Just Stay Home Fundraiser door prize winners!

Congratualtions to the door prize winners at my JUST STAY HOME FUNDRASIER to benefit Heifer Internatioonal:

Barbara Pettiti

Beth Correll

Fred & Patricia Kuri

Gayle Keaney

Jeanne Muellerleile

Jim O'Heir

Kathie Adams

Mary Pat Gleason

Patrika Darbo

Steve Ferrarese

We raised $13,254.50 plus a $5000 pledge coming in June!

This is our best year ever!!

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Just Stay Home Fundraiser

Every April I raise funds for Heifer International as I am committed to their mission to end hunger and poverty while protecting the earth.

This year I am specifically raising funds for their Armenian Match which means  every $1 raised  will be matched by $6 from the World Bank & the Armenian government.

Will you go to my “Just Stay Home Fundraiser” page and make a donation today? http://teamheifer.heifer.org/teamheifer_mariannemuellerleile

Thank you so much!

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Christmas 2012

Dear Loved Ones,

We’ve had a rather delightful year.

With Tom now in his third year of receiving epidurals and acupuncture to help maintain pain control, we ventured into the world of foreign travel via a planned tour. The big questions were: how will Tom manage, how much can he actually do, and would that be enough?

We chose a 16 days trip to Spain, Portugal & Morocco and it turned out beautifully.  The hand-picked tour-goers, many of them close friends of each other, were fabulous, and very welcoming of us and Tom’s wheelchair. When the group went off on the almost daily 90 minute walking tour Tom went to bed and rested up for the evening. His final assessment, “Let’s do this again.”  And so we shall.

The rest of the year was peppered with short trips to Carlsbad, Cambria, Santa Barbara and Big Bear, CA. I went to St. Louis twice: a sisters’ road trip to Branson (a complete hoot) and my alma mater honoring me (27 family & friends attending, many of them SLU grads too). We took four pals with us to  NM for the Balloon Fiesta (my Bucket List, ?), Tom went to Virginia for three weeks to see family and friends, and our final trip this year will be San Francisco for Christmas and New Year’s.

Tom has stayed the course in trying to develop chronic pain support groups under the aegis of the American Chronic Pain Association.  This has been a daunting task, rife with inherent problems and obstacles.  He now had two groups and is working on a third.

He continues with his genealogy research, thanks to Ancestry.com and some interested relatives.  He has also tutored grade-schoolers in an after-school program in the inner city.

As for me, I’ve kept busy with work: Adam Sandler’s THAT’S MY BOY, PARENTHOOD, THE MENTALIST, a national commercial for GE and THE UNTITLED NINA SIMONE PROJECT.

November/December has been devoted to cataract surgery.  I’ve been either pre-op or post-op for nearly 6 weeks now and it should continue for about a year as I do daily eye exercises in the hopes of getting my new Crystalens to give me perfect “near” vision.  The distance & intermediate vision is already greatly improved.

My spare time has been devoted to the planning of the Keaney Clan Global Reunion in Boston, slated for June 2013. However, my main philanthropic passion remains Heifer International (I sit on their LA Leadership Council).  I’ve had many opportunities to support their work, either by fund raising, speaking engagements or volunteering at their events. I am especially involved in their effort to raise 3.7 million for an Armenian initiative with the World Bank and the Armenian government.  If you’d like to learn more, please go to my Personal Page at http://teamheifer.heifer.org/MarianneMuellerleile

Merry Christmas and many blessings throughout the coming new year,


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Iberian Peninsula Notes I

July 8, 2012           

Hi Mom,

Tom and I are back about ten days from our Iberian Peninsula Tour.  What an amazing trip!

The whole point was for us to see how Tom would do on a guided tour.

It was clear from the stated itinerary he would not be able to do everything but we both thought that with the long stretches in the motorcoach and him sitting in front of the first axle, he might just really enjoy himself. 

As he says, he can stay home and have pain or he can go somewhere and have pain.

