Week 294 November 16, 2019

When Loren and I left our cousins’ farm in Nebraska at the beginning of this week, it was sad to see how much devastation has occurred from the major flooding earlier this year. Route 80 is detoured from roads that are still underwater, as alternative roads are being built.


We drove through Iowa to our destination of Madison, Wisconsin to arrive at what our friend there said was “between record snows and record temperatures.” We checked in at our AirBnB, then headed off for a Friday fish dinner with our friend, before we all attended a performance of University of Wisconsin at Madison’s Wisconsin Singers. The finale piece included an appearance of their Badgers football team’s mascot, the Badger.

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The next day Loren joined our friend for a walk around the Capital Farmer’s Market before they went to a Badgers’ game. Loren was especially impressed with the marching band. Me? I shopped for a warm coat because the zipper on my North-Face knockoff that I had bought in Nepal had opened, then the zipper pull came off in my hand…

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That evening we three attended an Arlo Guthrie concert at the Barrymore Theater. Guthrie’s son and two of his daughters participated with him on-stage. Their last piece comprised lyrics that his father Woody had composed.

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The next morning Loren and I drove to Green Bay, which had been the main reason we visited Wisconsin this time — our friend had sold us two tickets to see the Packers at Lambeau Field. This was on par with our visit to Wrigley Field in Chicago a few years ago, as both are iconic stadiums that Loren has especially wanted to visit. We arrived early enough to take in all of the extensive Packers’ Hall of Fame museum’s displays at the park.

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Our seats were in a great location for the mid-afternoon kickoff against the Carolina Panthers. It seemed that there was not an empty seat to watch this fan-owned community team play — the attendance was recorded to be 78,000 and we were impressed with the devotion of Green Bay’s fans. We remained in our seats through near the end of the 4th quarter for a home team win, despite a consistent flurry of snow that had begun about half way through the game. The announcers at the stadium labeled it “ideal Lambeau conditions.”

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That evening Loren and I traveled an hour further south-eastward to stay overnight at an AirBnB in Manitowoc. We drove through the continued light snow which began to accumulate before we arrived at our destination. I dared to take a photo as I drove but the white that was intensely visible across my windshield was barely caught by my camera. 


The snow stopped overnight though resumed the next morning. That day, it took us 12 hours over what is normally an eight hour distance, in consistent light snow from the “Arctic blast” that then hit the area. Usually on a long drive day we fill the gas tank at half empty. This day it was strange when, based on how long I’d been driving and would want a break, I would expect to find the tank half empty, but each time it was still 3/4 full. We saw many “disabled” cars, most of which had skidded or jackknifed into ditches and guardrails. At one point I too skidded on an on ramp. Thankfully my years driving in winter conditions helped me navigate and we simply came to a standstill in the shoulder, facing backwards. We know we were lucky and in the future would not venture out in such a storm. In the evening we returned from a short break to find our windshield had frosted over.


The entire next day we holed up at another AirBnB in Ohio, that we had reserved for three nights. The sun was shining on the new snow, making for a pleasant view. Early the next morning, we were treated to a moonset view over the white landscape. 

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We spent this last full day here with a lunch date with special friends at a State Park’s welcoming lodge, where we also spent the afternoon thoroughly enjoying catching up over a game of canasta.


Week 293 November 9, 2019

Last week, Loren and I were leaving Nevada headed eastward. All the way as we passed through the northeast corner of Arizona through Utah and into western Colorado we were entertained on all sides by high desert vistas of sage brush and sand that turned to amazing red rock formations and deep canyons. I only snapped one photo as we briefly stopped, I could have easily taken a few hundred more to share…


At the suggestion of our cousin in eastern Colorado, we stopped for two nights in Grand Junction to spend time at Colorado National Monument. Just as it had been in Nevada, it was unseasonably cold there. I must emphasize how cold we felt. I was grateful I had purchased a pair of inexpensive gloves at a pharmacy in Las Vegas and wore them with my other winter outerwear with gratitude. As was also suggested, the next morning we waited for the day to warm up a bit before heading to the Monument at mid-morning to beat the crowds. We arrived at the perfect time. We first hiked to see Devil’s Kitchen,

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then hiked to First Pool on No Thoroughfare Canyon Trail. We were disheartened throughout our time in Colorado to not see any fall colors as all the leaves were frozen on the trees and turned brown from a previous unusual cold snap in September. We did see wildlife after we were alerted by another couple hiking this trail to look up for big horn sheep on a mountain above us, We decided skip a hike through Echo Canyon and instead drove on further through the Monument.

