Being Hacked

Several months ago, I returned from a grueling 13-day excursion to China.  The people were delightful and the food tasty except when the entire bus got sick from something toxic. Then there was the fact we didn’t see the sun for the entire time due to air pollution.  While one worries about respiratory ailments  I also wonder about Vitamin D deficiency causing rickets from lack of sun.  I feel for the health of the Chinese.

Once home as I sat exhausted in my gray recliner pondering my visit I received a call. It was from my bank and they wondered if I had purchased $1800 worth of Ruth Chris Steakhouse gift certificates, $100 of Chewy dog food and registered my car at the DMV in New York State.  Hello, I have no dog and now live in Florida!

While I was unsure if this was an actual true call the representative did seem to know I had registered my excursion to China on my card. I had told no one of this trip.  I quickly told her if she looked at my statements my spending habits revolve around the Dollar Tree, Aldi’s, Walmart’s, Belk’s on sale days, and Ross and Bealls on senior citizen discount day. She requested I cancel the card and I agreed to this immediately.

For the next 2 months, I was without a card but thankful that I had a backup.  I completed various required forms and kept a copy of all I sent.  It annoyed me that this occurred and caused so much havoc.

As I spoke with others I understand this is commonplace and even my gal pal at TD got hacked in St. Augustine with outside gas pump purchases.  To the dismay of my fellow customers I now only run my card inside for gas purchases.

This stuff is scary and one wonders where it will end and the type of scurvy person who would dabble in such riff raff.  It is an ugly and disgusting breach of trust and as I ponder what good can come from this I sign on to my computer.

Since I was breeched on my yahoo account every time I sign on I must have a text sent to my phone.  I know it annoys my fellow library patrons who wish to have silence but it comes with the territory.  Each time I chuckle as I receive my new sign on word.

This morning I received KLZU as the sign on word. As I contemplated the word I wondered if this was actually short for Klzumenito the Russian hacker who bought the Ruth Chris Steakhouse gift certificates on me? Then  I visualize salmonella sprinkled on his steak.  There is justice in the world.

Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum

Charles Umlauf was the son of German farmers who migrated to Chicago in 1911 to escape anti-German sentiments. At 14 he was orphaned in his tough Chicago neighborhood however managed to survive winning a scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago. Post graduation the Depression struck and problems obtaining work occurred, however fate changed as he met and married, Angeline, with their partnership producing 6 children. It was also during this time his provocative and haunting work was noticed.

Example of his haunting work

Two very different sculptures depicting the family.

A realistic sculpture of Mother and Child

In 1941 he was offered and accepted a position at University of Texas at Austin where he worked for the next 40 years as an art professor and sculptor. He and his wife built a home on the grounds where the garden now stands and his donation to the City of Austin is a lasting legacy.

Then a passionate work, The Lovers
And some whimsy, The Skater

Umlauf’s works are found in the Met in NYC, the Smithsonian, and Houston’s Love Field. They run the gambit from impressionism to abstract, to life like sculptures. He worked in marble, wood, rose quartz, and onyx. Creating his sculptures using an ancient Lost Wax Method, from the classic Greeks, here are the steps:

  • A charcoal sketch was created.
  • Followed by a 3 dimensional clay model
  • Plaster was then molded over the clay
  • This was then sent to Italy where the wax was specially treated and fired creating a mold.
  • Copper and tin were then poured into the mold.
  • The final work was then chiseled away.

All this is explained in a fascinating movie narrated by Umlauf. What a unique and treasured gift Austin received in his donation of the Sculpture Garden.

Go and enjoy this must see..

This concludes my Austin visit. Great way to end the trip.

