Author Phyllis Karsnia was not bitten by the travel bug until after she turned forty. But ever since she was coaxed away from her job, husband, three children, and Minnesota home by a coworker who invited her along on a vacation with her to the Caribbean, Karsnia has never looked back.
In her collection of travel adventures, Karsnia chronicles her travels to Italy, Portugal, England, the Greek Islands, Norway, and beyond. She explored the beauty, fun, and wonder of different countries and their cultures, histories, and people. Beginning with her initial trip to the Caribbean, Karsnia shares fascinating details and amusing stories that provide a glimpse into what it was like for a novice traveler as she stepped outside her comfort zone and embraced the world through travel. As she received a blessing by the Pope in St. Peter's Square, visited Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal, prayed in a Buddhist Temple, and joined a parade during Norway's celebration of Syttende Mai, she gathered memories, celebrated differences, and learned meaningful life lessons.
Journeys is a collection of travel adventures that highlight one woman's unforgettable experiences as she toured the world.
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Tripping Through Life
By PHYLLIS KARSNIA
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2014 Phyllis Karsnia
All rights reserved.
The First 500 Miles 1950s— present
Highway 53 begins in International Falls, Minnesota and ends in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. That's how it seemed when I was a kid. At Mama's insistence, at least once a year we packed up Daddy's newest automobile and set off on the five hundred mile journey to visit my maternal grandparents and Mama's sisters who lived on the end of that road.
As an only child for thirteen years until my baby brother, Donnie, surprised us, I sat alone in the back seat reading a book or watching the scenery. Changing landscapes along the way absorbed me; I was thrilled to win an essay about Minnesota because of those trips. I wrote about our northern forests, southern Minnesota's rolling farmscapes, the beautiful bluffs surrounding the Mississippi River. Those trips made me love my state, but I really wanted to go to Disneyland like my friend, Tammy.
Grandma Ida, Aunt Edna, and Aunt Bernice ran rooming houses, three-storied, gray-shingled buildings tightly packed in a neighborhood with other ugly 1940s buildings. Yards were mere strips of grass with no place to play.
One summer day, bored from listening to my aunts' endless talk, talk, talking, I walked up and down in front of Grandma's, afraid of getting lost if I turned the corner. It was almost too hot to breathe on the concrete sidewalk; forlornly, I climbed into Daddy's car. I hated Mama's smoking, but defiantly I grabbed the pack of Lucky Strikes on the dashboard, pulled out a cigarette, and stuck it in my mouth. Lighting the match took several tries, and by the time I got the cigarette lit, I felt dizzy and nauseous. Sliding out of the car, stomping out the cigarette, I slammed the door on my thumb. Waving my bloody thumb, I ran howling into the house. My first and last cigarette.
On one trip, Mama let me stay in Stoddard, a suburb of LaCrosse, with Aunt Winnie and my favorite cousin, Marilyn. Following days filled with fun, it was comforting to be awakened in the still nights by the whooo-whooo from distant trains. I fantasized about riding on that speeding train as it whizzed by until I fell back to sleep.
Reading encouraged fantasizing, too, taking me away to interesting places. Snuggled in a comfy chair, savoring a Hersey bar one square at a time, I read until Mama interrupted my daydreaming journeys to peel potatoes or do other chores. I fell in love with Heidi's mountains in Switzerland, and when I wasn't having small town adventures with my best friend Maxine, I enjoyed escapades with Betsy, Tacy, and Tib. The five of us grew up together. Betsy wanted to be a writer; that might have planted a tiny seed, but in the 1950s there were only three options: secretary, nurse, or teacher. I prepared for all three in high school before choosing nursing.
As a student at St. Olaf College in Northfield, enrolled in a four- year nursing program, hitchhiking the forty miles to Minneapolis was daring (only slightly dangerous). While attending Fairview Hospital School of Nursing, riding the bus to downtown Minneapolis was an adventure in itself, strolling past the huge plate glass windows in Dayton's and Donaldson's drooling over the latest fashions and displays, riding up and down the elevators inside the stores gaping at the magnificent merchandise. One Easter, with permission to buy a dress at Dayton's, I bought a navy blue polka dot dress that made me feel like a princess.