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It turned out we spent the entire rest of our day driving along the main road of the park relishing its unique scenery. We barely made it into the Visitor’s Center at the far end of the park at 4:45 to see a brief informative film before they closed their doors at 5pm.

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On further recommendation we drove to the quaint town of Palisade, famous for peach and cherry orchards, and vineyards that compare to California’s Napa Valley. We were too late for any wine tasting but at a bar in town Loren tried whiskey tasting, which included peach, pear and apricot brandies.


As we left western Colorado the next morning, I was again moved to snap a last photo of dramatic scenery along the freeway.


The next two nights were spent with our special cousins near Denver. They treated us to dinner at a Mexican restaurant, and introduced us to the Chocolate Therapist. The second evening their daughter, her husband and one of their daughters joined us for a delicious home cooked meal. Their other, slightly older daughter was at a ballet rehearsal for an upcoming performance of The Nutcracker.

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Once again we were on the road heading east. Through much of eastern Colorado and into western Nebraska we drove through heavy fog. I snapped a photo where you can still see on the lower left the remnants of ice that Loren had scraped off our windshield from an unusually early frost. That evening as we stopped for gas before we reached the farm of our cousins in Nebraska, I was surprised to find three California PG&E utility trucks filling up. I still wonder what they were doing in Nebraska…

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Loren and I were again warmly welcomed by more dear cousins of ours and had another wonderful visit. They showed us around the area, which included a drive by the local corn harvest pile, and, their low, or what they call “bottom,” land that they were never able to plant this year because it is still underwater from the record flooding they had had early this year. They had been surprised to even discover pelicans grace those waters this summer. 

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During our short visit Loren and I were able to provide helping hands to setup part of an electric fence to enclose the remains of a corn field. It will be further cleaned up by cattle during ensuing months. Harsh northerly winds picked up that interrupted our work before we could finish the job. The bulls are currently in yards with the cows, doing what bulls do when then are with cows. Surprisingly though one of our cousins’ new young  billy goat has had a hard time with discovering what he is supposed to do with the does.

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The next day we helped — or maybe more accurately observed and assisted where we could — with cleaning the combine, as our cousins had completed their harvest the night before we arrived.


Throughout wonderful meals, running errands, attending to daily chores and visits with other family members that sometimes included playing cards, we enjoyed much laughter  and meaningful conversations. I just wish I had taken more photos of our visit.



Week 277 July 20, 2019

At the start of this week Loren and I were still in Nebraska with Loren’s cousins. We enjoyed four educational days at the county fair with them this visit. We have always seen their many prized trophies earned over the years from 4H (Head, Heart, Hands and Health), and more recently FFA (Future Farmers of America), and this time we had the opportunity to experience firsthand what the trophy earning process is all about. We found it impressive! Loren’s cousin’s grandson earned not only first prize for showing one of his aunt’s goats, he also earned a coveted first place in a judging content. 

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You can see this aunt, who is Loren’s cousin’s daughter, being remembered by the local museum which had a booth at the fair. This is a photograph of her earning a prize for showing one of her chickens at the fair some years ago.


Our cousin’s daughter also coached our five year old cousin, who is a potential future 4Her, to show another of her goats. She has already learned well to always look at the judge as she parades the goat around the arena, one of the aspects of showing that the judge looks for, and, she was well prepared to answer the judge’s questions about the animal. He told us he was amused when she told him the goat was “…a pain in the butt,” however, he also said he has heard worse.

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Other aspects of the fair included cheering for competing teams in such fun contests as bobbing for apples, searching for a toy chicken in a haystack, nailing nails into a board, and rolling enormous tractor tires end-to-end across a field. The evening concluded with a “Bohemian tractor pull” in which our cousin’s son-in-law took the lead on his team. He and his daughter had returned from Kansas City from a three day softball competition to participate in this brand new contest at the fair. Another first time event at the fair on a different evening was a team contest to catch a greased pig.


Our cousin’s granddaughter did not show animals this year — the first time in her life to not do so since she joined 4H. Her softball team team won the tournament. Then she and her dad stopped by at Loren’s cousin’s farm for a short visit between a private pitching lesson in Omaha and the start of an upcoming softball camp at Wichita State University.


Once the fair was over, it was back to farm work as usual for our cousins. I should clarify, the animal care chores were also accomplished on fair days, now the more time consuming work of checking and harvesting alfalfa could be attended to as well.