Top Picks: Austin and a bit beyond

Here they are :

  • University of Texas at Austin – this campus is ENORMOUS and fascinating. UT gives you a feel for how large the Lone Star State really is. The Blanton Art Museum is on campus, however, each time I’ve visited it was closed. Go for me and let me know your thoughts.
  • The LBJ Library is on the grounds of UT, an amazing place.
  • And while we are on LBJ, stop by his ranch 50 miles west of Austin in Hill Country. They continue to breed his world famous cattle at this National Park. Only in America, but hey, it’s Texas.
  • The Driskoll Hotel, where LBJ and Lady Bird had their first date. An iconic hotel in downtown Austin with Romanesque architecture.
  • Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and Botanical Gardens.
  • The State Capitol and State Museum. Check with Auntie Google for specific times but make an effort to see both. Great tour.
  • HEB Supermarket – phenomenal place to visit and get groceries. Bring your own bags.
  • F1 Track not a fan but it is there.
  • Take a drive south of Austin for ribs in Lockhart. Worth the drive. Cute town.
  • Bucee’s – watch for the signs on the highway and stop.
  • Barton Springs Municipal Pool – natural spring, phenomenal.
  • Mount Bonnell – great views.
  • Wineries – there are several in the area, tours and wine remarkable.
  • Walkways are many, Auntie Google to decide on your favorite or do them all.
  • Mayfield Park – see peacocks in the trees and visit the historic home.
  • Walk downtown and see the sites. What architecture!
  • And my new favorite which I will review tomorrow Umlauf Sculpture Garden. What a peaceful spot near Barton Springs.
See you in Austin

Austin Christmas Visit: Airport Review

Shortly after returning from Paris a Christmas visit to Austin was on the agenda. Having bought this ticket 4 months ago as a surprise to my daughter I was unaware she was already booked for her third season at Sundance in Utah. Oops! To my surprise a gig in San Antonio came through and she worked the Texas event and Sundance remotely. Isn’t technology grand?

Here we are, I am the one with the hat.

Upon landing in Austin I was anxious to see any changes to the airport. It had been 3 years since my last airport visit and they had recently opened a new wing.

There was the usual..

Statutes to important people who served the people. Nice statute of Barbara Jordan.

Busy luggage areas decorated for the holidays.

Then there was the unusual and funky..

Weird Austin walls on entry to the bathrooms.

A composting container next to the trash and recycling receptacles.

And what a phenomenal idea. Never saw one of these in an airport.

Quite a tribute to someone who did so much. Let’s hope it is to the man who caught those crooks.

And many ways to purchase coffee.

But my favorite were the dogs. Never saw so many in an airport. Guess it was home for the holidays. Here’s my favorite. Isn’t she a beauty?

Now that the Airport has met my approval, on to San Antonio where my daughter was one of the event helpers at a national Christmas party for 20,000 USAA employees. That must be quite a party. Catch you tomorrow.

San Antonio: The Alamo and Beyond

Alamo Monument

San Antonio is a beautiful city with much culture. In my review of June 15, 2019, the visit to the Alamo was omitted due to time constraints so here it is..

The Alamo

Interesting history with origins as a Spanish Mission then a period of dormancy with eventually the area becoming, “The Alamo.” Here US migrants and Mexicans lived growing a community of 3,000 to 30,000 in 5 years. A fight ensued over whether this was a Mexican or US territory. There was a Texas Revolution, with Mexican surrender, however the Mexican general returned with 6000 soldiers and 150 rebels fought to the end, with one of them David Crockett, former Tennessee senator.

David Crockett

All were executed except women and children by the Spanish with bodies being burned. From this battle comes the slogan, “Remember the Alamo,” and with more fighting Texas is born eventually joining the US. Quite a story. Hope I got it right out of respect for those who fought.

Tribute to the women and children of the Alamo.

On a lighter note across the way from the Alamo is the Menger Hotel. This historic hotel is a must see and visit on your San Antonio tour. They even have an interesting ghost tour.

Then outside the Menger are horse drawn carriages.

Last but not least, the River Walk, which is a short walk from the Alamo area. There are signs which makes the River Walk easy to find and entrances are at several locations. What a fun place, make sure you take the boat ride, and stop at one of the many restaurants for a drink and some music.

And let’s end with a Cinderella carriage ride…

See you tomorrow in Austin!

