Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Years and Miles of Sisterhood

     I'm going a bit off-topic in this post . . . to celebrate sisterhood! Vicki is my first sister (see photo below); she was in second grade (left) and I was in first grade (right). She was the straight-A over-achiever and I was the slacker who just wanted to get the heck out of school as painlessly as possible with a C-average. I resented memorizing stuff. 

     We were a typical small farm family in Pennsylvania during the 1950s who "dressed up" for church on Sundays (see photo below). We had to wear dresses for school, too; all through the 1960s our high school prohibited pants for girls. When we were home on the farm, we wore "overalls"; jeans before they were cool. 
     I'm holding a barn cat in my lap. Our mother wouldn't allow animals in the house. Too many parental rules! I learned early in life to never ask for permission, just do it, suffer the consequences later. I would convince Vicki to help me sneak a cat inside the house with a basket and rope to my second-floor bedroom window. 

     Dementia has been a blessing in disguise for our parents, now age 94 and almost 89. They live in assisted 24/7 memory care near Vicki's home in Maryland. They've totally forgotten their former marital problems. They're now pleasant together, showing an affection and mutual respect I rarely saw in my youth.

     And when my sister Vicki and I were 14 and 13 years old, we welcomed Maria who's from New York City, then age five, into our sisterhood. Our mother greeted her when she stepped down from the train; this bashful little girl with a pageboy hair cut won our hearts.

     Over the last 53 years our lives crossed paths every summer when we were youngsters, but rarely as adults. Now that we're all retired, we got together at Vicki's place last week (photo below). Why is it that Puerto Rican women look 27 when they're 57?  Not fair!      

  The three of us sisters had a wonderful three-day reunion, mostly laughing and sharing stories at the dinner table for long, four and five hour dinners with a bottle of wine. We laughed at all our foibles in life :) We're all animated, good story tellers with tons of facial expressions and body language. Not shy nor reticent!

This is Maria and Vicki with one of Maria's five grandchildren a couple years ago.

     Liz came into our sisterhood 48 years ago when all three of us were college students (I was a slacker in college too). Back in 1971 we visited Liz at her childhood home in Grahamsville, New York (photo below is early 1900s historic cabin made of chestnut logs).  We were all young and naïve, dutifully wearing skirts and dresses of course.

     Liz and Maria and me were bridesmaids at Vicki's first wedding (very traditional) in 1972. This photo brings us all big smiles of remembering "the way we were".

     Photo below is the three of us ten years ago, now older and wiser, with matching Guanacasta Seed earrings.  I hand-made the earrings from seeds I had collected under a Guanacasta tree in Belize.

Time flies by . . . . this is the three of us today celebrating sisterhood during a long luncheon at Vicki's place.

     Of all us four sisters, only Vicki found a man who was a keeper. Barry's a sweetie, and he happens to be a New Yorker too. Photo below is four years ago when they dressed up for the annual Senior Prom Night with our folks at the assisted care facility.

     See Vicki's buzz cut in photo above? When she's globe-trotting with Barry, which is frequently now that they're retired, she gives them both a buzz cut. It makes traveling easier (especially in third-world countries). So in preparation for our upcoming adventures in Iceland and Europe, we gave each other a buzz cut. Takes guts for heterosexual women to brave the world with a buzz cut!

      Tomorrow, Vicki and I board the night-owl flight to Iceland (I'm taking Barry's place due to his sister's failing health). In Iceland, we'll rent a 4WD Suzuki with a tent on top, travel the "Ring Road" and more. Because we're renting a 4WD, we'll be allowed on "F-roads" which prohibit normal rental cars. Then, we'll fly to Eastern Europe to visit a dozen countries over the next few months. Ole! 
     One excursion will be rental bikes on a 200-mile section of the Danube River Bicycle Path. Another excursion will be the Spanish Riding School in Vienna and later a stay at the cradle of those Lipizzaner horses in Slovenia, the Lipica Stud Farm. We've planned a mix of bus, train, and airline travel (prepared for different languages and currencies, plus head-coverings in Israel, Jordan and Palestine). And in the mix, we'll part ways temporarily in Jordan. Vicki flies to Dubai and I fly to the Gulf of Aqaba for SCUBA diving (weather permitting, the last week of October). On our return flight home mid-November, we'll stop at Iceland again for a few days hopefully to see Northern Lights.
     I'm not taking an Internet device but come December in Texas, I'll have time to compose my photos and thoughts for several blog postings. 

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Take me home, country roads . . .

     My road trip from Indiana to my sister's place in Maryland had me gleefully singing John Denver's song, "Take me home, country roads." I savored these West Virginia country roads . . . .

. . . over the many Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountain ranges (steep grades with 15 mph switchback curves), plus the historic Shenandoah Valley areas. Had the road almost to myself.

400 glorious curvy mountainous miles!
All on mostly Route 50, heading directly east to my sister's place just south of Baltimore-Washington International  (BWI) airport. 

     One night at a hospital parking lot in Grafton, West Virginia, I had this pent-house view of the town along the Tygart Valley River.

     I program my GPS for "shortest route" which is the slowest route, including dirt roads and all the little villages. That way, I'm guaranteed minimal traffic and maximum views. Most folks program their GPS for "fastest route". 

     I didn't give much thought to where my GPS directed me to go. Anywhere east was good. The GPS directed me to turn east on White's Ferry Road. Surprise! What a gem that road is! And in the rain, it's more precious than a $5 million Monet painting.

Little did I realize White's Ferry Road actually does lead to a real ferry!

     Ten of us vehicles crossed the Potomac River; they put me in the middle. I later wondered where the bridges were located on the Potomac. See the red star (photo below)? That's the ferry location. The only nearby bridges are at Point of Rocks and Cabin John, Maryland -- at least 35 miles of river with no bridge. No wonder the ferry does good business.

When I disembarked the ferry, I passed under a sign that said "Thank you" and I replied "The pleasure was all mine".

     The reason, by the way, I'm visiting my sister is because she and I will be flying from BWI to Iceland and Europe. We won't return until the week before Thanksgiving. I'll fill you in on the details, next post.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

This place matters! Crawfordsville, Indiana

     It didn't take me long to fall in love with Crawfordsville, Indiana. Reason numero uno, the indoor swimming pool! It's an amazing 50 meters long, the water temperature is perfect for serious lap swimmers, and it's never too crowded.

Reason numero dos . . . local produce! Valentino who immigrated here from Italy 12 years ago is proud of his large tomatoes.

And his love for his greenhouse is infectious.

He's got a restaurant in town operated by his wife and son, and a produce stand just outside of town.

     Reason numero tres, Crawfordsville has a great ProMaster certified service department; Brent Fields is their service manager (below photo) and Jeff Mowbray is their extremely efficient advisor. The York Chrysler-Dodge dealership in Crawfordsville replaced my fuel pump assembly (had a short, covered by warranty) after over-nighting the part I needed. They let me camp there for four nights and I could use my van to go places when they weren't working on it.

     Reason numero cuatro . . . the soothing train toots and the Amtrak train. Five days weekly, a passenger train goes to either Indianapolis or Chicago. Amtrak is a great alternative for old folks who don't want to (or can't) drive to another state, or to just take the train to the Chicago or Indianapolis International Airports and skip the longterm airport parking charges. It's something of a rarity to have a passenger train stop right in your own little town. 

    Reason numero cinco . . . summer weather is perfect for porch or deck sitting and to eat or grill outdoors without annoying heat, biting bugs and insects. Can't do this in East Texas. For a couple of nights in La Lair, I used two blankets.

Reason numero seis . . . home pride is evident.

Reason numero siete . . . extended library hours and no dang parking meters downtown!

     Reason numero ocho . . . a horse boarding farm six miles from town! The horsewoman-in-charge also favors pastures over stalls. And in town, there's a hospital, and at least two major grocery stores and major national retail places. In East Texas where I live, it's 27 miles to a major grocery store. And in a medical emergency, I'd be lucky to be arrive to the emergency room a couple hours later.

Reason numero nueve . . . very friendly city hall employees. I enquired how to demolish this wreck (photo below) and build a house on a lot for sale in town. Very helpful staff.

Reason numero diez . . . great cell phone and over-the-air free television reception! I don't have these luxuries at East Texas. 

So, am I smitten by this charming town or not? Maybe it's time for this old gal to upgrade her senior life.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Up in Indiana where the tall corn grows . . . .

Lyle Lovett's song has been playing in my mind . . . .

     I'm on my way to visit my sister in Maryland . . . crossed the Arkansas River at Little Rock, Arkansas. That's a very long barge being pushed by a tug.

Was very happy to leave hot, buggy muggy Texas!

Twas happy to leave behind the lubber grasshoppers back in Texas. They're as big and thick as my middle finger and "disgustingly beautiful".

Have been getting back into my "nomadic no-agenda" frame of mind.  Indiana's back road scenery is bucolic. Lots of cornfields dotted with beautiful red barns.

Don't know why these red barns warm my heart . . . 

 They have so much character.

In my spare time, I'm designing a barndominium based on the classic red barn. Just a dream for now . . .

Amish live in southwestern Indiana. I spent my youth in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, so I'm very familiar with this religious sect. See the buggy's mud flap?

     I'm in Crawfordsville, Indiana (just west of Indianapolis), unexpectedly writing this post in an air-conditioned waiting room at a Ram/Dodge ProMaster dealer. I spent the night in their parking lot so I could be first in line this morning. But I might be here all week because I'm service customer number 23! My fuel intake gauge (maybe) got busted by an over-zealous diesel fuel nozzle back in Illinois. Since then, I can't pump fuel into the tank (it spurts out, doesn't go into the tank) and my fuel capacity gauge reads "full" permanently. Hopefully by the end of the week I'll be back on the road.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Sometimes it's not the journey, it's all about the destination . . .

     As a nomadic retiree for the past seven years, it's always been the journey for me, not the destination. I love exploring those back roads and admiring rural scenery -- and it's fun to look for a good place to camp for the night.
     But this month, I'm switching things around. It's not the journey, it's the destination! Here's a clue, it's a weird city in Texas.

     Yes, I'm in lovely downtown Austin for the month of June; living in the West Line Historic District. Half-a-block away from me is a beautiful 1893 home known as the Wroe-Bustin House. It's on the National Register of Historic Places; one of many homes in this neighborhood on the Register. Adding to the old-town ambiance, several trains along Third Street going less than 10 mph gently toot their horns.

     And once again, I'm home and pet-sitting. But this time I'm smack downtown in a condo with wrap-around windows and a view to die for. This is my view at 5 AM.

Setting sun view at 8:30 PM.

     On the other side of the great room with 8-foot high wrap-around windows, I can see the sun setting. The windows have beveled joints, offering a panoramic view of lovely Austin.

Quicksilver has an indoor perch in this great room. He's as wary as he looks. I haven't won his full confidence yet, but occasionally he lets me see his playful side.

Angie is totally opposite; 100 percent trusting and inquisitive of everybody.

Her theme song is "I long to be close to you". She naps near me quite a lot.

     Every other day, I swim laps three blocks away. How lucky can a lap swimmer get!? On my walk to the TownLake YMCA's indoor pool, I pass the infamous 500-plus-year-old Treaty Oak Tree.  Heroic measures were taken in 1989 to save this tree when someone intentionally poisoned it.

     In fact, the oak tree near where I'm home-sitting might be one of the original grove of 14 "Treaty Oak" trees where Comanche and Tonkawa tribes met 400 years ago.

     There is a steep driveway from the street and then 31 steps up to the condo's front door (another 6 steps over to the carport), then another 15 steps up to the second floor, and another 22 steps up to the third floor.  Physical fitness is a requirement to live in this gorgeous home! A low-profile vehicle is also a requirement. I can't park La Lair here; it's parked two miles away and I ride my bike here.

      Biking in Austin is better than driving anyway. Austin's bumper-to-bumper traffic downtown requires much patience. Mopeds, scooters, bikes, skateboards and uni-wheels are popular alternatives to vehicles. See this scooter whizzing past me in photo below? Click here for story about the increasing "scooter wars" phenomenon taking place in Austin, Denver, Miami, Washington DC and Santa Monica. Click here for story on a rental e-scooter's debut in Paris. Apparently the e-scooter is making big waves worldwide.

Not sure what this uni-wheel is . . . and folks are still skateboarding.

I've seen quite a few of these gasoline scooters ridden by young women.

I've seen several fat-tire electric scooters, too. And rental bikes are everywhere . . . .

Dog walkers everywhere too. Austin has several dog-friendly restaurants.

Music at small venues everywhere downtown, particularly the East Austin neighborhood. This is the Elephant Room (photo below), a grotto-type enclave which is too dark for my taste.

     Live music every night at many places. See all the folks walking downtown in photo below? This was Wednesday about 7 PM.

     Walk Score (private company that scores a city's walkability) lists Austin at 88 points out of a possible 100. Bike paths, the YMCA, the parks along the Colorado River, and even a very large grocery store are all within a couple hundred yards of my home-sit location. The original flagship Whole Foods Market is one block away! This isn't just any old grocery store, it's a destination grocery store.

     Austin by the way recently made AARP's Top Ten Livable Cities (with populations over one-half million). But Austin isn't without its share of urban problems, click here for why I heard the EMS sirens frequently a couple days ago. 

     Soon, I'll leave this wonderful livable city and La Lair and I will be traveling east. I've got more "destinations" on my agenda this summer.