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Random words, pictures and thoughts of one who always wishes to be on the mind's road to discovery!

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Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Monday, December 29, 2014

What Is the Biggest Secret You've Kept in Your Marriage??

Bet it isn't that you are a former field agent for the CIA or that you've killed people doing your job! But that is the one Katherine, affectionately known at Kat by her husband, Dexter, is keeping locked away as he accepts a new job that will take them to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg to live with their two small boys. Seeing this as the time to divest herself of her CIA obligations and start a new life as an expat housefrau, she resigns from the Company and decides she will henceforth be known as Kate, to her family and to the other expat housewives from all over the world with whom she will develop a matriarchal social circle. Initially, all seems to go well, until one of these fellow wives, Julia and her extremely handsome, self-assured husband, Bill enter their lives and become the best friend married couple with whom they seem to do most of their socializing. Then Kate's dormant suspicious mind begins to feel as though she is being watched and that this couple may be hired assassins, after her? After someone at the Palais, over the grounds of which their apartment looks? As their friendship intensifies, more and more Kate's instincts become aroused until she finds herself contacting her old boss, Hayden and she starts to enjoy the excitement of the hunt once more. Eventually, however, her suspicions begin to focus on the activities of Dexter and what appears to be secretive behavior. To compound the usual cat and mouse life of a CIA operative and its dangers comes the guilt over the secrets she has kept from Dexter for over ten years and her dawning realization that he, too, has been keeping secrets. This creates some dichotomy in her--is it alright for her to hide her past life from him, but a betrayal if he keeps secrets from her? What does this say about the ability to trust one's partner? Between the mystery surrounding these fellow expats and the angst of determining the health of her marriage, Kate and the reader are taken on a exciting ride emotionally and physically, through the beautiful and accessible cities and country sides of Western Europe. Pavone paints his characters with a realistic brush, the bored wife who gave up an exciting career to clean her own toilets and yet, is torn about being bored, since she loves her family and wants to spend time with her young boys and her husband, taking care of their needs and being satisfied with coffee and shopping trips with the girls--boy, can I ever relate! The husband, good at a well paying job, not movie star handsome but good looking, in good shape, comfortable as an old pair of leather gloves, who obviously loves her and their boys; able to socialize comfortably enough with the other expats but just as content to work and go out seldomly when home. Julia, the childless sort of clinging expat wife who is married to the heart stopping handsome, smooth talking, well-groomed, confident man who knows all the right people and right places and moves effortlessly through the world expecting adoration, Bill. When Pavone puts him at the table with the other three, controlling the situation and determining the evening's events and even disarming a would-be mugger, the reader is a fifth at the table as mesmerized as the others by Bill. And Hayden, Kate's former boss, who is wont to meet her in museums and who, whenever they are in contact, by phone or in person, drops nuggets of esoteric trivia into her ear, which she then scores on a scale of one to ten. What a delight is Hayden--I want one of those dependable friends at my command to lighten the load, whatever it may be at the moment. All in all, an exciting, thought provoking read, filled with a well developed cast of characters to like, suspect and eventually uncover and reveal in some surprising twists, not confined to the Alpine roads in winter. "I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."

Friday, December 26, 2014

A Maritime Tragedy of Elegance on the Sea

Lusitania: Triumph, Tragedy, and the End of the Edwardian AgeLusitania: Triumph, Tragedy, and the End of the Edwardian Age by Greg King

Almost everyone in the world knows the story of the tragic collision of the Titanic and an iceberg in the North Atlantic. This is the story of an equally elegant ship populated by equally affluent and influential people sailing in unbelievable opulence in the opposite direction during a period when most of the Western world was at war. Here, then, is the Lusitania, the fastest ship on the seas, sailing under the guise of American neutrality from New York to Liverpool, through the Irish Sea and the war zone in which lurked German U-Boats.

On May 7, 1914 the commander of U-20 ordered the release of the torpedo that would send Lusitania to the bottom of the ocean within 15 minutes! That event, however, just a little over a hundred years ago, comes at the midpoint of this engrossing little book.

The authors begin the tale by setting the scene for us financially: a good motor car that would cost $1000 then, would in today's dollars cost $23 000. They provide a cast of characters, whose names and personalities are very familiar to the reader by the time the first explosion that rocked them and their late lunch, with portholes open to allow the lovely Spring breeze to enter the elegant rooms under an almost cloudless blue, sun drenched sky eleven miles off the shores of Ireland.

The writing's tone draws the reader into the early days of leisurely sailing with multiple changes of clothing, promenades and reading and lounging in deck chairs, writing letters, eating fabulous meals with strangers who become temporary friends, and following the social admonitions of Emily Post throughout. Yet, for some, there is some apprehension --the possibility of attack and the apparent lack of safety measures causing concern.

When the torpedo does come the reader, just as the passengers, experiences the shock, but disbelief that the ship will sink, through the fear, and panic and frantic reactions. We are carried overboard to be pulled down in the ship's suction only to bounce up. floating under an impossibly beautiful sky in freezing water. Eventually, some are saved and the authors take us ashore with them to the little town of Queensland and the beach where those who died wash up.

We are carried through the political manipulation of the story and then in an epilogue, we revisit the survivors to find what their lives became after the tragedy. It is such a well written book that the story seems as current as any in this morning's newspapers. The men and women and children--the passengers--the Captain and his officers on the Lusitania and even the Commander of the U-Boat are three-dimensional and real.

Anyone who enjoys the stories of the Edwardian Age and all its apparent splendor, who is fascinated by the social and technological changes of the early 20th century and who is interested in great human tragedies will find this book extremely rewarding and a fast read. It is, however, a book whose story lingers and brings home once more the fact that all the money in the world cannot protect mere mortals from overwhelming events and that some of the poorest of the poor can manage to survive them.

This was an Advance Uncorrected Proof that I received from BookBrowse to review

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Exposes Can Lead to Death

A manuscript for an anonymously penned expose of a media mogul's life, called The Accident, is delivered to an agent of a major publishing house, Isabel Reed. The major revelation is that the mogul, when an undergraduate in Ithaca, New York, became intoxicated, picked up a girl he tried to rape and, when she was able to escape from his car, ran her over and killed her. He and his friend, the author of the manuscript, then threw her body into a ravine and managed to cover up the incident for over twenty five years. This all becomes evident to us, the readers, within several pages. What we don't know is why people are being murdered once they become aware of the manuscript's existence or who, really, is behind the attempts to destroy all copies of it. The action takes place in New York, Zurich, Paris, London, on Long Island, in Beverly Hills and has as many twists and turns as any of the roads over which cars are driven at top speeds down the curving hills of the latter or those on the Italian coast. Although throughout the novel we know for certain who has written the book, some of the players do not and red herrings are thrown in their paths several times, slowing them down in their effort to find and eliminate him as well. The twist at the end is totally unexpected but leaves room for the possibility that Isabel and Hayden, the man who is primarily in charge of disposing of the irritating book and its author, may resurface in another installment of The Accident in the future. In addition to the main plot of the novel, the paths a promising manuscript can take through the publishing business is fascinating. It is a wonder any book gets published or that any author makes a living writing. But, the characters in this book who encounter the manuscript are fascinating and well developed, from assistants such as Allison to the fellow agent, Camilla, who travels to Beverly Hills and the casting couch with which she has resigned herself to occupy in order to convince a movie mogul to buy the rights to film the story that will destroy a very rich, very arrogant man who has moved on from hiding a murder in his youth to far more nefarious acts at the urging of the CIA. All in all a fascinating read about a hot, promising, money making manuscript and the people involved in bringing it to bookstores and movie screens and those involved in preventing that from happening. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

On Finding a New Scandinavian Crime Novel

Autumn Killing: A ThrillerAutumn Killing: A Thriller by Mons Kallentoft
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was at first difficult to get into. The rhythm was chaotic and the syntax kept changing making it even more so. In addition, italicized lengthy paragraphs appearing to be the thoughts of the corpse were disconcerting. Still, something drew me into the story. Maybe the unusual presentation, which I though might have to do with the fact that it was translated from the Swedish. Though it was slow going in the beginning, the story started to unfold and move more rapidly and smoothly. The characters, for the most part, were highly developed, though as in many of the Scandinavian books a bit difficult, as first, to keep straight--their names being unusual to me.
There was one section in the book that I particularly enjoyed. Each of the characters and their activities were described in one paragraph after another during the same time period. It was one of the most clever way of revealing the differences in their lifestyles and circumstances.
The alcoholism of the main character, Malin Fors, and its affects on her family, particularly her teenage daughter, and her relationship to them and on her work and her co-workers was harrowing.

The continued use of the italics to start additional comments from the murder victims and the murderer did become confusing and at times irritating, as did the dreams Fors continued to have throughout the book. At one point she tells her supervisor, Sven, that she has been listening to the voices, as he'd taught her, to solve the case. At that point, it became clear to me that reading the third book in the series without having read the first two, may have been part of the problem. Not only because this aspect of Malin's approach to a crime was unknown to me, but also that her daughter, Tove, had apparently been a victim of one of Malin's earlier perpetrators.

Nevertheless, the book was engrossing with its red herrings, dead ends and lack of clues for most of the investigation. Lots of disjointed pieces until at almost the very end a new piece clicked and everything fell into place. Sort of like trying hundreds of keys in a lock to no avail and then one day in a forgotten drawer another key appears and opens the lock without a bit of trouble. Interesting and different enough to make me seek out the earlier chapters in Malin Fors life.

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

De Niro : A Life by Shawn Levy


At an early stage in his career, Robert De Niro, Jr wondered why anyone would be interested in his life, specifically what he had for breakfast. That wonderment partially explains why he has never been particularly forthcoming through interviews or public appearances about his personal life. Though this book, by its title ,purports to be a biography of the man it is more accurate to say that it is an analysis of an actor and his methodology in his career. While it is true that some of the personal aspects of his life are interspersed or included tangentially in the story, the basic skeleton of the work is how De Niro researched and prepared for the major roles of his early career.

At one point in the book a director is said to have over 3000 hours of footage to edit to make a cogent movie that fits within the attention span of the audience and production costs of the studio—one that is about 2 to 2 and 1?2 hours long. Well, the author had copious amounts of information from which to draw a cogent book that does the same and at 551 pages it could have been edited even more and been easier to read. There is a great deal of overlap and repetition. Though De Niro’s career took off with his appearance in Godfather Part ii, released in 1974, he had been studying and acting in New York long before that. Yet, the work he did in the 1990’s does not appear until well past the halfway mark of the book. Granted, by the author’s and many critics’ views his best work was done in the late 70’s through the 80’s and he seems to have given up digging deeply into his talents in movie choices. Interestingly enough it is the work done in these later years that has been most universally embraced by audiences, nationally and internationally. Most especially the Focker movies have, with Shark Tale , brought in the most money combined of any of his previous work.

The bottom line for me about this book, which I read primarily because Bobby, as he is called by friends and family, and I are of an age and we grew up in the same general area of Manhattan. I left around the time he went off to Italy at 19 and did not return. Actually, I’d forgotten how small and discreet the neighborhoods were in the City of our youth. I lived in Chelsea, only 7 blocks from his 14th St neighborhood, but by ethnicity and culture it might as well have been 7 miles or more. Although he came to believe that it wasn’t important to his fans what school he went to or what his early life had been like I was curious to see what similarities there may have been between us before we grew up and became our adult selves. This book gave me none of that but then again, perhaps it did. Scorcese grew up about 7 blocks south of 14th around the same time in Little Italy and, as the book points out, there was little in common between their lives either—De Niro lived a more Bohemian life as the son of artists than either of the two of us, Martin or I.  That speaks to the truth of the big metropolis known as New York City—it is a place of little neighborhoods which in another geographic area would produce little towns very different from each other though located fairly closely.

Despite this lack of fulfilling my original expectations of content, it was not very far into the book that I didn’t care that this was not a tell all, birth to old age, saga of one famous man’s life. The story of how movies come to be, how they are written, the people whose hands they pass through, the method of casting, the personalities involved in the release of the final product was fascinating. As mentioned earlier, some of the movies were described endlessly it seemed, but the minute detail taken by De Niro to produce his role in each was remarkable.

The names of other actors with whom he played on stage,or in the movies brought back to mind some who have died or whose careers have died. Through the years as women’s roles needed to be cast the roll-call of actresses was telling. Though some, such as Meryl Streep appeared very early on, as in the Deer Hunter, and remained right into the 21 century as possibilities in his work, others came and within a few years were gone from the lists for consideration.  Yet, Harvey Keitel and other male actors lasted for decades. Certainly supports the claim that males are considered physically attractive much longer than females when it comes to show business.

Bottom line, the book is too long, it isn’t a biography, the material does not result from any input from De Niro or anyone truly close to him, as stated in the acknowledgements at the end. You will NOT find out what he eats for breakfast, though you will learn what he likes to drink,that he is something of a womanizer, that he has a few children, he’s made lots of money in real estate, much like his mother and that his father was a well known, somewhat well respected artist who never made a great deal of money. He can be incredibly supportive and encouraging and generous to his costars. He can also stiff a carpenter for work he did, stiff a guy at lunch for the tab and stiff a nanny of overtime hours—he’s cheap. He can be abrasive and carry a grudge. But, he can be moved to tears. He coined the name Tribeca for a warehouse neighborhood in lower Manhattan, made it the new costly Greenwich Village and sued a guy in London who used TriBeCa in the name of his bar. ( Funny, growing up in NY the only SoHo I ever heard of was in London and my grandmother who would be over 125 now lived on Houston in her youth.)

Two other comments in the book explain for me why the focus is not biographical for the most part; a fellow working on Backdraft with him told a journalist “ to know him as a person is grabbing at smoke. He came to the set and unknown quality and, on a personal level, he kind of left it that way.” “ He still protected his privacy zealously.”

With that kind of reserve, which from what little the book reveals, seems to extend even to those most close to him, there is much about Robert De Niro that only De Niro will ever know and in the long run that is fine. It is true of all of us and a public figure should not have to expose more that the rest of us to the world. If you can live with that and if you have a real interest in movie making , particularly De Niro movies, then this is the book for you. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Who Remembers What Gold Star Mothers Are?

A Star for Mrs. BlakeA Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once, when I was about seven or eight years old, so it had to be 1949-1950, while walking on a Sunday afternoon with my Dad around our Chelsea New York neighborhood, I remember noticing a rectangular flag-like banner with a gold star hanging in the window of one of those below sidewalk apartment windows. It was like nothing I'd seen before against the pane between it and the lace curtains behind it. I asked my father what it was and he said a Gold Star Mother lived there. Naturally, I asked what a GOLD STAR mother was and how she was different from other mothers. He said she was a lady who'd lost her son in the war. I don't remember the rest of our conversation nor do I remember whether there was any more to our conversation. I'm not even sure I ever thought about it again through the years but A Star for Mrs. Blake, a Good Reads giveaway made me think of it once more.

April Smith has brought five, no actually, six of the Gold Star mothers to life for us to get to know and, in the process introduce us to a short-lived government program in which Gold Star mothers, women who have lost a son or sons in the First World War, are provided an opportunity to visit the graves of those who did not come home, those buried in those French fields of uniformly placed white marble markers. White marble markers still made in the marble sheds of Vermont, my home State, and used world wide in US Military Cemeteries.

It is during the Depression and Hoover is in the White House. Each of these women want to go to see where their young sons were buried over 20 years ago. They are for the most part middle class women who are leaving responsibilities and family behind to say a final good-bye to men they'd thought to see again but who were wrenched suddenly and unexpectedly from their lives. How an Irish immigrant Catholic who lost two sons and has a crippled young son and large family in Boston, a Russian immigrant Jew whose husband has taken her, a woman who loved art and music to a potato cooperative in the wilds of Maine and who forbade her to go, a wife of a famous architect who has been committed over and over into an insane asylum, a wealthy widow of the heir to a railroad building family, and the main character, a Maine widow from Deer Isle who now takes care of the daughters of her deceased sister interact, bicker, commiserate and form deep bonds is the focus of the story. The sixth woman is a black lady who makes a brief but indelible appearance in the story. The Quandry produced by her appearance highlights the attitudes and behavior of the military to those young men, who also gave their lives for democracy.

Playing an important role in the telling--the US Army--represented by the no nonsense General overseeing the program and the young inexperienced Army brat graduate of West Point, Thomas Hammond, who is devoted to the Corps and to the five women placed in his care. Thomas herds them from New York to Paris to Verdun and the small village in which their boys are buried. He is assisted by Lily, the Army nurse who is actually under contract to the Army.

And lastly, there is a disfigured survivor ex-pat newspaper man who plays a crucial role in the story of the program and in the life of Cora, the Deer Isle lady, in particular.

All in all, an enlightening story about a moment in American history at the end of the war to end all wars and which began 100 years ago. How sad that there are still Gold Star mothers being made every day and that they have been ever since this program was conceived and since discontinued. Where would these mothers need to go to see their son's and daughter's final resting places now?

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BBC Radio 6 Music video

Today a friend on Facebook, with whom I taught many years ago, posted a video about libraries that come from this location. It is called " I love my local library and all of its quirks " and is narrated by a British man whose voice sounds vaguely like Russell Brand. It is a delightful pseudo-poem of about two minutes and it made me think about my own love of libraries, buildings that have "had The Hobbit 70 years before this fellow's local cinema! From my earliest recollections I can remember Mom taking me to story hour at the NYC library branch at 23rd and 7th. It is still there and the children's reading room is still up the beautiful wooden staircase on the second floor. Mom sent my brother-in-law looking for me once, when I went to get books and didn't return as soon as she thought I should. He found me reading in one of the big soft chairs in that room. At all through grade school and high school and into college I used the library card I'd gotten there as soon as they'd let me have one. I'm sure that card is somewhere amongst the old things in a box somewhere--at least, I hope I didn't throw it out. I can remember bringing home a shopping bag full of books and taking them back two weeks later--some to be renewed, others to be replaced. I've never gotten over my love of hard copy books and the buildings that house them or the comfy reading rooms they provide. I've spent many a winter's evening reading before the fire in the library in St Albans, Vt. And I've volunteered at the Peabody here in Post Mills. I loved the card catalog--in its own marble entranceway in the State Library in Albany, New York where I worked in Graduate School. Milestones to the library I now have in my own home, which is overflowing into every available corner. I'll never own a Kindle or a Nook, no matter how convenient. I travel with a canvas bag of books and buy more along the way. Thank you Mom and Dad, you do live on within me through the habits and values you gave me in childhood. I married a man who loves books as much as I and our daughter follows in our footsteps. All because Mom took me to the reading hour and read to me when we were home. Dad taught me to read before I ever went to Kindergarten. Oh, yes, I love libraries, too!".

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I'll Never Shop in the Galveston, Texas Wal-Mart after Reading This Book!

Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in HistoryIsaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A devastating story about a devastating storm--the hurricane that destroyed Galveston Texas September 1900. Larson not only describes the horror of the actual storm and the overwhelming loss of life but also the early years of the National Weather Bureau and the station chief in Galveston, Isaac Cline. The story moves at a pace as fast as the surge of Gulf of Mexico seawater that knocked down huge swaths of buildings as it moved into the City and then carried them and the people within them back into the depths. Horrifying, interesting, frightening, mesmerizing, awful. Nature totally untamed and to this day, untamable.

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Holiday Shopping Savings

Hi friends Thought I'd pass on a tip for shopping online--if you go to your merchants' sites through a site called ebates, you may get cash back for your purchases. Many of the biggest online merchants --Macy's, Kohls, Amazon, WalMart, Sally Beauty etc give 3% or more cash back. Even if you place items in your shopping cart before you remember to use ebates, you can go to ebates, enter the site and voila, your purchases are still there in the cart. You can get your rebate automatically deposited into an account or receive a quarterly check for accumulated rebates in the mail. I never shop on-line without using ebates and I've gotten back over $80 in a year--that's a lot of tax and /or shipping at other merchants. http://www.ebates.com/rf.do?referrerid=D9zSZuPwRJtMDyPnkDGYqw%3D%3D&eeid=26471 Try it, you'll like it!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Paris, A Movie Theatre and Lost but Refound Love--Would Make a Good Movie

One Evening in Paris: A NovelOne Evening in Paris: A Novel by Nicolas Barreau
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a delightful, old fashioned love story that could easily be a romantic movie for a date night! As I read it( in one day), I was casting the parts in my mind but think that each reader would like to do that for himself or more likely, herself. It is the reverse of reading a book and then seeing a movie cast with actors that in no way fit your image of them.

There are several " stars " of this story: Paris is definitely one. I was transported back to my time there as "les rues" were named and described. Unfortunately, I was devastated by the description of the Montmartre area, so different from my experience about 25 years ago.

Another is the " girl in the red coat", although, except for one memorable night, she isn't physically there. She is a mysterious young woman who appears every week in the little movie theatre, Cinema Paradis, another of the stars, to see the love story movie of the week, put on by the theatre's owner, Alain. He has become curious about the girl who sits in row 17 in the same seat week after week and finally works up the gumption to ask her out for a drink. She accepts, the drink extends to hours in the café, where the sleepy crew eventually asks them to leave so they can lock up. They've talked and held hands for hours, gazing into each other's eyes and falling in love. By the time Alain goes many blocks out of his way to walk her home and has spent many romantic minutes kissing her good night under the chestnut tree in her front yard, he is well and truly a goner. She agrees to meet him again the following week, when she returns from a visit to her aunt for the week-end.

Alain, during that time, is approached by a famous French actress, living in LA and longing for her Parisian home and her director, Allan Wood!!!!!--I hated this one aspect of the book since I really don't like Woody Allen or his movies---with a proposal to use the Cinema as a setting for a nostalgic movie in which Solene Avril will star. He gladly accepts and feels his life is taking a turn for the better, the theatre not having brought in a great deal of money and his love life rather non-existent. Needless to say, fate has other plans for Alain and Melanie, his new love.

She does not show up for their date, despite having sent him a note indicating that she is as enamoured of him as he with her. Alain's debonair, non-sentimental. womanizing friend, Robert, a professor of astrophysics makes no bones about his frustration with Alain's failure to get Melanie's phone number or last name. And so the story's plot is set.

Barreau paints his characters with an exacting brush--Alain's angst and heartache are realistically described. Why didn't Melanie show up? Is there someone else, was she in an accident, did she just not feel the same passion as he? Robert's level-headed, analytical and casual approach to the situation, with frustration and impatience is so true to life his voice is almost audible. Solene's attraction to men and hers to them is as easy to relate to as her nostalgia for Paris rather than LA, although a very more luxurious Paris than that in which she grew up.

The supporting characters are also fully developed, patrons of the Cinema, though not seen often are three dimensional. The crew working on the film, especially Carl, who loves Solene, are, too. Alain's projectionist, and cashier, the waiters and waitresses at the various cafes and bars, though fleetingly present are real people.

And the search for Melanie, with all its confusion and convolution is as much fun and interest as the background scenes in the others' lives. All in all, as good a story as that in any of the films Barreau uses to enhance the action or the ones he lists as Alain's 25 Love Stories from the Cinema Paradis that he shows in his Wednesday late night series, Les Amours au Paradis. When they convert this book to a movie he may add One Evening in Paris as number 26. Wonder who will be in the cast!

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hiro and Mateo begin Their Murder Solving Series in Japan

Claws of the Cat (Shinobi Mystery, #1)Claws of the Cat by Susan Spann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having won the second installment of this series from Goodreads, read and reviewed it, I decided to buy the first book in the series. I have not been disappointed. In this episode, a rich, older samurai has been killed in the room of one of the entertainers, a recent convert to Catholicism. Father Mateo is determined to find the murderer, not believing as the dead man's son and policeman does, that the young girl has committed the crime. He convinces the policeman to give him two days in which to prove her innocence, much to the dismay of his appointed protector, Hiro ( love the name of the Japanese hero!). Thus begins a convoluted who dunnit, which took me one day to read.

In addition to the fun of following the clues or lack of them along with Mateo, Hiro is the enjoyment of the character of their no nonsense housekeeper, Ana and their less than impeccable housemate, Luis, a Portuguese trader. Ms Spann reveals much of Japanese culture and behavior through the hapless etiquette errors made by the Portuguese priest and the frustration of his Japanese scribe, Hiro, with these errors. In addition, through description and dialogue she reveals even more of differences between her European characters and the natives with whom they come in contact through the course of the investigation. This juxtaposition of East and West make what could be a simple cozy mystery far more interesting.

I look forward to the third installment of the adventures of Hiro, Mateo, et al or as Ms Spann calls them, the Shinobi ( Hiro is actually an undercover member of this society of assassins ) Mysteries.

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Murder in Medieval Japan

Blade of the Samurai (Shinobi Mystery, #2)Blade of the Samurai by Susan Spann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A First Reads giveaway from Goodreads, this was just a delightful mystery set in 16th century Japan. The plot is interesting and the setting unfamiliar enough to keep the reader engrossed. The second in a series involving a ninja warrior and a Portuguese Jesuit priest for whom he is responsible. In this episode, a high ranking clerk of the Shogun is found murdered and Hiro and Father Mateo are requested by the Shogun to find the murderer before the arrival of Lord Oda, an enemy of the Shogun. If the murderer is not found and punished before his arrival, it is felt this will show weakness on the Shogun's part an embarrassing vulnerability.

As Hiro and Father Mateo investigate the number of suspects increases and shifts from one to another, leaving them confused and stressed. Hiro is particularly uneasy for the evidence appears to incriminate his fellow ninja and close friend, Kazu. As the bodies pile up and Lord Oda draws near a plan to destroy the Shogun seems to be at the root of the mystery. Unraveling the clues while absorbing the mores and behaviors of the people of a different culture made this an enjoyable read. So much so that I immediately, upon finishing the book, went to Amazon and ordered the first book in the series, Claws of the Cat. While Blade is a stand alone story, I just wanted to learn the background of Hiro and how he came to be in charge of the protection of a Catholic priest in Kyoto.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Navajo Code Talkers--but not Nicholas Cage version, thank goodness!

Navajo Weapon: The Navajo Code TalkersNavajo Weapon: The Navajo Code Talkers by Sally McClain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the books I picked up on my latest visit to Navajoland. My father told me about the Navajo code talkers years ago and I'm not sure if it was before the declassification of the code or before. I only know that I'd heard of them when I was much younger but it wasn't until a visit to Window Rock, Az several years ago that my memory of them was revived. During various trips to places on the Navajo Nation I'd chatted a bit with some of the Dine about their language and this inevitably led to at least a short discussion of them. There is a beautiful memorial statue to them beneath the actual Window Rock and somewhere, but not sure where, I had occasion to view pictures and documents about them, perhaps in the museum in Gallup, NM. Yet, for all that, I never bothered to pick up a book about these remarkable Marines and their story. I think because there are several volumes available in the various historic places in the Nation and I just never was able to decide which to read.
This year, my sister, on her first trip to Hubbell Trading Post purchased a Code Talker memoir. This got me looking more closely at the offerings and, finally, I made my choice, two books by Sally McClain. I've already reviewed what I consider her introductory volume, a slim book describing her research methods and experiences in gathering the information that she would then organize and weave into this volume.

The format of the book is very inviting and begins with the story of the Long Walk, the Navajo's displacement to Bosque Redondo in the north eastern portion of New Mexico. A terribly inhospitable place for those who survived the enforced march to attempt to survive. If one has not read her first book about the search for the talkers, the significance of this chapter is lost on the reader. Yet, in almost every interview she held with a Code Talker the first thing they spoke of was the Long Walk--an event so important to the individual Navajo that there is a sense of immediacy rather than historic revelation on the part of the narrator. This is something each of the Dine feel in their beings as having been experienced personally.

The second chapter is just as significant to the story for it tells of the conditions as they developed in Japan in the years between the world wars. Natural disasters, economic collapse and disease had reduced the country to one of starvation and homelessness. The military convinced the Emperor that only through the annexation of vast territories around the Pacific Ocean could the natural resources and food and labor needed for survival be obtained. And so, the Japanese set out to conquer the whole of the Pacific while the European powers were preoccupied with defeating Hitler and Mussolini. They also felt that their greatest obstacle to their plan was the United States Navy and so it was decided to annihilate it as soon as possible.

With those two chapters, Ms McClain defined the character and motivation of the major players in her book--the Japanese who, at all costs, including individual deaths, were determined to control a major part of the Earth and the Navajo Americans, who, through their devotion to Mother Earth and her protection, would become a major weapon of the USMC to prevent that from happening.

Step by step, battle by battle, the reader is carried along with the Marines and their Navajo Code Talkers through the Pacific campaign. I'm not a great military history buff and avoid reading many books on the subject because the minutia of the battle plan confuses me and gives me headaches. I just don't get into reading the maps and analyzing the dotted and solid lines of military movement or the arrows and colored zones ect. Yet, though the battles are described with some detail it is not overwhelming and throughout the narrative there are comments and recollections of the Code Talkers, their bodyguards and their other fellow Marines in the trenches as well as officers. These help to personalize and humanize the action and keeps the reader engrossed.

The conditions of places such as Guadalcanal, Iwo and Okinawa are described so vividly; the determination and stubbornness of the Japanese defenders bring home the difficulty facing the Marine invaders and their overwhelming steadfastness in achieving the goal of securing these islands for the eventual staging areas of a full bore invasion of mainland Japan is remarkably vivid. All through it, the amazing speed of the Navajo sending messages using the alphabet and vocabulary they developed without needing to code and decode is shown to be one of the major reasons any of these assaults were successful and shown to have been incredibly responsible for saving untold number of lives.

In the end, Ms McClain shows that these men returned home without any fanfare, carried on with thei lives without any special recognition and obeyed the order to refrain from revealing anything about their wartime experiences for over 25 years! Through her efforts, finally, as old age and in some cases,death, claimed these men, their remarkable contributions have been lauded and revealed.

Having read these volumes, my appetite for more information has been whetted and on my return to the Navajo Nation, several more of the books on these men will be added to my library. Too bad, in some ways we declassified the code, perhaps it would have come in handy in the various military actions we have engrossed ourselves in since 1945. On the other hand, had that been the case, a story about men, mistreated by their government, without the right to vote at the time, decided that Mother Earth needed protection, that Navajo Land is part of America and therefore America's call had to be answered, no matter the history of past relations.

May the Navajo Nation endure for all time to come!

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Prelude to the Story of the Navajo Code Talkers

Search for the Navajo Code TalkersSearch for the Navajo Code Talkers by Sally McClain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A slim volume tracing the research done by Sally McClain for her book, Navajo Weapon. It follows her meetings with surviving Code Talkers and/or their family members; her travels to Washington, DC to search Naval and other governmental archives for records about this top secret program to use Native speaking Navajo to form an alphabet and vocabulary that would be totally unbreakable by our Japanese enemies in the Pacific Theatre of WW II; her efforts to organize all the pieces of information she gathered over several years into a cogent story of the success of the progam; and the culmination of her work, a published book and a celebratory banquet in Gallup, New Mexico the night before the annual Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial. Absolutely absorbing and enticing. After reading this, I could not wait to begin Navajo Weapon, which I have almost completed.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Home in Vermont at Last!


Monday October 27, 2014 Kitchen Counter Post Mills, Vermont

Bill laughs when I express pleasure at being home AT LAST!  When we are travelling in winter I do everything I can think of to prolong the trip and avoid returning to Vermont. I must admit that there was some missing him in my anxiety to get home! There is, however, the added factor that returning to Vermont in late March, early April does NOT guarantee that winter is over or that snow is gone, no matter what the calendar says about the seasons. I can handle the delay of leaving for the warmth and sun until February but the return from Paradise to bare trees, snow on the ground and general deadly scenery is much, much more difficult.

On this trip, I wasn’t really anxious to get home until we were definitely irretrievably in the industrial East as exemplified by cities such as Erie and Buffalo, even Columbus and Cleveland. Once reaching that point of no return, I just wanted to be back with my B’s and the cats, in our cozy log cabin asap. Even Barb’s house, which I love under most situations was a trial—so close and yet so far from HOME.

Nonetheless, I did enjoy our last days wandering the Finger Lakes region and other areas of New York. No matter how long I’ve lived in Vermont and how beautiful I find it, my heart will always consider New York State home. The wider valleys, the wide pebbly streams, the foliage that is every bit as beautiful as Vermont’s, the two distinctly different mountain ranges, the Dutch influence in the Catskills, the vast forests of the Adirondacks, sprinkled liberally with crystal clear lakes, the mighty rivers that flow in all of its regions, the Hudson, St Lawrence, Mohawk, the variety of geographic formations and the fact that throughout my childhood and young adulthood I explored all of them numerous times with my family. Vermont can never fill me with love the same way, though I’ve explored every inch of it, as well. The last two hours of travel, then was quite pleasant though not on backroads but on I 90—the Thruway, that I hated as a child because we gave up using the Taconic once it was built.

We arrived at Barb’s around noontime on the 24 th and took our time cleaning out the car. Each time we brought in a load we immediately sorted through it, Barb put her things away and I packaged mine to make it easier to transport to Vermont. It is not that we bought a great deal, though Barb bought more than I since many places were places I return to and so can get things as I run out. Also she was buying things for my nephew and his family and again, I didn’t buy many things for Betsy since I already have her Christmas gifts and she has requested money for a trip to England and Germany in February. We took a break for coffee and another to just relax a bit. In time the pantry was sorted, the china closet emptied and things put away, the refrigerator ( cooler ) was one of the first to be emptied and what little food we had left put away in the real fridge. Our andouille from La was still frozen and put in the real freezer. Our cake from the bakery in La was checked –well, Barb’s was—I left mine wrapped until I got home. Her’s was a bit dried out but mine were in good shape this morning and Bill has already eaten at least three of his praline brownie today! By three o’clock, George, as we named the Red Vibe that transported us on our journey was picked clean.

Barb called Charlie and since he and Cheryl had to work all weekend she went down to pick up Damian around 4 ish. We were to go out to Olive Garden for dinner but I was truly tired and hoped we would not. She called around 6 to say she was picking up Chinese and would be home in about an hour. I was waiting to open the birthday gift she’d carried across the country and didn’t give me until we got home. Finally, I couldn’t wait any longer and opened it to find a beautiful scarf in rich blues and burgundy. I put it on, so that she’d see that I really loved it. Around 7: 30 I took it off and refolded it and got out one of my new books: Search for the Navajo Code Talkers by Sally McClain. It is a slim volume describing her research for her book, Navajo Weapon, which is the story of the development of the idea of using Navajos and their language to send coded messages in the Pacific Theatre of WW II, the recruitment of the men, the development of the alphabet and vocabulary of the code and the battles in the Pacific and the involvement of Navajo Code Talkers in each one. The first book was a quick read and I had almost half of it read by the time Barb and the wonderful Chinese meal appeared around 815. My first Chinese food in two months and just delicious. Watched Hawaii 5-0 and BlueBloods and I headed off to bed.

I got up late Saturday morning and was relieved to see that Damian had returned to his normal active, bright eyed self. He had been terribly subdued on Friday night and didn’t show any real enthusiasm for seeing me. I felt disappointed and somewhat alarmed and hoped that two months in a home with another dog and a larger family hadn’t somehow altered his personality. I should not have worried—he greeted me as always with a soft toy and the invitation to play ” tug of war, Damian wins”. It is one of his favorite pastimes!  Barb had already started the laundry. We tore the Sunday papers apart and read just the comics and Parade magazine. Barb cut our coupons and went out to the store to get dog food for Damian. She brought back some apple cider donut holes which we demolished while reading. We folded laundry and switched stuff from washer  to dryer. I gave her the notebook from the trip to photocopy and some CD’s to burn and then I headed in to take a nap. Damian did the same. When I got up around 5:30 we  ate leftover Chinese, which was better than the night before. We then binge watched The Blacklist to catch up on episodes we missed because we never seemed to get the TV times synchronized with our EST TV watching biological clocks!! And so another day was gone.

Yesterday, I moved everything from my room to the living room so Bill could take it out to the car when he arrived. Took my shower and washed my hair, dressed and just as I was sitting down to coffee the doorbell rang and Bill was there. How good to see him! Barb had made bacon so we all gathered round the table and Bill and Barb immediately started talking houseplants—ugh! Eventually, Bill started loading the car and Barb and I finished up writing in the restaurant book she keeps. She’d given me a copy of the book but I always forget to take it with me and usually just photograph the menus, though I didn’t do that this time for some reason. Before long all was packed and loaded and so we hugged good-bye—still speaking after almost eight weeks on the road but glad to have a respite from our 24/7 existence. It was a good trip and both of us were sorry to have it over but we have lots of memories that we will talk about together and with others for a long time.

Bill and I headed North on the Northway, cut over through Ft Edward and Hudson Falls to Ft Ann, where they’ve torn down an old brick building that I’ve loved for more than 50 years—it is such a hole on the corner to have it gone. I wonder what will appear in its place? Then on through Whitehall toward Fair Haven. We stopped at the old apple orchard where we picked apples every year when I was a kid and where my parents took Charlie when he was little. Bought six of the most delicious apple cider donuts to be found anywhere in the world—fresh baked that morning—I look forward to them every year. On to Rutland, over the mountain and to Applebee’s in W. Leb where I bought Bill dinner. Turns out that Sarah, my favorite bartender there, not only shares many of my tastes in jewelry and Native American lore—she’s part Abenaki—but also my birthday!!!! We never knew that before so we wished each other a happy belated birthday before we headed home.

As we pulled in the driveway, I was delighted to see Betsy who was just leaving. She’d dropped by on her way home from Burlington on the off chance we’d be here. Hugged each other strongly and I gave her the few things I’d gotten for her and placed in a separate shopping bag. She was anxious to get going since she had to do her plans for today but she took the time to open her gifts, which I didn’t expect her to do. She liked her “ Cat “ magnet that I bought in Bozeman and the sign about teacher’s loving June, July and August as the best teaching months. She seemed perplexed about pecan oil but I think she’ll like using it in some of her stir fries. Then she was off.

I was amazed how early it was so I started to unwrap and put some of my purchases away. As you can see, most are foodstuffs. Bought Bill a new Buffalo Trace t-shirt, a John Wayne bottle opener for the fridge door and a new Buffalo Bill hat, to replace the one he left in a Donelson, La store several years back. I cannot seem to get a nice picture of the wonderful pendants we bought in Canyon d’Chelly, done by Ted Henry of the Ansel Adams’ picture of his Mom and brother.

I’m not going to bother with the wine etc until Bill goes to work on Thursday—I will do the bills then and go through the box of mail that awaits my scrutiny. I know I have some new books there, too and my other sneakers. But it will be better to deal with those things while alone.

Misty has gotten very thin, her hind legs are almost non-functional by the end of the day and she falls asleep sitting up. She sat in my lap for hours last night while I watched the two Masterpiece shows and the one on Scottish castles. Attila was here with Bets when I got home but very quickly took off to parts unknown returning after I was asleep and waking me about 1230 by taking a bath while pressed against my sleeping leg. He’d come in through the bedroom window sometime after 1130. Misty is very much more vocal now and wants to be in my workroom, which is off limits or in my kitchen cabinet with pots and pans,also off limits. She wanders aimlessly and gives an insistent raucous call for no apparent reason. I think her time is coming and I only hope it happens naturally—I truly don’t want to put her down. She is definitely in her second childhood and loves just being in your lap for hours.

So, after 10,634.0 miles, a little less than $5,000 dollars ( I brought home some money even with stopping at Perry Null and Grandmother’s Buttons) and 52 days ( to Barb’s –actually 54 days for me—2 days less than the 8 weeks I thought to be gone) I am home in Vermont. We had 12 free nights between Choice Hotels and Barb’s Holiday Inn points. We also spent one night at my friends’, Bud and Gloria in Belen, NM. That is always a trip extender though I have to start building up more for our next trip—down to 167 this time!  I lost two more pounds on the trip and Barb lost 4 more so we ate thoughtfully for the most part. We are both pleased with that and my reward was the lapis ring I’ve wanted for two or three years at Perry Nulls, which never fit me til now.  Smile

The house looks great and the sun is shining. I’ve little left to put away and once the bills and mail are done I can start reading profusely again. I’m four books ahead of my goal of reading 52 books this year—actually 5 1/2 ahead, as of this morning, I did my first crossword and crypto-quip in two months this morning and it was fun. Now to start thinking holidays and planning for our winter trip. By February, I’ll be chomping at the bit to be on the road again. Thank you all for joining us in our adventure. I hope you enjoyed it at least half as much as we. The next train will be departing in a few months and I hope some of you will join us once more. Until then, Happy Trails, from the Homing Pigeon Sisters ( and especially from the Blogging Sister) Kathy and Barb

Thursday, October 23, 2014

STILL Not to Saratoga!!!!


Thursday October 23, 2014 Quality Inn Room 108 Rome, New York

Happy 72nd birthday to me!  Started out at 930 this morning for Watkins Glen and the ride up the East side of Seneca Lake. Seemed very appropriate that we were driving the Catherine Creek Trail, considering it is my birthday. Quite a nice little stream it is, too.

Stopped in some small burg at a hole in the wall place called the Blue Ribbon Diner. Other than the waitress we were the only women in there—is it duck hunting season?  They seemed to be in camo and obviously not working. Had a pancake for the first time in two months—with blueberries—tasted quite good.

At Watkins Glen we started out on the Finger Lakes Trail once more. Our first stop was Catherine Valley Winery where I purchased a bottle of Lost Irishman blush wine. It is a pleasant wine but I love the label more and it was reasonably priced. We continued on to Atwater Winery, where the lady offering the tastings told me she lived for 30 years in Burlington, Vt.  Didn’t ask her how she wound up on Seneca Lake or what she did in Burlington—later, I was sorry I hadn’t. Bought a glass and a couple of bottles of wine, Vidal Blanc and Stone Bridge Red. Totally forgot to take a picture of the winery sign. Then it was on to Hazlitt Winery but nothing caught my eye. There was a group of people tasting at the bar there. It is a beautiful bar but the group of about six were a bit rowdy and it didn’t appeal to me to sit listening to them. One woman in particular was a bit loud and irritating. So we continued on to Penguin Bay. Some how they arrived shortly after us. I don’t think they knew each other but rather they happened to hit the tastings together and were getting to know each other as they sipped and began to get a bit tipsy. I don’t usually care for Muscato, find it too sweet, but this one is a bit drier and has a bit of a fizzy sense on the tongue. Quite good, especially very cold. Also bought a blush, Percussion that has a bit of peppery  overtone.  Had to have a glass with the adorable penguins and a towel that says ‘Today’s Soup is Wine”  By then we were nearing mid-Lake and ready to head to Seneca Falls to search for the museum (s) dealing with the work of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others as well as the time spent by Mark Twain in town.

We passed through yet again some little towns, such as Lodi in which there were several pastures of horses that looked like palominos with very very pale bellies. Then we came to Ovid with a high school, the back door of which is just as elegant as its front. There is also a small Mennonite community within it and so we competed with horse drawn carriages for the road. One driver pulled out in front of us as recklessly as any auto driver we’ve encountered on our long trip. Fayette is so painfully run down I could not photograph it.

The hawks are out in full force in this area of the State—on the limbs of bare trees, on the power lines. I discovered a feature of my camera I’d not realized it had. I can crop my photos automatically—so what was a distant shot of the hawk became a close up with no loss of sharpness. Holy cow, that makes a huge difference in many of my pix. I can go back through and crop before printing rather than cutting away lots of the hard copy. Always learning new things.

Eventually, we were in Seneca Falls—it is a confusing burg—there is a visitors’ center on the main drag and all kinds of directional signs to museums but the museums themselves are not well marked. Also the National Park appears to be an office, also on the main drag. I think the town has to be a destination in and of itself to find the things I’d like to see. As for today, it was already 2 pm and miles to go before arriving in Saratoga. Also, I’d like to dine on Duck L’Orange at Gould’s when I am dressed in something other than jeans and a casual top. It’s on my list of things to do soon.

Shortly after leaving town I saw the nests on high tension wires of the osprey and knew that we were close to Montezuma Refuge. So off we went for the drive—which takes us running adjacent to the Eastbound lane of the Thruway—I 90. Mostly ducks at this time of year though a good sized group of Canada Geese are also resting up for the next leg of their Southbound journey. One lone white bird, heron?. egret? left. All of them, very diligently preening and debugging—lol. I love the head standing ducks, particularly the synchronized swimming pair. The ballet dancers of the marsh. I’m also fond of the lone one leg standing sentry amongst the geese.

Looking at the map it seemed important to get back on the Thruway so as not to pass through the middle of Syracuse so we cut up through Auburn to Weedsport. We no sooner got on the Interstate than it started to sprinkle—it had been cloudy, very cold and very windy all day but no rain, for which we were grateful. Betsy called me at this point and we chatted through the Syracuse portion of the road. A nice visit catching up about school, our trip etc and her Happy Birthday to me. How I wish I was home with the B’s  today but she said she’d be up next week to see me and have dinner with us. She says Misty is thinner, grayer and totally out of touch with what is going on around her. Do cats get Alzheimer’s? Sounds like she has it. So sad—hope she hangs on til I get home. She’s my baby cat.

Well, by the time we hung up the rain was coming down full blast, the trucks were throwing up sheets of road splash, cars were weaving in and out and the visibility was awful. Then a truck several cars in front of us blew a tire—pieces all over the road for miles. I suggested we just bag it and get a motel. Happens we were at the Rome exit and Bill and I are very familiar with the Quality Inn opposite Fort Stanwyk so called and got a room. Used all but 187 points of our free night points. Ordered Pizza and pepsi for dinner. Called Bill and he laughed ‘cause last night he said “ you’re not staying in Rome?”  Well, guess what? Yes, we are staying in Rome. Tomorrow we WILL be in Saratoga!!! Until then, goodnight once more, from the Tired, but Dry and Relaxed and Safe Sisters, Kathy and Barb

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Lazy Day—Back Roads and Wine Sipping


Wednesday October 22, 2014 Candlewood Suites Room 128 Horseheads, New York

We never left our hotel in Farmington until about 1130. After the long day of driving under horrible conditions we decided to just take it easy today. So lingered in the breakfast room over coffee with the newspaper, after getting up and leisurely watching a Constance Bennett movie. Then in drizzly, gray weather we cruised down rt 96 through several small towns including lovely little Phelps, until we reached 14 into Geneva, another neat place with great old buildings. Then it was down the west side of Seneca Lake, passing many wineries and small motels and resorts after passing the elegant frat houses of Hobart College.

Stopped at two wineries, PreJean where I bought a bottle of Tiger Lily wine and a semi-dry reisling as did Barb. We, of course, had to taste several before deciding which to buy. Then we drove about another half hour or so before stopping at Heron Hill to taste a few more. Here I bought a delightful Pinot Gris and Game Bird blush. Barb bought the Game Bird blush as well as Game Bird red. We also bought really pretty port glasses. All in all we tasted 11 wines—actually more, since we tasted each other’s as well. We got out some crackers to snack on as we proceeded to Watkins Glen. Decided to stop for the day so continued down to Corning to get a motel. Here and Painted Post were all  booked but we were able to get a terrific suite here in Horseheads.

Ate a delicious meal at Outback, right next door. Tomorrow we will return to the East side of Seneca,  a couple more wineries and then on to Seneca Falls, where I hope to find the womans’ suffrage museum before heading on to Saratoga. Barb’s wifi is turned off so I may not be able to finish pictures and/or blog until I return to Vermont on Sunday or Monday. Until then, good bye from the Tired, Thrilled , Still Speaking after Two Months on the Road Sisters, Kathy and Barb

We’ve Hit the Rain for Sure on the East Side of the Country


Wednesday October 22, 2014 Comfort Inn and Suites Room 314 Farmington, New York

Yesterday found us starting week 8 on the road and going past 10,000 miles!  Left Bellville in drizzle which turned to a torrential downpour around Cleveland. Thank goodness for the by-pass 271 and the express lanes on 90 once we hit the city outskirts. Still the rain wiped out visibility for awhile. As we cruised along Lake Erie it let up enough to make driving bearable but at Erie the skies opened up once more and the windshield looked as though we were driving under the Lake rather than past it. Let up once more as we headed toward Buffalo but at Buffalo we hit the cloud that had raced ahead of us and once more came the deluge. I swear the angels were just waiting to dump out the barrels they’d refilled during the lulls in the storm. We decided to try to get to wine country before stopping. I forgot that Rochester isn’t really on I90 so we had to go by it to Farmington to find a motel that wasn’t miles off our route. Fortunately, the Comfort Inn is just down the road from the exit, for, once more, those angels laughed with glee as they swamped us again!

We really cannot complain about the weather, for the most part our trip has been in good weather. Also, when we think about the arid, water deprived areas we’ve seen, we cannot wish for less rain. Sad that the weather is so extreme in places across this big country of ours. We are resting in the room for a bit this am before heading to some Finger Lake wineries and another and last night on the road. Tomorrow we will probably arrive in Saratoga. Then we need about a day to unload the car and separate our individual purchases. Not that we bought a great deal, but we did purchase some culinary items and a few gifts for our loved ones—lol

Will need to do laundry, too and retrieve Damian, who probably thinks Barb deserted him. Bill is working  through Sat so can’t get home before Sun ( if it isn’t raining—don’t want to make him drive in it, when he’s tired from three days working ) or Monday.

Bye for now from the Soaked, weather Stressed Sisters, Kathy and Barb

Monday, October 20, 2014

Leaving Kentucky and Entering Ohio


October 20—continued

Our first stop this morning, in the rain, Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Ky. I’ve been here five or six times. Blantons is probably the best known of the bourbons produced here. I love it as well as Buffalo Trace itself. I always have a bottle of each on hand. When we arrived Freddy, the man who has conducted all the tours I’ve taken, was just finishing up a tour. So I went back to the tasting bar to say hello to him. He is always so gracious—not sure he remembers me—but he always behaves as though he does but I KNOW he is pleased that I remember HIM and always stop by to say hello whenever I’m there. His father and grandfather worked here and he has been here for years himself—his family are fixtures here.

I bought a box of my favorite bonbons, a new tee shirt for Bill and a small Blanton’s bottle to use for bath oil. Then it was off north on Rt 127, which like yesterday’s back road started out wide and traveled and then became truly bucolic and rural. Took it to just south of Cincinnati, where we picked up I 71 north. We had enjoyed the tobacco barns with the quilt squares over the open doors revealing the curing tobacco leaves. There were fields of tobacco waiting to be pulled, fields full of dead corn stalks, more foliage and small towns. The rain had stopped as soon as we left Frankfort so fortunately we had clear skies and bearable traffic. Crossed the Ohio from Covington, Ky to Cincinnati and travelled almost to Cleveland, passing through Columbus, before the rain returned. Stopped just south of Cleveland in Bellville and ate at Der Dutchmen. Diner food, not bad, at fancy restaurant prices—not good. Interestingly, we had been here before and I sort of knew that when I saw the billboard on the Interstate. Claims to be the Gateway to Amish country—well, Amish neither work there, nor dine there so far as we could see. Perhaps, I’ll remember next time, BEFORE we eat here. LOL

Called Bill and told him there was no way we were getting to Saratoga tomorrow and that we need a day to empty the car and organize my stuff to take home. Since he works Th-Sat, we will take our time and do the Finger Lakes on the way to Barb’s. Then I’ll be ready for him to pick me up on Sunday—will have to celebrate my birthday late.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the hostess at Longhorn’s last night is studying Anatomy and Physiology—saw her musculature diagram she was studying. She has three tests this week—told her I’d help her if she had any questions while I was there. She said she’d ask if need be but as I left she said it was okay. She’s a sophomore in college and going to be a nurse. Just a delightful girl.

Anyway, we are ready to watch the Blacklist—watching a PBS show on woman’s suffrage right now. Goodnight from the Lifelong Learning Sisters, Kathy and Barb

Leaving Bowling Green for Bourbon Country


Monday October 20,2014 Comfort Inn Bellville, Ohio Room 167

Started out yesterday morning from Bowling Green and decided to take off on back roads from the Interstate and head up to Bardstown, Ky which is the center of bourbon country. Initially the road was wide and pretty busy but as me moved closer to Bardstown it became narrow and very twisty turny. Since we missed foliage in Northern New York and Vermont we were quite taken with the colorful trees of Kentucky and the flowers still in bloom. We were particularly appreciative since Bill has kept us informed about the cold days and frosty mornings that have already descended upon home. Neither of us are looking forward to that dark, gray and dismal time so we continue to revel in cloudless blue skies and the contrails that show the euphoric flight of jets in the clear blue air.

When we reached Bardstown our first stop was Heaven Hill distillery. Elijah Craig, Legacy, Fighting Cock, Evan Williams are just a few of the brands they produce. I love the rick houses ( rack houses ) that are scattered over the hillsides of this part of Kentucky. They remind me of the refectory buildings and dormitories of monasteries. Perhaps, they were copied from those by the monks who distilled heady brews for centuries. The style of building doesn’t vary much from one distillery to another but the materials used to build them do. Some are brick, some beautiful gray stone and others are made with metal siding. But ALL of them are filled from floor to ceiling with kegs of bourbon aging to perfection –evaporating into the air and making it sweet with the odor of the angels’ share. We did not sample for several reasons, not necessarily in order of importance: one cannot sample without taking the tour and paying for it ( we’ve done that twice before ) and we were going to be driving to several distilleries—the operational word here being drive. Still, there are products at each that we have come to enjoy and which are not available at home. At Heaven Hill that includes a bourbon honey and apple bourbon basting sauce for meats. They also had a variety pack of bourbon bon bons that I’ve not seen before. I also picked up a four pack of bonbons for us to savor while driving.

Off we continued, again through small towns and neighborhoods, past pumpkin patches and horse pastures.I happened to look down at my light blue blouse and discovered that I’d dropped a huge blob of chocolate right on the front of it. We pulled over in front of a small Church with a for sale sign in front of it. Out came the Dawn detergent and an old bottle of water and I went to work to get out the stain. One can do laundry anytime, anyplace when one is prepared. Then we resumed the amusement park ride travel—laughing crazily at silly things—like Barb saying THAT road has been repaved ( I must mention the roughness of this narrow country road, too ) as we passed a branch off to the left with smooth, newly laid blacktop. I laughed and said, yes, but 15 minutes ago that was a DIRT road. Little things get very funny when you are getting dizzy from the curves and dips and hills.  LOL

Soon we entered Lawrenceburg, which we were to see a few times coming and going. Our next stop was Wild Turkey. A new visitors’ center and tasting room, since we were here last, but we both loved the old cabin in the woods that was the original. The ladies said, oh, but it was too small for the crowds we get, like the 1000 people we had yesterday. Hm, I guess, but the ambiance is gone. Here I picked up a small bottle of Rare Breed and a shot glass to go with it. In my young single days, remember Jane?, my drink of choice was Wild Turkey on the rocks. Oh, the number I was able to drink of an evening. Now, after one, I’m ready for bed. In those days, we’d drink and dance and close the place down—Friends was a favorite watering hole, though there were others—lol

From there we headed to Four Roses. It is built in a California Mission style. As we walked in, Barb headed to the tasting room to ask about tastings. I proceeded to the welcome desk where I asked if one could taste without touring—the girl was answering me as she and the fellow next to her were eyeing Barb. She said no and that the last tour had started at 3 and we’d missed it. I said well, she’ll find that out and will be over in a minute. But the guy went hurrying off into the tasting room where Barb was speaking to the lady serving and he interrupted them to tell Barb she couldn’t be there—which is what she asked the lady who was just about to answer her. He was so brusque—don’t know what he thought Barb was going to do—overpower the lady and run off with the tasting bottle??? No class!  I did buy a small two shot bottle of the Reserve to share with Barb as a nightcap. ( It was as harsh and distasteful as he! )

Passed back through Lawrenceburg and headed to Woodford Distillery. The way went through some of the most beautiful scenery of the day—horse country with manicured pastures, thoroughbreds grazing in the waning light and elegant fences and gates  to tasteful homes. Even a private track for testing the prowess of those wonderful horses and to show them off to potential buyers. And the distillery is so classy. If it were not so late in the day, I would have toured here. The staff was wonderful The shop was closing in ten minutes but there was absolutely no evidence of impatience on the part of any of them. The young girl who waited on us chatted with me about turquoise and her desire to study silversmithing. I gave her Perry Null’s website to dream on. Here I purchased a mint julep syrup to add to my bourbon and picked up a two pack of mint julep bourbon bon-bons---wish I’d bought a box of those—delicious.

And the day rapidly drawing to a close we covered the remaining eleven miles to Frankfort ready to call it a day. Unfortunately, I could not seem to find my way to the motel and we drove in places of that Capitol town that I’ve never seen before. All lovely but none with the motel. Finally, I said let’s get on I 64 and head toward Louisville and see what we can find. Or else, let’s stop at a gas station and let me get directions. We stopped at a Shell station and I was told to get on I 64 toward Lehville and get off at the next Frankfurt exit and there it was—sort of—we couldn’t find it, but after turning around we discovered the Holiday Inn Express and after turning around ( I’ve never been in a car that makes as many U-turns on highways as this one!) once more we got in to confirm our reservation.

Went immediately to Longhorn and had a terrific steak dinner with malbec for $15!!! We had a $25 gift card and the manager gave us a 10% senior discount!! Returned to our fabulous suite, cracked open the Four Roses, the mint julep bon bons and watched PBS until 12:30.  A terrific day and great night’s sleep. To be continued---Kathy and Barb


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Bowling Green—but No Smoky Pig for Us!


Saturday October 18, 2014 Sleep Inn Bowling Green, Kentucky Room 210

The sunrise in Tupelo at 630 this morning was spectacular—opened the door to enjoy the quiet, cool morning beauty—then went back to bed for another two hours. We had checked motel availability in Nashville for tonight, at a motel close enough to downtown to assure an inexpensive taxi ride out and back. Nothing available at the Comfort Inn but there was a room at the Holiday Express for $399 for the night but they would not take points—those rooms were already booked up. Decided it wasn’t worth it so made reservations in Bowling Green.

Got back on the Trace just outside Tupelo and stopped almost immediately at the Confederate graves—I’ve only driven by once without stopping and walking in. When we first went in, the graves had Confederate flags—though I remember an American flag on one for some reason. The sign at the time also posited another theory besides those listed now and that was that these were Confederate deserters, executed when caught and that was the reason there was no identification on the original graves. I notice that theory has disappeared along with the Confederate flags. Ah, revisionist history—always politically correct. Whatever the story, I always walk in to say hi and wonder about the mystery. It is at this sign that I noticed I’d lost an opal from my engagement ring several years ago. When I got back to the car, miraculously, the tiny almost grain sized halves of the small opal were mixed with the grains of sand on my floor mat! They weren’t big enough to do anything with but was glad to find them. Had the stone replaced when we got home.

Continued on the Trace to Nashville but not much foliage to be seen most of the way. There was a 12 mile detour through the Alabama countryside and saw lots of cotton---Alabama snow!—and a crop duster who was having a ball making loops and turns in the sky. It was a joyful looking yellow plane and the pilot was terrific. As he approached our car with the window open and me madly taking pictures, he turned the spray off as fast as can be—only sprays the cotton fields not the roads around them. I could have stayed for hours watching the aerial show.

Crossed the Tenn-Bow waterway and then the Tennessee River. Both quite beautiful. As we neared Nashville the color was a bit more evident. Took Barb to the Puffy Muffin on Franklin Rd for quiche and ginger tea before hooking up with I 65 around the city and then on up to Kentucky. We were too full to bother going to Smoky Pig, but probably should have to pick up BBQ for tomorrow night. Too late I checked their FB page to find they close at 7 pm on Sat and are closed on Sun and Mon so no Smoky Pig this trip.

Spoke to Bill for a half hour. It doesn’t look like we’ll be home in time for him to pick me up before his three day stint at PC on Thurs-Sat so guess I’ll see him a week from tomorrow. Had hoped to be home before for my birthday but we’ll celebrate early the following week. Hope Bets can come for dinner. Bill suggested Mammoth Caves might be interesting for Barb but she doesn’t want to take the tours because they involve lengthy stair climbing and her knees don’t like stairs. We thought we’d go to the Butterfly Habitat at Lost River here in Bowling Green but it is closed by mid-September. So perhaps a visit to bourbon country is in the future—who knows?

At any rate, it is time to eat my poppy seed bread and cranberry from Puffy Muffin. Guess we are watching How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days—as I recall it is a cute chick flick—Kate Hudson and Matthew McConnahey—not bad. So once more, it is good night from the Southern Fried Sisters, Kathy and Barb

Friday, October 17, 2014

Half the Trace:Natchez to Tupelo Mississippi


A pretty uneventful day of driving up the Trace. Green, green, green. No flowers, no flowering trees, no foliage yet. Few wildlife either—a doe and her fawn, some turkeys, some turkey vultures, a few crows. Lots of lovely yellow butterflies. In the first fifty to seventy miles there was lots of Spanish moss but by Jackson it had pretty much disappeared. The reservoir for Jackson was beautiful as always under an almost cloudless sky. The cypress swamp went by in a blur and I chose not to take pictures of the 2011 damage by tornado of a large swath of the bordering forests. I probably should have to show how the undergrowth is taking over the damaged area and how it will soon be grown over with little evidence of the broken toothpick-like trunks of the destroyed trees.

We stopped at French Camp, which I’ve always wanted to explore but which is always swarming with people when we pass through. Today it was almost empty. It is basically the site of a boys and girls school for children from poor or broken homes. It covers grades 1-12. It is religiously affiliated with one of the Protestant sects though I’m not sure which. We ate in the café and had a huge and delicious BLT called the Big Willy. More sweet tea, of course.

Our waiter was a literally beautiful young man with bright red curly hair and sapphire blue eyes; I’d say he was about 16-17. Told him I always wanted a red-haired son and asked if I could adopt him and take him north with me. He asked how far north. I said Vermont. Oh, no, ma’am , he said with a huge smile, that’s frozen tundra land, I can’t go north of the Mason – Dixon line. What a sweetie. He thought Vt had only those tall pine and spruce trees—I told him southern Maine for pines and northern Maine for fir and spruce but that Vt had lots of hardwoods and softwoods—along with white and red pine—beech, birch, maple, oak,poplar etc. He was surprised. But I said we DO have snow from Nov-Apr and he should visit at some other season but Vt winter.

After lunch we continued on to Tupelo and settled in for the night. Have to research Nashville hotels for tomorrow night and then TV. Goodnight from the Sweet Tea Swilling Sweet Sisters, Kathy and Barb

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Hello from Mississippi!


Thursday October 16, 2014 Quality Inn Room 101 Natchez, Ms

After spending a restful second day in Victoria we set out for Louisiana on Monday the 13th of October. What hellacious weather from the outskirts of Victoria to the city limits of Lafayette, La!

