction, Wisconsin, 12 miles from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. My family’s been going to the same bay on the same lake every year since I was two years old. The trip’s original pull was the good fishing that Dad and Grandpa enjoyed and the cooler weather Up North in summer. But, over time, it became the fun and importance of strengthening family ties and teaching Scheurell values to the next generation. We older Scheurells also feel a nostalgic tug for a simpler time, probably the same reason my new life in Honoka‘a had such a draw for me.

Now, living so far away from family, it’s even more important for me to honor this tradition. And there’s no better time to visit with family than the week when everyone’s on vacation. So the girls and I will travel this month. My husband hasn’t joined us Up North in many years. His idea of a good time is reliable electricity and plumbing, which are not always available. Blustery summer storms sometimes take out the power, shutting off both.

The trip highlight is the week with my sisters and their families, each of us at a different cottage. We can escape to our own places when we feel the need, yet be together at a moment’s notice. In the old days before cell phones, I’d send a kid down the hill in the morning to see if my sister was awake, or up to the fish-cleaning shack to tell my brother-in-law that supper was ready. While the kids are happier to phone instead of run, the charm is slipping away. Still, there was the time three years ago when the pontoon boat had engine trouble and three of us were stranded in the middle of the lake. My sister was able to call her kids to come rescue us.

It used to be my grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and cousins who invaded the resort every year on the same week. I remember our family of five plus Grandma and Grandpa piling into Dad’s big aqua Mercury at 3 a.m. on the day of the trip. That car had a trunk as big as Baltimore, plenty of room for suitcases. But the Merc could also drag Dad’s trailer carrying a modest aluminum boat that served as a second trunk, stowing boxes of food, a heavy metal chest with its ice block and frozen meats, plus towels, games, box fans, lifejackets and various fishing accoutrements including the motor. In fact, the boat’s primary purpose may have been its storage capacity in transit.

We always grumbled about leaving early, but I realize now that it wasn’t just that Dad wanted to avoid heavy traffic in the big metropolis of Green Bay. No, he wanted to drive in the cool of predawn because cars didn’t have AC back then. The road song lulled us back to sleep so that he didn’t have to listen to us bicker (“Quit looking at me! Move over!”). The longer we girls slept, the easier the six-hour trip was for all of us.

Once there, we cousins ran wild, though we were always within sight of someone who’d discipline us. It was grand: swimming, digging in the sand, playing croquet and beanbags, and taking the occasional trip into town for ice cream, and when we were older, grasshoppers. (My sister and I still indulge – five scoops of ice cream in each “drink.”) Dad was a safety nut, so we’d have to wait a full hour after eating before we could venture into the lake. His swimming rules were a production. First the anxious wait: “Is it time yet? How about now? Can we go now?” Then we’d hurriedly put on our swimsuits, grab towels and a salt shaker to remove any bloodsuckers that might attach and run to the lake – with an adult. Sunscreen wasn’t on the radar yet.

My sisters and I find some modern orange boobies and try them on for size.

Finally, we had to strap into the big orange boobies, the lifejackets of the day. Stored in our boat down at the dock, they always felt damp and cold from the last swim and, they always smelled faintly of fish. As we grew older, we realized they were quite the fashion statement. How we loathed them! But no life jacket, no swimming, even though we had adult supervision and we only played in shallow water. That was Dad’s rule, so we dutifully strapped in.

The week’s highlight was always the trip to the dump at night to watch the bears eat. We’d change into PJs, pile into the Merc and drive to the dump right around dusk. (But no snacks; they might draw bears to our car!) We and other vacationers surrounded the active part of the dump, turned off lights and waited. When the bears ambled up to feast, some people put headlights on so we could see them more easily. The bears were pretty nonchalant about the observers, digging into what could’ve been the remains of our lunch from the day before. The law doesn’t allow open dumps any longer, so my kids missed out on this tradition.