Venardos Circus

learned of this St. Augustine event via Groupon and glad I did as it made for a fun New Years Day. The master of ceremonies was a young man, as is the troop, and he explained 3 years ago St. Augustine gave them one of their first breaks, and now they are a touring nationally. They are at the St. Augustine Auditorium through 1/5/20, so pick up a ticket if in the area. I am posting this extra blog in the hopes folks will, especially those with holiday visitors.

The circus began with a show tune extravaganza followed by a gal who twirled over 10 hula hoops on her 4 extremities.

Then there was fire-eating..

And a aerialist team who thrilled.

Followed by audience participation with ringing bells.

And my favorite the silks.

What a great venue for Florida seniors to bring their kids with kids for the holidays.

France: I Bid You Adieu!

Woke at 2 a.m. though the alarm was set for 3. Unable to check in on line for my flight the hotel clerk told me to get to the airport early for seat confirmation. Besides check in concerns transport to Charles De Gaulle, (CDG), was another problem. I was told several hotel patrons leaving at 4 a.m were facing challenges getting to the airport.

While the bed beckoned I took a final stretch got up, dressed, and AP’d Uber. As I walked into the lobby the Uber driver was notifying me of pick up a quarter mile away.

Though I wanted the ride I had no idea of the location, had 1 bag, 2 carry-ons, and the darkness loomed. I texted back I had no idea of the location and within 3 minutes he was at the hotel. This was a good sign.

Upon checking out I donated the 10 euro subway card to the desk clerk as a token of appreciation for his guidance and walked out to the waiting Uber. The Uber driver assisted with bags and spoke minimal English.

The ride to CDG held no Paris lights and we passed through an intersection where police were beating a felon 10 feet from the car and more were running from a panel van to assist. Grateful the light turned I asked the driver about this and he stated, “unsafe area,” elaborating no further.

When we arrived at CDG the driver placed me at the exact terminal, assisted with my bags, and stayed an extra moment to ensure the old lady got into the terminal. While he was richly tipped, it was a nice touch. It is eight hours till departure. Sufficient time for an airport review. 🙂

Finding a bank of computers I quickly accessed my flight information and checked in. Whew!

Next, find a cart.


And the visit to the loo.

It is now 7 hours 15 minutes to take off, so I checked for a spot to rest. Several places were already taken.

Looks like an entire family on a camping trip here.

And somewhere under that blanket is a solo traveler.

Then there is this interesting place to doze between calls.

And while in my search I was unable to find the perfect spot to rest my head I did locate the perfect way to end this blog.

Lourdes Visit

Grotto Where Bernadette Saw Our Lady

The message of Lourdes came in 1858 when a 14 year old girl, Bernadette Soubirous, daughter of a miller, saw a vision of a woman veiled in white with a blue sash and golden rose on each foot. She was holding a rosary of pearls. This woman appeared to Bernadette 18 times from February to July 1858.

Bernadette went to religious authorities and despite their skepticism began an investigation. After much ado the wishes of the veiled woman were granted and Our Lady of Lourdes Basilica was built surrounding the spring which appeared during these apparitions.

The Spring

Visiting Lourdes

Start your visit to Lourdes at the Information Center. Here they have staff who can direct and understand your needs for the visit in your language. There are many daily events and schedules are available. Few speak English on the Church grounds or in the community.

The Church has an upper level

and a lower level..

It was in the lower level altar where Bernadette saw her last vision of the Blessed Mother.

There is a separate building for confession and in that building English mass is conducted. Most of the pilgrims at the Church are European.

Catholic Mass in English is held here.

There are healing baths. To have this experience contact the Church prior to visit to ensure availability.

Candle Sites are available in the Church as well as in an outside structure past the Grotto.

Stations of the Cross are present beyond the candle structure in the picture above and to the left of the main Church.


Every evening from April to October at 9 pm there is a torchlight procession of pilgrims saying the rosary in every language and singing Marian songs.

Because my visit occurred during a Marian Holy Day, December 8th, this weekend had a Torchlight Procession. It is an extremely moving prayer event not to be missed.