When Leo and I married, we raised our three children in a town perfect for children—International Falls, Minnesota, where kids roamed the neighborhood in complete freedom from morning until night. A skating rink across the street prepared Allen for the Falls High Bronco and Notre Dame hockey teams, Sherry and Jayne for hockey cheerleaders and figure skaters. A small business-owner, my husband didn't take vacations from Leo's Garage, but indulged our family with weekend camping trips. From tents we progressed to trailers, heading to a campground every Friday after work, returning on Sundays. Deciding we should take a real vacation, I saved money for Disneyland. Then, Leo brought home a twenty-eight foot deluxe camping trailer. We took a vote—four for the trailer. I must admit, we had many wonderful weekends in the new trailer.
And then ... the kids grew up and we stopped camping. Allen and Sherry were out of college and married, Jayne was off to college. My traveling increased.CHAPTER 2
Caribbean Adventures 1976
"What a perfect Easter Sunday!" Lying on the deck of a Caribbean sailboat, I chanted to myself with each dip of the waves, "Per-fect East-er Sun-day."
When Marcelle first invited me to go to the Caribbean for three weeks in 1976 I immediately refused. "I don't have time to take such a long vacation." Marcelle, a petite Frenchwoman from Quebec, taught piano, dance, and exercise; I was one of the first to join her health club. Her persistent coaxing convinced me and we both became so excited, our husbands, Leo and Guy, decided to join us. With Leo and Guy planning to stay only a week, the four of us flew to the island of St. Thomas.
The week flew by. As the day approached for our husbands to leave, I longed to go home too. We'd explored St. Thomas, soaked up sunshine. I told Leo, "I can't sunbathe for two more weeks." Refusing to release me from our vacation, Marcelle promised: "We'll take turns choosing activities. And we'll treat the two weeks as a spa."
Unbelievable! Marcelle became my personal trainer. Waking early, she quietly read until my eyelids fluttered. Thrusting her book aside the instant I opened an eye, she'd spring out of bed ready to exercise. Sleepily, I followed her routine of yoga, stretches, and calisthenics. She allowed us only one meal a day, but, whether it was lunch or dinner, we dined at luxurious places, sampling extravagant Caribbean seafood. Occasionally, we split sinful desserts (usually a decadent chocolate treat). One day, seeing pictures of the notorious ferocious pirate, Blackbeard, we chose Blackbeard's Castle as an exciting restaurant to try.
Indeed, it was exciting! The non-English speaking driver nodded his head when we told him our destination. The drive seemed excessively long, with houses disappearing as the dirt road narrowed. Our tension thickened as the foliage grew thicker.
Leaning over the seat, Marcelle asked, "Are we nearly there?" He didn't answer. She whispered, "Does he think we're rich Americans? Is he kidnapping us?" My stomach clenched as I thought of my family, worrying, waiting to hear from me. Our families wouldn't be able to raise enough money! Making the sign of the cross, I prayed they wouldn't kill us. Trying not to look scared, Marcelle grabbed my hand. "I know we'll be okay. He probably took the longest route to get more money."
"There it is!" Marcelle shouted. I put my hand over my racing heart and flopped back on the seat. We nearly fell out of the car when it stopped. Inside Blackbeard's Castle, we dropped into chairs with relief. Marcelle said, "My hands are still shaking."
Gulping ice water while waiting for our wine, Marcelle casually asked, "What was your maiden name?" In our small town, everyone knows everyone from one generation to the next, but Marcelle was a "newcomer."
Marcelle jumped up from her chair, knocking it over. "What? That's my maiden name! We're sisters!" Marcelle danced around the table to hug me.
I blurted, "My dad's ancestors lived on St. Pierre Island in Quebec. They came from Paris in the 1600s. We have to be related!" As soul-sisters, our vacation was even sweeter. Jubilantly (and bravely), we ordered octopus to mark this momentous special occasion. To our surprise, it tasted like chicken.
Reading by the pool under whispering palm trees, balmy morning breezes stirring up the scent of flowers, made me realize how delicious it is to have a relaxing vacation. When I became restless, I slipped into the pool, using it as therapy for a knee I'd injured while cross-country skiing the weekend before leaving for St. Thomas. On an icy hill, one ski got stuck and I did the splits. (Before leaving on my ski trip, Marcelle warned me not to get hurt. Oops!) The water therapy improved my knee, the brace I wore not only helped my knee, it brought attention and sympathy as I limped around St. Thomas.
Marcelle finally gave in to my cajoling to go sailing. Wandering the marina, we found a charter boat crewed by a young American couple, Dick and Susan. Tall, thin, and tanned, they were the epitome of the sail boaters I'd watched and envied while eating breakfast with Leo every morning at the marina. Spread eagled on the deck, rocking with the waves, soaking up sun and saltwater—up and down, sun and water, up and down. I clung to ropes and dug my heels down to keep from rolling off the curved deck into the sea. Trade winds sent us skimming over the shimmering blue water. Yes, a perfect Easter Sunday!
