Friday, December 05, 2008

Sick, Sick and Sick

Lucky Grandma! I get to help take care of two little boys with pneumonia and to try and keep the smallest one from catching it, too. One of them uses a nebulizer every four hours; fortunately he did not have to stay in the hospital and was allowed to return home the night he was taken to the emergency room.

Emergency room! The thought of having to go there horrifies me. As the answer to the country's refusal to accept the notion of health care as a "right", the pressure has been placed on emergency rooms throughout the United States to treat those patients with inadequate or no healthcare. So for most of us it is a nightmare whenever we are so sick there is no alternative.

Fortunately, my daughter-in-law and grandchildren qualify for State of Washington medical assistance. Their doctor was so worried about the 5 year-old that she sent them to the emergency room for a bloodtest and x-ray. They left at 5 pm and returned about 1 am. The waiting room was packed with children -- some with broken bones and my grandson with a temperature around 105! (F) When he was seen the staff at St. Peter's were great -- but why does it always take so long? To be honest, emergency room treatment in the UK can also take a very long time, but I think the American nightmare is singularly dreadful for its time frame.

Both little boys are now on the mend and the care of their personal doctor has been superb. But the problem that face hospitals across the country are shocking. I cannot understand why, as I heard on television yesterday, 50% of the country thinks we should leave medical care the way it is. I am due back in Britain on the 15th of December and will be relieved to get back with my health intact. In the meantime I'm taken daily doses of Echinacea and Zinc in the hope that I can stave off any illness, at least until I get back.

So far my history of taking Echinacea and Zinc has been very successful. My son told me about it a few years ago when I complained to him about how often I got sick as a result of flying. So now whenever I fly I start of regimen of taking Echinacea tablets (4-6 per day) and Zinc (1 tablet per day) about two weeks before I'm due to fly. The measure is now being put to its greatest test! I feel pretty good, but as though I am fighting off something that doesn't quite have the where-with-all to strike me down. Just over a week to go and then once I get there there it's almost Christmas! (Scream, Scream, Scream)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Political Winds

Well, George W. Bush can't wait to head for the hills and most of us can't wait to see the back of him. And until that happens I sure don't feel I can get on with the rest of my life. In the meantime, the world is crashing down around us dollar by dollar and pound by pound.

And in the further meantime Democrats are screaming about Joe Lieberman's 'no fall' from grace and second guessing Barack Obama's apparent choice of Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State. The media is greatly relieved to have something to make 'drama' with, probably because the ratings have taken a hit since election day. Personally, I think the choice of Hillary is inspired.

I love Chris Matthews, but he is losing his mind, live on MSNBC. Then again, maybe I'm confusing insanity for enthusiam! I can't help thinking though that it sure would be nice if they would just let Obama and his team get on with it. But that is not the way with this culture of immediacy. Listen, all will be revealed in due course. But then I am as guilty as anyone of staying tuned in to political broadcast after broadcast, day after day.

It's been a long time since I've yearned to be back in DC. I lived there for 17 years and some of those years were the best. I knew the city very well and lived on Capitol Hill for 12 of those years. I was there while the subway was being built and took it to work on Connecticut Avenue for a long time. I witnessed Watergate while living there. I was even there to see Watergate being built!! At the time I was working for my Congressman from the then Sixth District of Connecticut, Bernard F. Grabowski. One of the other secretaries in the office had an architect husband who was a project manager at the Watergate. At any rate, the point I started to make before nostalgia set in, is that lately I have been wishing I was still part of that unique political buzz to be found only inside the Beltway.

So 'bring it on' Rachel, Keith and Chris -- I'm all eyes and all ears!

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Jouney: To Minnesota by way of Missouri and Iowa

It is definitely good to travel these parts in May! Everywhere was green and lush, the early spring green that is so welcome after winter. I really like Missouri and was surprised at how much it reminded me of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer! As we were passing near Independence I was hoping we would be able to find the time to visit the Truman House, Museum, and Library. However, time was not on my side and as it was late in the afternoon, the Truman places would be closed before we would be able to get there. So hopefully, there will be another opportunity one day.

We drove on to Bethany, Missouri, where we spent the night. Sweet little town, but nothing special about the hotel or the restaurant -- I think that is where I ate chicken fried steak -- don't need to try that again!

The next day we headed for Minneapolis by way of Iowa. What a great state Iowa is. I just loved the look of the place. The rest stops off the highway were gorgeous and even offered Internet access. The farms were picture postcard, Saturday Evening Post perfect.
Of course it didn't hurt that we had perfect spring weather to welcome us. The farmland was charming and historic in nature -- it is easy to imagine the land rush and the opportunity offered to those seeking a better life than they could have found in the East, as well as newcomers to the promised land.

Driving through Des Moines was fun -- especially the drive past the state Capitol building, with its gold dome and many turets! I wish I could have taken a better picture of it!

But it was the farms and farmhouses that I was most taken with -- The structures were quite reminescent of my New England, but with a midwestern je ne sais quois all their own. New England doesn't have that endless sky and and endless vistas of comforting farms.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Idealism of My Age Joins with the Age of Today

I graduated from high school in 1963 -- so was a witness to the Kennedy election and to the "promise" of his promise. As I was very young and very idealistic I was bowled over by the possibilities he represented for this country. There were many of us who believed that because he was our president we would have equal opportunity for all, health care for all, and an end to racial discrimination. The world loved Jack and Jackie, life was beautiful, they were perfect -- we the young adults of the 60's were not prepared for the brutality of the nightmare which would follow.

In September of 1963 the "poor innocent child" that was me, flew the safety of my family cacoon in Connecticut and boarded a train in New Haven for Washington, DC. The memory of the next few months is harsh both for my development as a young woman on her own, but also for the unhappy events of November 22nd. The assasination of John Kennedy in Dallas was an event so monumental in my life and for others of my age and idealistic nature, that I think our psyche's still bear the scars.

Scars that would be brutally re-opened only a few years later with the deaths of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. The Viet Nam War, the hippy movement, the election of Richard Nixon, the violence of the police -- by the end of the decade our dreams and our idealism were shattered, our hopes, the making of a nightmare. The nightmare was underscored by the violence in Chicago during the convention of the Democratic Party. Politically, there was nowhere for us to turn, to be heard. The world seemed to fall apart and then the 70's happened. We left our beads and idealism behind, got jobs, married, bought houses -- in a daze. We 'dropped in' instead of 'out' and gave it up. The promise of "Camelot" faded in the memory but lurked forever in our souls. As so 'life happened' for me and my generation.