Now it’s my generation bringing our kids Up North. It’s a special place, all the more so because my girls led sheltered lives in Racine. They weren’t even allowed to walk or ride their bikes around the block without an adult along. (Holy cow! I sound like Dad!) But at the lake they played in the sand, fed the ducklings, explored the nearby woods, learned to pump on the swing-set, stayed up past bedtime at the bonfire and otherwise ran wild with their cousins.

My second daughter was four years younger than her sister and cousins, who were, and still are, quite the cohort. When the little one came along, she pushed her way into the group. I never had to plead with them to take her along. Together they learned to catch toads and, years later, create hairdos and paint toenails. They used to propel around on my sister’s paddleboat and caught hell one time when she found them on it without lifejackets. That only happened once. When my sister chews you out, you don’t forget.

Their uncle taught them to fish, casting first off the dock, then from his boat, and even refurbished a rod and reel from Goodwill for my girls. I had their first catches – a miniscule perch and tiny bluegill – mounted at Al’s Taxidermy in Boulder Junction. Al looked at me as if I had two heads. “Ya know, I’ll have ta charge you da base setup fee on each a dose.” I was okay with that, $94 each, but he dropped the per-inch fee. We picked them up the following summer on the annual trip and they’re now swimming on the walls of our dining room.

The girls didn’t fear playing in the lake, despite its tannin-stained water and the bloodsuckers lurking in the muck under the dock, as long as we remembered to bring the salt shaker along. For the last seven or eight years we also drove to Crystal Lake where the water is clear all the way out and there are no bloodsuckers. I told them that if they took Red Cross swimming classes through Level 6 (something I wanted), they could swim out to the rock pile at Crystal Lake without a lifejacket (something they wanted). That strategy worked splendidly and propelled them quickly through the swimming classes offered at home in Racine year after year.

This is a special year. We welcome the first of the fifth generation, to Fishtrap Lake. My sister is all gaga about being a Nana. I’d be, too. Babies are magnets and this one is adorable. The girls can’t wait to play with her. She’s already a camera ham and has learned to crawl since I saw her in March. However, she’ll be in prime teething season. Thank you, Lord, for separate cottages. As my other sister used to say, “God made ‘em cute so you wouldn’t kill ‘em.”


For other stories about our time at the lake, see:

My Father’s Ghost is here

We eat some strange stuff

Nature Connections

Engaging my senses at the lake


If you like my blog, you’ll enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.

Posted in Being present, excerpt from my book, Honoring tradition, links to my past, Wisconsin family, Wisconsin roots | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Remembering the recently dead with dancing at the Hongwanji Buddhist Temple

I am friends with several of the congregation at the Honoka‘a Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, mostly through the Mindfulness Meditation that they offer every Sunday afternoon. Last week I received my yearly invitation to join them in their Community Memorial Service and Bon Dance, their 114th! It’s a ceremony to honor the memory of community members who passed away in the prior year. Anyone of any faith is encouraged to attend and remember/honor loved ones who died in the last twelve months. Looking at the flier, it’s clear that this community celebrates death very differently from the faith of my family.

I’ve always felt welcome to join this historically Japanese community, originating in Hawaiʻi’s plantation era. They observe a unique meld of Buddhism, Japanese culture brought with them (mostly 1885-1894), and adaptations to island life. The Honokaʻa Hongwanji originated in 1904. My favorite celebration is bringing in the New Year (see Fireworks versus Meditation: setting intentions for the New Year). But I’ve never attended this one, because I hadn’t known any of the people who passed.

Thanks to Evan Bordessa for permission to reprint this photo

This year is different. One member of our Mindfulness Meditation group, Steve Way, died in spring. He was a wisecracking, cranky, funny, sweet man, who spoke profoundly about Buddhism and mindfulness.

His death affected the group deeply, and we discussed Steve, death, and the Buddhist vision of death for several weeks. It helped bring the group closer together. And because we wished we had known him better, his death even spurred us to spend time revealing something of ourselves to the others as a way to honor him; we wanted to say we knew each other on a personal level.