Lost in my private paradise, I didn't notice Marcelle disappear. When I went below for lunch, she was lying in a bunk, seasick, weakly shaking her head no to eating and snorkeling. Susan helped me into the snorkeling gear. Feeling like an alien sea creature, I struggled to get down the ladder wearing long flippers and fell off in a belly flop. I floated with my face in the water until jagged coral reefs jutting up seemed dangerously close to scraping my belly. I stiffened and sank Thrashing wildly, I surfaced again.
Schools of fish, bright, shiny, and slimy, swam below me, beside me, above me. Without my glasses, I worried I might blindly bump into a dangerous fish. The snorkel mask fogged up, water seeped in, and I gave up. Climbing up the boat ladder with trembling legs, I welcomed a helping hand from Captain Dick.
Sailing home in the rosy sunset, my skin felt hot and dry. Wearily, I stumbled to our hotel room. My chilled body shivered and shook. "Teeth really do chatter!" I thought, surprised.
Marcelle quickly recovered from her sea-sickness on land. Concerned, she tried to run a cool bath for me, but the water stayed lukewarm. Grabbing the ice bucket, she said, "I'll go get ice."
I lay shivering under covers, moaning, wondering why Marcelle wasn't back, worrying I might not survive. Where did she go? I sobbed with relief when Marcelle finally dashed into the room. "I'm so sorry. I raced through the halls begging for ice cubes. I even ran to the hotel across the street. This is all I could get." Tipping the bucket, a few ice cubes lazily floated into the lukewarm water before disappearing.
The bath offered little relief. Nauseated, weak, and dehydrated, I willingly accepted the aspirin and valium Marcelle prescribed from her purse. Never having taken a valium, I didn't know whether the pill or the sunburn would kill me, but I desperately prayed, "Please let me go home to my family," until the valium knocked me out. In the morning, I moved my singed body gingerly, surprised and grateful to be alive. "Thank you, God!"
Marcelle was relieved. "You were beet red. Your pain brought tears to my eyes."
My sunburn healed, I arrived back home tan and slim. To my astonishment, my personal trainer "sister" had trimmed me down to fit into her itty bitty yellow bikini.
Love of travel replaced housecleaning as my favorite vacation choice.CHAPTER 3
The Ironing Board—Five Generations
A long association,
The Ironing Board and I.
Standards are high.
Grandma Dina, early in the century,
Took in washing and ironing
To earn a living.
Had no education
For any other occupation.
Grandma's washing machine
Had a handle
To turn manually.
Black and heavy,
Not shiny electric.
In Mama's time
Women devoted their lives
To being good housewives.
Mama's washing machine
But still ... a wringer to feed.
Twin boards in the kitchen
When I was ten.
Learned ironing basics then.
With a hiss of steam,
Fresh scent released
Of air-dried clean.
The smell of starch.
Clothes sprinkled precise
And rolled up tight.
In my own home
Automatic washer / dryer,
A spray iron much lighter.
My Ironing Board and I
Had starch that sprayed ...
We used it rarely.
On my Ironing Board,
A parade of clean clothing
Reviewing week's happenings.
I received an education
But not expectation
To have an occupation.
Behind my Ironing Board,
I ponder pressing problems
Of working mothers.
Magazines monthly rave:
Working mothers damage families
Ignore ironing board need.
No Ironing Board necessary
When they marry.
New age— embraced.
Facebook, Twitter, and texting reign.
Canning Conversations 1970s
Grandma Dina and my parents instilled the work ethic in me. However, my choice was not domesticity, but working outside the home.
My sisters-in-law followed the rule that when gardens produce, it's time to can the bounty. My husband claims he had to sneak into the garden to eat fresh peas and carrots because his mother canned them for winter. With twelve children, providing food was important.
Canning conversations dominated fall gatherings at the Karsnia farm. It was a competition! Each one bragged about how many quarts of pickles, pints of green beans, etc. filled their pantries. Everyone agreed they loved listening to popping Kerr lids. They all had stories about meeting bears in the berry patch.
Nobody wanted to talk about how fast I could type.
Slipping into the family as a non-Catholic, as a working mother, and as a non-canner, I'm not sure which mortal sin was the most offensive. After my in-laws realized their mistake, daughters-in-law had the canning clause added to their Catholic vows, I promise to love, honor, obey—and can.