Watergate was a shattering experience for me. I detested President Nixon and his policies. I wanted to see the end of him. But when the end came I was overwhelmed by the tragedy of it. When he gave his resignation speech on television, I wept. This was after all the president of the United States and we were witnessing one of the greatest humiliations in our history. Impeachment was avoided -- just. What was most impressive about this time, especially considering the way Congress has operated since, was the bi-partisan nature of the investigation and the committee investigating what had happened. The Congress would do well to study that time when Congress seemed to understand it's role in our government and rose to the occasion.

Make no mistake about it, impeachment is exhausting for the nation and should not be entered into lightly. I believe in the case of Watergate, it was necessary to do if the President did not resign. But I also believe it was in the best interests of the country for President Ford to pardon Richard Nixon. The country had had enough and needed to move forward.

The last President I lived under, and one I voted for, was Jimmy Carter. His presidency was much more successful that most people realize. I was not impressed with him at the time. Like many Americans respect grew with his reputation after he left office. Unfortunately, his presidency was hijacked by the Iranian hostage situation. I always felt it a sad footnote that the Iranians waited until the very moment Reagan took office, but it was touching that Reagan sent Carter to greet them upon their release.

Ronald Reagan may have been 'the great communicator', but he never communicated with me! Though there are now aspects of him that I find intriguing -- particularly the 'penpal letters' that were made public only a few years ago. I suspect that he began suffering from Alzheimer's Disease well before he left office. I now have much more admiration for Nancy Reagan, for her protection of him. And I have admiration for their genuine love and devotion for each other.

At the time I was living in Britain and was thoroughly amused by the lampooning Reagan and Thatcher took from 'Spitting Image', particularly the segment, The President's Brain Is Missing. For me, living in England, the Reagan years were embarassing. I was more accepting of George H.W. Bush, until he literally wrapped himself in the American Flag during the campaign and with the Willie Horton ads. Also I very much liked and admired Michael Dukakis.

And then the Gulf War happened, Thatcher was ousted as leader of the Conservative Party and the World of the 60's was about to enter once again upon the scene in the personages of Bill Clinton on the one hand and then George W. Bush on the other.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Politics and Grandmothers

For those of us lucky enough to have special grandmothers, or to have children with special grandmothers, or to be a grandmother Barack Obama will have touched our hearts in a very significant way. It's impossible to explain except in memories we have of the warmth these women have given us, the magic secret winks and smiles, the security of being loved.

As I watch endless tv coverage of election events today, the power of the event is being told by personal stories of the famous and not so famous. All of America seems joined together by the enormity of the event. I am so glad I am here to participate.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Boo! Jitters! Goosebumps

Cautiously optimistic. That's what all of us who remember well election night 2004. Those of us who believe that we really have the opportunity to elect a great President by voting for Barack Obama -- we are wrecks of anticipation and apprehension. It's, for me a Halloween weekend nightmare! But then I would not trade-off with John McCain's predicted position!

John McCain keeps saying "I've been tested" -- guess referring to what happened to him 40 years ago, and not to:
  • The Keating 5 Scandal. Senator McCain was cleared of wrongdoing, however, his judgement was severely criticized.
  • His decision to choose Sarah Palin for Vice President is another instance of bad judgement.
  • His decision that "The fundamentals of the economy are strong".
  • His decision to "suspend" his campaign and ride into Washington and end up having to leave with his tail between his legs when it became obvious to everyone that his presence was harming the bi-partisan work that was being worked out. Where is evidence of good judgement? Then claiming that he had 'saved the day' only to discover that negotiations had completely broken down.
  • His decision to not show up for the first debate unless a successful conclusion to the 'bailout' was in hand -- and then showing up ...
  • His decision to adopt Joe the Plumber as a spokesman for his faltering campaign without due care and attention as to the who the hell 'Joe' really is but carrying on as if he is really the middle class "everyman". Judgement seems to be lacking again ...
  • Oh, yes, let us not forget the judgement and decision-making behind the concern calls made to the unfortunate girl who claidmed to have been mugged by a black man who then carved a "mirror B" on her face -- ending up with egg all over McCain's face when with a little investigation it was proven that she had made the whole story up.

Well, I've voted for Barack Obama already. In Washington State you get a ballot in the mail and can either mail it or take it to a conveniently located drop-off ballot box. So no standing in line and no worries about my ballot being counted.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Journey: Oklahoma and Frederick in Particular

In 1979 my husband went to Frederick, Oklahoma to learn to fly helicopters. It was quite an adventure for him and although it did not result with him becoming a helicopter pilot in the end, it was quite an experience for him and one that he often speaks about. We knew that the Brantley-Hines training school was no longer there and that the factory had long ago closed. But we were curious as to what had become of the airfield and the town of Frederick.

The journey from Amarillo to Frederick was not long and the countryside was interesting enough, though not at all spectacular. I was excited to be crossing the famed Red River and hey it really is 'red' -- due to the red clay on the floor of the river bed. This trip really did make US geography come alive for me. Especially the dry landscapes of the Southwest. And with our venture into Oklahoma the plains, the midwest, the farm belt. Because of the trip I now have a sense of The United States of America that Barack Obama talks about. Nice.

The biggest surprise of all to me was how pretty the countryside is. It is possible that Springtime is the best time of year for some of these places. I expected Frederick and the surrounding area, in fact all of the state to be brown and dusty -- dustbowl-like, I guess. But it was mid-May and everywhere was green and lush and the weather was mild and pleasant. Neil found the turn-off to the airfield a few miles outside of the town. 1979 was a long time ago and it took some figuring for him to get oriented -- however, we were soon parked outside the terminal building -- the very same building that housed the helicopter school all those years ago!

