Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Greetings from the Iron Gates

Having just entered the narrow gorge where the serpentine Danube River squeezes between the snowy Carpathian Mountains of Romania and the rolling Balkan Mountains of Serbia, I've accepted the gracious invitation of the Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to take a day off.

Many days of cold, steady rain - coinciding with a four-day weekend to celebrate St Andrew's Day (Nov 30) and Romanian Independence Day (Dec 1) - were a tad grueling for me... despite the morning hoarfrost, the mud created by the excess of rain made the dike tracks impassable, forcing me to retreat to the paved roads where the periodic cars and trucks speeding by doused me with frequent showers.  Even the most impenetrable raingear takes a beating.  A day off to dry out, clean everything, make repairs, and re-wax my boots has been a good remedy.  Although I'm now out of duct tape and black thread, I'm set to resume the journey upstream.

A few hours with Google Maps and I've got a route sketched out that gets me to Belgrade for Christmas, including a deviation from the river to visit a little more of Romania before heading into Serbia.  Romania is nearly the size of Colorado and diverse enough culturally and geographically to warrant another pilgrimage here one day - I still haven't been to Transylvania or Romanian Moldova... one day...

A few noteworthy encounters came to me on the morning of St Andrew's Day... 

Even before mid-morning, I crossed a narrow bridge the same moment as a shepherd was driving some sheep across it.  The shepherd's dogs went barking, the sheep were agitated, a small commotion got the attention of some of the villagers nearby.  As I passed the first houses, an older man hurried up to the road bidding me in halting English to stop and talk with him.  I was sort of inclined to pass on the invitation, though his intent seemed pure.  I was having an inward day marching in the rain and the fussing of the sheep and dogs put me a bit out of sorts.  But he persisted, offering coffee - a magic word on a cold, rainy day - and announced his name as 'Johnny'.  I conceded.  With his own chained dogs barking and howling in the mud, he led me under a grape arbor, around some great baskets of apples, quinces, and pears, into a small unheated kitchen where a pot on the stove was boiling over with coffee.  He cursed, tossed the burnt coffee into the courtyard outside, and started a new pot, yammering at me the whole time.  He wiped two cups with his sweater and rummaged for some saucers to add some class, then finally sat at the table with me.  He wanted to offer more - a bone of ham, perhaps, some wet cheese from a small wooden barrel, some pickled peppers in jars of every description, a plate of meat (chicken? rabbit? goat? fried in small pieces, it was impossible to tell).  I had only been on the road an hour or so, so wasn't in the least hungry.  He persisted like an Italian grandmother - eat! eat! you're too small! you need energy!  I was more than satisfied enjoying the break out of the rain and mud and enjoying the coffee, hot and strong.  He boasted of his 200-meter long garden and orchard that he maintains and harvests for his own consumption - his children and grandchildren living abroad.  Wine! he remembered suddenly, and whiskey! please, you must try!! all homemade.  Too early in the morning for me, and too cold... still, he took me insistently to see the wine cellar, where enormous wooden casks and countless glass bottles full of red wine were stacked dirt floor to wooden ceiling... stay here, he urged, at least until Christmas... get to know the village, get to know Romania... eat, drink, be merry... he was quite the ambassador.  I was amused by his sweet and earnest demeanor, but twinged to see the situation with some clarity... these villages are already anachronisms.  Johnny was born and raised there in the house his father built and then went off to Bucharest for his education and profession - electrical engineer - and only returned on holidays.  His parents long deceased, their house became his for his retirement, but his still lives in Bucharest most of the time, a few hours' drive by car.  His own children and grandchildren have nothing to do with it or the bountiful garden.  Such is the case for most of the village's hundred or so houses - some abandoned, some only temporarily occupied, most falling in disrepair.  What will it be like in 20 years when Johnny and his companions are no longer there?  There was a bitter-sweetness to the encounter.  I managed to leave the dear old guy and head back out into the rain an hour later, but not without a large and tasty chunk of his homemade sheep's cheese, some fruit from his trees, and about a liter of his wine, a not unpalatable demi-sec.