We had taken 59 northeast out of Victoria and then cut north to the Interstate  on 36 to pick it up before the madhouse of Katy. The wind and clouds were terrifying—they were swirling and I kept an eye out for tornadoes—not that I know what we would have done had we seen one! Passed a cute motel, called the Tepee Motel, somewhere on those back roads—the only thing is that I thought the units looked more like the sharpened end of a number 2 pencil!

  It took us an hour from Katy, which is the Western suburb of Houston , to BayPort, which is the Eastern suburb. Actually, considering the rain, wind, road splash from semis and other mad drivers going 75+ in zero visibility, that really wasn’t bad timing. We chose to follow 10 right through the middle of town. I’ve used the loops but the traffic is just as crazy and the loops are longer, circling the city as they do. With the weather, I said, what the heck, let’s just go for it.

I think this is the first time I’ve crossed the Sabine River without seeing it! The bridge over Lake Charles is a bit hazy in my memory, too. Finally, we neared the exit for Lafayette in quieter weather but still darkened skies.

Tuesday was heavenly and we headed down to New Iberia and Konrico, where I buy my pecan oil and usually get some other seasonings and rice. Having been here so recently, the only thing I needed was the oil—though I wasn’t even sure of that, so called Bill from the company store porch to make sure. Barb went on the tour of the rice plant while I chatted with the owner’s wife and a couple from Denmark. We talked about languages and how some people are snooty about Cajun and Canadian French but how the Parisians are so gracious and patient with visitors who attempt to speak French there, no matter how poorly. We also spoke of different forms of a language within the same country. It was interesting to learn that almost all Danes speak English and that the teens there speak English among themselves. They will speak Danish to you but the moment you speak English, that is the end of the Danish. She said it is difficult for a person who moves to Denmark from an English speaking country to learn Danish because no one will speak it with you!! She and her family are looking to emigrate to Canada because her husband, who is currently working in Quatar, would have to pay 67% income tax if he moves home to Copenhagen, so he has only visited 15 days in the past year. They meet and travel in the US or somewhere else instead. He doesn’t pay the tax unless he returns to Denmark!

From Konrico we went to Avery Island, the home of Tabasco sauce. Barb again took the tour while I read in the car. I’ve been to both tours and once is enough. We visited the store, which is outrageously expensive. I bought a larger bottle of pecan oil, they didn’t have the larger bottle at Konrico, and will give the smaller one to Betsy. She loves to cook. We skipped the Jungle Gardens since they wanted $8 a piece to look at egrets which we could see along with many other wild creatures on our Swamp tour.  Then it was off to Shucks for fried oysters and crawfish ettouffe with lots of sweet tea to wash it down. A cruise by Cajundome and LSU at Lafayette and we called it a day.

Wednesday we got out to St Martin Lake near Breaux Bridge for the 11 oclock swamp tour with Shawn Gutchereaux. His dad, Butch, runs Cajun Country Swamp Tours. This was my third time on the tour. We got out to the Lake around 930 and sat watching the egrets feed among the lotus leaves and some locals fish from the dock. Both Butch and Shawn had 11 oclock tours—at this time of year it is the first one of the day. Bill and I have taken a 9 oclock and the first year it was just us and Butch. This time it was a full boat. A couple from Oklahoma, their son and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren, including 10 month old Zeke with his improvised hat—a disposable diaper!   A group of 8 French folk—a man, his wife and sister-in-law, her husband, a teenage daughter and younger daughter and son. They live on the upper east side of Manhattan but we didn’t get a chance to discover if they are with the UN etc. There were others farther back in the boat also but couldn’t really get to speak with them.  The tour was, as  always, just wonderful. Everyone is naturally interested in seeing Gators—especially since Swamp People etc have become so popular on TV. While I love them, too, I really like the birds and the trees of the swamp as much or more. The gum trees had fruits that looked like ripe olives on them –they are usually bare in Feb-Mar. No nutria this time and fewer big gators. In the Spring they are all out on logs soaking up the sun, lethargic after the long “ cold” winter. Now they are hiding or sliding off the logs quietly as we approach. They are really quite shy and non-confrontational despite the TV image.

After 2 and 1/2 hours we were starved so we headed out to Legneaux’s for lunch but they closed at 1 so we settled on buying some andouille for home and took off for Abbeville and Shucks once more. This time Barb had crab au gratin and I had duck and andouille gumbo with a sampler plate of oysters: creamed, candied, Rockefeller and bleu au gratin. They were all good but you couldn’t taste the oysters only the toppings. Didn’t have raw ones this time around. When I return in Spring.Washed them down with three huge glasses of sweet tea!! I managed to get us lost in the traffic trying to take a shortcut back to the motel—but, oh, well, saw a whole new part of Lafayette that I can share with Bill!

This morning it was up and over to Keller’s bakery before leaving town. Got half dozen of their whoopee pies and half dozen of their praline brownies for Bill. Have them all wrapped up good in saran wrap—they should be pretty fresh when we get home—I’ve done it before successfully.  Then up to Opelousas on 167 where we picked up 190 east through Krotz Springs and over the new bayou bridge, onto the Morganza Spillway to Livonia. Then on 78 to New Roads and 1 North to pick up La 10 and across the John James Audubon Bridge—golden as it is. We have now crossed the Mississippi and have only the Tennessee and Ohio left to cross to get home. I’m getting used to JJ and it doesn’t frighten me anymore. Hated when they replaced the ferry with it but it is better for commuters.

Once across the bridge it is a quick jump into St Francisville and Grandmother’s Buttons. I bought two new pair of earrings and Barb bought some stuff. Then lunch at the Audubon Café and the biggest bacon cheeseburgers you’ve ever seen along with more sweet tea. Two huge glasses, this time. I love the stuff. Then it was north to Natchez on 61. I had hoped to make Jackson today but Barb didn’t feel well after lunch so we stopped early.

I read three issues of USA Today which I hadn’t read, uploaded the swamp pix, which I thought I had and got the blog done after chatting with Bill. Now I’ll do our finances, check out the calendar of events in Nashville for Sat night and watch some TV.

Have a terrific evening all—the Happily Homebound Sisters, ( tired at last ) Kathy and Barb

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Almost to Louisiana


Sunday October 12, 2014  Comfort Inn Room 202  Victoria, Texas

Good afternoon! I cannot believe it has been five days since I’ve blogged our adventures. The time is running so fast. Seems like only yesterday Barb and I set out and said “ Well, we have eight weeks ahead of us!”  Now we have about two left. It has been fun and the weather, for the most part, has been beautiful. There have been places we wanted to go and see but were unable to for one reason or another. There have been others though that have made up for them and a few we had not planned on but discovered or rediscovered to our delight.

It has been fun to take Barb to places I’ve been and enjoyed in the Southwest and which she had not seen. One of them is the Bosque del Apache in San Antonio, New Mexico.  As you probably noticed in the photos, especially those of you who have travelled there with Bill and me on other trips, the grasses are tall, the trees are full and the fields have been drained at this time of year. Gradually, the fields are being reinundated with water for the arrival of the cranes, which is happening pretty soon. In its present state, however, it was difficult to see into the canals. As a result, any heron or other wading birds were hidden from view. The only birds we did see were the ducks in the already flooded fields and a flock of Canada Geese in the south end agricultural fields. We didn’t see the deer or javelinas that I know are there but we did see the skunk that I always see ( as though it is the same one! ) on the other side of the refuge from its normal area!  Nevertheless, I was, as I always am, happy to have gone there—with or without wildlife it is beautiful and peaceful and a favorite place of both Bill and me. We never go to Socorro without making a trip down –usually at daybreak,  and in time for the early feeders and the fabulous sunrise. This time, we went at dusk and caught the beautiful sunset and the rise of the almost full moon, which was almost immediately hidden by heavy cloud cover. As a result the narrow country road that takes one back to the Interstate was pitch black. All of a sudden Barb hit the brakes and what appeared to be a barrier across the road barred our way. It took a moment to figure out that what we had before us was a flatbed with some Deere piece of equipment on it and no tail lights being pulled by a very high cab with hardly any lights though there were two rather small white lights high on two poles somewhere on the back of the cab or the front of the flatbed. Scared the hell out of us. Followed it, since it was too wide to pass—over the middle line—to the flashing light at the Owl Café. Fortunately, they continued to the little village north of San Antonio,while we turned left to the Interstate. Stayed in Socorro that night and early the next day headed to Carlsbad.

Went across to Carazozo past Trinity Site, which is the location of the first Atomic Bomb explosion. The gate was open though no sign invited visitors. I’ve heard it is only open once a year now but forget when. I doubt there is anymore at the actual site than at the road’s edge where the historical sign is located. A hawk lit on the top of the pole when we stopped to read the sign, so I took his picture—lol  At Carazozo I told Barb to take a road that I never allow Bill to take because it goes over Capitan and looks high and winding. It does cut off some miles though when you are headed to Roswell. To my surprise it is a terrific road and even in winter with our studded tires should offer no problems. It goes straight to Hondo and then we pick up the road to Roswell. When I told Bill we’d gone over Capitan he exclaimed—the road you won’t let me take???? I want to go over that road.  I said okay, we will! It was so beautiful that Barb and I stopped to grab a quick snack of Gloria’s yummy pretzels and a pepper jack stickster. Continued on to Roswell and then south through Artesia to Carlsbad and the night at the Econolodge, which wasn’t too bad, but never my first choice. There was the Ocotilla Sports Bar and Lounge attached so we went it and had steak and beer with the locals. Quite an assembly of characters, starting with the old broad barmaid, Bonnie. It was fun. Slept like logs and headed to the Caverns the next day.

I was to Carlsbad with Bill in 2008. At that time they were working on the new Visitors’ Center and all the facilities were in a series of trailers. This is a truly beautiful building with a restaurant, gift shop, museum, ticket office and information desk. Rangers all over the place with a few volunteers to supplement them. The young girl who sold us our ticket had spent a couple of years at St Gaudens NP in New Hampshire and visited Billings NP in Vt while there, so she was very familiar with my neighborhood.

We took the elevator down 1000 feet into the mountain and to the Big Room which is the size of 14 football fields. No matter how hard I try, I can never get photos that do the beauty of the formations justice. There are no words in my vocabulary adequate enough to describe the splendor and majesty of the place. Happily, the formations are illuminated by white light and not the colored lights that some other caverns have used. It was difficult to choose the right setting for the pictures but I finally settled on candlelight—it gave the best though not perfect results. On my LCD display on the camera the pictures look much better than on the computer. The numbers are for the tour guide so that I’ll remember what they were a hundred years from now, or maybe not.