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I had to snap a photo of the enchanting view from Loren’s cousin’s house of a neighboring farmhouse, a view I never tire of seeing when we visit the farm.


On our last evening in Nebraska, we enjoyed playing the card game, Pitch, with several members of the family. We went to bed with the weather report of “slight chance of thunderstorms” but we woke up to an ominous sky. As Loren’s cousin drove us to the airport, we encountered rain, which they do need for the crops, and which did not cause any delays or disturbance with our connecting flight through Denver to San Francisco.

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Once back in the Bay Area, we had a lovely evening and dinner visit with Loren’s sister. As I was checking the battery in our van for integrity after it had sat idle a few weeks in front of her house, Loren received a message from our AirBnB host to not lock our bedroom because the lock was malfunctioning. We were surprised at the late hour of notice as we had been due to check in at 3pm. We were then grateful to Loren’s sister who invited us to stay overnight. The next day the lock was in working order. We enjoyed a dinner out with another AirBnB guest who we had become friends with from our previous long stay. Her sister manages the restaurant where we ate and it was nice to see her again too.


Then Loren and I were on the road again, this time heading for Clear Lake, northeast of Napa. It was nostalgic to see the blooming oleander along the more rural freeway. It struck me that all the freeways in the bay area had had roads similarly decorated when I first moved to California. That lasted until the increases in traffic necessitated removing them in the more densely populated areas, to make additional lanes for the people.


We had invited friends to join us at our AirBnB and they arrived not long after we did. We four spent today driving around parts of the lake where we all have memories. Most notable are the houses and apartment complex that one of our friends’ father built in the 1970’s, which are still in excellent condition.

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We took along a picnic lunch and stopped at a roadside park to enjoy it. While there we had a different view of the most prominent feature of the lake – Mount Konocti. A few weeks ago I read something in the New York Times about spending 2 hours a week in nature… actually, I think we should spend 2 hours a day in nature when we can.


Week 276 July 13, 2019

At the start of this week, Loren and I were still in Ipswich, where our AirBnB host – who taught us about microwavable pancakes – took us for a kayak ride in Plum Island Sound. Fortunately she knew the water patterns and it was an enjoyable day, though we could see how easily it could have been grueling if instead we had been fighting the currents. We finished the evening playing a game of Scrabble together. 

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The next morning Loren and I took a stroll around Strawberry Hill. Unlike the trek we took on Poon ‘Hill’ in the Himalaya, this ‘hill’ is a flat walk on a mowed path to the water’s edge. Then we returned to the house for the Women’s Soccer Finals, where we watched the US defeat the Netherlands.

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We also went on an historic town walking tour. Ipswich boasts several homes and buildings still standing from the 1600’s, 1700’s, 1800’s, reminding me how and where parts of early America was settled and claimed its independence. And everywhere tiger lilies are blooming.

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Then we were off to New York. We first stopped in for a final — for now — Bikram yoga class in North Andover.


Once in New York we drove through Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonia neighborhood which we had seen last Thanksgiving, again in appreciation of his unmistakable home designs. Afterwards we read how UNESCO World Heritage thinks his works are extraordinary too, adding these eight of his innovations to their official list:
     . Fallingwater in Pennsylvania
. the Guggenheim Museum in New York
. the Hollyhock House in Los Angeles
. the Jacobs House in Wisconsin
     . the Robie House in Chicago
. Taliesin in Wisconsin
. Taliesin West in Arizona, and
     . the Unity Temple in Illinois
We finished our day with a wonderful evening with my brother, his wife and younger daughter, then spent the night at an AirBnB in the Battle Hill neighborhood of White Plains, named for one of the sites led by George Washington in the Revolutionary War.

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Our connecting flight the next day took us through Detroit, then we were on our way to Omaha. Dear cousins from Denver picked us up, and as we drove south, we were in Iowa for about one mile, which their new car’s navigation system loudly announced upon our brief departure and reentry into Nebraska. Along the drive we stopped for a lovely dinner together. Then we arrived at the precious farm where Loren’s first cousin lives. 


We had a lovely first day at the farm, then while this cousin was attending to the needs opening the County Fair which she oversees, another cousin took us on a tour of rural cemeteries in nearby Rulo and Falls City to find family plots. Here I noticed markers proclaiming certain headstones as “G.A.R.” I came to learn that these denoted the soldiers who served in the “Grand Army of the Republic” during the Civil War. Over dinner with these cousins we toasted with “Bloody Beer,” a drink of tomato juice mixed in with beer. 

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In the morning we helped a cousin with a small part of his home remodel, holding up a mantel piece for him to bolt in place. Then we reminisced about the history of this home, which was beautifully preserved for the ages through paint on an old saw.


This is also where Loren remembers 50 years ago this month watching the old black and white television in this living room when Neil Armstrong said his famous quote heard over the airwaves on being the first person to land on the moon on July 20, 1969:

That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

He also proudly showed us the buckets of trophy home run balls his daughter has earned over the last few years, as she approaches her junior year in High School this fall. 


We bade our Denver cousins a safe drive home before we headed off to see the goat showing competition at the County Fair… please read more on this in next week’s post.


Week 248 December 29, 2018

Dear Family and Friends, you are especially on our minds at this time of the year, and we were fortunate to spend time with a few of you this week!

For me, while Loren was with his Mom, I had a lovely Christmas Eve Eve hike with a friend and two of her friends, followed by dinner at her home afterwards. It was a wonderful time, but I forgot to capture a photo… Then I had a memorable Christmas Eve lunch date with my friend and former supervisor. She has moved out of the area since we’ve been gone, so it was wonderful to see her while she was in town. All I have of that special occasion is a screenshot of the restaurant’s website…


After the nice lunch date, I took myself over to the Anderson Museum at Stanford University, where they have a large collection of Rodin works, and, an Andy Warhol exhibition until early January that I have wanted to see. I did capture a few photos…

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Then it was Christmas! Loren and I had a little celebration in the morning. Then Loren was off to spend the day with his mother and sister while I taught the 2 classes of yoga that day, then I joined Loren and his Mom and sister for a good meal and a not so good Warriors vs. Lakers game – LeBron hobbled off the court with an injury, but worse, our Warriors still lost. I neglected again to take any other photos, except one of the cousins’ Christmas letter with a photo of her grandchildren. Oh, and one from where another dear cousin celebrated on the east coast, I have her photo that she sent as well.

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Since I did teach on Christmas, I am also capturing how the studio is decked out this week with festive touches…

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and, another photo from after a different class this week, another one of a new wall decoration as the new owners are bit by bit renovating the studio space, and, another one of a heron who had a unique perch on my way home from class one day!

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Loren and I had a wonderful lunch date with friends the day after Christmas – again where was my camera? Then we spent another couple of days seeing cousins nearby for a great overnight visit that included outstanding weather.

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This particular cousin’s home where we stayed is a school teacher, and I love her inspiring home art!

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Not only that, but she had saved a handwritten dated January, 1961 from our great-grandmother to her mother who was visiting too. This great-grandmother is how she and I are related. What a treasure!

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Now, Loren and I are wishing you and yours the happiest of New Years yet!

Week 240 November 3, 2018

This week started with Loren caregiving his Mom as per his usual weekly schedule, and with me running usual weekly errands, but I was shocked this week with seeing Santa Claus chocolate candy being stocked on shelves at the supermarket. Then I saw a huge Christmas tree and holiday decorations at the Mall. THEN I saw holiday cards for sale at the Post Office! The topper that evening was seeing a Disney holiday show advertisement during a Warrior’s game. But, if all that were not enough, the next day I saw a Christmas tree on a neighbor’s porch. This was all before Halloween… Too much!


We heard this week from our dear friends from Shanghai who we had met in Nepal while they were on their honeymoon. This year they completed their French Way of El Camino de Santiago de Compostella – you can see her holding their Certificates in the photo below. And, lucky them, they continued on past Santiago to the Atlantic Coast for the Finesterra Camino – the ‘End of the World’ at Cape Fisterra.

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On Tuesday I taught three Bikram Yoga classes in the same day. I think that is my first time doing so and I will do so again next week. I have had a regular routine of teaching the 6am and 7:45am classes each week on Tuesdays. It was nice this week to also teach the 6:30pm, to see different students and to offer them a different teacher at that time. Then it was time for the holiday of the week, Halloween. We started our day with having two long put-off important meetings with a tax accountant and an attorney,

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and that evening, the 13 year old boy who is also staying long term at our AirBnB wore an FBI costume this year, and he wrote up a citation for Loren which included such creative violations as: Failure to wear a costume, Insufficient laughing, and Inappropriate dance moves! 

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Our friend and his Mom then went off to their church for a Halloween party, while Loren and I went off Trick or Treating at a friends’ daughter’s home where our friends were helping hand out candy. We took them the treat of a bottle of bubbly to celebrate our one friend’s retirement, memorably on the day of Halloween. She was duly surprised and touched, and we were delighted to help commemorate the special day.

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Loren and I have now traveled to Lodi, California for our first of their 22nd annual Sand Hill Crane Festivals. We had been enamored of the crane preserves and foundations we had previously stopped to see on our journeying in Nebraska and Wisconsin. These had reminded us of cranes that we had seen in the wild in Florida, Africa and Bhutan. Now this weekend festival offers us an opportunity to witness an actual migration of Sand Hill Cranes in person, which we understand is on par with the wondrous Wildebeest migration, which we had also witnessed when we were in Africa. 

On our drive to arrive here yesterday, we saw a flock of about a dozen Sand Hill Cranes with their black tipped huge wingspan fly right over our car. We saw a few larger flocks in the distance as we continued onward. We then stopped along the way for a little break and an easy hike at Big Break, where we saw the vast California Delta up close.

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As we continued our walk, we found that the regional park included several placards with information about the delta’s history and its environs. We even saw a little girl catch her first fish with the help of her grandparents while we were here. 

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The park also hosts a wonderful diorama map laid out, showing the delta, Mount Diablo with its wide range, and the major central valley cities. There is a cute video on the park’s website with a 7 year old boy showing off the full schematic – you can visit it at: https://youtu.be/EyCfw0XH_tM

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Loren and I then arrived yesterday evening where we are staying for a couple of nights at an AirBnB on a ranch, complete with at least a dozen horses, a herd of sheep, three dogs and the rancher couple who created this place 40 years ago. Our accommodation is in their private Bunk House, a perfect setting for a respite before the festival activities start up later this afternoon.

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I will always remember how when Loren pointed out some construction cranes that we saw in Italy, our friends there said they are called Grus, like the bird. It was only then that I connected that our construction cranes were likely also named for the enormous bird! I am excited to see how many of the other species of bird on this checklist we might encounter on the three tours that we have signed up for over today and tomorrow. 


Week 224 July 14, 2018

Still on Loren’s cousin’s farm in Nebraska at the beginning of this week, she drove me by a house/what was once a Bed and Breakfast of their Aunt Hazel, and we reminisced over the names we could remember of Loren’s grandparents’ several siblings, like Weda, Alta, Martha… Then we were back to the regular work of the farm. I could do little but observe with greasing the heavy equipment or watering down an overheated newborn calf. But I was able to help with filling water buckets for goats, stacking packages of feed and collecting fresh laid eggs! 

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And, it was fun to try to photo the farm pets – twin gray kittens and a watchdog – who are all so active that it is hard to capture a still photo. Then there is the adorable house kitty.

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So far their crops are doing well this summer – corn, beans, alfalfa for hay, though there is a threat of more flooding if the dam up stream continues to be opened. Farming is so dependent on the weather – having enough rain but not too much, nor experiencing the devastating hail that has already occurred in Colorado this year. But with the new tariffs imposed, the prices of what the farmers will earn for their crops are terribly affected.


Then I said my sad farewells as had to be on the move again. The first thing that I noticed as I drove the interstate west was a meaningful license plate, admonishing “Go Forth.” I found that the state of Nebraska is much wider than I had realized. After three hours driving I stopped at the Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center, Grand Island, Nebraska. I could have easily spent a few hours here, though I pushed on after a good respite. 


I made it to Denver, Colorado in time for dinner with more of Loren’s cousins in their lovely back yard. I was totally impressed with the homemade handiwork of our table!

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Graciously hosted overnight, we had another nice conversation in the morning before I was once again on the road. 


Driving north to Wyoming, I passed the Great Continental Divide – and again for a second time once I was in Wyoming as it turned out. I learned that this is one dividing line is separating the waters specifically that flow to the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico from the waters that flow to the Pacific Ocean. I also made a stop at the Bonneville Salt Flats, west of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Stopping here so reminded me of when Loren and I had visited Badwater Basin in Death Valley, California some years ago. 

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I did not have a next location booked to spend the night. I had intended to camp in West Wendover, Nevada which is half way between Denver and the San Francisco bay area. However, it was so light out and given that I had had coffee both in the morning and on the road, I was energized to continue westward when I arrived. A beautiful sunset and a meaningful audio book kept me company as I continued.