The airfield is still in use but very quiet compared to the days Neil was there. We looked around the terminal building and the classroom/briefing room was still very much as Neil remembered it. We drove around the area a little bit and Neil was thrilled to see the once defunct train track now back in use and to witness a train trundling south towards the Texas border. The last time he'd been there the track was rusted and overgrown -- another encouraging sign of the rebirth of the train. And something not heard mentioned in the campaign rhetoric as a significant way of reducing carbon emissions, etc. etc
We drove on into downtown Frederick -- I was curious to see the place after years of hearing about this "town in the middle of nowhere". It seemed a nice small town, with lots of oldish houses and old-town America buildings from the 20th Century -- not so different downtown from Torrington, Connecticut, where I grew up. Neil wanted to check out the rather nice apartment building where he and his fellow students had lived and partied. We turned left off Main Street and up past the the railroad tracks to the back end of town -- but the building could not be found. We drove round and round for a while and ended up at some kind of club -- it may have been a golf club or maybe a health club -- anyway, he went in and someone there told him it had been burnt down -- seemingly by the town! So back we went to the place it would have been if it still 'were' and Neil could see where the building had once stood and where the driveway had once been. Now just fields. We learned later that after the Brantley-Hines school had closed its doors and there were no more students to fill the place up, it had become a haven for drug addicts and such like and the town had decided the building should be razed.

We had lunch in the local Pizza Hut -- for a good reason! In 1979 that was the local place
for social gatherings -- according to Neil, the only place in town. Otherwise you had to go to Lawton -- a place I never got to see. I had a small pizza and looked around. To Neil the place seemed somehow smaller -- it was a bit woe-be-gone, but the staff were friendly enough and business was s-l-o-w at 3 o'clock in the afternoon!
Next stop was a gas station and just as school was getting out. The tree lined streets were very spring-like and pretty and the price of gas wasn't as bad as it was elsewhere. And that was Frederick, Oklahoma. Not a bad place at all, for all it being rather remote from the rest of the world. Off we went toward Tulsa and a motel that is best remembered for being my least favourite of all the motels we stayed. I don't even remember where we ate or what.

The next day we clipped the corner of Kansas as we headed toward Missouri. A few days earlier there had been a terrible tornado which destroyed every house in the small town of Pilcher. We didn't see the town, but passed about 3 miles from it, in the northeastern most part of Oklahoma. From what was being reported on CNN a decision had been made not to rebuild the town -- which must have been sad for those people and I thought about them quite a bit while we were travelling in througth the area.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Getting It ... I Hope So

Long time no write... I'm paralyzed by fear and ennui. Politics has grabbed me by the throat and I may be choking to death. Last week I held my breath and watched pundit after pundit, toggling between CNN and MSNBC. I am now sick of punditry and having to take long breaks without the TV on!

My conclusion is that pundits have no idea what is on the public's mind. Truth be told none of them thought Obama had won the debate and they were all flabberghasted at the polls afterward. While watching the debate I was impressed by Obama and thought McCain horrible and rude. But at the same time I thought that the Public would go for that and not for the Lincolnesqe demeanor of Obama. Ho ho ho, shows me that that the public really does like 'nice' but 'smart'. Sure, it would be good if Senator Obama also shared with Lincoln his sense of humour and ability to respond with off the cuff (seemingly) rebuffs in the give and take of a debate. But that is not his forte and trying to make it so would probably come off as rehersed and phony.

The performance of John McCain reinforced the idea that 'he just doesn't get it'. He looked like an out of touch grumpy and bitter old man, holding on to past glories in the hope that they will catapult him into the White House, despite lacking the intellectual ability to comprehend the task he wants so much to be entrusted upon him.

He repeated over and over the mantras of the campaign trail -- especially when he didn't have the ability to explain coherently and cogently the thrust of his debate. It was almost pathetic when he resumed the 'I am a maverick' phrase we have all heard over and over again. And he messed up the campaign rhetoric about earmarks and 'you shall know their names'.

Perhaps I should wait for the Vice Presidential debate before I say what I think about Sarah Palin. Most of all my greatest single fault with Sarah Palin is the way she was chosen. This was the first presidential decision-making that John McCain made and the way that was done indicates for me once and for all that he is a dangerous, impulsive gambler, that would not bode well for the future of our country.

It would seem that the American people are at long last 'getting it'!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Journey: Au revoir Albuquerque on to Texas

As planned our final day in Albuquerque we went to the top of the Sandia, by cablecar, to watch the sunset. Fortunately for us the day was fine and the sunset not bad at all! It was a perfect way to end a really enjoyable visit, not to mention a delicious home barbecue afterwards. Once at the top we were glad to have brought some warm clothing as it was much cooler up there than down below. Several of our fellow tourists went up wearing shorts and sundresses and were totally unprepared for the wind and winter temperatures! Under the walkway were even some vestiges of winter snow! We had a drink in the bar, waiting for sunset time to arrive. It was nice in there and the prices were not bad. Lots of people were there for family celebrations and the like -- I think it was Father's Day. Next time it would be nice place to have a meal.

Wine finished, beers supped and out we went into the windy 40 F temperatures and were witness to a very reasonable sunset with lots of others clicking away hoping to get the perfect shot. Thank you Eric and Kristen for a really great time and for some of the best hospitality in the world!

What a great break for our trip. I really found New Mexico irresistable -- the sun, the sky, the pueblo style buildings, the restaurants and the company. With any luck I'll get to go back again soon.

We now needed to get back on the road again. More of Route 66 to see, old haunts in Oklahoma for my husband to check out and up to Minnesota for a few days with my sister and her family in Minneapolis and Afton.

Our first destination was to head once again to Skip Maisel's for some more Native American pottery -- both of us really enjoyed that place! I only hope that the place does not exploit the makers of the wares. It is certainly the best place for shopping ...

And so on our way to Texas and an overnight in Amarillo. The old town is supposed to have lots of yellow buildings -- but we didn't see any! We found a hotel in the chain hotel district and had dinner at a nearby Olive Garden -- Neil had not been to the Olive Garden before and was quite impressed. So fed and watered we had a good night's sleep. So much for Amarillo ...
We were now back on a schedule to get to Minneapolis in time to see my sister before she headed off back East for her Smith College reunion -- and Mark to Yale for his ... But first it was to Frederick, Oklahoma and Neil's rendezvous with the past ...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Journey: Santa Fe ...