A few hours later, I had a quick chance meeting with a bicycling Belgian/British/Canadian adventurer heading to Istanbul and beyond.  He was the first such traveler I've met, both being rather out-of-season travelers of the Danube, and we took a little standing break to chat between raindrops.  We met because I was on the paved road, a domain I generally eschew and was there only because of the bad weather; on a laden bicycle, of course, he wouldn't have been on the rutted dirt dikes where I prefer to walk.  In truth, although there can't be a happier pilgrim than I, some days have more noticeable struggles than other days.  I was sort of moping along when we passed each other, both equally surprised by what we saw.  Even after just a few minutes of our little encounter, my soul was lifted and the bounce I hadn't noticed was missing, returned to my step.  ...and then he gave me a few chocolate bars =D  Kudos to Matthew the bicyclist.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Greetings from Ruse

The golden leaves covering the riverside poplars when I began at the Danube delta have nearly all blown off in the three weeks I've been walking.  Some rainy days, but mostly pleasant for walking.  Birds, mostly, keep me company along the tracks and small roads I find, but also some wild pigs and many stray (and very timid) small dogs.  

Pilgrim life suits me well, as everyone knows by now, and I'm delighted walking in the day and finding people in the evenings.  My routine is set - if there's a Catholic church, it's there I approach first, if not, an Orthodox church; or monastery - and there are plenty, and those of all sizes and age - but if there's no church to offer a lone pilgrim hospitality in Romania, I strive to meet the mayor.  Town/village halls all seem to have basic accommodation perfect for a pilgrim and a staff happy to entertain a visitor.  My arrival has prompted little parties many nights so I can meet various residents and try many local specialties - cheese, chicken dishes, lamb, rabbit, and plenty of river fish along the Danube, of course.

Last Saturday, I was walking out from a rather isolated and quite primative monastery named Adancata - which I later found out means something like 'muddy valley' and could not have more appropriately been named.  Many horse carts loaded with baskets of vegetables passed me by from behind, always with a cordial exchange of greetings.  One cart slowed to a walking pace and the wife of the couple gestured that I hop up on the pile of hay where a pig lay behind her and her husband for a lift.  I declined politely, enjoying the walk and wanting to take a sidetrip to St Andrew's Cave (he slept there, the sign says).  Many hours later, the couple again passed me from in front, empty of the pig and baskets of vegetables.  Pulling to a walking pace again, the wife leaned out and handed me a loaf of white bread.  Such a sweet exchange we had that afternoon, though very few words spoken between us.

People are universally surprised to find a winter pilgrim to begin with, but one walking upstream along the Danube seems to be the novelty.  Plenty of Germans come downstream, it's been reported to me, by canoe or bicycle, but only in summertime, and they camp in groups.  I've been compelled - to my shame - to rely more on my very poor Italian language than any other, but I've equally been able to use German, French and Spanish far more often than English... (I've got to make an effort to improve my Italian grammar...learn from my weakness fellow pilgrims!)

After a worthy visit to Bucharest's old town, I've endured a very long, narrow, and high bridge crossing over the Danube into the touristic Bulgarian city Ruse.  Even in the rain, it too is a worthy visit - so adorable these old city centers are, culturally their own gems.  I can imagine the river cruise ships stopping daily in summer to unload hundreds of tourists for a few hours.  I'm perfectly happy as a winter pilgrim.  I've also been enjoying the many Roman ruins, mostly reflecting the third century efforts under Emperor Trajan.  I've found these near towns and well marked with information signs, but also quite isolated on bluffs with hardly an access road to alert tourists they exist.  Pilgrim land is full of surprises.

I'm having a terrific pilgrim time - still, there can't be a happier pilgrim anywhere.  I plan to return to the Romanian side of the river to continue my walk upstream.  I'll keep an eye out for another chance to update.  Happy day!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Winter is Approaching - of course it is!

St Martin was a Roman soldier of the mid fourth century.  The son of a Roman soldier, he spent much of his life along the frontier between the civilized world and the barbarian world.  The Danube River marked most of the border. This is a great setup for another epic pilgrimage, isn't it?