I then had set my sights on Reno to stop for the night. Yes, it was dark when I reached Reno, but, finding a place to stay in the glitz had little appeal. Sacramento was the next major city on the road signs, so I decided to push on. I have a friend near Sacramento who I was interested in contacting for a possible breakfast date. However, as I reached Sacramento, I realized how close I was to San Francisco, and not being sure I could see my friend on such short notice, and with the help of the coffee still energizing me, I pushed on once again to arrive at our AirBnB at about 4am or so. 

It is wonderful to be reunited with Loren again! He has been spending nearly every day visiting his mother while I have been away. Sometimes he took her to a nearby lake for coffee where she enjoys seeing the geese. He has also treated her to a salad of cicoria – Italian for chicory, that he has fond memories of from childhood.

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A fun book that Loren and I have been poring over this week is the Italian textbook his mother had saved from Loren’s independent study college course 40 years or so ago, which included finding a clarifying note of his. 

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I will finish this week with a quote from Papa Francesco/Pope Francis that resonated along my drive: Peace is not just the absence of war. It is a condition in which a person is in harmony with herself, nature and with other people.



Week 223 July 7, 2018

Happy Belated Heat-Waving-242nd-Birthday USA! From the east coast to the midwest, I have encountered potentially record setting temperatures and humidity. As well, I drove through deluges of rain, saw streaks of lightning and exciting fireworks, all while or on my way to visiting with very special family members and friends.

Loren enjoyed a hike with some long term friends in California, and otherwise has been visiting and helping care for his Mom this week.


I began the week still in Pennsylvania, thoroughly enjoying seeing my good friend and her daughter, eating her incomparably delicious homemade eggplant and catching up on seeing movies, like Shrek, Into the Wild, and Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller comedies. 

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Then, in making my way closer toward California, I stopped next in Ohio where I spent a wonderful overnight with dear friends. Our memorable visit included a walk in their neighborhood, delicious dinner, a game of Canasta in which lady luck visited me, and, a great breakfast, all affording memorable and meaningful conversations.


Driving further west from there, I camped where I witnessed a beautiful sunset. My site’s picnic table also faced an RV named the same as one of my favorite songs, Imagine.

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Now I am at Loren’s cousin’s in Nebraska. I arrived in time to join her for a potluck dinner and fireworks display at a neighbor’s on night of the the 4th. It has been so fun to see her,  

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one of her daughters, her brother, her son-in-law,

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and her granddaughter and grandson, during my short visit. And, she has adopted her granddaughter’s bottle-fed kitten, who is a mischievous hoot!

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Along the drive so far, I snapped a few shots – *v*e*r*y* carefully so not my best – of favorite roadie entertainment: one among several heat=wave warnings, a couple of many moose and peace sign images on the windows of other vehicles,

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a unique, uplifting sign on an 18 wheeler, a city with a most important name, and, finally, on July 4th, a red cab and a white cab being towed by – what else? a blue cab!

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To finish this week here are my newest favorite quotes:
From Papa Francesco, aka Pope Francis’’ Happiness audio book:
   There is no future without peace.
And, three from Into the Wild, two of them from the main character Chris:
   The core of man’s spirit comes from new experiences, and
   Happiness is only real when shared.
the other from the character played by Hal Holbrook,
   When you forgive you love, and when you love God’s light shines on you.

