Sunday, September 16, 2018

Caught Myself in a Bias

Bikes outside Vermont Apple Pie

I try hard to avoid preconceived notions. Bias. Unintentional prejudices. Sometimes, though, I'm caught offguard by one of my own. 

We’re eating breakfast in a sweet, delicate  little mom-and-pop restaurant called Vermont Apple Pie in the even sweeter little town of  Proctorsville, VT.  The tiny dining room is upstairs, and the only server can’t see downstairs into the waiting room. So now and then, he calls down the steps, “Anyone waiting?”

This time, a boy-voice (maybe a teen, or young 20-something) responds, “Yes. Me and my mom. And a big group of bikers, maybe six of them.”

Bikers. Oh my. This is a small dining room.

Hubby in half the dining room
So our waiter calls into the kitchen for help and a woman (his wife?) scurries out to fix up the table for six bikers. 

I watch. And wonder how six burly men and their bulky leathers will fit around this delicate country table. Especially when each end of the table has been turned into a place setting.

I just keep eating. And watching.

“OK,” the server calls down the steps. “Table for six is ready.”

I wait for the thundering  herd.

I get no thunder. No burly men. The bikers are six tiny women. The biggest thing on them is a smile.

Even in their bulky leathers, they fit nicely, with lots of room to spare. And lots of stories to tell.

They all just met, through a Vermont bike touring company called MotoVermont. Two are from Washington State. Two from California. One from New York (outside Albany) and one from Connecticut. All are enjoying this  guided motorcycle tour of New England.

The tour guide hands me her card. Just in case. One day. Well, maybe.

Tour guide in pink

Thursday, May 17, 2018


President Dwight Eisenhower wearing "I Like Ike" glasses

And at the end the day, I like Ike, too.

We are at the Eisenhower Museum and Library, a small campus of buildings in Abilene, Kansas, a town so small its letters on a map need magnifying.

We came here for the presidential memorial. We bought a pass to it last month. But I looked everywhere this morning and couldn’t find it. So I was hoping they had a database with my name in it.

But nope. There is no way to prove we’d already bought tickets. 

The 60-something man selling tickets leaned back, crossed his arms high on his chest and stared at me through spectacles a bit too small for his face. “I believe you,” he said shortly. “Want to know why? I’ll tell you why. Because Ike was an honest man. A good, honest man.”

He stamps two tickets and shoos us off to a guided tour of Eisenhower’s Abilene home (starting in two minutes), then yells to our backs as we hustle out: “WHEN THE TOUR IS OVER, COME BACK FOR THE FILM.”

What a nice man. 

The lady giving the tour of the family home is nice. The library staff is nice. 

And by the end of my visit today, I’ve come to understand Eisenhower was nice, too.  Not in a white-washed way. He was a likable man the world embraced. An honest man. I already knew his military excellence, his connections with the U.S.Interstate system and NASA.

What I didn’t know was even his distractors appreciated how decent a man he was.

The museum peddles this decency. 

As well as his wisdom:

""Teachers …  are developing our most precious national resource: our children, our future citizens."

His considerate leadership.

"I believe that the United States … does have the job of working toward that time when there is no discrimination made on such inconsequential reason as race, color, or religion.”

 His foresight:
On the concentration camps he visited at the end of WWII: "I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to 'propaganda’."

Good golly. He was a man who modeled decency. Who was married to a woman who could be everyone’s best friend.

So I like Ike, too. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018


A meteor struck Earth 50,000 years ago and left behind this crater

    Ever hear of Meteor Crater in northern Arizona? 
     Me neither. 
     The name alone sounds like a cheapy roadside attraction, right up there with the world’s largest catsup bottle,  Salvation Mountain  and the biggest ball of paint
     But when my brother-in-law suggested we visit, well, it was on our way, so we did and I am floored.
     This roadside attraction is perhaps one of the best in the country. 
     It’s a big hole in the ground, yes. But the Barringer family who owns it has invested millions into explaining what it it, how it got here and why we should care.
     And because of their dedication, the info center attached to it, called The Discovery Center, attracts the very generation it needs to survive: the tech-savvy generation.
    There are 24 exhibits inside the sprawling center, many of which employ various forms of whiz-bang technology to keep you interested, to bring you inside the project, to help you understand.
     And then the walk to the crater is an absolute WOW. A paved path goes up and down to several viewing platforms. With signage to ignite your curiosity. And telescopes, too. If the wind dies down, you’ll get a guided tour by a geologist.
    So, if you are ever in the neighborhood GO. It’s about 37 miles east of Flagstaff. If you can, go out of your way.
    This is a must-see slice of history bundled with science even the kids will enjoy.

Touch-screen technology encourages visitors to linger 

24 exhibits entice you to explore

Tuesday, April 24, 2018


These guys lived 225 million years ago in what is now Petrified Forest

I am so easily wowed.

I’m walking where dinosaurs walked. Not the big guys. The human-sized guys. And I’m touching felled trees  they might have touched. Wow.
I'm on the Crystal Forest trail

We’re in Arizona, driving through Petrified Forest National Park on our way to see the Painted Desert.

 It’s a 30-mile ride through quite an unusual countryside: a semi-desert shrubby plains area that butts up against a subdued relative of the badlands. No trees. Yet it’s littered with large hewn logs.

There are so many, I imagine this is where Paul Bunyan whacked up thousands of trees on his journey to Storyland.

But 225 million years ago, this area was a lush river basin near the equator, home to dinosaurs, not Paul, and the 200-foot tall coniferous trees today’s logs came from.  They look like Paul was here because of gravity. And science. See, petrified wood is heavy. And for millions of years, it is hidden inside the Earth covered by earth. When the wind and the rain expose the logs, gravity versus weight causes them to break apart, like a piece chalk you drop to the ground. In 90-degree angles.

Colorful quartz
The mile-long trail I’m hiking winds through the Crystal Forest  which is littered with the logs. The colorful layers of quartz in the petrified wood twinkle in the morning sun.  (Go here for the science.)  

It’s a simple hike I’m taking back through time. And I am totally wowed.

Panorama of The Painted Desert

Friday, April 13, 2018


Damaris owns the Western Motel and RV Park

I’ve learned to never underestimate senior women. To never doubt their strength. Especially ones I meet in New Mexico, the birthplace of the atomic bomb.

We’re staying in a tiny RV park behind the Western Motel in Magdalena, NM. It’s owned by a spritely woman named Damaris. (The name is in the Bible only once, she said. Acts 17. Last chapter.) 

She’s 62 and non-stop, this woman. She runs the motel and RV lot by herself.  I see her toting plumbing supplies, supervising repair of a water leak, directing two men doing odd jobs on her lot. 

I later learn these men are simple men who can’t hold jobs. So Damaris gives them worth. Lets them putter. She tends to them, out of faith. Like she does the community’s children with vacation Bible school every summer.

She’s a seriously faith-filled woman. Who invites me to church. So I go.

Inside the back door of the Magdalena Community Church I see five other older women and two older men engaged in conversation. It’s social hour. So I grab a bottle of water (we're in the desert) and sit down next to a woman named Marcia, who's in her 70s and enjoys creating non-denominational rosaries.  She shows me one and explains each bead in detail. 

She, too, is a faith-filled woman.

We soon usher ourselves into the sanctuary and I notice it is just us. The social-hour gang. No others have come to worship. Where’s the pastor? 

Soon, Marcia lights the altar candle then sits at the piano and leads us in hymns. She then toddles to the lectern and leads us in prayer.

Marcia wears many hats at church.
Then, Marcia, the rosary-making, prayerful pianist, presents the sermon, engaging us in a powerful message on Doubting Thomas. 

I later learn Marcia is also a retired nuclear physicist. Damaris is a political scientist. Another 60-someting woman I met is a physical therapist.

As I said, I’ll never underestimate the power of an older woman. Or the lengths to which faith takes us.

These people keep the church vibrant in Magdalena, NM. The lap quilts come in handy on cold windy days.

Thursday, April 12, 2018


Few people can't identify this icon of forest management.

     Someone needs to rescue Smokey the Bear.  Again.
     Someone with political clout. With money. And a vision for fun, education and young people. Not just the kiddies. Pre-teens. Teens. Even 20somethings. 
     I’m visiting Capitan, NM, a middle-of-New Mexico place where Smokey was born in 1950, rescued and eventually buried. But there’s so much more to this 75-year-old story.  Unfortunately, it unfolds yawningly inside in a museum designed for baby boomers.  
     The small Smokey Bear Historical Park houses a ton of historic fire-prevention posters (some I recognize), pictures of Hollywood icons from back in the day (I LOVE seeing Timmy and Lassie!) and a video of the now aged game warden talking about how he tended to the baby bear’s badly burned feet and bottom, then got him rebranded as the living embodiment of Smokey. 
     One room, for kids I guess, has baskets of crayons and coloring pages.
     There’s not much here to do.
     The extraordinary legend of Smokey is fading. Even the town has given up. It cancelled its annual  Smokey Bear Appreciation event this year. Couldn’t get enough volunteers.
     But Smokey is ageless and tireless. He’s still featured in fire prevention pubic service announcements. His likeness is still at national parks and wild places warning  about the day’s forest-fire threat.
     Smokey needs his own phoenix. 

What can be done? Some thoughts:
  1.     Introduce a virtual reality room. (Beg Disney to pitch in. The two have history.)
  2.     Hire contemporary cinematographers to retool videos. (Maybe start a Go Fund Me page.)
  3.     Turn the two-acre outdoor park into a learnland/playland, with a geocache at Smokey’s gravesite and a  phone-based scavenger hunt.
  4.     And please.  Get rid of the crayons. Or update it to include adult coloring kiosks.

     I’ll share these thoughts with the Smokey Bear Hometown Association members.  They’re the ones who cancelled the annual appreciation event. They say they're focusing instead on next year’s 75th anniversary birthday bash for the much-loved environmental icon. 
     Would’t it be nice if the party partnered with a makeover reveal?

An early Smokey poster. He's dreaming of his own rescue.
Inside, the museum looks lovely. Lots to read.

Sunday, April 8, 2018


The guy with the cowboy hat is Allen, taking pictures
The VLA. The Very Large Array. A noted astronomical observatory. A science fiction lover’s dream. 

It’s a collection of 27 giant dish antennas, each with a dish face  82 feet in diameter. They are trained in unison skyward from the Plains of San Augustin, an ancient seabed 7,000 feet above sea level in New Mexico near nowhere.

They look into the universe and map it, one moon-sized piece at a time.

And we’re here. For an open house tour. Looking at them.
I read this: "Since the first observation in 1975, the Very Large Array has scanned the skies to learn cosmic secrets invisible to even the most powerful telescope. The VLA shows us the chaos caused by black holes, maps ice on the scorched planet Mercury, watches suns from inside their dusty gas cocoons, and even found a hole in the Universe billion light years around."

And it thrilled movie lovers in 1997 when “Contact” used the field of antennas as a backdrop for a message from space. All from the amazing mind of Carl Sagan.

Like I said. Science fiction. One truth at a time. My nerdy techno hubby Al Fasoldt thrills to be here.

Sunday, March 11, 2018


I don’t take my camera to the beach. Which means I miss a lot of really really neat photos.

This week alone:

  • Three trios of beach walkers carry parade-style American and military flags. You know, the big flags, attached to 6-foot white poles nestled in belted cups. The flag bearers wear military rucksacks across their chests.

 I ask what’s up.

Turns out, these men and women routinely canvas the beach, looking for veterans. The rucksacks are filled with heavy stuff to represent the burden veterans with PTSD bear. They hope to bring comfort to the men and women they reach.

I want to hug them.

  • Two jumpers parachute in. They land perfectly,  roll up their chutes and soak up the sun.

  • Someone or a group someones created a 20-foot trail of fruit and flowers near the surf. It looks like a Hindu or Buddhist funeral offering. Whoever created this ribbon of loveliness chose unblemished bananas, mangoes, apples, oranges, pears, tulips and chrysanthemums. I feel the emotion.

So the next time I go to the beach, I take my camera.  To capture that emotional moment. That powerful event. That once-in-a lifetime sighting.

OK. Here it is. In time for Spring Break, which draws 100,000 high school and college kids to town.

Monday, March 5, 2018


 I'm calling this a God Story.

Yesterday, we decided to tithe more than usual to a little church down here on South Padre Island, Texas,  because we’d been remiss in meeting our 10 percent. I was feeling bad about that, because I felt I was denying Jesus his share of the wealth He provides for us.

Now, this little church annoys me seriously. The pastor has said some very prejudicial things from the pulpit (like saying all Palestinians are terrorists …  SO very wrong). But …

Worshipping inside this little church has reminded me that no human understands the Bible exactly. No human preaches God’s heart perfectly.  I need to be in the Word for God to talk to me. And I also need to hear His Word in order to hear Him.

So we tithed.

Then we went to the grocery store, Where I spent a ton of money because I am making sloppy joes (great recipe)  to feed 25 people Monday night at a kid’s program the church sponsors in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the area.

I had a vase with three long-stem red roses in my buggy because Allen insisted on buying me flowers (then tired of shopping and left to wait in the truck). But at check-out, as I watched the cash register tick higher and higher, I asked the cashier to put the flowers back. “Too much,” I told him.
He handed the flowers to another man, (both  about 24 years old); they exchanged words in Spanish and the  other guy trotted off with the beautiful symbol of my husband’s love for me. (Just the thought still makes me smile.)

Soon, the other man returned, carrying a dozen long-stemmed red roses and handed them to me. “I can’t …,” I said. He waved me off. “They are free.”


I stared with disbelief at this lovely young man handing me roses. As I took them, he bounded off, and I realized, and I truly believe, he was a vessel of God’s love for me. And acknowledgement of sorts that God loves me and was thanking me for my gift to Him.

There. That’s my God story. And the picture shows my roses. From God.

Saturday, January 27, 2018


I’m star struck.


First, I’m hanging out with Hedwig. Really. 

Well, I’m hanging out with one of the snowy owls used to portray Harry Potter’s companion owl. She wasn’t in the films. She did the promotional circuit for the immensely famous books about deliciously magical people.

And so I consider this a magical moment and even though there are more than 12 other magnificent raptors on perches in this small room (more later) I can’t stop staring at Hedwig. I remember reading when Hagrid gave her to Harry. And when she flew to France to deliver Hermione’s birthday present. Potter fans can be reminded of all things Hedwig here.  

Jonathon Woods uses an audience volunteer to feed the eagle
Star struck No. 2:  I’m hanging with Jonathon and Susan Woods, who are here with their birds, in this small room at the South Padre Island (Texas) Birding and Nature Center.  I paid $5 to voluntarily wedge myself into this small room packed with about 100 people because I am such a fan of The Raptor Project. It’s the same wild bird presentation Allen and I scrambled to see at the New York State Fair for years. In fact, 18 years. 

They aren’t at the fair anymore, they said. Been gone four or five years. Politics. Shame. Because the Woods are living encyclopedias of birds of prey. They manage to rehabilitate injured birds and set them free or, if the disability is too great, take them on this road show.  To educate people like me. And I love it.

These birds are not stuffed, just flexing
So this sardine-packed room has about 12 magnificent raptors in it and we are close enough to all of them to see their eyes blink. There’s a vulture, a caracara (known locally as a Mexican Bald Eagle) a real bald eagle, a golden eagle, many falcons and big and little owls.

And of course, there’s Hedwig. She sits through the 45 minute show watching us as intently as we watch her.  Whenever Jonathon is near her, he tussles her feathers, kisses her head. She coos. 

She’s his companion.

So you see, it IS Hedwig.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018



I know the day’s supposed to be about the turtles.

In fact, that’s why I am here, at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico, at the south end of South Padre Island, huddled with hundreds of others behind yellow police tape, just waiting for the release of the rescued turtles.

(To find out why they need to be released, watch this video.)

But what captures my attention and soon my heart is Donna. She’s a Jennifer Aniston look-alike (well, nearly) and she’s kneeling in the sand a few people up from me. I learn, because of her sheer excitement, that Donna is a rescuer.

She found one of these cold-stunned turtles while she and her boyfriend were exploring Boca Chica, an expanse of beach not to far from here and right next to Mexico. It’s a stretch of land destined to become very, very famous because Elon Musk is building his Space X launch pad there.

But for now, it’s still wild, and it attracts adventurers like Donna and her boyfriend, who were walking down the beach toward the border with Mexico, to the place with the Rio Grand spills into the Gulf of Mexico. They moved along the sand,  huddled against the wind and the chill, looking for beautiful seashells as they go.

 What they saw instead was a lifeless, 100-pound lump of giant sea turtle stranded on the sand, not moving. She touched its head and its eyelids fluttered, so she knew it was alive. But not for long. They needed to help.

So she and her boyfriend hefted the giant up the beach and into the backseat of her car. Then drove about 45 miles to the Sea Turtle Rescue on South Padre Island, where volunteers warmed it up and, a few days later, released it back into the Gulf. (Yay!)

So now Donna is part of the family, part of the turtle safety net. She comes to all the turtle releases. She's giddy with renewed joy each time. Ands glows with excitement as volunteers carry the turtles back to the sea. For me, it’s fun to see. For her, it’s a homecoming.

Saturday, January 20, 2018


My little winter escape on South Padre Island, Texas

During the winter, I live in a quiet campground (just 16 trailers) usually populated by others like me, happily retired seniors who walk their dogs three times a day and mingle in the middle to chat.

This winter, though, two youngsters live among us, a 30-something burly construction worker and his wife, who work nearby on a natural gas pipeline. They work Monday through Friday. And they play on Saturday. They play hard, with loud music, loud car vacuums, loud whatnot. 

They create an energy to Saturday I’d long forgotten about, an energy that sets it apart from the work week. Because Monday through Friday is quiet and regimented. It’s a work week. Its form and function destine it to work.

But Saturday is Fun Day. Anything can happen because it’s off the clock. They tinker with their trucks, tend their dogs, vacuum the trailer, sip beers and listen to music.  Loud music. Sometimes head-banging music. But never for long.  (Who knew there's a funky rock version of "Margaritaville"? Heard it today. Hmmmm.)

I’ll not complain.  It’s OK for them to thump my world a little bit on Saturday because heck, I’m retired. Every day is my Saturday, so I have seven to their one. They can have their one however they want it, I say, listening to a rambling wild guitar riff I don’t actually like much at all. 

And because that riff is never ending, maybe I’ll go walk the beach. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018


They look like such ordinary kids. 20-somethings (well, one has tipped into his 30s). Out to tour the country (theirs and ours) before adulting (I’m getting used to this word.).

Nice kids from Canada. Friendly. They are camped next to us on South Padre Island, Texas, and plan to head home soon to Victoria (on Vancouver Island)  after spending nearly a year on the road. 

We invite them to dinner. Because they are so nice. And maybe, I think, a few new adults in their life might make the segue to adulting transparent. 

Oh. So. Naive.