Wanting to feel included, I planned a canning day. I knew the basics because Mama had trained me as her canning assistant. However, I'd preferred cuddling in my favorite chair with my nose in a book rather than over a kettle of boiling water on a hot August day.
Canning fruits and vegetables with skins involves a process called blanching—putting them in boiling water to help slip off the skins. This year, I'm canning tomatoes because I had the battle of beets last year. Sometimes the beet would pop out of the slippery skin so fast it would plop onto the floor with a red splatter. Other times, I needed a paring knife to part the beet from its skin. Either way, my fingers were stained and singed from skinning.
Two years ago, I canned pickles. Simple, my sisters-in-law said. "Just scour the garden dirt off the cucumbers, stuff them into the jar. Pour pickle syrup over, pop on the lids." I stuck to the kitchen floor from spilled syrup while I stood counting the pinging of popping lids. But it didn't matter if they pinged or not, the pickles weren't crispy. I blamed their softness on city water because the others had chemical-free well water.
Anyway, after hours of squeezing off their skins, my lovely red tomatoes were bruised and battered, half their original size, and squished into jars. The sink was heaped with tomato debris. The garbage disposal started groaning and grinding. And stopped. Flipping the switch didn't restart the overworked machine. I dug slimy tomato skins out of the disposal onto newspapers, stuffed leaking newspapers into the garbage. Rivulets of tomato juice dripped down from the counter tops onto the floor.
My daughter, Sherry, home from her teen-age activity, paused in the doorway, and doubled over with laughter. She stopped laughing when she had to assist me in cleaning up the chaos. "Please, Mom, don't ever can anything again." I promised. Opening a can of Green Giant is cheaper, neater, cleaner, and a time saver!CHAPTER 5
Tricky Squash 1997
My friends made me promise to write a cookbook when I retired from Boise. Laughs about my squash episode prompted their request for the "original" recipes I created.
My family shuddered whenever I tried new recipes from Good Housekeeping. Sherry, who received the title Miss Betty Crocker in Falls High School (a surprise because I had no idea she knew how to cook), remembers, "Your substitutions made the recipes fail." Well, I saw no reason to run to the store for one or two ingredients when I was short on time.
One crisp fall day, Leo was on the deck with our four-year-old grandson, Adam, shucking corn. Adam had helped Grandpa Leo pick fresh produce from Uncle Jerry's garden. Adam's parents, Sherry and Jim, were coming for Sunday dinner. Busy in the kitchen, I appreciated how much easier it is to cook squash since the invention of the microwave: prick with a fork, zap it, slice it, slather with butter and brown sugar, pop it into the oven. Picking out a second small squash, I pricked, nuked, and sliced. Oops.
I sauntered out to the deck. "Leo, I made a little mistake. I cooked the watermelon."
"You cooked the watermelon?"
"It looked like a squash."
Adam said, "Grandma, I want some watermelon."
"Sure, Adam. You can have some watermelon. We just have to wait for it to cool off."
Excerpted from Journeys by PHYLLIS KARSNIA. Copyright © 2014 Phyllis Karsnia. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. The First 500 Miles, 5,
2. Caribbean Adventures, 7,
3. The Ironing Board—Five Generations, 11,
4. Canning Conversations, 13,
5. Tricky Squash, 15,
6. Portuguese Surprises, 18,
7. Roman Grandeur, 22,
8. Viennese Splendor, 26,
9. November Phenomenon, 30,
10. Flying Free, Jayne and Me, 32,
11. Superlative Shopping Excursion, 39,
12. Cruising the Aegean Sea, 45,
13. April in Paris, 49,
14. The Birch Tree, 55,
15. Loppet, 57,
16. Patterns on the Mountain, 59,
17. Ageless Magic, 61,
18. Searching Dublin for a Cousin, 65,
19. London's Hop on, Hop Off, 69,
20. Ireland's Terrible Trouble, 72,
21. Excitement at Gate 38, 75,
22. Serching for Skeletons , 77,
23. Irish Wonders, 79,
24. Newgrange Mystery, 88,
25. Scandinavian Tour—Following the Flowers, 91,
26. Syttende Mai, 102,
27. Asian Adventure, 110,
28. Fearful Feng Shui, 115,
29. Experiencing the Facilities, 118,
30. Maax and Me, 121,
31. Bailey Goes to Texas, 123,
32. Quebec Quest , 126,
33. NYC Theater Blast, 135,
34. A Working Mother's Journey, 141,
35. Sisters' Journeys, 145,
36. Earthy Spirituality, 154,