The pilgrim route this winter begins at the mouth of the Danube River, where it empties into the Black Sea.  I plan to walk the length of the Danube, staying mostly on the former ‘barbarian’ side, through Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, and Austria to the source in Germany.  I might pop across the bridges a few times into Bulgaria. After reaching the source of the Danube in Germany,  I plan to continue along the German-French border through Luxembourg and back to France visiting important Gallic places and places specifically important to St Martin.  St Martin is one of the few saints shared enthusiastically in the modern Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox cultures. Sexy Roman soldier with the red cape who established several monasteries and then became a beloved bishop. Many of the famed Irish apostles-turned-saints studied at his monastery in Tours.

I'll be looking for cool places to stay, like old monasteries and small villages, maybe a castle or two. Within a fortnight of the November 1st start, I'll be in the area of an Orthodox monastery that houses the tomb of Vlad the Impaler... in all my years pilgriming, I don't think I've ever encountered an impaler before. I'll knock on that door for sure.

I wasn't able to get a visa to extend my time in Schengenland - not enough time, really, although it is do-able - so I'll have plenty of time to linger from Romania to Hungary - Christmas will likely be in Serbia; New Years in Croatia - but once I enter Hungary just after the new year, I'll be on a bit of a race to visit all of the places I'd like to go and get to Tours by Easter... April 1st, no foolin!

I admit to becoming increasingly poor at blogging over time, but I'll plead for understanding. These days, fewer people have computers in their homes, really, they have hand-held devices. It's pretty tedious to update a blog with two thumbs, especially on a keyboard in another language, much less alphabet. On top of that challenge, libraries are increasingly blocking email access from their public-use computers. Forgive me in advance. I'll make attempts when I get to parish or municipal offices, but it's very tempting to yammer with my hosts than to go off and update the blog. Still, I'll try. I'll make efforts to encourage people who take photos with me to send them into the blog as well, so even without a note, you'll see what fun pilgrimland is.

Happy winter!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Into the arms of humanity

Continuing along the spectacular Katy Trail, we occasionally fall in with day trippers and dog walkers and through-going cyclists. Connections are made, comparisons of notes, we see how small the world is. It's uncanny how few degrees of separation there are among us all.

My companion pilgrims have by now experienced for themselves the magic that appears every day in pilgrimland. They trust without expressing apprehension and events that can't be planned happen to our delight. Several churches where we've spent the night have been unarranged, yet have turned out to be delightful encounters.

After crossing the Missouri River, we left cutesy Rocheport, having slept in the historical United Methodist Church, with a list of potential churches that would work for us for the next night, but had no contact information, I went on ahead [oh, this is why the guys walk so much more than I do...I walk 3 or 4 hours a day, the guys walk 6 or 8, same distance, but the fellas take more time].

Using Google Maps as starting point, I strayed from the Katy to find Mt Celestial church that Google depicted as a suitable country church with a hall on the back but no phone number listed. Yeah..., no..., reality is, it's boarded up, danger signs, not at all acceptable for pilgrim hospitality.

Onward to the next closest church that had a phone number but no one ever answered.  I went, found no one, no phone number listed anywhere, time to find a neighbor, anyone with info about the church - could three pilgrims sleep in the hall. l spoke with some weekend workers on a water tower next to the historical cemetery, got a number of a local manager, called him, no idea of who to call about the church - he called back twice. He suggested another church a half mile away. I decided to walk there and to keep asking everyone I met. A jogger, a teenager out for a walk, a man walking his dog...no iinformation... here comes a man out for a walk. I explained, I asked, he knew nothing of that church but offered the church he attends on the other side of town "I can drive you and your friends there and bring you back in the morning". "Maybe, I'll take your number and see how it goes at the church at the next corner."

An hour later, my companions and I were with Jim-the-Methodist going to his church across town. The encounter was somehow predestined. The hospitality was fantastic, the reception in their community on a Sunday night, so open, so welcoming of strangers. They were enjoying youth night - jam session in the basement, a movie, nachos for dinner...20 middle and high schoolers with a handful of parent's:  pilgrims? what's a pilgrim? We three pilgrims sat at different tables telling tales of pilgrimland. An encounter that could not have been scheduled in advance. Angels nudged us together. Everyone benefited from the experience.

