Friday, May 29, 2015

Connecting With An Internet Crony

A highlight of any trip is often personal interactions, and my Seattle trip proved no exception.

The Internet has become a boon to everyone with a computer or smartphone when communicating with other humans. Some of our species take the activity too far, texting back and forth within the same room. Teenagers often do this, but they are a subspecies with a unique head and mindset.

Thinking about it further, however, I may join these youngsters in the future. When hearing wanes, a common occurrence for individuals of a certain age, texting may be a better solution for interacting with the rest of the world than expensive hearing aids, which many people complain do not work very well. But I digress...

Members of the boomer generation take advantage of the opportunity the Internet presents to reconnect with people from our past, maintain connections with friends and family as well as business-related goings-on in our present life, and spur new connections with people initially met online.

Online connections can stretch across the world.

Meeting folks seen only in pictures and avatars is an exciting, interesting event. We imagine, consciously sometimes but subconsciously all the time, what the person on the other end of our connection looks and sounds like. Are they very different from our imagined friend, or are our imaginations right on?

 I met one of my electronic contacts, a fellow blogger, in person during my Seattle visit. Rita Robison, consumer specialist, writes about issues impacting boomers on her blog The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide. 

Rita lives a couple of hours south of Seattle, but was traveling north - right past the city - with her sister. She willingly detoured into the city, fighting traffic and other city travel headaches, to meet for lunch.

Hub joined us, so we made a merry foursome. He was supposed to be working, but played hooky for a couple of hours. We walked the few blocks to our rendezvous spot. The only annoyance encountered required dodging individuals too involved with their phones to notice other people along crowded sidewalks.

I recognized Rita immediately from her blog picture.

We spent a couple of hours discussing our current lives and previous interests, how we came to the blogosphere, future plans. She and her sister added insight into our Seattle stay.

We parted new real, physical, actual, authentic friends - I am not quite sure what word is appropriate to express a transformation from individuals connected by the wonders of the computer age to face-to-face acquaintances.
Rita and me
Some Silicon Valley techie will come up with a suitable term, I am sure.

Meanwhile, I am glad Rita and I connected. In person.

Speaking of food - lunch, specifically,
my delicious mushroom soup and chopped salad from Seattle's Purple Cafe and Wine Bar.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Sights, Sounds and Spirit of Seattle,

Driving into Seattle from the airport Friday night of Memorial Day weekend we experienced light traffic, but leaving town gridlock stretched for miles.

Seattle is our stomping ground for the week. 

We strolled through Pike Place Market, a lengthy, meandering network of buildings with vendors selling fresh flowers and plants, seafood, meat, vegetables, gourmet food items, prepared foods, coffee (a Seattle specialty), and non-food products, including lots of T-shirts. A used book store beckoned, and I walked out with four paperbacks, reading material for the flight home. Now I am prepared for the trip plus delays.

Seafood stand at Pike Place Market

We walked past the first Starbucks cafe, the line far out the door. It may be an iconic site, but we were not going to stand on a long line. Besides there are Starbucks all around the city.

An hour ferry ride offered a panoramic view of the Seattle skyline and surrounding islands. Our destination, Bremerton, featured the Kitsap Harbor Festival on the waterfront. The rest of the town was shut tight, except for the Horse and Cow Pub, Navy-themed in honor of the local Naval facility. 

Mentioning to our waiter our disappointment in the town and the fact that we took the ferry, he answered, "Show your ferry ticket and you get 30% off your check." What a deal! We asked him what sites we should see before returning to the city. He thought a moment and said, "There aren't any. It's a pretty boring town." 

But the ferry ride cost $4 (senior rate per person) round trip. Such a bargain! 

There was one site to explore. An old destroyer, the USS Turner Joy DD 951 is now a museum. The Turner Joy earned much distinction during Viet Nam, providing shore bombardment and plane guard duty.  My ex-Navy destroyer man and I toured the ship, climbing up and down steep ladders and walking through narrow passageways. Not recommended for the claustrophobic.

Hub on the deck of the USS Turner Joy

We rode the monorail to Seattle Center  site of the 1962 World's Fair, transformed into a park housing a science museum, theaters, the Chihuly Garden and Glass, Children's Museum, the Seattle Needle and other attractions. Including, this particular weekend, the Northwest Folklife Festival.

The attractions resulted in a mass of humanity. (Obviously everyone had not left the city Friday night.) Vendors selling food and a variety of products shared space with performers, some on temporary stages set up throughout the park and others performing on walkways. Everywhere individuals and groups serenaded the constant procession of humanity.

We toured the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum  a permanent home for the famed artist's works, a local guy. Well, technically Tacoma, but close enough, and he went to school at the University of Washington in Seattle. The museum was crowded, but spacious enough to enjoy the exhibits.  

Chihuly gardens

Exiting hungry and thirsty, we left Seattle Center. Long lines encouraged us to seek less jam-packed eateries.

We found a pub in the Pioneer Square neighborhood, the oldest section of the city, specializing in oysters, a hub favorite. While savoring our meal a steady mass of people of all ages suddenly filled the street, most attired in green shirts, waving flags, singing and carrying on. Our waiter informed us this was soccer game night. Before every game a procession marches to the stadium in support of the Seattle Sounders. City spirit in action.

Previous visitors to the Emerald City suggested we take the Underground tour  and so we did. A G-rated and 21+ tour (dubbed the Underworld tour) are offered. We opted for the adult version, an hour evening tour of the underbelly, literally and figuratively, of early Seattle. 

We learned tidbits of information the G-rated lecture omits, for instance...

The first skid row originated in Seattle. 

Following a fire that destroyed the city in 1889, Seattle elevated itself several feet, solving problems of constantly flooding roadways and overflowing sewers. The original street level, now underground, became a haven for some legitimate and lots of illegitimate establishments from the 1890s through Prohibition, when the corridors channeled liquor to underground bars.

The passageways of underground Seattle

A couple of enterprising teenage entrepreneurs started the UPS company in 1907 delivering an assortment of drug supplies to the many, many, many women inhabiting boarding houses (of sorts) on the wrong side of town. I could not, however, verify the information. But it makes a great story...

Our bodies are holding up, but hint at their age. Sore legs, sore back, tired feet. Each night we return to our room exhausted, but ready the following morning to start over. There will be time to nurse travel wounds when home again.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Travel Yesteryear and Today

In so many ways, yesteryear travel was not very different from the travails of travel today…

The first wagon train departed Missouri for what would eventually become the state of Oregon 172 years ago, on May 22, 1843. Over 1,000 men, women, and children, more than 100 wagons and 5,000 oxen, cattle, horses and mules trekked 2,000 miles on what became known as the Oregon Trail.

The pioneers faced numerous obstacles. The danger of Indian raids was more anticipated than actual. Most encounters were friendly, involving trade. Bad weather, drowning, falling off horses and mules, random gun shots, runaway wagons, disease - especially cholera -  all resulted in casualties. 

The journey proved most difficult through the mountains. Wagons dragged uphill sometimes careened out of control down steep trails. 

The journey lasted four to six months, wagons averaging 15 miles a day. The only alternative was a treacherous sea voyage lasting a year.

About 10% of the daring souls perished along the route.

Not so much has changed today when traveling coast to coast.

Most travelers opt for modern transport – planes - but travelers face difficulties along the way. We can drive, but as Charles Kuralt wrote, “Thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything.” 

Nowadays Indian raids have been replaced by TSA checkpoints and pat downs. Bad weather remains a problem, postponing and sometimes canceling flights. Car accidents en route, and pedestrians hit by vehicles entering or exiting airport arrival and departure lanes are today’s equivalent of runaway wagons. Disease rarely results in fatalities, but all manner of germs may be caught onboard, resulting in unpleasant but temporary maladies.

Thankfully almost all travelers reach their final destination safely.

Traffic jams occurred as wagon trains venturing West left about the same time, in early spring once new grass began to grow. The vegetation provided food for the animals. The strategy was to leave Missouri soon after grass sprouted and arrive at a destination before winter snows made passage impossible.

Fast forward to the 21st century and travelers can board a plane and land on the opposite coast a few hours later.

Assuming the plane gets off the ground.