Other Concerns: Dress in layers with comfortable, thick soled shoes and bring an umbrella. For those with disabilities there are ramps, however, there is much walking for those pushing wheelchairs. Outside the grounds there are many reasonable restaurants. Gift shops are also located there.

To the left side of the main church at ground level candles can be purchased and masses obtained. There are also self service carts for candle purchase throughout the grounds.

Lourdes water from the spring is available free from faucets on the grounds. Bring containers or small bottles can be purchased next to the faucets or in local gift shops.

There are many places to stay near the church. Plan ahead and use a cab as driving the streets of Lourdes is a horrific experience. The streets are narrow, crooked, and sloping. People use the street rather than sidewalk to walk. Asto transportation from Paris, HOP Airline operated by Air France is a reasonable and efficient airline or the high speed train.

Access the Lourdes website for additional information.

My Lourdes Message

Several months ago when I decided to go to Paris thoughts of a side trip to Lourdes occurred. For years I had been giving folks the Lourdes water and seeing amazing things happen. It was time to pay my respects.

In checking web sites I found the trip long and expensive. Frustrated I said, “Mary, if you want me to visit, figure it out,” and went to bed. In the morning I woke and switched on my email. Priceline, which I never use as I am an Expedia gal, was my first email letting me know there was a $100 round trip flight from Orly to Lourdes. The next email was from Expedia stating I had enough points for a room at a villa in Lourdes. Taking this as a sign I booked.

Later I was told there was a high speed train available out of Paris to Lourdes. While I would have preferred the train I was already booked. As I boarded the plane to Lourdes I heard even the high speed trains were cancelled during the strike. I think I have found the ultimate travel agent.

When I relayed this story to my gal pal at the post office she said, “I guess she wanted you to come,” and that she did.

My New Travel Agent 1-800-BVM

Orly Airport to Lourdes

Left for the Orly Airport flight at 0530 which was 4 hours pre-flight in the hopes it would provide ample time to get to my destination. The first step on this journey was an Uber and he arrived 3 minutes post email. The driver spoke no English so it was a quiet ride through a glowing Paris with Christmas decorations and lights.

Arrived at the Le Bus Direct location at 0550. It was scary dark in an area with homeless sleeping about but a friendly man in a business suit approached and gave me instructions on the process. I smiled and thanked him grateful he departed after informing me of what to do.

The 0605 bus arrived and I was allowed on though booked for a 0645 passage. There were 4 passengers on the bus and one with a dog who gave much love.

The 30 minute trip went quickly on a sparsely commuted highway. Once in the airport I snagged a man with supervisor on his name tag and received all details needed to locate my airline.

Since I arrived early my next step was to investigate the airport. Perhaps there is a job with this work as I certainly fit the qualifications. Here are my findings..

There was some Christmas cheer..

Clean bathrooms with a bit of an odor, but nice touch with the female personal care items machine. This is a new find.

Pricey stores..

A classy restaurant….

And last, but not least, an interesting mobile….

Since Orly Airport passed inspection it was time to move on to TSA. Here I found the staff pleasant but unaware if Lourdes water could be brought back on the plane. This concerned me as I had brought an entire suitcase to fill with bottles of Lourdes water. Mary will find a way.

Once on the plane I met a man of 22 also going to Lourdes. He sat on one side and a man of 25 sat on the other going to an annual reunion of college friends where they drink heavily for 24 hours then return home. Odd combination of seat mates, however both charming.

Pao Airport

As we neared the airport the pilot informed us that Lourdes Airport was closed due to the strike and we would land 30 minutes away in Pao Airport. From Pao we would be bused to Lourdes Airport. Departure went quickly and the ride through the French countryside a delight with scenes of the Pyrenees.

The Pyrenees

Once reaching the Lourdes Airport a rental car seemed the best route as I was unsure of the reliability of cabs in the area.

Lourdes Airport

My 22 year old seatmate came for the ride and upon reaching Lourdes we made plans to meet which never came to fruition and I began the visit happily alone.

Next Blog: Why I am at Lourdes and for those of little faith you will probably will remain that way and never read my blog again…….