So I will be attending the Community Memorial Service this Saturday, honoring Steve’s passing.

They hold it in the Honoka‘a Hongwanji Buddhist Temple Social Hall. The announcement says, “a simple and healing ceremony…the service not only pays tribute to the departed, but expresses gratitude to them and all ancestors in an uplifting way.” As they read out the names of those who died, families and friends step forward to burn incense as a sign of appreciation for their lives.

2017 Bon Dance Schedule published in The Island Beat

After the service, everyone will enjoy music, food and bon dancing, a traditional Buddhist style of folk dancing. Taiko drums accompany the bon dance, led by dance groups from different temples. Everyone is welcome to participate, from beginners to lifelong dancers. Bon dances are held at more than 20 temples on the Big Island every summer. Somewhere between 400 and 500 people usually attend the Honokaʻa bon dance.

The Memorial Service is only one example of the importance of the Temple for this community. Some organizations/institutions noticeably serve the broader good in a town. In Honokaʻa, we have our Honokaʻa People’s Theatre, our Hamakua Harvest, our Hamakua Youth Foundation. All have found ways to bring the community together. The Honokaʻa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple stands among them.


They open their services to all. They have a thrift shop in the basement of the Social Hall, serving the needs of the less fortunate among us. They open their Social Hall and Dojo to Anita’s yoga class, martial arts classes, a hālau hula, and community events like summer magic shows and magic camps for the keiki. Activities open to the public at no charge include weekly Mindfulness Meditation, bon dance lessons and practice, and a taiko drum class for all ages.

The temple’s Peace Committee produces the most elaborate event of the year in September, the annual Parade and Festival for the United Nation’s International Day of Peace. The festival is often scheduled for ten days, including activities such as Peace Movie Night, Wine at Five kickoff parties, a Day of Mindfulness, a Peace Poster Contest for the keiki, readings at the library, and music concerts. The whole community gets involved. The Committee is also producing a documentary film on the life and death of Big Island labor martyr Katsu Goto, who was lynched in Honokaʻa 1889.

The Honokaʻa Hongwanji Buddhist Women’s Association makes a donation every year for a local project. Recently, they donated to the Honokaʻa Methodist Church’s Sew Fun project, which teaches girls and teens, how to sew; it funded 21 sewing machines for the Wednesday afternoon classes.

Honoka’a Hongwanji Buddhist Temple stalwarts erecting the tower for the bon dance, including members of the New Dharma Band.

In short, the Hongwanji Buddhist Temple makes a point of connecting with the broader community, participating fully, and helping to create an inclusionary feeling here. I am so grateful for their influence in Honokaʻa. I hope you are blessed with similar exemplars in your town.

(For the Memorial Service on July 15, names may be submitted in advance by email to Miles Okumura at, or text 808-640-4602. During the Memorial Service, when the person’s name is called, anyone may step forward with friends and family to offer a small amount of incense (provided), with aloha. Participants do not have to be a temple member or a Buddhist to participate, and even without advance arrangements, anyone can honor loved ones by submitting a name just prior to the beginning of the ceremony. Admission is free.)

Prior essays on the Honokaʻa People’s Theatre include:

Saving the heart of our town: Honokaa People’s Theatre

Honoka’a People’s Theatre – helping us fly our freak flags

Prior essays on Hāmākua Harvest include:

Hāmākua Harvest – One Man’s Vision

Hāmākua Harvest – these are my farmers

Call me Farmer Di

Hāmākua Harvest’s 2nd Annual Farm Festival – see the progress

Prior essay on Hāmākua Youth Foundation:

It’s my kuleana

If you like my blog, you’ll enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.

Posted in enjoying other cultures, friends, gratitude, Hawaii's melting pot - ethnic groups, Honoka'a, Honoring tradition, Making community, Personal growth, Plantation era | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments