Saturday, January 31, 2009

Good Will

I look once, twice and finally accept that what I see on Route 98 in Fort Walton Beach, FL, is another Goodwill store. I'm sure the donated goods inside mirror those in other such thrifts. But outside, hello!

The stucco exterior is a welcoming sun-baked yellow. To get inside,
customers pass under arches creatively plastered with bright red,
green, yellow, blue and white seashells, tiles and mirrors. Even the
sign "Goodwill" is nonstandard. It's artistically rendered, matching
the upscale nature of the exterior.

I park, get out of my car and stare. A young woman walks up next to
me and stares, too. And then I see it. Remnants of another sign under
the new "Goodwill" sign.

"Do you know what this used to be?" I ask.

"Yes, it was a restaurant. 'Sol' something," she replies, then
begins to walk toward the arches. I follow. "Go in and look at the
floors. After I saw what they did, I went home and ripped up my
carpets and just started painting."

Inside, I find what I expect: bunches of donated stuff. I also
discover what inspired the parking lot lady to redecorate: swirls of
Caribbean hues dancing with each other on the floor.

So I waltz with the swirls from room to room and happen upon my find:
a maroon blanket for $4.

I consider the nuance. Despite the grand enclosure, the color, the
swirls, the gilt, the mirrors, the glitz, it's still Goodwill, a
thrift store selling treasures at bargain prices.

This one just does it with a little more polish than usual.

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Juxta Pose

I took a lot of pictures today.

As I download my memories, I see people I've talked to, places I've
visited and random images I captured without leaving the passenger's
seat in the motor home.

It's one of these drive-by pictures that takes me by surprise.

It's of the USS Alabama battleship (some call it the Hero of the
Pacific) at home in Battleship Park in Mobile (Alabama) Bay.

I snapped the picture as we drove over a high arching bridge
overlooking the park. I didn't see what my camera saw.

Look at the picture. Do you see it, too? Do you see a mighty
battleship moored to a tranquil setting? The picture is lovely, making
the whole scene disquieting. I'm looking at a war machine decorated
with telephone wires, palm trees, cars and, in the bottom of the
scene, a gentle little wooden dock outstretched into a pond-like

It's a visual "War and Peace." But still, it's just a picture, one of
the many I took today.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Say Cheese!

We slip unnoticed through a police surveillance net swept over a road
in New Orleans to catch vehicles with expired registration stickers.

But when we turn the corner, we begin to hear it. Snap snap snap. The
sound imitates an old-fashioned camera shutter. One, two three, four,
continuously the sound repeats itself, like a sports photographer
capturing the big lay up.

I turn my ear toward the dash. It sounds loud. I stand up toward where
I store my camera. The sound fades. I bend toward the floor; it gets

We are convinced our Tom Tom GPS is signaling us that police have us
in their radar. That they saw us after all and want to track us down.

No. Our registration is fine. Our inspecton is fine. Why is the GPS
sending that camera-like signal?

Well, it's not. We turn the Tom Tom off and the signal continues. Snap
snap snap. Snap snap snap. I'm like a hound dog on the hunt.

AHA! I catch it.

Our cell phone slid down in the corner of the sun visor pocket and got
stuck, with the camera button stuck on.

I rescue the cell. The snapping stops. I now know what the inside
of our sun visor looks like. Dark.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Two Dogs, Two Fates

Twice my heart hurts today over the fate of someone else's dogs.

We stop in Lake Charles, LA, because my two dogs need to run, and run
and run. After two days of restraint (always on a leash), they need
their freedom to restore their sanity.

So we stop at the Calcasieu Parish Animal Shelter, which maintains a
public dog park. I go inside to sign in and stand behind a tearful
woman. Her heart is breaking and she's shaking. The story she tells is
about her dog, a brindle pit bull, who twice now has attacked a
person. She's agreed to have her pet euthanized. "I can't trust her
anymore," she lowers her head. She wants to sign the papers before the
police arrive with the dog. "I don't want to see her eyes," she cries,

I donate $5 to use the park and leave the building quickly. I don't
want to see those eyes, either.

I free my dogs into the park area and they immediately start romping.
To my left, I notice a police officer unleashing a dog into an
adjoining fenced-in area and I hold my breath. Is it the doomed dog?
No, well, not yet.

The office is unleashing his partner to run. His partner is Berry, a 3-
year-old robust Belgian Malinois that cost the force $7,000. The
officer jokes that if a suspect shows signs of running, "I warn him
that the dog doesn't give up until this chubby cop catches up with him."

I laugh and watch the blur that is Berry ricocheting off the four
corners of the fence.

The officer's radio crackles. He answers, Then he grabs his cell and
dials: "Suspect is armed and dangerous. Don't even think about going
in without backup. I'm on my way, with the dog."

He commands Berry to come! And the two take off.

We pack up our two dogs and take off as well.

We know our fate, for the moment at least. And that's all we know.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

So Much is Gone ...

Bolivar Peninsula

A surreal landscape haunts me. Taunts me. I know I'm at the beach,
because I see the waves. But what should be here isn't.

We're driving along Highway 87 on the Bolivar Peninsula just north of
Galveston, Texas. To get here, we hitched a free ride on the state-
operated ferry with about 40 other cars and trucks.

For dozens and dozens of miles, I see debris, over-turned and half-
buried cars, pylons holding up nothing, trendy beach cottages
shredded. Mile after mile, the devastation in untenable. It's like The
Day After. Only, it's nearly five months after Hurricane Ike exploded,
flattening the existence of several communities.

What buildings still stand tilt dangerously. Or have no windows and
doors. Some have no floors, no roofs, not enough walls. Businesses are
boarded up, leveled or just invisible. A sign on a partially standing
Jamaican blue wall announces "Paradise has Moved." There's another
sign: Boil water.

Researchers say the sand is gone, swept out to sea. If the communities
want to rebuild their beaches, they'll have to mine the sand
elsewhere. But what do they do to rebuild their dreams?

See more pictures here.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Yet Another Thing To Keep Track Of

I meet a celebrity, of sorts, when I meet Tracy A. Parris. She's a
bookstore manager from Padre Island in southern Texas. That's her
paying job.

Her passion is photography.

She's turned a few of her pictures into postcards (she's standing next
to them in the picture above). Her celebrity comes from another
picture. One I don't have access to, yet.

Her picture of Padre Island National Seashore was picked this year to
be an official stamp for the National Park Passport. It'll be
published in a few months.

So, before leaving the island today, I buy one of the passports so I
will be ready when her stamp is issued.

About $8 later, I settle down to explore the pocket-sized record-
keeper and within minutes, my eyes glaze over. Details, details. In
brief: To fill the passport properly, I need to buy a picture stamp
from each national park I visit, then get a rubber stamp, much like
the ones customs agents slap into real passports. There are about 400
national parks.

Glaze, glaze.

There's a great Web site you can visit (click here) to get a feel for
this addiction.

In the meantime, I'll wait for publication of Tracy's stamp and I'll
buy it. And at some point, I'll figure out how I can fill the other
hundreds of empty slots in my new $8 passport without needing to join
a self-help program.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


First we see the big sign draped across the big white bus. Then we see
the church.

And then we laugh, and we're sure God has a sense of humor, too.

The sign says "Whatachurch!" and is in front of the Padre Island
Baptist Church, which is right across the street from a Whataburger
restaurant. Whataburger is a Texas chain that serves really, really
big hamburgers.

We visit the burger place for breakfast (bad idea, bad food) and then
attend the church with the bodacious advertising.




Saturday, January 24, 2009

Redirected Envy

I pine for room, room to stretch out, a place to toss my shoes, a
counter to pile up dirty dishes on.

For the past three weeks, we've lived in 24 feet that grant us no
space for laziness. If we drop our shoes by the door, we trip over
them coming and going. Abandoned cups on the counter crowd out dinner preparations.

And if all four of us (me, my husband and our two dogs) mill about
concurrently, it's a traffic jam.

I see these huge, gas-guzzling, road-hogging monster motor homes
waddle into the Padre Island National Seashore campground and am envious. I accept all invitations to "come on inside!" And I sprawl on their couches. I miss our couch. I stand and stare at their beds, accompanied by honest-to-goodness
bedside tables for lamps, books, eye glasses, coffee cups, snack
plates. I sigh.

And then I meet Leona and John, a very happy and content couple from Regina, Saskatchewan, who vacation in an egg, a 14-foot fiberglass egg-shaped motor home called a Triple E Surfside (see the pic).

It dates back to 1977, and is so cute. It's dear. It's tiny. One good
shove and it'll topple.

I look inside and I feel so much better about our own 24 feet. The egg
has no running water; we even have a shower. There is no refrigerator;
ours comes with a good-sized freezer. There is no bed (their dinette
folds down into a bed); our bed doesn't fold out, unfold or fold in.
It's a stationary full-sized bed.

OK. Lesson learned. I'll continue to covet my neighbor's couch because
I miss my couch. But after peeking inside the egg, I'm pretty thankful
for the glorious 24 feet of everything else we have.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Bad dog!

We plan to go out for dinner tonight. Which means before we leave, we
must dog-proof the motor home.

One, not both, of our dogs prowls for food behind out backs. In the
past, Joshua has eaten sacks of flour, multiple loaves of bread,
candy, cough drops and even tea bags. He'll pry open the cabinets
looking for food and vacuum down countertops.

You'd think we never feed him.

So, before we leave, we clear off the counters, batten the hatches and
eyeball everything.

Clean. It's all clean.

Or so we thought.

When we return with our bellies full of exquisite Mexican food, we
find Joshua full of our vitamins.

While we were gone, he found our plastic weekly vitamin holder and
ripped off each daily lid. He then savored (?) fish oil tablets,
glucosamine chondroitin, and a sundry other little vitamin pills we
take to stay healthy.

Bad dog. But healthy dog.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sometimes, He's Right

Allen cringes when I do things like grab a butter knife to tighten a
door knob screw. "There's a tool for every job!" he bellows.

So when I want to use the motor home's awning, I bow to Allen's credo
and go in search of the special "tool" he uses to crank it out. But,
I can't find it. And because he's soaking up the Texas sun way out
there on the beach, I can't ask him for help.

I stand perplexed. What to do? I want the awning extended. I look
around. Aha! I grab an awning crank "butter knife," which is really a
long door hook that fits perfectly in the awning's turning slot. Well,
almost perfectly.

With each rotation, I crank out the awning by inches, but I also lift
pieces of the awning's plastic base ever so slightly. Oh, no problem,

Well, we get to meet neighbor Dave (see the pic), who lives on an
island in the St. Lawrence, because he offers to help Allen, who has
returned from the beach and is now trying to fix the awning.

Evidently I broke it with the "butter knife."

Which wouldn't have happened if I had used the right tool for the job.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Whatcha dune?

Where the road ends, the beach begins, and we just keep on driving.

At Padre Island National Seashore, there are 63 miles of undisturbed
beaches, meaning for 63 miles, the sun, waves and sand dominate. No
condos rise, no shopping malls sprawl, no development disturbs the flow.

But, we see cars. And campers. And tents. And anglers. And dogs. And
lots of birds. We pass an oil tanker truck.

As we journey along the beach in our candy-apple red Saturn, we roll
through a surreal landscape nonchalantly, accepting our sojourn as

Waves crash just inches away. Dunes spill toward our tires. Flocks of
sea gulls play chicken with us.

We swerve to avoid beach walkers, careen past pylons, then head back
to where the rubber meets the road and reality returns.


On my blog five days ago, I mention "a fellow laundry washer" I met
in town and then yesterday, I mention one of my new friends who is
traveling to Africa in March.

Today, I learn they are one. And he's staying right next door. His
name is Jay.

Funny. Neither of us remember ever seeing each other's face. It is
Jay who connects the dots when our conversation cycles around to
funny signs in laundromats (i.e. Check inside machine for children),
which is the conversation we shared five days ago.

We laugh.

Ya gotta laugh.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Newfound Friends

Yesterday, a stranger walked into our camp site and invited us to a
fish fry down by his "tomorrow at 3, and bring a dish to pass."

Today, we dine at that fish fry, and we are no longer strangers. With
him, his name is George, his wife, Cindy, and with a a few dozen
others campers here at Padre Island National Seashore.

Let me introduce you to a few:

* Lou and his wife, Carolyn, are from Minnesota, where they are very active with
the local Moose Lodge. They travel with their two cats, Missy and Max,
both rescues.

* The couple right next door travel 180 days a year. And in March, they
head back to Africa for their fourth tour there, this time to Namibia.