This all came about because our friend Teri Allen has a brother Jay who took over their parents Travel Agency years ago.  Now that Jay and his wife Trish are older, he has developed a tour package to pull his college buddies together with their families, and other related folks. We fell into the “related folks” group.

There is absolutely no question that traveling with this extraordinarily warm group, made the trip 100% better.  They are mostly Iowans, down to earth, well educated, mostly retired from service related fields.  I can’t tell you the number of times someone stepped in to push Tom’s chair, or to grab him a diet coke, or offer some assistance.  In this group, his chair was never a barrier.  Everyone engaged him fully.  Not always the case in a new setting.

The fact that Mary Pat and May Duncan also went on the tour meant that every day was filled with  funny stories and gales of laughter.

I know you’ll find this positively unbelievable but I did absolutely no research for the trip!  No planning whatsoever.  In fact, I didn’t even read the Globus itinerary booklet.  Ok just the few pages that dealt with what documents we needed for Morocco.  My plan was to go with the flow.

We decided  to fly into Madrid a full 36 hours before the tour officially started.  This was to give Tom a day to recover.  It worked.  I of course did my anti-jet-lag diet which allowed me to walk off the plane, get Tom in a bed and head out to see Madrid’s treasures while he logged some hours.

(Note: Mom, I’m going to ID my photos by Day 1, 2, etc. so you can track while reading this.  I use “pix” to indicate you should look for the photos. I’m also counting our pre arrival day, as Day 1 because it’s just easier.  You’ll see I took way more photos than on previous trips. The reason being I wanted Tom to see all the things he could not see. So every time I got back to the hotel we’d flip through the photos and talk about everything.  It was one of the best parts of the experience. I’ve put 348 out of 725 photos on Shutterfly)

The Hotel Augmar is not particularly interesting but it is fabulously located.  It is walking distance from the central train station at Atocha (pix) which features two enormous sculptures of baby’s heads! I think they are called Night and Day (pix) as one is awake while the other is not. Naturally the metro is just outside the station. Regrettably I did not have time to take it as time on a tour is always too short.

I lucked out by catching a mid morning Mass at the Real Basilica Ntr Senora (pix) .  Turned out to be my last Mass for the next two weeks. Also went to the Pantheon of Illustrious Men (my translation- pix) which was a mausoleum for some of Madrid’s famous dignitaries.  Gorgeous, passionate statues and beautiful mosaic tiles.  Got Tom over there for a quick walk-through. There was a large, old Catholic school I wandered around, a brick and mortar 19th century complex (pix) that looked like an orphanage out of Dickens.  Turns out it is an active rug manufacturing plant that boasts their rugs are in the Palacio Real.

I spent several hours sitting in the Jardine del Buen Retiro, a huge garden park. Decided to crack open James Casper’s book, THE FAR END OF THE PARK.  Without my knowing, he sent it as a present  arriving the day before we left.  It’s good, very good.  It’s nice to have a published author in the family.

As I broke open James’ book, a twenty something trombonist practiced his scales, others walked, jogged, cycled and strolled.  The knolls were dotted with lazy lovers and young families.  It was so very relaxing.

Although I brought workout gear in hopes of using it I was also smart enough to invest in a pedometer.  I wanted to make sure I got some exercise everyday. In the end I averaged 10,000 a day which is apparently the goal for beginners. Now I have to talk myself into using it in my real life.

(Day 1, Saturday June 16, 2012) Before our Welcome Dinner we met our Globus Tour Guide, Raymond Walsh.  Let me just say right now, there could be no other tour guide as charming, efficient, knowledgeable and witty.  Oh my he was a big plus on this adventure.

(Day 2, Sunday June 17, 2012) Our first day was handled by a local guide who got us around this capital of Spain. We mostly saw the city sites from our comfortable and spacious Globus bus, built by Volvo (pix).  Passing Puerta del Sol, a stop at the Plaza de Espana with its monument to Cervantes (pix), The massively impressive Parliament Building, Cibeles Fountain, the elegant Calle Alcala (their Rodeo Dr), and the Paseo de Castellano.  Finally a true and proper stop at their premier art museum, the Prado.