Saturday is probably not the best day to visit a place like Santa Fe, but despite being a bit crowed, was well worth all the effort. It's just beautiful, atmospheric, charming and all the words that describe it in the travel brochures. We were very fortunate finding a convenient place to park just off the town square.

First things first ... lunch. Of course, a restaurant on the square. Of course, I can't remember which one, but a little Internet research and I have discovered it was the Famous Plaza Cafe! Apparently, it's the oldest restaurant in Santa Fe. And it was fun -- I remember more and more now that I looked at the website! It was crowded, but we were able to be immediately seated, so who's complaining! Which reminds me of a particular New Mexican food which I loved: sopaipilla. And the Famous Plaza Cafe served excellent sopaipilla! So I remember the bread, but nothing else, except an excellent speciality of the house, a delicious ice-tea type of drink. I know I was afraid to try any of the chilli's having read numerous jokes about how hot they are compared with what we from outside the southwest of the United States are used to eating.

As we arrived at lunch time -- around noon as I remember -- that left us only the afternoon for any site-seeing and thus we were somewhat limited.
We found a charming artisans' market and a lovely woman and artist, Julie B. Salazar, selling water colours of charming New Mexican buildings and vistas. I liked her a lot -- she was very friendly and had stories to tell about each of her works of art. I bought a print of a rather charming old adobe house in the colors only the desert and blue blue sky of New Mexico can boast. On the back of her work, she writes:
Everything that fascinates me about the American Southwest is embodied in this series of paintings. Specifically, the living spirit and beauty of that vast and dynamic landscape, as well as the history and culture of the indigenous people with their deep and abiding respect for nature. I admire the reverence Native Americans have for the earth, and the knowing that accompanies that reverance, we are of the earth, we are one.
Many years abo I was visiting Puye on the Santa Clara Pueblo. As I stood on top of the mesa amongst the remnance of history, and looked out at the immense distance separating me from my home in Santa Fe, I received a clear message. I needed to create my own story of honor, using my own symbols, and I need to start with the earth as the "Ancient Ones" did. That moment marked the beginning of an eight year story. The older I get the more I'm able to recognize that my own roots stretch deep into the soil, where I'm nurtured and challenged to grow.
My greatest desire is that within this series you see and feel the undying richness of this planet, in all its mysterious and awesome beauty.
We now headed for the State Capitol building in the hopes of getting on a tour. The building is very new and -- round. To reach it we had to pass by the oldest church in America, as well as the oldest known private dwelling. And would you believe the are right next to each other and located on famous old Santa Fe Trail!

The church was very interesting. People are still able to worship regularly here. There are three services every Sunday. A mission church, it is still served by clergy and has been lovingly cared for. If you walk up to the altar rail you can you can look through a glass floor to the original level of the building. As you enter, from the church gift shop, before you is an ancient bell made of gold and silver.

But just down the street stands the ancient Church of San Miguel, built in
1610 and the oldest church in the new world. The old shrine was built and
occupied a full decade before the Mayflower arrived on the distant eastern
coast. Perhaps one of the greatest attractions inside is the Bell of
Andalusian, weighing 780 pounds with four inch walls. It is the oldest bell
in America, constructed in 1356 in Spain.

Before ever arriving in the New World, the bell developed quite a history. In the mid 1300's, the Spanish faithful were at war with the Moors. It was a losing campaign for the Spanish, battle after battle won by the invading Moslems.

In a desperate effort, the Spanish Catholics vowed to construct a bell in tribute to St.
Joeseph, and prayed that in return he would turn the tide of war in their favor.
Villagers from miles around brought gold and silver to add to other metals that the "miracle" bell might be built. An inscription on the bell reads "San
Jose, ruega por nosotros"...St. Joeseph pray for us! Be it the miracle of the bell or not, the tide of the war changed, and eventually the Moors were chased from Spain, giving the kingdom dominance in the region for centuries thereafter.

And so we continued on our way to the Capitol building. And on the way through the back streets -- we discovered later we merely had to continue up the Santa Fe Trail about a block -- but nevermind, it was a pretty diversion:

And so we arrived at the Capitol building, all new and round, only to discover that of course being Saturday, it was closed!

Back down the Santa Fe Trail, back to the plaza and our car. It was a lovely day, with many interesting sites. But we'd barely scratched the surface of Santa Fe. Another place for another visit. I hope it's soon.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Journey: Respite at the Foot of the Sandia

I just loved New Mexico: the sun, the blue sky, the pueblo architecture, the restauarants, the house we stayed in and most of all our hosts! The weather was perfect for us -- warm bueat not too warm. Even now on July 5, it escapes the sweltering heat away from the mountains. Now I understand Albuquerque itself isn't of particular interest to tourists in the way Santa Fe and Taos are. Regrettably time did not allow us a visit to Taos, but next time, next time, next time!

My priority our second day there was to find out if my computer had bitten the dust, and how much it would cost to repair it and could it be done before we had to leave. We decided the best bet would be to head for Best Buy -- we knew it was probably going to cost $200 or more just to look at the thing. Anyway, on our way down Juan Tabo Drive at 1701 Juan Tabo Drive, to be specific, we saw the sign for Computers Direct. The sign said diagnostics would be done for $32.50 (or maybe it was $36.50). Ok that was it! In we pulled. So we dropped off the laptop and they promised not to do any work on it until they called us with an estimate. Two days later I got a phone call: my computer was up and running! Turns out, it really had 'bitten the dust' -- far too much of it over the years. They blew some air through the vents and voila! I bought some compressed air, took a short lesson on how to use it and handed over $41.00 and left the shop very very very happy! Since then it's worked better than it has for a very long time.

But alas, no computer meant I was way behind on my journey chronicles. I mean it's now July 5 and we got back to Olympia on the 25th of May and I'm only half way around!

We did relax a lot while there. Our first full day we went out for lunch with Kristen to the Flying Star Cafe. Since it was warm enough to eat outside we did. My Chinese Crunch Salad was yummy and I managed to stay away from the tantalising freshly baked desserts that tempted me as we entered the place. The staff was very friendly, the food was great, the weather was perfect -- what more could you ask?

The following day it was Guarduno's and my first taste of New Mexican food. I can't remember what I had, just that it was delicious. This restaurant has lots of character and I just love the decor. The service was impeccable and very friendly.