* A German couple floated their motor home across the ocean (well,
booked passage on a steamer) for a year-long journey through the
United States. They leave from Baltimore to return home in April.

* A French Canadian couple from a small town north of Montreal traveled
all the way to Albany before discovering one of their cats was a motor-
home stowaway. They had to fly her back home.

* And, finally, Cindy and George spend weeks here each winter because
he loves to fish. The fry at their place today is the fourth so far
this season.

The stories are many, varied and grand.

We now have many friends in this southeastern section of Texas. See
the picture? Wave back at 'em. They are good people.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Few Words

Not much more I can about today than this:

83 degrees.



Sunday, January 18, 2009

Thank God For Girlfriends

I really miss worshipping at Liverpool Community Church near Syracuse, NY. While we travel, we listen to podcasts of the service, but it's not the same as
being there.

And today I miss being there, for many reasons, a huge one being my
girlfriends. I miss my girlfriends. I miss our lunches, our gab time,
our down time. Especially today, I miss my girlfriend Lin. She leads a
Wednesday morning Bible study I enjoy and together we like to scout
out bargains at yard sales and thrift stores.

I told God how much I missed my girlfriends today. So, he put a new
one in my path. Shirley.

Shirley and her husband volunteer here at Padre National Seashore for
three months every year. They work three days, then play for four.
They live in Michigan the rest of the year.

Shirley's invited me to visit her at the Visitor's Center on Tuesday
so I can meet a wildlife photographer who has published several books.
And, guess what. Shirley loves to hunt down bargains at yard sales and
thrift stores.

We plan to go on Friday.

Yes. I miss worshipping at Liverpool Community Church; but, God
listens to me wherever I am. And, he answers, wherever I am.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Mixed Company

We're walking along the beach at Padre Island National Seashore and Jacob makes a new friend. To do so, though, Jacob had to gain his freedom.

Freedom for Jacob means he's untethered, from me at least. Today we
let him romp on a fake leash: a long cable attached to him on one end
and a five-gallon container lid at the other. (In the pics, the lid is bright orange, to the right inone pic and at the bottom of the other.) The lid acts as resistance to his unpredictable bolts.

The effort works. Jacob prances, dances and leaps, but never runs away.

He does, however, run in circles, playing with his new best friend, a
bird. For real.

A bird (I'll find out tomorrow what kind), waits for Jacob to get
daringly close. Then it flies out over the ocean, with Jacob leaping
through the waves to catch him. The bird then circles back over the
land, with Jacob still in tow.

This cat-and-mouse circling game continues for 20 minutes. The circle
gets wider, then smaller. Finally, the game ends and we continue our

No other bird engages Jacob like this; they act like birds and just
fly off.

I hope Jacob's friend returns tomorrow. To play again.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Signs Of Our Times

I can't get the dryer to work at a Padre Island laundromat. No matter
how many buttons I push, nothing. So I decide the read the instructions.

Direction No. 1 (and this is on all of the dryers ... it's not just a
silly sign posted somewhere... it's for real):

Check inside machine for children ...

A fellow laundry washer shared this one from an Albuquerque Barber

Hair Cut While You Wait.

OK. One more. This one is from a public park in Vinita, OK:

Free if you park in the lot.
$500 if you park anywhere else.

And the reason the dryer failed to respond to my button mashing? I
hadn't fed it enough quarters. It's always about money, isn't it.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Not Playing By The Rules

"Don't move the chairs."

I don't get it.

The sign, posted six or eight times in a small dental clinic in Corpus
Christi, Texas, doesn't make sense. Why would I want to move the chairs?

We visit the office because, well, we need emergency dental care and
this is the place we find (and it wasn't easy). So we walk in, read the signs and don't move the chairs (heck, there are only about 12 of them anyway).

Other patients spill in and I notice a pattern: moms and kids. I hear giggles from examining rooms, then cries. The patients I see leaving do so aloft in their moms' arms, usually with wet, reddened eyes.

Have we chosen a pediatric clinic? The office help says no. Hmmm.

Soon, Allen is called to the back. As he enters the world of giggles
and cries, three little kids exit and immediately find three little
plastic chairs they pick up and move about randomly, having a great time. Hey! I chuckle to myself. Can't you kids read?

The musical chairs continues and as the kids giggle, so do I. We talk, and immediately, I whoosh into their little world, drawn into their play. They are Edmar, 8, Gismar, 6, and Nona, 1. They are waiting for the doctor to finish with their 4-year-old brother Fidel before heading back to their grandma's house, where they have lived since Hurricane Ike tore off their Raymondville, Texas, roof.

While they talk, they continue to move the chairs about like a shell
game. They grin. They giggle.

No one dares make them stop moving those chairs.

What possibly could those signs mean?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Bouquet For Loretta

Sand, stones, brambles and burrs surround Otto here in Padre Island
National Seashore. Rising from the midst, a tiny oasis of Indian
Blanket Flowers
decorates my path. I see the bouquet right outside my
front door and I smile. What sweet memories it brings.

Years ago, my dear friend Loretta helped me create many gardens in
Central New York. We loved digging the dirt and cruising the garden
centers, looking for that perfect plant.

My Indian Blanket Flower (Gaillardia) is one of our perfect finds. It
returns yearly by my CNY mailbox and blooms through summer, greeting
me daily with its lovely orange and yellow petals that surround a
large purplish center. It's a delicious flower. I often think of
Loretta when I see it. And, it makes me smile.

So this tiny, natural bouquet down here in Texas, I dedicate to
Loretta, for being my friend and the source of so many nice memories.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Painful Encounters

Nature envelopes us in our ocean-front accommodations.

In the morning, we sip coffee and nibble on blackberries as we survey
the wild surf, kicked into action by a cold front that has followed us
to nearly the southern tip of Texas. It's a bit chilly (40s,
with a powerful wind), so we stay inside Otto and watch the waves from our front-row seat.

For $4 a night, at Padre Island National Seashore
outside Corpus Christi, Texas, we get sand, surf, 20-mile-an-
hour wind, rattlesnakes, coyotes, deer and kangaroo mice.

And we love nearly all of it. In fact, while writing this, I hear the
cry of a nearby coyote on the move, hunting down dinner. Perhaps the
deer we saw earlier. Our dogs pay no attention.

There is one natural invader we can't withstand: the sand burr, which
grows prolifically along the edge of the sand dunes. This small,
unassuming weed (see in the pic how small they are) cripples our
dogs, who raise their paws in agony, pleading with us to help. When we
dig out the offenders from between their toes, we find we have transfered the pain from them to us. The burrs behave like Velcro.

Our only defense? Gloves. And avoidance.

So now we walk (umm, cripple, at least for a while) on three surfaces only: pavement, boardwalk and surf-front sand.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Cultural Divide

We're shopping for groceries in Corpus Christi, Texas, right outside
Padre Island National Seashore (well, about 20 miles outside, but
everything here in Texas is relatively big).

My buggy bumps bumpers with one being used by a young Hispanic who's
focused more on the quality of the Roma tomatoes than he is on me.

"Excuse me," I apologize. He glances up, smiles and scoots his buggy
closer to the melons. About that time, five or six more young
Hispanics descend on the buggy, unloading their finds: avocados,
onions, cucumbers, mangoes, pineapples and more avocados. They
disperse as quickly as they arrive, all but the one who is
still grading the Romas, smelling them, testing them for firmness. Already
he has about 15 in a bag.

I pick out the two I want and stroll away. I peak over my shoulder;
he's still buying tomatoes. His cart brims with the natural goodness.

About three aisles over, I find a trio of young men who look and act
like college guys from Penn State. One transforms the buggy into a
scooter; another dunks his find into the cart like a basketball.

Their fare? White bread, mayonnaise, bologna, individually wrapped
American cheese, chips, dip and Coke. All processed foods, packed with preservatives, salt, chemicals and other unhealthy stuff.

I know whose house I'd like to eat at tonight.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Shall We Dance?

Oklahoma leaves me, well, blank.

We enter from the northeast and drain out the south central. From top
to bottom, it all looks alike. Sorta flat. Nondescript. Quiet.

We drop into north central Texas and wham! It gets louder. "BOOT
KICKIN' BOOTS," "Western Saddlery," "TEXAS RIBS," "Texas Joes," "TEXAS

It's the billboards.

Not a single sign in Oklahoma dances with me. In Texas, they leap,
twirl, stomp and even dosado.

I like a swingin' place.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Romance Skedaddled

We know when to throw in the towel.

Our search for Historic Route 66 ends. Bye bye. No tears shed.

We spend the day rubbernecking road signs, flipping through map pages
and double-checking Internet sites to get our kicks on Route 66
through Oklahoma. It's exhausting. And, frankly, for us, the rewards
are few. Lots of loverly miles of farmland. Not enough historic Route
66. And it's just too cold: 34!

Vinita (Dr.Phil's birthplace) is our only diversion.
We eat at Clanton's because the historic
eatery knew Route 66 back in the day. Allen's fare (hot roast beef
sandwich) is top notch. My "famous" chicken fried steak (Gourmet
Magazine gave it top billing!) is chewy. We exercise the dogs in a
town park.

Yawn. Let's get going.

So, we peel away from the illusive Route 66 and head south. Toward the sun. We love road trip adventures, but not when we have to work so
hard to make it happen.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Day of Riches

"Ain't but three things in this world that's worth a solitary dime, 
But old dogs and children and watermelon wine."  Tom T. Hall

I'm living those words today. Well, all but the wine part.

First, I meet up with Silver, a mighty sweet and mighty overweight, 7-year old Weimaraner, who wiggles like Jell-O as he waddles by to say "hey"  at a Little Rock, AR, dog park. His mom, Laura, loves every ounce of him. And he, her.  They are here  because Silver avoids playtime at home, where he competes for her attention with a St. Bernard, two Labs and a Border Collie. So, he and his mom come to the park to  play, but play's not what Silver does today. He avoids the park dogs, too, content instead to lumber, sniff, wiggle and waddle about in solitude, reconnecting with his mom now and then for a kiss.

Next, I'm granted an audience with Louis, as in Louis the 14th, a blind, 14-year-old white Standard Poodle mourning the loss of his best friend, Marie, as in Marie Antoinette, a Chocolate Poodle, who died recently of a seizure disorder. Louis appears to wear a crown because his mom, Holly, gathered his overgrown locks into a top knot, secured by a rubber band. The grieving Louie receives my scratches unenthusiastically. But his mom knows he'll perk up soon; she sees signs already. Just this morning, he enthusiastically slurped down her chocolate shake, turning his regal white mustache brown.  What a great old dog.

And finally, at a McDonalds in Russellville, AR, I show a couple of kids -- human ones, ages 4 and 6 -- how to turn their milkshake straws into trombones. Their mom grins stoically. Taking the cue, I warn the boys that straw whistling is OK at McDonalds, but not at other, finer restaurants. Still, the mom grins.

And I'm grinning, too, because it all comes back to this: Old dogs and children. It doesn't get much better.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

I kneel before the King

I never thought I'd use the words Graceland and tasteful together.
But, here I go: Graceland offers a tasteful encounter with Elvis

We arrive late in the day on Elvis' 74th birthday expecting Honkey
Tonk Blues glitz and glamour. Instead, we find a gracefully aging icon
of America's past withstanding a steady flow of visitors, all wearing
headsets with a recorded tour, often words from Elvis himself.

The glitz identified with Elvis -- his flamboyant stage costumes and
gazillion gold records and other awards -- presents itself in an
historic timeline, not an in-your-face display of garrish wealth.
Graceland is no beacon of big bucks. It's a modest mansion, where
America's only King sought refuge from his own popularity.

The visual presentation of Elvis omits his final decay, tastefully.
Those images do not define him. The ones on display do. So as we leave
Graceland, we pause for a moment at Elvis' grave and remember the
sexy man with the swivel hips, the sultry stare and the velvet
baritone that rocked a nation off its socks.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Lip Service

To get a smile, give a smile.

Waiting in line at the Oak Ridge, TN, Post Office compares to most
other post office delays.

The long, long line shuffles slowly toward the counter where two
instead of four over-worked postal clerks manage packages, stamps and
confusing questions about various kinds of insurance, delivery options
and supplies.

I need supplies. I am mailing home my garage door opener (my house
sitter HAS to be able to get in and out, right?) and a special mug to
my sister. Included in my arms at this point is a roll of tape I
really don't want, but the Post Office no longer provides the 9 to 10
inches of tape I need to close my box. Instead, I have to buy a whole
roll of it.

So, I am standing in line, grumbling and shuffling. Waiting. Shuffling
and waiting. I grumble. A very short, very old lady behind me pokes
her head into my line of sight and chirps: "But it is mighty fine
tape. The best you will ever find."

"Oh, it's that good?" I had to be pleasant because she was just so cute.

"Oh yes." Her eyes twinkle. She grins. "Why, I got a piece stuck to
my lip and it ripped my skin off."

I'm sorry, but I start to laugh. She grins and twinkles the entire
time she discusses her lip ripping incident.

"How did you tape your lip?" I just had to ask.

"Of, well, you see, I was wrapping Christmas presents and started to
sing and just got caught up in the moment."

Again, I laugh. But this time so does she and so do a handful of
others standing in line.

After the laugh, we are all smiling. And we are still waiting in line
at the Post Office.

Imagine that. This dear old lady with her ripped lip gave away one
smile and got six or seven back.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

My Relationship To Infamy

The American Museum of Science and Energy threads
together stories from my youth into a quilt of historic proportion.

This museum is in Oak Ridge, TN,  the "Secret City" where my grandparents lived
(the picture above of a home like theirs is part of the museum's
exhibits) and where my mother and grandfather and thousands like them
worked at secret jobs in secret buildings. I grew up summers and
Thanksgivings in Oak Ridge.

Because of Oak Ridge, phrases like Secret City, K-25 and the Atomic
Bomb seasoned my childhood's alphabet soup right alongside Sunday
school, swimming pools and summer camp.

Today, the museum unfolds the real story of atomic energy, the
Manhattan project  and, without singling them out, how my family,
unknowingly, was part of America's violent wartime past. Everything
was a secret back then.

How sobering.

Monday, January 5, 2009

NOT like I remember

I'm eager to revisit Natural Bridge, Va., a natural rock formation
connecting two mountains (well, hills) in southwestern Virginia.
When I was here last, I clung to my grandfather's knees (that's about
how tall I was) and was fascinated by the park rangers, the history,
the lush natural surroundings. Thomas Jefferson had owned the bridge
at one time and George Washington initialed it.

What a difference marketing makes.

My excitement ebbs as I drive past tons of aging fake stuff geared
toward making kids and parents miserable because it's all touristy
kitsch: a zoo, a safari, an enchanted forest, a wax museum,
FOAMHENGE!! and, alas, right at the visitor's center for the famed
natural landmark, a fake cowboy riding a fake dinosaur. Blekk.

We're outta here. No one's getting our dollar.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Getting Our Groove Back

We spend the day shedding winter in increments. 

First, we shiver and trot out the A.M. dog walk in Harrisburg (both bundled in multiple layers). By lunch, we are meandering around Falling Waters, WV, minus all but one layer. Then, a few hours later inside the Shenandoah Mountains, we (the doggies and I) are sitting on the ground watching Allen drain off extra oil Otto didn't like (see pic ... that's our dish pan he's ruining.) Nobody is cold anymore. Ahhhh.

So we're flexible again. On a whim, we leave the highway to explore the Shenandoah Mountains on the famed Skyline Drive. Tomorrow or the next day or the next, we might try Graceland. Who knows?


Saturday, January 3, 2009

And we're off!

The fridge is cleaned out, pulled out, turned off. The stove, idem.
The bird, the plants nestled away with sitters. The dogs in the motor
home. The final bag packed.

We're off. Heading down I-81 toward the sun.

Before leaving, it took seven of us (neighbors and friends) to figure
out the Even Brake towing system for our Saturn, which is on permanent
tailgate behind us. It's too darn cold (22 F) to get out and take of
picture of the real set up. So, here's a Web pic of the brake droid that's
now sitting on the floor of the driver's seat of our car. It shoves the car brakes when Otto brakes. Copy cat.

Lingo lesson: A car towed by a motor home is called, ahem, a toad. :)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Countdown to a new adventure

We leave in two days for a three-month journey that will takes us out of the Central New York snow somewhere (we're not sure where) out West and eventually (by March 1) down to Melbourne, FL, where we will stay for a month with the surf and the sun.

It's hard stocking the motor home with  T-shirts and sandals when it feels like an ice palace inside. 

But, we'll persevere.