At one point I was trying to take a selfie of me and Barb—an interesting attempt in darkness –with horrible results. A man and his wife came along and he offered to take our picture—then he had us move to different locations to get the best pictures. I was amazed and thanked him profusely—I think we’d still be there if I hadn’t said we really had enough shots of us. Nice couple.

It is funny how voices carry—they urge whispering but even that carries throughout the whole place. I chose to wait at the shortcut while Barb went down to the lower cave. She came back and said she could hear me speaking to someone—couldn’t tell what we were saying but knew it was my voice.

We were told not to touch the formations since our oils discolor them so, though I look as if I’m hugging my pal, there was no contact. Love the flying saucer formation, called lily pad by the park, where you can see the dripping stalactite forming it and knowing that someday there will be a pillar there. In the picture just following the shortcut sign, if you look closely at the fat stalagmite  toward the top, you can see the face of the Cave Man. The beautifully illuminated cluster of white stalagtites ( draperies because they are wide and flat) is called the chandelier. Off in the far right hand corner of photo 3963, in the shadows, you can just make out the Totem Pole, which is 38 feet tall.

The self-guided tour is 1.5 miles long and the rangers say takes about an hour to an hour and a half. That must be running, not talking to anyone and not really looking at all the crevices and tunnels and holes in the ceiling and walls. Bill and I spent the better part of a day down there and Barb and I entered at 10 am and left at 2 pm. Speaking with the rangers that patrol to make sure all is well and with other tourists is half the fun. We didn’t stop the rangers in their rounds but two of them stopped to chat with us. One young man is from Utah, originally. He taught K-4 for four years—loved the kids, loved teaching, hated the political infighting among teachers, the parental pressures for kids to get excellent grades and the boring, fruitless meetings. Told his wife he had to find something else to do and went into the Ranger program. He left Carlsbad on Thursday and was heart-broken to leave. Headed to Rushmore for the winter. It is so sad to hear young people bemoan their experiences in education. The good ones have other places they can go and they do. But, I was happy to leave education for all the same reasons.

Eventually, we came to the end of our journey beneath the ground and emerged into the sunlight to continue on our way along the ridge culminating in the Guadalupe Mtns and turn eastward into Texas and our first farm road with the loss of an hour. We once more saw the washouts caused by the heavy rains of several weeks past. Most unusual for West Texas to be so innundated. This area of West Texas is oil rich and so all along the roads we saw brine, KCl stations, salt and fresh water stations, water reclamation areas producing non-potable water—all used in the drilling process. Odessa-Midland has the heady aroma of petroleum permeating the air—and flames burning off the gases released in the drilling and storing processes. Much like Laurel-Billings, Montana!

We took a bit of a detour so that Barb could see the birthplace of Roy Orbison, one of our favorites. Wink is literally a town that you’ll miss if you  blink. I’d totally forgotten about it until Bill suggested that we might not have trouble finding a reasonable room available without competition in Wink.—I told him when I called that we had a room overlooking the Orbison museum—he knew it wasn’t true—there isn’t even a motel in Wink!!!

Eventually, we returned to civilization and discovered that all those wildflowers Mrs Johnson planted to beautify Texas have gone native in 50 years and in places completely taken over the landscape. As we approached Odessa, there was a huge traffic tie-up lasting several miles. Got past that accident and came upon another within a mile. Soon, as the sun started to set behind us we arrived at Midland.

The exit ramp, we soon discovered was two way traffic and we were in the oncoming lane! There was a large gap in the line we need to be in and it appeared the driver was allowing us in. As Barb looked in her rearview mirror to wave a thank you, she exclaimed that the young punk behind us had given her the finger. As the traffic edged to the light, he kept getting very close to the rear of our car and when it was our turn Barb flew through the orange light in a left turn. He stayed almost attached to us and as we moved to the left to make another turn into our motel, he stopped and flung something very heavy at us and hit my window. I don’t know how it didn’t break!  He flew on down the road, we couldn’t get a plate or description of his vehicle. Don’t know what we would have done if it had broken. Very unsettling. But, we checked into the brand new Holiday Inn and had a restful night.

The next morning, we met the man who built the motel. He asked how we liked paying $179 a night for the room. We said we did not—we used points. He said there was an event coming up in the next week, that the rooms were starting at $700!!!!! a night, and that the hotel was booked already!  Again, we’d gotten one of the last rooms—he said that oil is what brought the cost of staying there so high. We told him about the driver incident and he said that Midland had gotten very rough. Around the hotel is low income housing and the people come over and try to use the pool; they’ve had prostitutes try to rent rooms. He is from Lubbock and said the people there are much different. He is right—I love Lubbock. We will totally avoid Odessa-Midland from now on.

We left the place in our rearview mirror and headed out to Brady where we would make a decision whether to make a side trip to San Saba and the Pecan Company. Those who traveled with me and Bill last year will recall our 140 mile detour to buy Barb some of their peach, amoretto, pecan preserves last year. This time we were only going 86 miles out of the way. And we did.And we both stocked up on jars of various fruit and pecan jams. Then headed in the direction of San Antonio. Once more, tried to get a room in Fredricksburg for a reasonable rate—all over $125 and limited availability—as we went through we discovered there was some sort of festival going on. Spent the night in Kerrville, right on Route 10 and used points.

Yesterday began on I 10 doing battle with a wide load playing hopscotch for several miles before he passed us a final time and left us in his dust—either because he departed the highway or took a different route. We arrived in San Antonio and got through the city unscathed and found our way to the first of four missions we explored, laid out along the San Antonio River. The most northern  mission is the Alamo, which we have visited on a prior trip to Round Rock several years back. Once you’ve seen it, it isn’t worth the hassle of in-town traffic to visit again.

It was raining as we found Mission San Jose, which has the largest of the Churches set up in these Indian villages the Franciscans established. The Natives of the South Texas plains found themselves living in these new communities that eventually became walled—to defend against the Apache raiders who rode upon horses obtained from the Spaniards, one way or another, and were now able to roam farther afield to hunt and gather and fight any who competed with them. The Spaniards, too, caused stress to the South Texas Indians by bringing European diseases against which the Natives had no immunity. Finding themselves beset by murdering marauders and unfamiliar disease, the people felt themselves deserted by their gods and willingly looked toward the new one offered by the brown-clad Franciscans.  And so, they were converted to Catholicism, sort of—they still retained some aspects of their own religion such as the use of hallucinogens,such as peyote, for their religious visions. This practice and the dancing accompanying it was condemned by the priests. They also began to teach the people various trades such as building, forging, and planting crops. Some of the people left the walled villages and priests would search for miles for escaped converts and return them to the village. The entire complement of buildings, walls and church was built by the Indians. There were soldiers assigned to each of the towns and the Spaniards kept tight rein on the newest members of the Catholic Church. Despite this history what has been left behind is beautiful and the places are serene and pleasant to explore.

Bill and I had been unable to enter the Church at San Jose when we were here in 2008 since there was a funeral service going on. These four Churches, unlike the Alamo are still active parishes in the San Antonio diocese. Mission Conception is the most well preserved of the Churches and much of the original painting done by the Indians in the 1600’s is still present, although the paintings on the outside of the churches has long ago faded, eroded or been vandalized. I love the rosary bead room as I call it—with the painted beads along the meeting of the walls and over the ceiling culminating in the crucifix on one wall. I also love the bell pull in one ceiling that looks like the chain on an old flush toilet!  LOL

Much of the Convento of Mission San Juan is missing so one has to use one’s imagination to envision the enclosure as it once existed. The church is also aligned in a different way than the others. The bell tower is over the entrance, but once you’ve entered, rather than having the body of the Church in front of you, you turn toward your left and it runs at a right angle to the foyer. I think this is my favorite of the four—especially the bell tower with its mismatched bells. The simpicity of the chapel appeals to me. When I was here last the statues were dressed in purple—it was Lent.

I loved the inventory of items from a sample pack train—saffron is still very expensive, the rosary beads are similarly priced today and there is chocolate that sells for $28 per pound—Vt chocolates and Godiva come to mind—but WHO was dressing those Franciscans?  Armani?????

As we made our way to the last of the Missions, we were greeted by a couple of the local canines—very cute. While I’m mentioning it, the way among the Missions has become totally complicated—Mission Road has been torn up, eliminated in places and just poorly marked in others. For a National Park the map as well as written and oral directions are awful and signs are few and far between. Took us more time finding them than touring them. Probably will not be back again.

On the way to Mission Espada one passes the incredible aqueduct system hand dug by the Indians under the direction of the Franciscans. In each community the waters of the San Antonio were diverted by a canal system to the fields outside the village walls and to the villages themselves. The Aqueduct is as impressive if smaller than the ones used by the Romans in the time before Christ. We met an older gentleman in this park who was there with his son, from Salem, Ma and his grandsons gathering black walnuts. He was impressed by my using a paper map to navigate. Told him Barb and I were taught how to read a map at very young ages—Dad would take us out into the country, give us a map and have us give him the directions to get to a specific town. We’d have to tell him what roads to take and which way to turn at any intersection we encountered. We loved it then and we still love to use maps. He said his elder grandson is learning to read a map in exactly the same way. I hate those Tom-Toms etc though I have one and brought it on the trip—it is still in the trunk in its original box.

Mission Espada is undergoing maintenance and repair—so no entering it and it is totally wrapped in scaffolding at the moment. The convento was occupied by several priests in 2008 and they had a lovely courtyard with flowers and wind chimes. It is empty now—there is no regular priest in residence though there is a Scottish priest living at San Juan.

And so our day ended and we took back roads through Goliad and on into Victoria where we spent the night. Went out to Johnny Carino’s for dinner. I woke up this morning with a slight fever and intestinal distress. We opted to remain for another night. Our room was booked for tonight—there is a great deal of construction going on—new motels etc and the crews have the place booked. This is a brand new motel—Bill and I were among its first guests in March. We had to move to a larger king suite at the same price as our two queen room. Such a hardship. I didn’t take photos of the original room but this one is lovely. We have watched the weather go through several cycles of sunshine, drizzle, sunshine, downpour and back to sunshine.

We are in tonight with our leftover Carino’s skilletinis and Masterpiece Theatre. Spoke to Bill and Betsy today—they were having the harvest of the brussel sprouts event—Brussel Sprout Festival—with Misty and Attila today. There has been frost and the gardens and the porch crops are all finished for this year. So when I get home the porch will have taken on its winter theme of wood piled for the stove. Sigh!

If all goes well, we will go through Houston tomorrow and enter Louisiana heading toward Lafayette and fried oysters!  Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!! Bonne Nuit, Mes Amis! Les Soeurs Heureuses, Kathy and Barb