Anyone flying out of Philadelphia understands air traffic jams. The pilot gets on the microphone and says, ”Welcome aboard F**K U Airlines. Once we are cleared for takeoff we will be flying through calm skies. Meanwhile we are 23rd in line on the runway. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the airport scenery…” 

People over packed in the 1800s, forcing them to lighten loads by abandoning belongings.

Packing today has been elevated to an art form as airlines charge for baggage. Bulging, overweight suitcases of newbie travelers result in items being tossed out, placed somewhere on the body, or given away. 

Why am I discussing the similarities between the pioneers of yesteryear and today’s travelers?  Because hub and I are once again taking to the skies, Seattle our destination. Hub will work most of the time and I will play.

But first we must endure the hurdles travel poses before enjoying the wonders at our journey’s end.

Travel is only glamorous in retrospect.
- Paul Theroux

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Gardening Season Again

Daisies in my front yard.
The never-ending circle of seasons continues and once again it is gardening time. Out of town for the month of April, I could not get a head start. I sometimes plant seeds indoors, but was not around to tend the seedlings this year. It was a cold and miserable April, so I do not feel guilty being late getting outside, down and dirty in my patch of earth.

I have mixed feelings about gardening, accomplishment and frustration intermingled. I do not have a green thumb, but it is not black either. Success comes in fits and starts. I begin the season buying annuals at Produce Junction, a regional outlet selling fruits and vegetables year-round and plants seasonally. The store offers the cheapest prices around. I therefore do not feel really, really guilty when some of the young plants die. Which always happens.

We have a small patch of land. No grass. The front encompasses a couple of trees and bushes of various sizes. The past couple of years I filled in with perennials, and scatter annuals in the bare spots.

One of my problems is the inability to recognize new plants peeking out of the soil and plain old weeds sneaking in and choking desired new growth. Some weeds have become familiar enemies. I see them, pull them, hopefully root and all, but more appear, sticking their evil shoots out of the ground the very next day. They often hide before being discovered, shielded by bushes and new growth.

But each year there are fewer and smaller empty patches.
We have a small strawberry patch thanks to previous owners of our home.
Hopefully the small green berries will be big, beautiful and red soon -
and survive lurking animals (especially one particular troublesome squirrel). 

Experimentation with a variety of flowering plants resigned me to the fact that marigolds are by far the hardiest in my patch of dirt. I no longer waste money on other flowers, realizing they will not survive and thrive. I settle for different colored marigolds.

I purchase a small number of other annuals that catch my fancy, planting containers. The plants thrive for a while, then wither and die when I am out of town, unable to water them when, of course, it does not rain. Like I plan trips during dry spells.

There is a positive effect of gardening never anticipated. People say walking a dog invites conversation with neighbors and strangers on the street.

Gardening does the same thing.

My backyard is small, a patio, deck and small vegetable patch. Most gardening time is spent in the front of my house.

Neighbors unseen for months and sometimes previously unknown appear outdoors as the weather warms. People walk their dog, stroll past on their way to the drugstore a couple of blocks away, and pass by on their daily hike. They stop and admire my handiwork (I like to think, but more likely are shaking their head in dismay at my eclectic garden), and conversation ensues. Nice weather, cute dog, where do you live, full-time or part-time resident, have you tried the new restaurant down the street…

That is perhaps the best part of gardening. Meeting and greeting neighbors, discussing the goings-on in our town, watching kids playing in the street, old and young riding by on bicycles, cars slowly passing, breathing fresh air (unless the city water or sewer system breaks down).

Observing our neighborhood wake up and revive after a long, cold winter.

And planting splashes of color to perk up a gray landscape just beginning to blossom.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Laundromat Mishap

It has been a long time since I sat in a laundromat, years ago on vacation. I remember hanging out in a storefront in a small town out West someplace.

Hub decided this was the day we were going to cross an item off our to-do list and support a local laundromat. Searching online, I found one not far away.

Late afternoon apparently is not a busy laundry time. A couple of other customers patronized the place, one woman loading a machine, another woman and young girl sitting and talking on a bench – no comfortable seating here, but free Wifi, and a guy transferring a load of wet clothes into a dryer.

Hub and I quickly loaded one oversize machine with our single item. My grandson’s sleeping bag, too large to fit in my home appliance.

We stored some of my grandson’s camp things over the winter. His family lives in Florida and he goes to camp up north. Planning to return to camp this summer, we agreed to store unneeded items over the winter. No reason to pay for additional baggage flying down at the end of the summer and again returning at the beginning of the following summer. His sleeping bag, sheets and blanket were among the items left behind.

Fast forward a few months and it is time to get ready for camp, although only mid-May. Everything will be washed (again, having been washed immediately upon entering my home) and ready when camp begins the end of June.

The sleeping bag spent much of the winter in the trunk of our car. On a trip to the Northern hinterlands – Vermont - in the midst of a cold, snowy, dark winter, we threw the bag in the car in case of emergency. You never know when additional warm layers might be needed.

We will not be using the sleeping bag now that spring finally sprung.

Hub interrupts my computer time with news the washing machine is leaking.

I announce to an employee hovering nearby, “Our machine is leaking,” and we go scout out the problem.

The machine was leaking all right, soap and water all over the floor.

The laundromat washer was a front loader,
but you get the idea!
Soap spewed everywhere. Hub bought a small box of detergent and poured the entire box in the machine. Stating there was a lot of soap in the machine and on the floor is an understatement.

But the problem was immediately evident.

A tie used to secure the sleeping bag together hung out the door.

My fault. I loaded and closed the machine without checking to ensure the door securely latched.

The employee hit the emergency stop button. Once the machine stopped spinning I opened the door, placed the string inside, firmly closed and locked the door, and started the wash again.

Meanwhile the employee disappeared, reappearing a few minutes later with a handful of towels, and proceeded to clean the wet, soapy floor. I offered to help, but she declined my assistance.

Who knows what additional havoc I might wreak.

And so the saga of my laundromat trip winds down on a quiet note. The washing machine completed its cycle, all of the soap miraculously disappearing.

The bag then began rhythmically spinning in the dryer, eating 25 cents every six minutes.

Hub passed the time on a bench listening to an audio book. I sat on an uncomfortable black metal chair watching the large clock directly in front of me, fingering quarters and getting hungry, thinking about dinner. More precisely, what I would prepare for dinner.

And the dryer whirled on and on and on…

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Why I Love The State Of My Birth

It is nice to come home after being away. Traveling is fun, but home is where you settle into your comfy bed and pillow, find the clothes you forgot to pack, the couch you potato on.

The southern part of the state of New Jersey is my home - land of beautiful beaches, the Atlantic Ocean, blueberries and wine, 19th century Victorian homes. Most people know only of the northern section of our state, renowned for traffic jams, expensive suburban homes, decaying inner cities, tanks and pipes and smells, as well as Sinatra, Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Snooki and The Situation...

This is Chris Christie's Kingdom, rated number one of all the states in the Union in a number of categories, including  -

Superfund (polluted) sites (most of any other state),

Our esteemed leader, C.C., is so proud of his state he is lobbying for a job requiring relocation out of state. He has not spent significant time in the state lately, preferring Iowa (much less crowded than NJ) and New Hampshire (offering pristine air).

My life began in New Jersey, specifically Jersey City, across the Hudson River from the densely populated, popular island of Manhattan, home to museums, restaurants, theater, Wall Street, luxury high-rises, and wealthy, attractive people from around the globe.

Jersey City, on the other hand, is the people's city, brash and gritty, the state's second largest city. Newark is the largest city in the state. I do not have much to say about Newark because I never set foot downtown, only driving through the outskirts. Once, I believe.

Then there is Atlantic City. The character Nucky Thompson from the TV series Boardwalk Empire was inspired by the real Nucky Johnson. Today AC is the site of another sit-com or dramedy in the making. 21st century financiers fight the city, the state, the people, other businesses, and among themselves over the future of their particular piece of casino real estate. Everyone is a pawn in their power games.

The state's notorious history began, research leads me to believe, with the state's first colonial governor (Edward Hyde, also governor of NY at the time), a cross-dresser, bribe-taker, and job-giver, gifting important positions to relatives.

The duel between Aaron Burr (Vice President of the US at the time) and Alexander Hamilton (former Secretary of the Treasury) continued Jersey's claim to infamy. The year was 1804, the place Weehawken. The two men's longstanding political and personal enmity climaxed in this event, resulting in Hamilton's death and Burr's banishment from the political halls of power.