Our favorite shop was without a doubt Skip Maisel's. It's quite an Albuquerque landmark, located on old Route 66 in the heart of town. We returned three or four times to buy Native American pottery, figures, and jewelry at the best prices we found anywhere -- whatever the cost is half of whatever the price tag says. And it's not just the prices that are so great, it's the sheer quantity and quality of the merchandise, as well as the ambience of the storefront, the window dressing and the helpfulness of the staff.

Another place that I liked very much, but which was more expensive was a pueblo style museum and shop run entirely by Native Americans and on reservation land. I was sorely tempted to buy a very small but exquisite little pot, which had been designed and hand painted by a Native American who was there demonstrating his work. The pot had been shaped by hand and the design and story of the design had been painted by the artisan from stories he had been told by his grandmother. He and his wife were a softly spoken lovely couple. She designed and made jewelry that was also very fine. But the pot was very small and though I thought it worth the $100 he was asking for it, I didn't -- some day, I'm sure I'll regret my decision. They were from Acoma Pueblo, an ancient village also known as 'Sky City'. Another place, I hope I see one day.
On a rather cloudy day, we visited the Petroglyph National Monument, about 40 minutes from where we were staying. It has to be said the the National Park Service does these things very well! Trails are clearly marked and there are trails to accommodate every ability. Petroglyphs are ancient drawings in the rock ranging over a long number of years.
From the National Monument website:

American Indians and Spanish settlers carved their images on these
basalt boulders. The nature of the rock itself is what allows the petroglyphs to
be visible. The basalt is high in iron, manganese and calcium. The combination
of these minerals makes the basalt a light gray color. After long exposure to
oxygen and water the iron and manganese oxidize or rust. A dark shiny coating,
or patina, forms on the surface of the basalt boulders. The patina is called
desert varnish.When looking at the dark basalt boulders, you are actually
looking at desert varnish. American Indians discovered permanent marks could be
made by using another rock to chip off the desert varnish. Many American Indians
are able to claim cultural relationships to past inhabitants of this area be
cause they recognize the images as having deep cultural and spiritual
significance. Please respect the importance of petroglyphs to American Indians
and to the descendants of original Spanish settlers.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Journey: Sedona to Albuquerque

I can't do justice to Sedona. It's very beautiful and has lots of red rocks and streams and woodland. We weren't there nearly long enough. Guess I'll just have to go back again.

In the morning we left our hotel in Flagstaff by 9 -- as planned. Then Neil decided to play navigator and out of two roads going south, managed to choose the wrong road. 8We wanted 9A, the Oak Creek Canyon Road there and back, but managed to find instead, route 333 heading south but away from our destination. Instead of turning around and heading back to Flagstaff (men don't turn around) we continued on to Mormon Lake -- missed the first turn around the lake and took the second. Didn't seem much of a lake to me. Anyway, we had to take a dirt road to cut across to where we could get on Interstate 17 south to another cutoff toward Sedona. The dirt road was 11 miles long and took us at least 90 minutes to get down -- horrible dust red rutted road that it was. And there were many roads off, with turns and twists, we were never entirely sure we were headed in the right direction. That is until we found a cowboy coming in the opposite direction in his pick-up truck who said we were going the right way.

Neil says now how he enjoyed that ride, I hated every minute knowing that we had limited time and that it was all coming off Sedona, which I had partAnd so onto the I-40 heading East. And one fond look back at the San Francisco mountains.icularly been looking forward to ... in his perverse way I think he rather enjoyed my piss-off-ed-ness. So we 'drove through' -- stopped at a Burger King for the toilet and Neil's much-needed coffee and continued up the 89A. Which was very beautiful, even in a bad mood.

I am still so annoyed.

So back to the I-40 and a last look at the very beautiful San Francisco Mountains.

Interstate 40 still has a few short spurs of Route 66, one of which, Winslow, we bothered to explore. Not much quaintness here -- it was sad and woebegone. So much for Route 66 until later in Oklahoma.

Except for the Painted Desert and the Petrified National Forest there was not much to interest us -- and nothing we were going to stop for other than lunch. Too bad -- both look to be very interesting. It is a sad fact that time always plays a role in journeys. We never seem to be really free enough to bide our time, no matter how much we think we will. We'd probably still be on our travels had time and money really been no object. It's still great though, having heard about these places for so much of my life that I now have in my head where they really are.

Soon we would have to change our watches and the car clock for the first time. New Mexico is one hour ahead of Arizona time. It's interesting how often state lines and borderlands anywhere have identifiable changes in scenery. New Mexico had rocks that seemed to define the 'pueblo' look!

I think we arrived in Albuquerque late afternoon and my nephew's directions being perfect drove straight to their beautiful home and welcome hospitality. I just loved New Mexico and could have stopped for a very long time!

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Journey: The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon must be the the top of the list for must see wonders of the natural world. It's useless to try to describe the canyon with words, and pictures do not do it justice -- although I have seen some very beautful photographs. Is it enough to say that when I first saw it I literally gulped and my eyes filled with tears. It is overwhelming. It's a shame the word 'awesome' is now so over used ...
We entered the park on the western side and our first stop was 'Mather Point', which is probably the most spectacular of all the stop areas along Desert View Drive. As with other beautiful places we visited on our trip, we became rather overwhelmed by yet one more spectacle! However, I am not complaining -- just an observing.

My nephew had urged me to be sure to be there for sunset. Unfortunately, it wasn't possible to time our visit to coincide with sunset time and we wanted to get on our way to Flagstaff for the night. But then this is all the more reason to have to go again! The weather that day was disappointing -- quite cool and very cloudy. So we weren't witness to the drama of the canyon colors and definition. I should point out that we visited the Grand Canyon National Park and did not see the Canyon from the Native American Reservations, which we understand is probably for more intrepid visitors anyway. I would have liked to go on the 'Sky Walk', which is some miles west of the National Park on Indian land.