I credit my co-pilgrims for their trust. Someone once commented that what I do is like the childhood game - "do you trust me? fall back into my arms and I'll catch you" I do this every day as a pilgrim - fall back into the arms of humanity trusting that humanity will catch me, and they always do. This time, my pilgrim pals released the need to have a plan and locking elbows with me fell back together. Pilgrimland rocks. The Community United Methodist Church was our collective angel last night. Wonderful.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Halfway Day

Time flies when you're getting rained on.  As we finished the first stage of our journey - the farm-road section - the sunny breezy spring weather gave over to exceptionally heavy rain.  Pilgrim life...we walk in the rain.  We listen to reason when it comes to lightning blasting in an adjacent field. Farmers have been taking care of us.  We discovered in this fieldtest of ours that a key bridge is designed to let a river pass over it in heavy rain and the detour involves a long stretch on a narrow highway.  Listen to the locals. Wet weather adds 2 miles to our route.

After getting into Clinton on 81 miles of gravel farm roads, we stepped onto the Katy Trail, a perfectly surfaced bicycling and walking path, high and dry and rather direct.  It is a superb way to go, surprisingly easier on mind and foot, since no thinking is necessary beyond direction...keep heading east.

So quickly, it seems to me (but maybe not my companions who enjoy many more hours walking every day than I) we've just finished the second stage adding 77 miles to the first. This stage along the Katy Trail wends through the countryside and its old farmsteads and small towns, in some cases ghost towns.  The trail heads have very nice information panels and annotated old photos revealing the historical points cherished by the residents. Park benches add convenience for foot pilgrims.

There has been no hardship in finding accommodation within our design bracket of every 10 to 15 miles, averaging 13 miles - a half marathon - with a maximum of 16.  Seven nights we were hosted by the local Catholic church, although four of those nights we were accommodated in the homes of parishioners; five nights we were hosted by local Protestant churches; one night we slept in the local community hall, but only because it was easier for a local resident to confirm with other residents than with the church elders of the Protestant church.

We've now reached the Missouri River, the end of our second stage and a few miles short of the halfway point. From here to the destination, the Katy Trail travels right along the riverbank.  Our patron St Rose Philippine took the steamboat on the river back in the day. We'll walk downstream on the trail.

We've walked in high spirits 158 miles in 12 days and have 176 miles to go in the next 13 days.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Nice Time Walking in the Rain

Rolling thunder makes a nice soundtrack across the heartland.  The three of us began our pilgrimage from Mound City, Kansas on Monday and now on Saturday have reached Clinton, Missouri, 81 miles east: three days in breezy sunshine and two days in pouring rain.  Angus cattle watch us as we walk along the gravel roads, some horses, too; friendly pet dogs follow us. A graceful owl swooped by one afternoon, all sorts of other birds...even in the rain, it's a pleasant, peaceful walk.

We've been warmly received every night, and being a group of only three pilgrims, we've been invited into homes several nights - that means high comfort for pilgrims.  Third night out, a hamlet was happy to open the community center for us, being easier to facilitate than trying to get permission from the committee of elders who could authorize our using the community church. The liquor store rounds out the offerings of the place. The community center works well for pilgrims.

Another day also ended without a town in range, but an old Presbyterian church sitting in a field served us well. A vintage outhouse in the yard out back gave some authenticity to our tribute to St Rose Philippine. A neighbor provided some drinking and wash water, and added a cooking burner with a pot so we could cook a hot meal for a simple evening.  A few church members came by after our meal, expressing genuine  enthusiasm that their well maintained church with its long-standing member families could serve us so perfectly. Pilgrims are welcome.

We've walked by a parcel of high-grass prairie, seen the world's smallest tombstone, and passed through the 'baby chick capital of the world'. Pilgrimland rocks.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

RE: Starting point in Mound City


Blessings as your journey begins!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sr. Glavin, rscj

Starting point in Mound City

Sent from my iPhone, so short.

Introducing St Rose Philippine Duchesne

The next pilgrimage has begun already.  I've met two pilgrims - Roscoe and Jim - in Kansas City, Kansas, USA to commence a pilgrimage dedicated to a teaching nun who came from France in 1818 and opened the first school west of the Mississippi the same year. Next year, 2018, the modern sisters of her Sacred Heart of Jesus congregation are celebrating the bicentennial. The dozens of Sacred Heart Catholic Schools in North America blossomed from her efforts then. It's my hope that our pilgrimage now will also serve as an exploratory expedition to inspire other pilgrims to celebrate the life and legacy of St Rose Philippine during her bicentennial year and beyond.

