Category Archives: Travel 2018

Travel recap

Wow!

In 2018, I spent 95 days on the road — more than one quarter of the year.

Those countries visited were

  • Russia
  • Austria
  • England
  • Sweden
  • Italy
  • Canada
  • United States of America
  • and a stop at the Copenhagen, Denmark airport, which counts but not really.

Over the time I’ve used TripIt, beginning with my hiring at Webster University, I’ve covered nearly 300K miles in 127 total trips. And not all of my domestic trips were included in those early years.

Scenes from the travels:

2018: key events

As I drove back home from home this past week (by which I mean returning to Saint Louis from my childhood hometown of Lee’s Summit), I started thinking about some seminal events in 2018. Truly life-changing events . . . or at least events that can help define a year.

Here are six.

Uncle Jim and Aunt Margaret, Grandma Carter, Mom and Dad

Uncle Jim dies. My father died in December 2017, and his brother James Carter died in June 2018. Uncle Jim’s death means that the last of my parents’ siblings are gone. With my parents also gone, I am now the eldest. I’m not expecting to die any time soon, but the past few months have been filled with a slowly-dawning realization that my sisters and I, and our cousins, are now the generation that cooks the holiday meal, that leads the mourning at a funeral, That teaches the young, that carries the torch in many ways yet to be revealed. And like it or not, the next set of deaths will be in this generation of Carter and Blocher cousins, all of us in our 50s. God willing, the reality is a few decades away. The thought, though, is sobering.

Yufei. Disclaimer: I’m still negotiating emotion and affection and attraction and distance and . . . .

But something has changed in me, and I’m feeling a love I haven’t before. Yufei found me in New York City nearly two years ago, and to answer the Gershwin question “how long has this been going on?,” I’d propose that we date this relationship from early June this year, when I was in New York City for a week to see shows and have some holiday.

He makes me very happy. The world is different place with him.

Messing Award. For Summer 2018, I received Webster University’s Messing Award for an international project that promises to bring change in curriculum. My project dealt with music curriculum at our Vienna campus. Spending three weeks and a day in Vienna was a dream come true for me, and whet my appetite for even more time there if I can swing it some day. I had opportunity for a weekend side trip to Florence. And I walked and walked and walked and saw art and ate loads of pastry and drank some good beer and some fine Prosecco. July was a good month! The project reached a successful completion, and is now in implementation stage.

Living abroad, even for a few weeks, helps open eyes to a wider world. This certainly was the case with me.

Niagara Falls. I was not prepared for the soul-clamoring experience of taking the Maid of the Mist into the horseshoe of the Canadian falls.

At the time, I wrote

The stunning, overwhelming, terrible, heart-cramping beauty of Niagara Falls rendered me speechless today as we sailed into the mist of the Horseshoe Falls.

My face was wet from the spray, and from the tears I was shedding.

Nature is so powerful, so glorious, and so awe-filling.

Since that time, I have described this event to others as one that altered my view of nature, and thus of life. In some ineffable way, my experience on that boat changed me.

Here’s video.

Variety Children’s Choirs. One of my projects this year is conductor of the Variety Club Children’s Choruses. We had our first concert earlier this month. The kids sang their hearts out. I’m eager to resume rehearsals in two weeks’ time.

Working with these kids, many of them without guile and eager to be part of something, has been a heart-warming experience. Their hugs are so genuine, and their pure joy helps me to feel the same thing. I’m glad to be giving back a bit!

Christmas Eve. I felt curiously sad on Christmas Eve (this is the first Christmas season without my father, and Yufei and I were apart this year and feeling it), and then arriving at church, quite disconnected from what had been my faith community for many years.

I came face-to-face with the reality of “you can never go home again.” This may have been the first time I truly experienced the strangeness of not being rooted in the place that rooted me.

I wrote to Yufei the next day:

You cannot go home again.  
And expect it to be the same.
Intellectually, I get this. 
No problem.
Affectively? OUCH.

You can almost always return to home, the place.  But you can never return to home, the actuality.  It’s gone.  It was gone the day you left home.  

And for me, now 25 years after I became Episcopalian, Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral is the place home, but not the actual.  The actual is in me.  So too with Lee’s Summit.  The house in which I grew up is long gone from the family. The house my parents bought when I started college was never home, and the town has changed too.  My parents are now gone. The nieces and nephews are aging, and two have their own families now.

What I felt more keenly last evening at Cathedral was the change in the people.  The folks who made up my faith community, my choral family of choice — they are gone or retired.  This is nature of the cycle of life.  The actual no longer exists.

From a site I read last evening while having a glass of post-midnight bubbly: “We’ll all just have to carry Home, the Actuality, around in us, until our own blood stops pumping.  And the Home, the Actuality, will have some new and just-as-unrecoverable shape: whatever Home is, it’s not something out there to return to.  It’s something inside, to which we can all return (or not) as we want, as often as we want.”

2018 in photos

Click on any photo for the full version! Happy end of year!!

Embassy Suites Westport/Plaza

I usually don’t blog about my hotel stays, but this particular stay has been frustrating. I stayed at this hotel for three nights this week.

My usual writing here is happy and hopeful. Today, however, is a tale of semi-woe.