I do suffer some from fear of heights, and was amazed to find several places along the National Park Road that had no protective railings and where several people ventured out onto death defying promontaries! We stayed carefully back and when possible behind railings and fencing! I understand on good authority and the Rev'd Rod Garner slipped and nearly slid off the edge! At some point when we were viewing yet another vista, I felt sure I'd found 'the very spot' where tragedy could have struck!
Although the weather was cooler than expected and cloudier than usual, it did make for an interesting sky by the time we reached Desert View, the last stop on our tour of the Canyon. Fierce rain clouds that threatened by never reached us, made for an interesting back drop. I also like this picture below because the Colorado River is clearly visible.
I really want to go back again some day so that I can more fully appreciate what was before me. My brother and sister-in-law once took a trip down the Colorado and I wouldn't mind seeing the Canyon from that close looking up. It must be amazing. I envy those physically fit enough to hike and explore the many trails, but seeing it from the River that must be something else!
So we headed for Flagstaff, along the road that follows the Little Colorado and toward the San Francisco Mountains. Flagstaff is a lovely old town, on the old Route 66, with lots of intriguing little shops and restaurants and situated beautifully beneath the mountain. We found a reasonably priced motel and then headed out to find a restaurant. We opted for Mulligan's Sports Pub and Grill, which was friendly enough and excellent service, but not particularly impressive and the food not memorable enough to remember! If only my computer had been working, I'd have been able to do some research.
The next morning we set off for our next all to brief adventure: Sedona and the red rock country and our six day respite with my wonder nephew and niece in Albuquerque.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Back on the Road: Arizona and Route 66

Las Vegas at last behind us, we headed to the Hoover Dam. Lots of tourists and a bit disappointing, though we did park once in Arizona and took several pictures, though it was not possible to get a view of the dam proper from the Arizona side. We did have some confusion here as to time changes! We noticed as we crossed over the top of the dam, that there was a clock on the Nevada side and another on the Arizona side. We thought that this was because there was a time zone change, but both clocks showed the same time. How strange!

(Later, in New Mexico with my nephew, we learned that Nevada is indeed on Pacific Time and Arizona is indeed on Mountain Time. But Arizona does not change clocks for Summer Time and is, therefore, the same as Pacific Time!)

I note that as I write this several weeks after we were at the Hoover Dam that today the temperature is reported as being 99 F. We were there May 5th and the 80-85 degree weather was warm and welcoming -- further evidence that we did pick the right time of year for our journey! We were continuing to travel the Mohave dessert without the intense heat it's so famous for. The Hoover Dam, seen and photographed, our next destination was Kingman, Arizona and our entrance to Route 66.

Our first stop in Kingman was the Route 66 Museum, which I heartily recommend. Here Neil indulged me and bought a pink cap with Routh 66 emblazoned across the front of it! I wish we had had more time in Kingman, but not enough research was done on our part and I've since learned that there are several other places in town worth exploring, including the Kingman Air Museum. Anyway,. time was moving on and we were determined to make it to Williams via Route 66 that night as our stepping stone to the Grand Canyon, planned for the next day.

I had not been enthusiastaic at all at the thought of travelling the old road. But Neil had dreamed of doing just this for many years and I must admit that I am glad that we had the experience -- expecially in Arizona where much more had been done to restore the places along the way with real enthusiasm and humor! From Kingsman we headed toward Hackberry, Valentine and Peach Spring before getting to Williams. Suprisingly to me this was one of the most memorable segments of our trip -- there was the fun nostalgia of Route 66 itself, the bizarre Truxton Canyon with scenery unlike anything I'd ever seen before. It looked like moutains of rocks, even the slag heaps we see in England.

There was also the bleakness of Indian Reservation land, the grey and browness of the dry landscape. So it was somewhat of a relief to arrive in Seligman, see some sunshine, a train crossed our path, which Neil filmed and we shared some nostalgic Route 66 stops.
Seligman was lots of fun. I loved all the characters and the cars -- and was surprised that Neil had never heard of the Edsel! On the back end sit Marilyn and Elvis! Neil favored a different car! Lots of souvenirs to choose from, but I was happy with my pink hat -- worn in picture with Edsel.

Soon we headed down the road again toward Williams, our stop for the night, where we found a reasonable motel, my computer seemed to bite the dust and we had a great meal with lots of atmosphere and plenty of 'bikers' at Rod's Steak House!

Neil was amazed at the volume of railroad traffic and at the length of the trains. This one passed through Seligman as we were checking out a vintage covered wagon (without the cover! ) He was a bit confused as to how the 'movie' feature on my camera works ...

Friday, June 20, 2008

First of two Birthdays: Mine

Now for a moment to the present -- more or less. June 15, Father's Day, was also my birthday and the first really nice summer like day since we returned from our trip. Weather has been a dramatic feature of all American lives lately and the Pacific Northwest as been extra cool and extra rainy, while the East Coast and from California to Texas have been dramitcally hot and steamy. The mid-west caught in the middle of this weather front has suffered violent thunderstorms, vicious tornados and now catastrophic floods and levee breeches along the Mississippi River. So in fact, we in the Pacific Northwest are the lucky ones.
Initially the plan for my birthday was to go to the coast to further explore the beach due west of Olympia at Ocean Shores. However, while it was predicted to be in the 70's here, it was 15 to 20 degrees cooler there and we opted to discover Lake Sammamish from the State Park at the southern end of the water.

The only downside of the day was in finding the entrance to the State Park. We knew it was in the town of Issaquah, but we managed to go in the wrong direction, argue about needing to turn around and wondering if we would end up throwing in the towel and driving around the rest of the day searching for an alternative. However, tempers held -- just -- and we did the intelligent thing and asked some passersby and even though we erroneously ended up on the Freeway, managed to find the entrance and a beautiful state park it is.

The three little boys had a great time, Heejung was beautiful, the sun shone brightly, and we all wished we had brought our bathing suits, if only to splah around at the shoreside. The water was surprisingly murky for so few bathers, and I do wonder what it might be like when there are lots of boats churning away at the water just beyond the buoys. However, on my birthday, that was not a problem. It being Father's Day, I was also surprised that it was not more crowded -- though by the time we left most of the picnic tables were occupied. Nevertheless, it remained pleasantly busy.

One of my most favorite things of all to do as a child was when we packed up our food and went up to Burr Pond just up the road from my parents' house. I absolutely adore the smell of hamburgers and hotdogs cooking away and having a table lakeside. My mother, however, didn't enjoy it much and it wasn't long before 'cookouts' took place in our back yard and the lake became a place for spending the afternoon with friends. We left about 5.00 pm and after dinner at Federal Way's Marie Callender's made our way home feeling it had been a very good day!