I’d been their before but remembered nothing from that experience.  We entered a modern wing and spent about 90 minutes going from one masterpiece to the next, crossing through Spanish, Italian and Flemish works, (holds over 7000 paintings) at a wicked pace.  And the place was mobbed.  Tom loved it although it left him exhausted. Oh my!

Most returned to the hotel to freshen up, or take a nap.  Tom hit the bed until I returned from an optional tour of El Escorial. An hour out of Madrid in the town of San Lorenzo, King Philip II had this Renaissance style quadrangle complex of slate and granite built in 1563. (Pix) Among its many treasures is an elaborate Mausoleum of the Spanish Monarchs. There were endless paintings and tapestries. It  is considered the eighth wonder of the world and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I took way to many photos (pix) so Tom could see it.

The Royal Library is in the Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial (A.K.A. El Escorial). We visited the Monastery of Lawrence (Augustinian) with its’ 60,000 books, including a wall of bibles and 5000 manuscripts, mostly in Latin but also in 14 other languages.  What was so interesting is that the stems of the books were facing the back of the shelf so as to not break them from repeated use.

Phillip became a religious fanatic and used to come here from Madrid to reside in a monastic cell “for his humble self” in this “palace for God.”  It really is a must see but bring a no flash camera.  I missed out on a lot of interiors because of that.

BTW, Phillip II married four times and they are all buried here.

Some stats: took 23 years to build, 2600 windows, 88 fountains, 15 gardens, 30,000 servants in 18th century, 12,000 doors. Hapsbergs came in the Fall for hunting, monks grew over 600 medicinal plants, royal bodies held in palace 30 years before being placed in the mausoleum.  Queen Christina came last year.  Two other bodies are still waiting.

(Day 3, Monday June 18, 2012) We covered a lot of ground today, traveling through beautiful Castile. We passed through the rugged Sierra de Guadarrama on our way to Segovia with its amazing 2000 y/o Roman aqueduct (pix). The town is perched on a ridge with the magnificent Acueducto Romano acting as an entrance into the old town which consists of winding, cobbled streets flanked by endless stores, bars, shops, terraces that ascend and descend, twist and turn (pix). There is a magnificent cathedral at the top of a winding hill, past a smaller church and a smaller square.   Got several photos of the Cathedral but my camera isn’t good for interiors. Did well on the exterior spires and ornamentals (pix).

I was the only one who decided to try to see the Alcazar (castle) as we’d been told it was a 30 minute walk from the cathedral, and this visit was only the first stop on our days itinerary. Well, it turned out to be a nine minute walk, tops. The entry was interesting and the castle itself imposing but the interior didn’t offer a lot with the exception of  an intriguing cellar and superb views. I zipped through it photographing what I could, then picked up the brochure to show Tom.  Turns out the Alcazar has been renovated, rebuilt, modified, over the centuries which I think is the reason it fell a bit flat, as castles go (pix).

We then drove on to Avila, birthplace of Sr Theresa.  I’m preaching to the choir when I say she founded the Carmelites.  How often I thought of you Mom. You lived her lesson on prayer as  being in conversation with someone we know who loves us. Just being in the enjoyment of the presence of God.

This little gem is surrounded by an undulating wall (pix). It has eight imposing gates, 88 watchtowers and more than 2500 turrets. Tom was able to walk to see the majestic church at its heart. He’d brought his fancy camera and was able to capture some wonderful photos.  And I have a great one of him shooting (pix).

We were in Avila about 90 minutes before heading on to Salamanca.  The city is another UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its beautiful buildings.  It’s rare architectural splendors make it a dream destination for many.