I’m a Diamond member of Hilton Honors. I travel enough that I can tell when hotel staff is not paying attention, or management apparently doesn’t care.

None of these transgressions are major, but taken together, they indicate that something is wrong at the Embassy Suites near Westport and The Plaza in Kansas City.

While the hotel is showing weary signs of needing a makeover in general, the details were what got me this time:

  • A four millimeter chip in the top of a drinking cup, and a crack running another three centimeters down the side of the cup. Had I not spotted this, I would have messed up and bloodied my face.
  • Sheer curtains falling off the track where they are mounted, and falling apart at the base of the hem. Not just fraying, but literally falling apart.
  • A sink where the faucet leaks all over the flat surface where it’s mounted.
  • A bedside lamp that is shorting out.
  • Door handles literally falling apart on the armoire.
  • Obvious signs of rusty leakage on the ceiling by the bedroom window.
  • The single worst shower-head I’ve seen and felt in many years of being a loyal Hilton customer.

I’m on the premium floor, with ‘upgraded coffee amenities.’ On my second morning, I found that the K-cups were only flavored coffee or decaf. The two pods of black coffee I had used the previous morning had been replaced with decaf.

At least the bed was the usual Hilton-brand comfy, the pillows firm, the iron functioning. The responses to my frustrations (which I did share without making a scene) were swift, polite, and mollifying. Let me make that final point clearly: staff was apologetic and doing what they could on Christmas Day, and the day after, to fix the little details.

But my point is: these details matter in a higher-end Hilton property, and I should not have had any cause to even speak with hotel staff in the first place, had the details been tended to.

I had planned to stay here again next week, but I shan’t. Now I understand the favorable booking rates at this location.


An update on Wednesday evening:

The lamp, the fraying curtain, the faucet — all were fixed today.

But now the dust-ruffle on the bed is all ajar and sideways, and the cleaning crew left a long, very dark black hair on the floor of the shower room. It’s certainly not mine. It was stuck to the floor, so it got mopped over today.

My point here is not that I can be finicky, because lord knows I can, but that details matter, and I’m staying in what is supposed to be a higher-end hotel in the Hilton brand-list. Were I at Motel 6, I wouldn’t even be expecting things to be satisfactory at the level I do here. But brand loyalty and nearly $200 a night ought to be worth something!

The year 2018

Greetings to friends and family around the world. I write on the day of the winter solstice, and note with sadness that this world seems particularly darker than it did a year ago. I pray for light and truth to again be kindled in the hearts of those who lead, and who alone can set to the tone for this world.

May it be so.

Even with the death of my father in the waning days of 2017, my own 2018 has been significantly brighter than national and international news might allow!

Winter. A solo cabaret act. Loads of teaching and concert-going and the robust time of the year at the office. A quiet winter without any significant travel except for a quick trip to Naples, Florida to see Spencer go on as Prince Chulalongkorn in The King and I.

Spring. Begins with a trip to Moscow to discuss collaborations. Attend a concert in Tchaikowsky Hall. Tourist for full, long day in Moscow. Holy Week in London, with services at St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey. My former student sings Gerontius at King’s College Cambridge. Wrap up the school year with a sizable graduating class. Pack up and finish work on my father’s estate. A week in NYC, and confirmation of a budding relationship. Solo/ensemble contest brings solid results. Senior recitals with three voice students. Attend the Tony Awards. Celebrated the completion of 10 years at Webster University.

Summer. Begins with a week in Lincoln at a conference. Then to Vienna on the Messing Faculty Award for three weeks of research and curriculum development. Side trips to Stockholm and Florence. Allergies abound in Vienna! Wept copious tears at the sight of Michelangelo’s David. Start the new school year with days of meetings, and a robust new-student class. Yufei visits Saint Louis. Start work with Variety Children’s Choruses as the new conductor. Celebrate my 57th birthday with a day of museum visits in Vienna, and a screening of The Third Man at a kino.

Autumn. Auggie turns 8. Sabbatical begins in mid-October. Accept a gig with Circus Harmony as composer and music director for the big January show. Start traveling immediately. Chicago with Yufei. Toronto and Niagara Falls with my nephew Luke. Washington, D.C. (pandas!!) and NYC with Yufei. Chicago again. And Christmas at home in Lee’s Summit with my sisters. Attend multiple Circus Harmony classes and practices. Conduct a holiday concert with the Variety Children’s Choruses. Attend Joffrey Ballet and Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Over the course of the year I’ve witnessed powerful live concert performances. Viewed some of the world’s greatest artworks. Learned more about cooking. Kept up the slow renovations on a 100+ year-old home. Enjoyed some stunning meals (Stockholm, Vienna, Chicago, NYC all were gastro-delight locations). Worshipped in grand and beautiful spaces. Composed some decent music. Shot loads and loads of photos (I’m starting to understand light much better). Whipped up homemade plum jam and blood orange marmalade. Taken various architectural tours. Read more books than the year before, and also a big chunk of the Bible. Extended my cufflink-buying spree with a dozen new pairs. Imparted lessons about singing, and about life, with students. Loved on my dog. Caught up with friends in far-flung places. Bought more new eyeglasses. Fallen in love.

Not a bad year indeed.

May 2019 bring us comfort and joy and challenges that we can together address.