Tomorrow I head west again, to stop overnight in Colorado…

Week 164 May 20, 2017

This week began with us still visiting dear family on their farm and surrounding community in Nebraska. We first went to a cousin’s baseball tournament – saw him bat, catch, pitch, and, field at 3rd and short stop.
Life on the farm in spring is more physically challenging, time consuming, and requires more varied skills than we had previously been aware – this was our first spring visit to the farm. Last week I neglected to mention the mechanical skills required for such things as flat tires, slipped chains, greasing parts, repairing a ball-bearing socket, and welding a marker device – this list just for that 12 row planter vehicle, which in itself needs knowledge and great skill to manipulate. Nor did I mention diagnosing a shear pin on the seed bin trailer’s auger, as well as belt problems, simply knocking mud chunks off the engine and greasing of one of the small farm vehicles. Our cousins are able to quickly fix such problems, on their own and with each other’s help. We assisted when possible but mainly just observed.
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I also want to mention how the farm work requires such physical strength – for working with cattle, sometimes in deep mud, lifting large feed bags and full 5 gallon buckets, operating heavy equipment and vehicles, carrying heavy duty iron tire jacks – the list goes on. They attend to the needs of nearly a hundred head of cattle – we learned the difference between Black and Red Angus, and Hereford breeds this time, forty-some goats, the hen house, an aged horse, dogs, cats, a number of pastures, several barns, driving a multitude of farm vehicles small and large around the farm and country roads, stocking a machine shop with innumerable various tools and spare parts, among other outbuildings, in an often dusty environment… yet at the end of the day it is rewarding.
I must also mention the efforts of maintaining their houses and homes, raising children of the next generation, caring for their personal autos and a free standing double garage, house gardens, shopping for basic supplies, cooking, canning, crafts, and commitments in the community – for example being on the local Fire board, church council, 3H – and surely I am missing more aspects of farm life. There is so much to know and to do – I realize we have just a limited sense of what being farmers or farm hands is all about.
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What is inspiring is how our cousins also finds time for commitments in community work – like 4H, Fire board, church council, as a few examples, as well as another holding a full time job with benefits in town. There was a soft calming of country western music tunes in the background at times. Occasionally there is time to enjoy a “pop” – what I call soda, maybe to play a game of cards, while enjoying a scrumptious homemade dessert…
What I think makes it all worthwhile is the uplifting presence of the new borns – calves, kids, chicks, kittens, babies, each one unique and amazing.
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I even was privileged to choose the newest born twin kids’ names – please meet – Ta Da: Chocolate and Cinnamon! It was so meaningful to visit the farm again and especially at this time of year. Thank you again dear cousins!
On bidding a fond farewell to our precious farmers, Loren and I were on our way to visit childhood friends of his who now live in Sioux Falls. We noticed a handmade sign on private property once we were in South Dakota:
   Eat steak
   Wear furs
   Keep your guns
   The American way
Before we had left our farming family – who safely employ guns for deer hunting – I was already reflecting on differing needs and interests of country versus city living, and, appreciating a respective need for using versus banning guns. Our friends, too, reminisced about memorable times on pheasant hunts in South Dakota. We learned that the entire South Dakota state population is less than 900,000, a third the size of the state of Nebraska, and less than the population of the entire city of San Jose… There is much to consider when comparing needs and lifestyles.
In Sioux Falls, our friends offered us bicycles to ride to the falls along a beautiful bike path, where we saw more signs of new life. We then went together for a drive around the city to see some of the area sights.
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Our friends’ daughter was also visiting her parents, and we all enjoyed two evenings of wonderful home cooked dinners, with fun conversations catching up on many years of life experiences. We also had a delightful backyard fire that included cooking ‘smores and singing along with our friend on his guitar. Another meaningful and memorable visit with friends who we rarely see…
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Loren and I said another fond farewell this week, then went on to drive along parts of the historic east-to-west or New York-to-San Francisco Lincoln Highway eastward.We stopped to stay with the sister and her husband of a dear friend from California, who live in Colo, Iowa. Colo is also exactly where the historic Jefferson Highway which ran south to north, from New Orleans to Winnipeg, and the Lincoln Highway, meet and cross.
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We enjoyed a memorable visit with these Iowans, learning about their years as former hog farmers. Now retired, they are still active with their family and in their community. Our new friends made sure that we visited the Living History Farms in nearby Des Moines, where we saw a turkey, geese, ducks and hogs in addition to horses, steer – who will soon be called oxen once they are castrated, and chickens. We ambled through the park’s working farms using historical tools and farming methods. We learned here that in 1840, 69% of American workers were farmers, then just 60 years later, in 1900, that number had dropped nearly half – to 38%. Thank you, friends, for your hospitality!
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Now Loren and I have driven further east to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, looking forward to visiting an Amish community in Amana tomorrow, followed by Herbert Hoover’s Presidential Library in West Branch.