Political corruption is an integral part of New Jersey history. The Jersey City mayor/political boss of the first part of the 20th century, Frank Hague, worked hard to earn the moniker "granddaddy of Jersey bosses" and died a multimillionaire after earning a meager salary for decades.

More recently a past governor came out of the closet and resigned under the threat of sexual harassment claims.
The 2013 four-day Bridgegate traffic jam is under investigation by local, state, and federal agencies. Indictments have been announced and more are imminent.

Meanwhile Atlantic City is taking bets on the next scandal to hit the front pages of newspapers, crash the Internet, and dominate talk shows...

But I digress. I love the state of my birth. And it is good to be home!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Best of Boomer Bloggers Celebrate Mother's Day 2015

Happy Mother's Day to all the Moms, Grandmothers, Great Grandmothers, and Moms-to-be. Being a Mom is a full-time job that, no matter how much preparation one believes they have accomplished, there are always surprises, joys, stomachaches and pains that cannot be planned for, prepared for or anticipated. 

Boomer Bloggers this week pay homage to the wonderful women who raised us, loved us, taught us, and provided role-models for us.

In honor of Mother's Day, I am posting this picture of my Mom and her youngest great-grandchild. Visiting the younger generation this weekend, Great Grandma, the elementary school librarian, brought a bag of books for the two of them to enjoy. 
Great Grandma Elyss, 90 years young, reading to her three-year-old great granddaughter.

Laura Lee pays homage to the women who came before  - her great-grandmother, grandmother, and her mother, in a previous post, Kansas Women's History: Three Generations of Incredible Women.

This week Laura Lee, in her blog Adventures of the New Old Farts, explores Libre, a rural hippie commune in her new county started by a group of 1960s folks seeking an alternative lifestyle. The community thrives today. 

Who influences your financial decisions? In a survey, millennials say mothers influence their finances more than any other family member, but Mom ranked fourth among people age 50 and older, Rita R. Robison, consumer journalist, reports on The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide.  Mom also ranked low among college graduates, the highest-income households, and Republicans.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Observations of Our Mexican Life Before Heading Home

Time sometimes passes quickly, occasionally lasts forever. It all depends on one's point of view. Our time in San Miguel is concluding. On one hand we just arrived, yet the last time in New Jersey seems ages ago. 

We settled in and almost feel at home.

Except when we don't.

We are getting spoiled. Our place does not have a washer/dryer, but I drop off our laundry in the morning at a laundromat two doors away. Clothes are washed, dried, ironed, folded, and packaged for pickup the same evening. Two loads cost under $6.00. I never ironed underwear. I rarely iron anything. Or fold.

A maid cleans the house, changes the sheets and provides clean bathroom and kitchen towels.

Garbage pick up occurs three times a week.

Taxis are readily available and reasonable. During a rainstorm we waited only a few minutes before a cab pulled over. No phone calls, no standing in the street waving like a maniac trying to get a cabbie's attention. An easy and civilized process.

On the other hand obtaining the bill at a restaurant or cafe can be challenging. Lingering over drinks, sitting and talking after a meal is expected. No hurry here. Relax, take your time, chill out, the bill will eventually be presented with a flourish...

An afternoon at a rooftop bar.
Knowledge of Spanish is unnecessary, although attempts at communicating in the native language appreciated.

Public restrooms are neat, clean, modern, and often outfitted with features like folk art, plants, stained glass windows, unique hardware.

An unusual stone sink at a restaurant restroom.

Sign in a cafe indicating the entrance to an important place.
We observed few name-brand hotels, stores or restaurants (thank goodness!). A Domino's pizza is close by, motor scooters used for home delivery. 

A Starbucks cafe sits almost concealed and unobtrusive in a historic building downtown, only a small sign over the door indicating what lies within. 

A Walmart-owned megastore graces the edge of town. The nearest mall, half an hour away, houses a long list of popularly-known stores. We stayed away. 

We shopped at markets in town - the daily food and merchandise mart, the artisans market, the Tuesday food, flea and everything else market, and the Saturday organic market. Some meals we prepared at home, but the proliferation of interesting, reasonably priced establishments offering varied culinary experiences were difficult to resist.