Tom was tucked in for the evening at the Alameda Palace (a hotel-pix) when I headed out with the group for a stroll through town (pix) to Plaza Mayor (pix). It was built in the 1730s and is one of Spain’s largest plazas. On the northern side is the grandly elegant and somewhat pinkish town hall.  There are wildly expensive apartments overlooking the square from all sides.  Even the nightly noises does not lower the value of these prized domiciles. The arcades and cafes host the Salamancan society nightly.  Huge TV screens abound as the natives stay glued to their “football.” (Our soccer) Coffee, drinks, tapas, all night long. We finally made our way to a charming basement dining room of a popular restaurant where we enjoyed a fairly watered down version of local cuisine.  I learned when touring the included food is generally designed to please the greatest number of people.  That was a disappointment.  Remedy is to not do any of the optional dinners.  Strike out on your own and look for locals congregating.

(Day 4, Tuesday June 19, 2012) We’re off to Portugal.  We traveled through Portugal’s highest mountain range (6,540 ft–kinda puny) the Serra de Estrela (mountain range of the star).  As you know this is a small country but it does own some islands, Maderia and the Azores. Seems like every aggressive group in history conquered this country.  The upshot of all this and it’s geographically enviable position, eventually lead it to being a global influence having expanded its empire to Africa, Asia, Oceania and South America, thus becoming the world’s first economic, political & military power.  It actually became the world’s first super power and also the longest lasting empire as it spanned almost 600 years.

The four hour drive to Fatima was broken up by stunning Moorish castles, all that is left from their expulsion by the Knights Templar in the 8th century.  Still, it is a strong presence as many have been transformed into resorts, restaurants, party space, and  hotels.  Still, there are so many, that some stand in virtual ruin.

You remember my trip to Fatima in my 30s?  After the extraordinary experience of Lourdes I found Fatima a bit of a letdown.  Not this time.  Tom was with me, my faith has grown, and I as a 63 y/o have an immense appreciation for life, suffering and hope.  This shrine to Our Lady of the Rosary embodies all of it.

First thing I did is fill a large bottle of the ever flowing water in the center of the enormous shrine plaza.  I wasn’t thinking.  Of course I couldn’t just throw it in my carry all to take home.  I’ve brought back water from Lourdes, Fatima and the Jordan River but 9/11 put an end to that.  Have to go online now, and just believe it’s legit.

You know I thought of Bing and her Lourdes water.  Anyway, Tom wheeled over to the modern outdoor chapel while I made my way to the Tree where Mary appeared, then on to the magnificent church they’ve built at the far end of the square (pix).  The huge stations of the cross in the portico was inspiring.  I hadn’t remembered those.

When I got back to Tom, Mass was being said.  Almost made it through communion when one of the tour goers came to get us.  We were the last to return to the bus.  Or as Raymond refers to it, the coach.

Since returning home Tom has said he feels a “bubble” about him, a sort of shield, that started in Fatima.  Whatever it is, it’s good.

After another good drive we end the day in Lisbon, the capitol. Now I remembered Lisbon from my trip 39 years ago.  I recalled it being hilly, as it’s built on seven hills. We had great views from our room in the Praca Martim Moniz (pix) and happily enjoyed spending two nights there.

Tom was exhausted so I slapped on a Flector, sprayed on the liniment and in to bed he went.  He hadn’t eaten much on the trip, due to his pain, so when he asked me to find a sandwich and a Coke, that was my priority.

Luckily I found a great little eatery about 8 minutes away.  I was back in twenty and Tom was eating. Shortly thereafter he fell asleep as I was freshening up.

Met MP in the lobby to do some exploring.(pix) Our tour guide Raymond took us to his favorite hangout for dinner, a little unpretentious café just around the corner from the hotel. After a wonderful meal, MP and I walked and talked through squares and fountains and parks. It was a wonderfully relaxing time, almost surreal as we’ve been friends for more than 40 years but this was our first foreign trip together.  It really was lovely and we felt so blessed to share the experience.