Week 163 May 13, 2017

We were still in Tulsa at the start of this week, staying at an AirBnB where our host has the place decorated with artful messages, like “Love, Peace, Happiness,” “Follow Your Dreams,” and other inspiring images. She graduates with a Masters in Social Work this week then is heading out in her van for a road trip to celebrate. Congrats and happy travels! At the Woody Guthrie Center here we learned a lot about his music, life and times. His inspiring belief was “A Folk Song Is What’s Wrong, And, How to Fix It.” Yes!
We also attended Sunday service at All Soul’s Unitarian here, where their month’s theme of Mercy was embellished in a sermon by the senior minister, titled, “We All Make Mistakes.” Their semi-annual congregational meeting’s annual report cover said a lot about our faith in just six words: “Diverse in Belief, United in Love.” Loren and I then splurged on Sunday brunch at the Gilcrease museum restaurant, and afterwards walked through their extensive gardens and grounds. I had visited this museum some years ago at the suggestion of a coworker. It was where I saw my first Albert Bierstadt painting of Yosemite Valley and I have always appreciated his unique style when seeing his works ever since.
On leaving Tulsa we drove on more of Historic Route 66 in parts of Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas, on our way to Nebraska. We drove across Marsh Arch Bridge, through the town of Galena, and, cities of Joplin, Aitchison, Troy… We now must watch the animated movie Cars, which was partly inspired by Route 66. In Troy we saw our second of Peter “Wolf” Toth’s Whispering Giants Trail statues. Who knows if we will see more, but our first in Winslow, Arizona inspired our interest in seeing others.
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In Travels with Charley John Steinbeck makes it clear that he has little use for interstate highways, though he says it with more eloquence. Considering his view, I am torn. I grew up along with the interstate road system – I remember as a child when Interstate 287 in Westchester County, New York was under initial construction. Yes, Eisenhower’s 60 year old Interstate System is barren of character, but, it offers shortened travel time to distant destinations by allowing accelerated speed.
However, on exiting from an interstate, I sometimes feel frustrated by speed restrictions after just being able to fly along – unless it is commute time near a big city, plagued by an accident, or simply a congested area. On the other hand I relax more with the slower pace of the two lane highways, and enjoy seeing local culture alongside the road. Then on return to interstate driving, I miss the community sights. Plus, it takes time to feel comfortable accelerating to the speed of traffic – which is usually not until I am passed by several other drivers who are moving faster. I use cruise control to avoid exceeding the limit, though, if too many drivers pass by, I often speed up to keep up. When that happens there is the subtle yet constant vigilance for law enforcement approaching,  even hiding, not to mention a keener sense of defensive driving. Is all this is in some way a metaphor for life? Undoubtedly, I am receiving much inspiration to ponder this week.
We arrived at cousin Raynell’s in time for “supper” with her, her one daughter and grand-children. Last week she told us that there were still 29 calves expected. We had hoped to arrive in time to witness and help out. We learned how “heifers” are either too young to be bred, or, in their first year to give birth. Heifers have the potential to need the most help with delivery and/or their calf might need help with learning to feed, so our cousins check on them every 2 hours, day and night. We had missed the last heifer birth by mere hours. Now we just check the cows 2 or 3 times a day.
Our first full day on the farm was of “working” the cattle, which included rounding up, sorting and pairing some of the heifers and their calves, tagging them, and putting them to pasture. The “working” included our one cousin physically pinning the calf with her body while the other tagged its ear, and, if male, bound it to create a steer from a bull. Loren’s and my efforts were to help round up, sort and pair, then assist with the specific supplies needed. It was truly a day of being farm hands under the expertise of lifelong farmers, an exhilarating day overall.
Our cousin’s five bulls are kept in electric fenced-in yards – two in one and three in another, and apart from the cows, unless it is time for breeding. Her farm also includes a hen house, where eggs are laid daily.
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We had a nice lunch out – excuse me, I mean dinner, what Nebraskans call the mid-day meal, with another cousin, his wife, and, their youngest granddaughter.
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We also visited at our cousin’s daughter’s farm to see her eleven newborn goats, literally her “kids.” Our cousin is holding the one who her granddaughter named, “Thumper,” because it was born on Easter. 
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That evening we went to see the granddaughter pitch in a softball double header in Omaha, saw her steal third, and score on a slide into home plate.
Also this week we learned about the process of planting soy beans, where our other cousin’s grandson, came over to confirm that the computer inside the sophisticated planter equipment was operating correctly. We were then privileged to see our first newborn calf, delivered by one of the several cows who are still expecting. Where we had thought that the cow would need our help, we learned instead that she would fear us for being too close. It was amazing to see how the calf stood up so soon after its birth!
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The week was topped off by fishing in a pond where Loren and his cousins had fished as kids, complete with a cookout hosted by our cousins. One granddaughter brought her new puppy named Diesel while a grandson caught the first, the largest, and the most fish of the evening’s event!
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One cousin helped Loren net in his largest fish…
Today we are going to watch one of the grandchildren’s baseball tournament!