St Rose Philippine desired to teach Native Americans as a young woman in France. She had a bumpy ride during and after the French Revolution but eventually arrived in St Charles, Missouri in 1818. Starting several schools and accepting many women into the Sacred Heart Society, she finally came to the area of eastern Kansas in 1841 to teach the children of the Potowatomi tribe. The Shrine of St Rose Philippine Duchesne in Mound City is therefore our starting point.

Our pilgrim plan is to walk through farmland for the next week or so to Clinton, Missouri then get on the Katy Trail - a wonderfully accessible rail-to-trail route to her tomb at the shrine, tomb, and original school in St Charles, Missouri. In total, we will take 25 days to walk the 328(ish) miles (~500 kilometers). Most of the path is broad and flat. More than half of the distance is along the left bank of the Missouri River. I'm particularly looking forward to the many vineyards along the path.

We began our effort with a encouraging pilgrim blessing by Archbishop Naumann of Kansas City, KS in his chapel this morning and were driven to this starting point 70 miles south of the city. The shrine in Mound City can comfortably host pilgrims. Already, the effort to just get to the starting line has been filled with the joys that come when people help people... warm and friendly support that pilgrims need. Thanks to all who have helped us so far.

Because the school children of the Sacred Heart School in St Charles will be following us, everybody who who wants to follow us benefit with more frequent updates - promise!  To get more details about St Rose Philippine and bicentennial activities, visit without hesitation rscj.org.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Made it!

I arrived easily into Nagasaki City yesterday on a bright spring afternoon.  Bustling with tourists, a cruise ship in the harbor, everybody's excited about the blossoming cherry trees.  (I'm trying to see it, but - big whoop, a few thousand cherry trees... yawn.)  A bit sunburned now and in short sleeves again after the long winter's walk, I'm happy to have completed the pilgrimage.  An interesting pilgrimage, though nothing particularly dangerous - no major earthquakes or tsunamis, a couple of snowstorms, but no blizzards... no men with guns, forgiving terrain - the worst of the worse was a small spider bit that left puffiness - not even proper swelling, and then forgotten the next day... so, not boring, but a very tame pilgrimage.

Statistically: 166 days; 161 walking days.  139 nights hosted by some sort of Catholic community (parishes, monasteries, convents, missions, families of parishes) which is remarkable in a country with less than one half of one percent of the population being Catholic.  Eight nights hosted by Buddhist temples - all very impressed that I'm actually walking and actually mendicant.  In total, 5,607 kilometers (3,484 miles) for a pilgrim-life total (10 years) of 51,125 kilometers (31,768 miles).  As a bonus pilgrimage within a pilgrimage, I visited 22 of the 52 historic churches on the Goto Islands, which would be a lovely one to complete in a leisurely week or two on foot or easy week on bicycle any time of year.

While Japanese cuisine is not my favorite - a devotee to the sud-France palette of flavors - I failed to drop the standard annual bulk I work hard to gain in late summer.  So, I've finished this long winter's walk a bit ragged and tattered, but far from emaciated.  I'm not sure if it's good or bad, but it reflects the society I keep, I suppose.  Japan is a land of abundance.  I sat on many a floor eating raw fish with little sticks - 'just like our ancestors' and truly enjoyed the company of delightful and gracious strangers.

Computers have been difficult to find, and access to emails particularly an obstacle on this pilgrimage - I did try to update the blog regularly, it just didn't work.  I'll do better (I hope) on next winter's pilgrimage.  Next winter: dedicated to St Martin of Tours (for non-Catholics; beefy dude on a horse with a red cape and short kilt who did his thing in 4th century Europe).  As he had been a soldier along the Roman frontier, I plan to walk the length of the Danube River in Romania to its source in Germany, then continue to where he left his mark in cities of France: final destination - his tomb in Tours, for Easter.  Could be a bit of April in Paris next year.

Meanwhile, I continue to help other pilgrims in the 'off season' beginning next week with a 500 kilometer trek along the Missouri River in the central part of the US in dedication to St Rose Philippine Duchesne, a feisty educator who opened the first school west of the Mississippi River nearly 200 years ago.  Stay tuned.