Market scene
The city's architecture dates from the Colonial Spanish era, beginning in the mid-16th century, primarily formidable thick stone buildings constructed around a central courtyard and hidden behind brick or stone walls. Run-down-appearing wood doors offer not a hint of what lies beyond. Churches, reflecting the strong Roman Catholic presence, appear around almost every corner, ranging from small chapels to large, imposing edifices encompassing several blocks.

Typical street scene.
Hilly terrain, cobblestone streets and narrow stone sidewalks make getting around precarious. 

Individuals peddling wares in the streets, Mom-and-Pop storefronts operating out of run-down, cluttered alcoves to well-appointed, beautiful venues abound, often next door to each other. Taco and fruit wagons, ice cream stands, individual and family-owned cafes with four or five tables reside alongside restaurants outfitted with several rooms and a landscaped patio, complete with uniformed staff, the result a vibrant, eclectic and fascinating mix.

Then there is the art. Co-op galleries, artist-owned galleries, working studios. On main streets, tucked into alleyways, comprising the first floor of residences. Permanent spaces, temporary shows, performance art, theater, lectures, classes. 

San Miguel loves holidays and any excuse for a celebration. We witnessed wedding processions, religious holiday parades, and a funeral led by musicians and native dancers.

Native dancers in a funeral procession.
An added bonus of spending time in the area is the affordability of lodging, meals, tourist attractions, and other amenities.

All these can be found in different places around the world, of course, but few connect the dots like the compact, cosmopolitan, UNESCO World Heritage city San Miguel de Allende. 

San Miguel entices, inviting people to linger and stay awhile. We tell people this is our first visit, and the response by locals and ex-pats alike is, "When are you coming back?"

I am not sure, but hope it is sooner rather than later.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Greenhorns for a Day

 A scenic trail ride through the Mexican countryside sounded great. 

The day began overcast, the chilliest, grayest day of our vacation. But we smiled, climbed into our host's red pick-up truck, and took off for environs unknown. 

Forty-five minutes later we arrived at Rancho Xotolar. Our host inquired whether I would like to milk a cow and - unsure I understood what he was saying, communication difficult as he spoke little English and I spoke minimal Spanish - I gamely replied, "Sure." We proceeded to a corral occupied by a couple of cows and several calves. Suddenly I am milking Mama.

Receiving instructions in the art of milking a cow.

Milking in progress. Note two streams of milk.

Feeding a calf.
Then, outfitted with hats and jackets, we mounted steeds, received a quick lesson in guiding our horse - turning left and right, starting, stopping...and rode off into the wilderness. Three guides escorted hub and I, plus three dogs along for the fun and exercise.

In the Mexican wilderness. I am on the white horse.
We leisurely ascended a mountain and stopped for picture taking. So far so good. 

Then our guide informed us we would descend into the canyon. I stared straight down, a twisting, rocky stream of water barely visible far below. 

Saying the descent was steep is an understatement. I intended on capturing lots of pictures of the awesome landscape, but did not dare take out my camera. No way was I going to take one hand off the reins, or the other off the saddle. 

Not one for heights, I stared straight ahead, not wanting to freak out seeing how close to the edge of the canyon we rode, or how far we could fall if a horse misstepped.

Hub donned a poncho when it started to rain. Luckily the light rain did not last long. This was taken at our one rest stop.

Riding along the bottom of the canyon.

Ride'em cowgirl!
Astride a horse for any length of time challenges leg and butt muscles. Once on level ground - which did not last long - one of the guides taught me the nuances of trotting. Fun, yes, although parts of my body were not so happy, bobbing up and down.

I was somewhat prepared, outfitted in a high-powered sports bra. But as most women of a certain age can attest, some activities challenge our proficiency at controlling specific muscles. Horseback riding greatly tested my ability (or inability) to control pelvic muscles, connected to the bladder, which when let loose can lead to leakage. Next time I will diligently practice Kegel exercises before riding... 

Back safely at the ranch, we savored a meal prepared by our guide's sister, including enchiladas filled with fresh cheese made from MY fresh-squeezed warm cow's milk.

MY cheese a couple of hours old.
The rain deluge held off until we returned to our lodging.

Challenging as the ride was, I highly recommend it for adventurous travelers to San Miguel de Allende!