Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Have cats, won’t travel

"I hear that you're building your little house deep in the desert
You're living for nothing now, I hope you're keeping some kind of record."

Finally, we’re home for a while.

This last trip felt longer and more tedious than its six-night length.

A quick recap. We flew into Newark on Wednesday, met Neil’s dad and sister at the Bagel Buffet, then drove to the outskirts of Philadelphia. We had dinner at a diner because there’s nothing like a northeast diner. Thursday we went to the ANA World’s Fair of Money. I did my usual course of the bourse. I bought some earrings, a sterling silver teaspoon, and for $5 I scored a couple of partially filled coin booklets for Ryland when he gets a bit older.

Nickels. Yes, I know, some are in the wrong holes. We'll fix that.
Neil and I will fill most of the holes before we give him this,
When I was a kid I’d have been enthralled with these sets of coins, including a couple of shiny 1943 steel cents.

From the coin show we went to Citizens Bank Park to watch the Phillies play the Mets. We watched a crazy game where the Mets won 24 to 4. Neil had gotten second row seats, but I never sat in mine because they were in full sun and it was hot. I had a good shaded spot to watch and eventually we were allowed to sit in the last row, because the staff was sympathetic to fans who didn’t want to get heatstroke. We had dinner at Panera because after the crab fries at the ballpark, I just wanted some soup.

Friday morning we drove to Neil’s mom’s house. Eleanor fed us lunch, tuna salad, hard boiled eggs, lettuce and tomatoes, lunch meat and cheese, bread and crackers. We sat around the kitchen table and talked, which is mostly what we do when we visit her. I took a nap from 3npm to 6 om. None of us had worked up an appetite for dinner, so we just had leftovers from lunch. Neil and I took a walk in the neighborhood, we talked some more around the kitchen table, I read my book.

Saturday was busy. We went out in the River Lady, a reproduction paddle wheel riverboat, for a lunch cruise.

We hadn’t been back long when Neil and I left again to meet my brother for dinner. I met his girlfriend of the last 10 months, which is some kind of record, and my second cousin Ruth and her husband Paul, who were visiting, came to dinner too. It all felt a bit rushed, and it was bad planning on my part to build in so little time to spend with Philip. But honestly, Neil engineers these trips, and I feel bad for stealing time from his parents, who are elderly and have health challenges, and won’t be with us forever.

Still, it’s Neil who carved out the time for the coin show and ballgame, but there really is a limit to how long you can sit and talk at a kitchen table. So on Sunday, after breakfast and more talk, we left for the Catskills where we were meeting Neil’s dad, his sister, and her two sons. We all checked in, then headed to Phoenicia for dinner. We were all tired and called it an early night. Monday we had a continental breakfast at the inn, then went for a drive to the bungalow that Neil’s grandfather once owned, where both Bob and Neil spent time as kids.

After that we went back to Phoenicia, where we had lunch at the same place that we’d had dinner the night before, then ice cream a few shops down the short drag.

Then we went back to the inn, where Neil and I took a walk and the others napped. No one was really hungry enough for dinner to trek back to the restaurant in Phoenicia, the only game in town on weeknights, so we raided the cereal and bagels laid out for the next morning. Everyone else played cards, I read some more. We spent most of Tuesday traveling home, driving from the Catskills to Newark, returning the rental car, jumping through the security hoops, waiting to board, flying home.

I was very glad to get home. I’m very glad to be home. The cats seem happy that we’re home. The cats are probably the main reason I don’t want to take longer trips. I feel guilty about them being without us so much. I know they’re looked after but they’re used to having someone home. They’re needy that way, at least in my mind. Other reasons I don’t love to travel are sleeping in unfamiliar beds with strange pillows, living out of a suitcase, laundry accumulating, no coffee first thing when I wake up. Small bathrooms, small rooms, no bedside table. My weird germ phobia, walking on carpet that who knows what has been on. The same for blankets and bedspreads.

Really, why would I ever want to leave my spacious, comfortable, familiar surroundings, my creature comforts?