Now today is little Louis' First Birthday! What a year it's been for all of us. Party and pictures to come!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Journey: Wrapping up Las Vegas, I Hope

Here we are still stuck in Vegas! Obama is the Democratic Party's presidential nominee, yesterday Tim Russert died and I can't get out of Vegas!!!

The Saga continues ... We stood a moment outside the 'entrance' (I now use this term loosely, very loosely) to the Las Vegas Monorail. My feet were killing me -- rubbed quite raw, to be explicit. We were both hungry and getting grouchier by the minute/second. There was momentary temptation to cross over the road to see the lights and fountains at Bellagio -- and how I wish we had done that. It was buzzing with people, to be sure. But we opted for the 'entrance' and disappered down the walking sidewalk and into the bowels of 'somewhere' that turned into a hotel with slots and no restaurants other than cafeteria/buffet uninviting places. We did check out two places in some corner somewhere -- 30 minutes wait -- we think this is de rigeur for any restaurant along the strip.

No matter who we asked or which direction we turned it was not easy to find the monorail station. And so we walked and walked first one way and then the other, the slots clanging in the background. It was all very strange. I limped along ever more slowly; Neil moved along ever more quickly before me. The search for the station seemed interminable. We asked guards, we were pointed to this direction and that. And finally around the corner after the swimming pool -- there it was: The entrance to the monorail station. Success.

Neil went along to the ticket machine. NINE dollars for the two of us -- but we splurged and victorious at long last climbed on board the car and I collapsed with relief.

Boy oh boy, were we dumb. One short stop later and the sort of melodious voice over the speaker explained that this was the last stop! What! I couldn't believe. By this time, we were both hating Las Vegas more than any place we had ever ever been to. What a rip-off place. What a -- a -- Oh hell, let's get out of here and back to our hotel and eat at the restaurant there. We asked the guard for the exit. He explained, but we did not understand his directions well enough and it took at least ten minutes to find a way outside again. And then it took minutes to orient ourselves to where the hell we were. Not far from where we had first entered the entrance to the station, I don't think. Then we had to find a safe place to cross the street. We had managed to confuse the Las Vegas Monorail with the Monorail that connects the Mandalay Bay Hotel and the Excalibar Hotel. So both of us were entirely unprepared when we found ourselves not immediately outside the Luxor, but across the street and down the road apace! Oh, headache, oh, sore feet. We were kind of across the street from the Excalibar. And so continued the trek back to the Luxor, which was long and wearisome and meant that we complained a lot. And of course we were full of regret at ever having come to this god-forsaken place, etc. etc.

We found our way back, found a restaurant, The American Bistro, which served adequate food that was very expensive for what it was. We both had the chicken, which was slightly undercooked. It was dark and dreary in there -- but at least we could eat at last. And no 30 minute wait, either. Back to our rooms, I mended my feet, as best I could and had a pretty good nights sleep!

The best part of the stay was waking up early to see the sunrise over the desert. Soon we were up and out and on our way again -- to the Hoover Dam and beyond. We drove up the strip and were amazed at how little we had seen of it, but not amazed enough to want to stay any longer. Neil says never again. I wouldn't mind going again with someone who knows what's what. But overall it's not my 'cup of tea'. Liked the fact we found a Marie Callender's for breakfast. I can highly recommend the Eggs Benedict!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Journey: How not to Do Vegas

It was still light when we left the hotel for our self-tour. It's definitely a mistake to do a self-tour when only there for one night. It's bound to be a cock-up. But when we left we were rather excited. There were lots more people than I expected on a Sunday night. Not for Las Vegas probably, but it seemed a lot to me. Shortly after we started out I took the only two pictures I shot that night. I had intended to take loads, but I just never did. I'd planned to get a definitive picture of the Strip. Then I discovered it was not an easy task -- it's just too big and too overwhelming to be captured by my simple skills as a photographer.

Soon after we began our walked Neil heard a familiar accent and we met a young British couple from Manchester. She was dressed quite unlike anyone else on the street wearing high leather boots as is the British fashion. We chatted to them for a short time and were amazed to learn that this was their 5th visit -- I think they had driven to Las Vegas from Nashville! We did get a good piece of information from them and that was to be sure to see the water show in front of the Bellagio Hotel. Fortunately, for us the hotel was not much further along our way and we were able to get an excellent view of the water show -- though in daylight, which I understand is not as spectacular as at night. But the our plan was to get dinner and then see the show again on our way back. HA! How I wish we'd thought to ask them for a recommendation as to where we might eat!

We took the escalator up to try and see New York New York. There were all these bars and pubs -- very crowed and lots of parts seemed to be unoccupied. I couldn't make head nor tails of the place. We certainly didn't see anywhere inviting to eat. Impresseive from the outside, but rather mysterious to us from inside. By the time we wandered down to Caesar's Palace, my feet were growing blisters and I knew that I was heading for the role of party pooper. But I did gamely try to soldier on and on ...

Caesar's Palace was a puzzle to us. You see we were such novices. We had no idea how all these hotels work. Everything is about luring you to the slots or the tables. Everything is about parting you from your money. Everything, with the possible single exception of the water fountains at Bellagio's, which are free! Back to Caesar's Palace -- it is huge -- and probably not the largest, but so many towers. We tried to find a restaurant, but I couldn't figure it out! We saw a bride and groom -- she all in white and veil in the middle of the corridor with all these tourists milling around as well. And lots and lots of noise as well as the continuous and strangely melodic slots humming away swallowing lots and lots of lucre. Oh, musn't forget the replica of Michaelangelo's David! Good lord -- it was not easy to get a good look at, posing in a small claustrophobic circle in all his glorified carerra marble. An exact replica, they say. It's probably cheaper to buy the ticket to Florence and stay there, than to risk all you own in Las Vegas. At least it and Florence are the real thing and not some ludicrous fantasy of -- but I digress ...