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Iberian Peninsula Notes II

(Day 5, Wednesday June 20, 2012, contd.) We stopped in the town of  Estoril which was  neutral during WWII and therefore became the hangout for the likes of Ian Fleming and Graham Greene. Wallace Simpson & Edward lived here, and the town boasts the largest casino in Europe.

Finally we arrived at Sintra, another World Heritage site, and a gorgeous town built on mountains. We toured the town in a bus where we learned that it produces 59% of the worlds cork and was home to Lord Byron where he was inspired to write much of his poetry. We then had about an hour to  explore on our own (pix).

Once back in Lisbon, I freshened up and Tom and I headed up to the hotel rooftop for a wonderfully romantic dinner (pix). We had terrific views, food and conversation.  I also recall him beating me badly at gin rummy!

I noted in my journal that I walked 11,690 steps today. The pedometer did inspire me to walk more but walking can’t compare to my 1 hr and 45 min workouts and a controlled environment.  I still gained on this trip as I did little to fight the food.  So not much new in that area.

(Day 6, Thursday June 21, 2012) Today my home computer got a virus which ended up generating 9600 bad emails as well as prevent me from fixing it while on the road. At first I was deeply frustrated as it was the first time I could try my IPad on the road.  Then I figured I needed a real vacation, away from the computer. So it goes.

Did get a phone message from our Home Exchange house guests saying a pipe had burst in the kitchen.  Was able to get a 24 hour LA plumber to come the next morning by 8 AM to fix it.

After a great breakfast we’re off to the Andalusia region of Spain, and it’s capital, Seville, about 275 miles south of Lisbon. It’s our longest one day journey as it takes about 4 ½ hours plus our hospitality breaks.

Our British tour guide Raymond had a special way of saying “Andalusia” which was at once rhythmic, affected, comical and adorable.  I can never think of the area without recalling his whimsical pronunciation.

Tom was able to get several photos from the moving bus of the many forts in Elvas. They are Moorish and ancient and mostly in disarray.  A few have been restored as restaurants and inns.

Once in Seville we checked in to the wonderful Ayre Hotel Sevilla. I wish I’d thought to take photos of these hotels but the truth is, I was so happy to get there, get Tom to a bed, and our bags unpacked, I just didn’t think to take photos.  We did have some lovely accommodations and as I recall this was one of them.

It had a pool, which I was able to use, a gym, which I did not, a very large foyer, a great breakfast and super great beds.  In fact, all the beds on the trip were terrific.  Very, very important for Tom as you can imagine.

Our tour bus then headed out for the Maria Luisa Park which contains the Plaza de Espana (pix) with it’s stunning portico, ceramic tiled bridges and water park in the center.

(Day 7, Friday June 22, 2012) We started a city tour by driving by gorgeous pavilions built by Spain’s former colonies for the 1929 World’s Fair.  Many remain and are currently used as consulates, museums and cultural institutions.

The city also has 40,000 bitter orange trees that are harvested for marmalade.  They look so colorful as they line the big city streets.

Seville is the largest city in Spain and is enclosed by what is called the circle road. We passed the Murillo Gardens names for the famous painter and the 18th century cigar factory where Carmen worked.  It is now used as a university.

Mary Pat asked to push Tom through the Santa Cruz Quarter (pix) to the Alcazar (pix), an 11th century Moorish fortress now teaming with stunning architecture. There are various interior gardens, salones, patios and halls.  Pedro I ordered the construction of a royal residence within the palaces built by the city’s Almohad rulers. It now forms the heart of Seville’s Real Alcazar.

This was a long day, especially for Tom but he did it all.  MP was a trooper and said she relished the time with him while I flitted about taking too many photos.

We opted out of the optional Flamenco show and dinner mainly because I’d seen Mexico’s National Flamenco dancers during my many visits to Mexico City.  Tom was too tired to go anyway. We ate in the cheerful bar/restaurant in the hotel and wound down playing gin rummy.  Perfection.

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