There’s also the money aspect, hotels and meals cost money and even if Neil pays, I’m aware that it stresses him. That’s one way the cruise was so great. No worrying about what people ordered or ate or wasted. Plus, I’m always spending money on trips, shopping for souvenirs, shopping online while waiting to board planes or while sitting around kitchen tables talking, talking, talking.

I read three books on the trip. I finished The Wyndham Case, Slow Dollar, and Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy. The last, another by Rumer Godden that I’d not read before, was moving and thought-provoking. It’s a fictional story about the Sisters of Bethany, a real religious order established in France in the 1860s, that allows former women prisoners to become members of the order, undistinguished from their sisters. Like everything written by Godden, it’s lyrical and beautiful and I already want to re-read it.

So now we’re home for a while, and our routines begin again. I bought more glass, so I guess I will keep wrestling with my muse and trying to make better art. I’m working in a custom order of 100 small fish beads for Beads of Courage. I’m planning to work on my larger project to use some of the beads I’ve had for a while, the ones that I haven’t been able to sell. I’ve worked out in my mind how I want to do it, and I’m going to try a smaller prototype first. if that works I’ll attempt the larger installation. I won’t try to explain. I will post progress pictures.

And despite my less-than-enthusiastic attitude about travel, I’m hoping Neil and I can get away for a weekend in September, maybe to the Outer Banks, maybe the mountains. We have other trips pencilled in, Dallas, Orlando, Houston, in October, November, and December.

In the short term though, I’m looking forward to our weekly Whit’s frozen custard, our Friday $5 Smoothie King smoothies, cooking more soups from our garden bounty of potatoes and tomatoes, enjoying more fresh cantaloupe, hoping our eggplant will ripen, and figuring out what to do with an army of okra.

It's four in the morning, the end of December
I'm writing you now just to see if you're better
New York is cold, but I like where I'm living
There's music on Clinton Street all through the evening

I hear that you're building your little house deep in the desert
You're living for nothing now, I hope you're keeping some kind of record

Yes, and Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear
Did you ever go clear?

Ah, the last time we saw you you looked so much older
Your famous blue raincoat was torn at the shoulder
You'd been to the station to meet every train
And you came home without Lili Marlene

And you treated my woman to a flake of your life
And when she came back she was nobody's wife

Well I see you there with the rose in your teeth
One more thin gypsy thief
Well, I see Jane's awake
She sends her regards

And what can I tell you my brother, my killer
What can I possibly say?
I guess that I miss you, I guess I forgive you
I'm glad you stood in my way

If you ever come by here, for Jane or for me
Well, your enemy is sleeping, and his woman is free

Yes, and thanks, for the trouble you took from her eyes
I thought it was there for good so I never tried

And Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear
Sincerely, L Cohen.

(Leonard Cohen © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)

Sunday, August 12, 2018

There and briefly back again

So be my guest, you got nothin' to lose
Won't ya let me take you on a sea cruise?

In the blink of an eye, Alaska is two weeks behind us.

And talk of eyes, we took a red eye home. Not the reddest eye, that left two hours later. There are three non-stops a day from Seattle to Charlotte. At 6 am, before our ship docked, at 10 pm, and at midnight. We chose the 10 pm and rented a car for the day.

We said goodbye to the kids at our last on-board breakfast. After we debarked, I stayed with the bags and Neil walked a few blocks to pick up our rental car. He circled back and picked me up near the pier. We opted to head for the Tacoma Museum of Glass. On arrival we found that a craft show had broken out. Any purchase from the show included museum admission, so of course I had to find two things to buy.

I love how the two new mini vases match my Bombay closeout pieces.
I bought the fish on the Biltmore trip & Chelsea gave me the flower.

The museum wasn't anything special but the hot shop is its real claim to fame, and it was going full blast - pun intended. We watched a team of five glassblowers finish an art glass piece that was sketched on the floor. I bought some earrings in the gift shop with the money I saved on admission. Of course I did.

I wanted to go to Pikes Place Market but Neil thought it didn't make sense to drive back past the airport, so we settled for seafood in a little town between Tacoma and Sea-Tac. We walked around a bit, it was quite hot, and we still had time to kill. I looked on a map for parks, and found one close to the airport. We saw the sign for the park but missed the entrance, so we drove in circles for a while. We finally found the parking lot which was roadblocked because it was full.

So, with five hours left before our flight, since we were literally at the airport entrance, Neil persuaded me to drop off the rental car and get rid of our checked luggage. After dropping the car, we got to the American counter and had to wait 20 minutes, since they wouldn't check our bags more than four hours before boarding.

After we located our gate at one end of the airport, we decided to hike to the other end and use our United Club passes. United has a tiny club at Sea-Tac. The coffee was cold, but the water was too. The cookies were OK, but the snack mix was past its best, giving a true meaning to the adage, these free peanuts are stale.

In hindsight, I'd have stayed another night in Seattle and had another day to sight-see. And shop for glass, since there are three distributors in the Seattle area. Hmm, maybe just as well that we didn't.

So yeah, the red-eye experience was, um, interesting. We took off on time, 10 pm, it's a 6 hour flight, but we had to return the 3 hours we got back on the front end of the trip. So we landed about 7 am North Carolina time. On the plane, I read for a while, then turned off light and tried to sleep. I really did, for 20 minutes at least. I wasn't sleepy though, so I turned on the light again, and read for the rest of the flight.

The book I was reading was Coromandel Sea Change by Rumer Godden. I've been re-reading the Godden novels that I first read as a young adult, including Breakfast with the Nikolides, The River, A Breath of Air, Kingfishers Catch Fire, An Episode of Sparrows, China Court, The Battle of the Villa Fiorita, In This House of Brede, and The Peacock Spring. I also read some for the first time, Black Narcissus, The Greengage Summer, and, on the plane, Coromandel Sea Change.

I think part of the reason I didn't get sleepy was that the story drew me in. The turbulent sea, the sharks, the mystical, charismatic, god-like Krishnan, the Indian political campaign, the British guests at Patna Hall, its goodhearted proprietress Auntie Sanni, the ill-fated donkey, the nubile, restless Kuku Vikram, and Mary Browne at the center of it all, with her sweet stubbornness and starstruck passion. I was reading the last few pages while we were waiting for our checked bags, and saved the epilogue for home.

At home I wasn't sure what to do next - have coffee and start the day, or go to bed. I wound up putting on my night clothes and taking a 2 hour nap on the sofa with Loki. After that I made coffee, got dressed, and made it through the rest of the day until bedtime.

Luckily there was little on our calendar for the first week at home. A quiet week was needed, not to recover from the cruise as much as to reset our body clocks. Normally I change time zones well and don't suffer from jet lag. I just immediately get on the new time and deliberately don't think about what time it would be at home. Losing a whole night threw me off. I've done that before, when we traveled to England and to France, because instead of sleeping on the flight, I watched free in-flight movies back-to-back.

(Which is why we fell asleep in the Paris airport and missed our connecting flight to Newcastle, the only connecting flight of the day. That's part of a longer story, but the long and short of it was that we flew to Amsterdam and I slept in a rocking chair in the Schiphol airport for 5 blessed hours before we caught another flight that got us in to Newcastle at midnight, instead of noon as we had planned, And then someone with a similar bag had taken my bag. Another time.)

Anyway, it's always good to be home, even if we are leaving again shortly for our PA-NJ-NY trip.

And I did something that I can't remember ever doing before. I finished Coromandel Sea Change and I immediately re-read it. I realize that when I was reading Rumer Godden in my youth, she hadn't yet written many of the novels I'm just now discovering. I've ordered three more from Amazon, Five For Sorrow, Ten For Joy, Pippa Passes, and Cromartie vs. the God Shiva. And I'm happy to note there are others to look forward to.

I'm trying to mix up my reading a bit. Right now I'm reading The Wyndham Case by Jill Paton Walsh, who completed the last Peter Wimsey novel and then wrote three more, loosely based on notes left by Dorothy Sayers. I'm hoping she writes another, but I'll probably read the other Imogen Quy novels in the meantime.

I'm also working my way through the Deborah Knott mystery series by Margaret Maron, which are set in North Carolina. Maron has another detective series set in New York City and I'd like to read those too, although the books are harder to find. I'm determined though, especially since Deborah meets the other heroine, Sigrid Harald, in one of the stories. But that's still about nine books away.

Beads. What can I say? After ten or so days off, it felt good to light the torch and melt some glass. I even came up with a new design that I'm excited about. But some days I struggle, both with the selling side and with the glass. Sales have been slow but that's nothing new, and I'm not alone, although there are still enough artists who sell out all the time. By which I mean they sell everything they list. At least I'm selling some things. A few things.

The struggle with the glass is different. At this stage, I don't want to waste glass, I feel like, if I dip 30 mandrels and make 30 beads, they should all be decent, if not brilliant. At one point, my philosophy was that glass was rarely wasted because everything was a learning experience. Now I'm less forgiving of myself. For example, I was making the second bead of a pair and I got sloppy with one of the dots. I tried to spot heat it and pick it off, even though that never works, so I wound up melting all the dots in and adding more dots, until it was something else entirely.

OK, that's not the end of the world. I tried again to make the second bead of the pair. To do that, I picked up tiny fragments of one color from my table to pull a stringer. So far, so good. I got to the final layer of dots, and I picked up a pink stringer instead of a gray one. So now I have three single beads. Maybe if they're pretty I'll go back and make them mates next time I torch. But history tells me to move on. I can keep a color combination in my head long enough to make a pair. I'm almost sure to get a color wrong if I try again later.

Oh well. They can go in my Beads of Courage bowl, or I can use them in one of my crazy quilt necklaces, or my customer Diane might like them since she uses singles, or I can put them up on eBay in an orphan set. Few beads are ever really wasted. If they crack, which is infrequent, or if they are truly hideous, they may get pitched into the fishing pond. Everything else eventually finds a home. Usually. I do have some focals that have been with me for a long time (think years), but I am planning to use them in some sort of large project. I have a notional idea of stringing them in stands across a large frame of some sort and making a hanging.

Speaking of frames, we framed the artwork I bought in Ketchikan. It's laying on the floor for it's photo op, but I'm hoping Neil will hang them this week,


I'll leave you here with a couple of photos of my new design. I've made more, but they've yet to be cleaned and strung. And these sets sold, so maybe I'm onto something. Or not. I never know.

Old man rhythm is in my shoes
It's no use to sittin' and a-singin' the blues
So be my guest, you got nothin' to lose
Won't ya let me take you on a sea cruise?

Oo-ee, oo-ee baby
Oo-ee, oo-ee baby
Oo-ee, oo-ee baby
Won't ya let me take you on a sea cruise?

Feel like jumpin' baby won't ya join me please?
I don't like beggin' but now I'm on bended knees
I got to get to rockin', get my hat off the rack
I got to boogie-woogie like a knife in the back
So be my guest, you got nothin' to lose
Won't ya let me take you on a sea cruise?

I got to get to movin', baby I ain't lyin'
My heart is beatin' rhythm and it's right on time
So be my guest, you got nothin' to lose
Won't ya let me take you on a sea cruise?
Feel like jumpin', baby won't ya join me please?
I don't like beggin' but now I'm on bended knees

Oo-ee, oo-ee baby
Oo-ee, oo-ee baby
Oo-ee, oo-ee baby
Won't ya let me take you on a sea cruise?

(Huey Smith © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc)

Sunday, August 5, 2018

No road leads to Juneau

Where the river is windin' big nuggets they're findin'
North to Alaska, go north, the rush is on.

Our trip to Alaska was wonderful ...

And ... a little disappointing.

Everything came together without a hitch. Months of planning, anticipation, and anxiety finally found the seven of us safely in Seattle on July 21.

Chelsea and Robert had a dawn flight and arrived before Neil and I had even left home. Kandace, Ryland, and Chris had landed before we boarded.

We had a 4 pm flight that landed at 10 pm, but we got 3 hours back. We hailed our first Uber ride ever to the hotel. Wait, do you hail an Uber? Or summon one?

At the hotel we had time to say hello to the kids - the ones staying there at least - have a snack, and hit the sack. After a nice breakfast, we shared another Uber ride with Kandace and crew to Pier 66.

Chelsea and Rob lodged elsewhere and we didn’t see them until we were on board.

We cruised on the Norwegian Pearl. We enjoyed our Norwegian cruise to Hawaii in 2014 on the Pride of America. The ships are almost twins, except the Pearl has a casino. We set sail on Sunday afternoon, in balmy weather.

Monday was a sea day. It was also overcast, windy, and hazy. There wasn’t much scenery to distract us, so we spent time exploring the ship, relaxing, and reading. Chris and I played bingo. We didn’t win. Neil and I went to a show in the theater about Alaska. The kids sampled the drinks menu.

On Tuesday we docked in Juneau. We had sunny skies and temperatures in the 80s. All the kids went whale watching.

Neil and I took the Mendenhall Glacier Adventure Hike. We took a minibus ride to the trailhead. Our guide, Mathew, told interesting stories about Juneau.

There are no roads to Juneau. You can only get there by air or sea. Unless you are born there, like Mathew, who said that he arrived by canal. Hey, he said it. The biggest industry in Alaska is government, followed by tourism.

The hike was in the Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest, and while it boasted some nice views of the glacier, we weren’t really close to it. I suppose I should have known we wouldn’t be hiking on ice or even getting close enough to touch any, but I didn’t expect to be sweating.

I struggled a bit with the hike, which had some fairly steep climbs. I may have been the slowest hiker, but I was also probably the oldest. Two kids on the hike scrambled up like mountain goats. I stopped to rest a few times. Oh well. You can only do what you can do. And I did it, it just took a little longer.

It was fun. The Tongass covers most of southeast Alaska, surrounding the Inside Passage. We saw no bears. We did see eagles, a baby porcupine, salmon in the streams, a perfect mirror lake. We had plenty of water and granola bars. But we could have been anywhere. It didn’t feel like we were in Alaska. I’m not sure exactly how I thought Alaska would feel. Colder? Wilder? More glacial? Less rainforesty?

Back in town, we had the option to get off the bus, but after the hike, a mile walk back to the ship wasn’t appealing. Even the souvenir shops weren’t enough to tempt me. And I have a rule about not paying for any meals when I’m on a cruise with 24/7 dining included.

Besides, there really wasn’t a lot of time to spare, although the kids don’t have the same rule, and Chelsea and Rob stopped for crab legs after their whale-sighting excursion.

Wednesday found us in Skagway, a tiny burb about 1/10 the size of Juneau. Skagway is, however, accessible by rail. Along with Kandace, Ryland, and Chris, we took a bus tour into Canada’s Yukon Territory via a slice of British Columbia. We made numerous brief stops at scenic outposts, winding our way to Caribou Crossing and its namesake, Car Cross.

When we assembled for the excursion, our guide, Morgan, said there was good news and bad news. The good news was we had another bright, clear, dry, warm summer day. The bad news was, the sled dog ride part of our excursion was cancelled. It was too hot for the furry huskies to exert themselves. Instead we got to see a few bored, disinterested puppies.

After lunch (included) we went on to Emerald Lake, then headed back toward Alaska and the White Cross Railroad. I slept on the bus. We boarded the train for the last 30 miles or so, a two hour ride with some pretty scenery and points of interest as pointed out by a train tour guide.

We decided to walk back to the ship from the train station. It was hot, Ryland was dragging, so we bypassed the gift shops and made a beeline for the boat, followed by a pre-dinner soak in one of the hot tubs. That was the only time my swimsuit saw daylight on the trip.

On Thursday - could it possibly already be Thursday? - we toured Glacier Bay National Park. The only way to Glacier Bay is by sea. It is nonetheless a bonafide National Park, one of 10 in Alaska. There’s a ranger station there, and at 8 am, 3 rangers boarded the cruise liner to talk us through the history and wonders of the park.

I would have to describe the views as impressive, remarkable, spectacular even, yet somehow not breathtaking. The first time I saw a glacier, in the Canadian Rockies, when I was 20, I was shocked by how gray and dirty it looked. My vision had been of majestic pristine giant icicles, frozen cloudless rivers. Glaciers I’ve seen look more like snow. In Manhattan. A few days after the snow fell.

The geology of glaciers is amazing, thought-provoking, and troubling, thanks to changes in earth’s atmosphere that are causing our glaciers to disappear. Seeing the glaciers calving is both wondrous and ominous. I’m a fatalist though. While I’m not happy about damage caused by humankind’s carbon footprint, I think cosmic evolution is inevitable. If the thunder don’t get us then the lightning will.

OK, enough with the deep thoughts, this is summer vacation. The rangers departed by mid-afternoon. The ship sailed on south to our next port, Ketchikan, where we woke up on Friday.

I can’t think of much to say about Ketchikan. We were only in port for 7 hours or so. As a group of 7, we strolled into town and wandered in and out of the shops. I bought a couple of small prints from an Alaskan artist who signed them for me. Chelsea bought one too, Kandace bought some sparkly glass earrings.

We were back on board for lunch and a 1 pm departure for the long haul to our final port, Victoria, on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia. We said goodbye to Alaska before I felt like I’d really absorbed it, left any trace of my soul there. Of course, in a remote state approximately as large as 1/3 of the entire lower 48, you can’t hope to do more than scratch the surface on a weeklong cruise. And that’s what we did along the south-easternmost sliver of number 49.

We pulled in to Victoria about 6 pm on Saturday. Again we had all of 6 hours or so to spend there. Kandace and Ryland stayed on board, the rest of us headed to Butchart Gardens, a glorious oasis of flowers conceived and seeded more than 100 years ago on the grounds of a played out limestone quarry.

Among the madding crowd we wended our way through a fantastic fiesta of flora, a glorious explosion of colors and scents, and a little fauna in the shape of a small rabbit. Far too quickly twilight fell. At dark there was a light show and fireworks display, after which we rushed back to our busses to return to the Pearl. If it’s Saturday, this must be Canada.

And if it’s Sunday, it’s debarkation day back in Seattle.

We said goodbye to my family at breakfast, our last one in my favorite outdoor buffet spot at the bow of the ship. It amazes me how the ship’s crew serves breakfast, then moves right on to lunch, without a pause, just like every other day, except in this day they’d be feeding a whole new crowd of cruisers. Staterooms are turned over in a small matter of hours, and by that night Dennis, our cabin staffer, was turning down beds for our replacements.

This goes on nonstop throughout May through September, when the ships move to balmier climbs for the winter trade, rinse and repeat.

Everyone I know who has cruised to Alaska has loved it. I liked it. Would I do it again? Probably not, although I’d definitely take another cruise to Hawaii one day. If I go back to Alaska though, I’ll do it differently. I might fly there directly and spend time at a national park or two. I have some interest in seeing the southwestern coast, which might be by boat, but I’d try to avoid the long sea days if I could.

All in all, I’m happy I went, happier still that my kids were able to go, happiest of all that everyone had fun and we got to spend a very rare week with each other. It doesn’t get much more perfect than that.

My absolute favorite photo from the trip
Neil, me, Ryland, Chris, Kandace, Chelsea, Robert

Photos in this post taken by me, Neil, Kandace, Chris, Robert,
a tour guide and a kind stranger.

Up next: the red-eye home, the books I read, and our first week back.

North to Alaska, go north, the rush is on
North to Alaska, go north, the rush is on

Big Sam left Seattle in the year of '92
With George Pratt his partner and brother Billy too
They crossed the Yukon river and they found the bonanza gold
Below that old white mountain, just a little southeast of Nome

Sam crossed the Majestic mountains to the valleys far below
He talked to his team of huskies as he mushed on through the snow
With the northen lights a-runnin' wild, in the land of the midnight sun
Yes Sam McCord was a mighty man in the year of '91

Where the river is windin' big nuggets they're findin'
North to Alaska, go north, the rush is on
North to Alaska, go north, the rush is on

George turns to Sam with his gold in his hand
Said Sam you're lookin' at a lonely lonely man
I'd trade all the gold that's buried in this land
For one small band of gold to place on sweet little Jenny's hand

'Cause a man needs a woman to love him all the time
Remember Sam a true love is so hard to find
I'd build for my Jenny a honeymoon home
Below that old white mountain, just a little southeast of Nome

Where the river is windin' big nuggets they're findin'
North to Alaska, go north, the rush is on
North to Alaska, go north, the rush is on.

(Mike Phillips © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)