Meet Justin and Tenile. He is from Yellowknife, Northwest Territory, and she is from South Africa. While she was in film editing school then running her own film editing business, he was driving the ice roads up North,  lumberjacking the jungles of Central America and volunteering to fight fires in Canada.  My head is spinning. Really? 

They met, married and partnered in her business, which they now do daily from their trailer, while on the road, exploring their country and ours.

They took to traveling because their life changed. They lost their home (literally … the owner plans to tear it down). So instead of trying to find another place to set down roots, they bought a trailer and started the traveling gig.

And now they are heading home because their life has changed again. They’ll soon be parents and they prefer Canada’s free health care system over the bloated one we have here.

Phew. Amazing. Wow.

OK. These not-so-ordinary kids don’t need lessons in adulting. They got it.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018


Eugene Fernandez giving a cemetery tour

I never met a guy who had more relatives or knew more scuttlebutt about dead people than Eugene Fernandez, curator of the Old City Cemetery in Brownsville.

Eugene is my tour guide at this cemetery, where legions of his cousins, uncles and grandfathers are buried  (or so he says; wink wink).

As we walk, he regales us with love triangles, suspicious business deals and war tales. Heck, his cousin (over there, Eugene says, pointing out over my head) served in three or four wars, went deaf from the gunfire, but never fired a gun himself, then died a peaceful death in his 90s. Then there’s his great-grandfather (maybe it was great-great), who sold faulty munitions to Mexican fighters, so their bombs popped then fizzled piles of dust and dirt. 

Then he stops at a vandalized tombstone, a decapitated angel carrying a large cross. He tilts his head toward the statuary: “I know who bit her head off.” 

Michel Schodt
And so the tale (tall?)  begins. The grave belongs to Michel Schodts, a wealthy businessman in Brownsville, who forbade his only daughter from marrying her beloved.  Well, she did anyway, and to get back at Dad either hired an assassin or pulled the trigger herself and shot him dead in the streets in 1896.

Out of sheer hatefulness, she then knocked the angel’s head off.

Or so Eugene says.
Decapitated angel at Schodt  grave.
I tried to verify his claim. Several newspaper accounts from the time point to an unknown assassin. And, three months after his death, apparently Marie was offering a $50,000 reward ($1.4 million today) for information about the killer. And reports the following year show it was Marie herself who bought the monument, all marble, for $500,  roughly $14,000 today.

So who’s right? Eugene’s scuttlebutt smells of an Internet yarn. But, he's the town’s expert genealogy researcher (hold’s that title) and has such a large family (mostly dead), therefore, I imagine he can rattle skeletons from anyone’s closet.

So it must be true.

Or not.

Friday, January 5, 2018


I’m cold (35 degrees). 

And I’m in Texas. Near the Mexican border. We come here in winter to get away from winter.

I stop complaining when I think about my grandson Porter, who is living in his truck up north in Austin  (24 degrees).  He won’t be in that truck long. He has the promise of living in a little house, called the Pink House (he says he’ll find a more appropriate name),  in a most unique community.

He lives in Earphoria, a commune-type hostel for musicians (Porter plays guitar) and music lovers. It gives musicians (and music lovers) from all over the world an inexpensive place to stay with their music. 

We visited at Christmas (feeling blessed) and walked around the acre of living space with Porter as  guide. There’s the community kitchen, the laundry spot, an airstream, a few other trailers, the chicken coop, the green house, and, of course, the pink house.

We also visited the music house, a fully functioning recording studio with instruments inside.  All the living spaces radiate from that music house. As do the people who live there.

I’ve posted pictures below. It’s cold here and it’s cold there and I love that Porter has the promise of the Pink House. And gets to keep his music with him.
The entrance to a special hostel in Austin
The pink house way at the back will be Porter's
A close up of the pink house

One of the hostel living spaces

Porter and his girlfriend Kiley built this patio

A living space

A living space

Communal kitchen

Chicken coop


Inside the music house

Recording studio



The main house

The laundry

Outdoor art

Rain gear

Music corner inside the main house