I summoned the courage to get to my feet again -- they still hurt. We found our way out and were across the entrance to the Flamingo, which was at least somewhere I'd heard of. We crossed the overhead bridge to get to the other side -- an also what seemed to be a restaurant. My hopes of taking a night picture of the strip were dashed there -- dirty see through partitions and I decided it wasn't worth the trouble. By the time we got to where we might enter the Flamingo

By now it was getting dark and I was getting hungrier. Both Neil and I were also getting grumpier. He was at least fit enough to walk. We descended to the sidewalk, it was now dark and the lights were impressive, though I was surprised not to be able to take them in as more of a whole. Lots and lots of traffic and people. We went in to the steak house near the Flamingo and tried to get a meal. Thirty minute waiting time. Now it occured to us this was probably not true -- we thought that it was an attempt to get us to wander around the hub-bub of the gaming room and part with some of our cash. So we left. Diagonally across the street we could hear the sounds of the Bellagio and Celine Dion singing to the fountains, or the fountains burbleing along to Celine, I'm sure. It had been our intention of wandering back there for the splendour of the lights and the water, but on our way across the street we saw a sign pointing the way to the 'monorail' and a ride back to our hotel.

Now anybody who knows Las Vegas well, is laughing at us as pathetic. And we were -- at least I was -- blame my feet. But the monorail was a big mistake. We should have crossed the street to the light show. We should have walked back to the Luxor. Should have, should have, should have.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Journey: On to Las Vegas

We set out from Bakersfield to Las Vegas around 9.00 am on Sunday, May 4th. It would be the hottest weather of our entire trip -- mid to upper 80's. I had never experienced the desert before and found the bleak landscape rather interesting, if not exactly inspiring. Into the Mohave and I was surprised to discover the mountainous terrain -- and a mountain of windmills! (Tehachapi)
We took a diversion to a supposed ghost town, Calico, but Neil turned around when he felt it was a tourist trap. En route to Calico we saw a small sign to Fort Irwin which was interesting to me as my son had done maneuvers there when he was in the army several years ago.
And so to the State of Nevada, which I found uninspiring from the moment we arrived. Lots and lots of casinos along the road. Everything is about getting the traveller to part with his money -- and trying to convince everyone that a wonderful time will be had by all. I had managed to book us a room in the Luxor the night before. To be honest I was greatly looking forward to looking around this famous playground and to experience the over-the-top atmosphere that so many of my friends and acquaintances had waxed lyrical about. I had once seen the 'Strip' from the air, and until that moment had no real desire to visit the place. But from the air it had looked very magical and maybe even 'fun'!
We arrived at the hotel around 4.30 pm. We booked in, the woman who took our details was professional and helpful, but clearly this was a very busy hotel -- over 4.000 rooms --. It was the only hotel where we would have to pay for the Internet -- $12.00 for the night. We did without! Nevertheless, we found the 'inclinator' and our room in the Pyramid. And I admit it was fun to look down on the goings on 9 floors below. Our room was very nice and the price was very good! In fact that was the best part of the experience for me. And Neil enjoyed just looking out past the sphinx and across to the airport.
But we were game to see the strip and wanting to look a bit chic made my big mistake and changed my shoes. Now I'm not so daft as to put on new shoes, but changed into a pair of slightly dressy sandals that I knew to be comfortable. However, since I had not worn them for several months, I would pay the price for my small vanity. Our plan was to walk the 'Strip' and find a good place to eat.
The best laid plans ...

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Journey: Yosemite Fulfilled

We've been back in Olympia just over a week now and I am desperate not to forget the many details of our trip. I can't believe I'm still writing about Yosemite when we later visited so many other places. But this was such an important part of the trip for me that I've not been able to wrap it up and put it away easily. However, it's now the last leg and soon time to go on.

We still had the last bit of the way to get to Glacier Point. I was now happy that Neil had insisted that we take this 'other' road. We were well above the snow line now, there were quite a few tourists, but still pleasant. When we arrived at the end of the road, which was, in fact, a large parking lot, there were several viewpoints -- all magnificent, of course, but still a treck to get to what they called 'Glacier Point'. It meant walking a distance -- which the guidebook said was about a mile, but which fortunately was more like a quarter mile and an easy meander at that on a well trodden trail.

As we approached the path there was the usual board explaining the area and its history. I did a bit of a double take when glancing at the photograph there -- it looked to me like the place where my father had stood and had his picture taken all those years ago! Indeed, I said as much to Neil, who thought the picture must have been taken somewhere else. At anyrate, we clambered along the pathway and finally reached our destination -- an amazing view overlooking the valley and Yosemite Village. I walked over to the right of this panorama and Neil to the left. A moment later he was at my side, saying, "You were right, this is where your father was. Come over here and look."
So miraculously and spiritually directed by my father, we ended up at the very place we most wanted to find, I sure! I owe Neil bigtime, of course. But what a special and memorable and fortunate turnout it was. Access to the rock is now prohibited, but I wouldn't ever venture out there anyway! We lingered for some time, enjoying our success and the 'moment'. Lots of smiles and lots of pictures.

There was one more stop I wished to make and that was to see the glen of Giant Sequoia trees at Mariposa Grove. Wow are they something to see! Unfortunately, we could not stay very long. It was getting late and we had a fair distance to go to get to our destination for the night, Bakersfield.

Now, we didn't see a lot in Bakersfield -- it was dark by the time we arrived. But we did find a great Travelodge Motel, with great rates and a lovely garden with fountain right outside our door. Free hot breakfast, too!

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Journey: Yosemite

And so we turned away from the traffic chaos and headed in a different direction. And all the while the scenery overwhelmed us despite the disappointment of giving up the goal of -- whatever. Perhaps 10 minutes into this new direction we saw ahead a viewpoint with quite a few tourists milling around -- even a bus load or two. We pulled in and there before our eyes was a breathtaking view of El Capitain and also Half Dome and waterfalls all laid out before us.

Many oohs and ahhhs later and we were again on our way. We had been told by the ranger at the park entrance that the road to Glacier Point had been opened the day before for the first time this year. I was still in a funk and wanted to get out of the park, but Neil decided that we should take the road to Glacier Point and so when the turn-off came, we began the long climb. It wasn't long before we reached the snow line and I was glad that my winter jacket was in the back of the car. Eventually, we came to another viewpoint -- again lots of tourists oohing and ahhing. Spectacular view of three waterfalls: Yosemite, Bridal Veil and Vernal.

And so they lived happily ever after!