Thanks for your interest.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Monkeys in the shadows

A few heavy snowstorms pushed me down the west coast into balmy sea breezes in a few hundred kilometers - out of winter and full into spring.  I spent some days in sparsely populated mountains and then along a beautiful rugged seaside between Akita and Niigata.  Beautiful as I see it, but the long distances between even small villages suggest it's something of a national secret.  The low density of people pushes me to find shelter every night beyond the world of Catholic churches...Protestant churches, Buddhist temples, and gracious families have opened their doors to me, and stamped my pilgrim credential, of course.  I move south, gaining light on both ends of the day, toward more population, more options for where to stay and what routes to take. Crocuses are erupting and plum blossoms are unfurling and birds are chirping everywhere. Every day's a new day in pilgrimland.

One exciting morning, leaving a family home with four generations and an impressive display of traditional dolls (one of the photos posted earlier), I announced that I felt certain I would finally see some of the elusive monkeys that day. After a long and solitary walk on the beach and among the cliffs, I reached a fishing village.  In a corner, tucked against a  mountain, I found an old Buddhist temple with a young priest - Zen, I was informed but couldn't detect on my own.  In the chill of the reception room, sipping the bitter tea and nibbling sweet bean-filled little cakes, the priest pointed out the thin glass of the sliding doors to the well-groomed garden...a family of monkeys parading along the edge of the garden for some extended minutes before disappearing into the mountain rhododendrons.  I was satistisfied indeed - monkeys! Finally.

The next morning, I started out early with the hope of reaching a town of size before dark. In the quiet just after dawn, alone on the serpentine seaside road, I heard some strange noise on the steep mountainside. I stopped, the noise stopped; I continued, the noise resumed. A game was afoot. They were well camouflaged, but I saw them eventually, scattered on the hillside walking with me and looking my way - at least five or six monkeys, and when I stopped walking, each stopped as well and turned its back to me, nonchalantly mimicking a tree stump. Companionably, we walked for a few kilometers together until the topography changed and I crossed over a bridge as they went up a side valley.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Greeting from Sanze
Greeting from Sanze

Monday, February 13, 2017

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Another Quick Update...

All thumbs and in Japanese - that's what I face when people offer me their hand-held devices to check my email.  I have a few moments at a laptop now to update before speaking this evening at an English language tutorial for junior high school students.

I'm having a wintery great time.  Things got a little hectic when I reached Sapporo - having a wonderful stay with some Franciscan sisters in the city - but had to fly out of the country in a snowstorm to Seoul, South Korea, and back again to renew my visa.  I went out, had a great time and great food with fantastic people in Seoul, and came back with permission to stay another 90 days.  Phew, that pesky administrative burden is done, and I'm back in the pilgrim rhythm.

Snowstorms have been frequent but short-lived, and the temperatures have been hovering just below freezing - nothing like the -40 degrees of the last few winters.  I've been hoofing it as much on snowshoes as on crampons, staying mostly on small roads in valleys rather than cross-country.  Towns have been where I need them, more or less, though pilgrim accommodations have been creative.  A highlight I could expand on when time avails was in the town of Nakatonbetsu... sort of in the middle of nowhere, one could say... out of the snow, into the town offices... could someone help me please... I'm a pilgrim and need a place to stay tonight... any thoughts?  People gathered, tea offered... heads put together, a few phone calls made... creative solution - the little town's little public bath and wee restaurant.  I went into the veritable kitchen of the community.  Half the town came that evening to have a hot bath, meet the stranger, have some food and conversation.  What a gem I stumbled on...the beauty of the town is that most of the people I met were not born and raised there, but moved there - from Tokyo, Kagoshima, Osaka, other places from the south - because they wanted the clean country life.  Wanting to be in a place gives so much vitality.  So if anyone is ever in need of a hot bath or good meal or general fun time in the north of Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, check out www.koganeyu-nakaton.com.  The low table pushed aside, a futon brought out, a bed for a traveler is there.

Having rung the bell at Wakkanai - the northern-most church in the northern-most town in Japan - I'm now heading south along the Sea of Japan.  I can't exactly see Russia, but it's there to the west.  Every day south is a bit warmer, a bit longer.  I try to convince people to send photos when I can... I'll update again when I find a computer again.  Cheers!