Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

A Family Interlude in Los Gatos

I have a favorite nephew, an amazing young man who is, like AdventureMan and myself, a total nerd about maps and all things geographical. From the time he was young, he showed wisdom, and understanding, and a quirky way of thinking outside the box. His license plate said “Earthling.” He cracked me up.

We watched together in horror as the planes hit the World Trade towers.

Now, these years later, he has a delightful wife, who is both intellectual equal and a playful heart who makes him happy and helps him not to take himself too seriously, nor to underestimate his talents. He has a job he loves, at GoogleEarth. They have two children, children around the same age as my own grand children, and I have never met them, so we ask if we can get together and they are eager to see us.

This was one of the best days of our journey.

One of the best moments, and you have to know four year old boys to know how serious and wonderful this is, is when my nephew’s son invited me to come up to his room so he could show me some things. When we got there, he pulled out his pajamas and underpants, and I totally got it, being a person who buys Avenger underwear for my own grandson 🙂 I was so honored, so delighted to be shown his treasures 🙂 It was one of life’s special moments.

AdventureMan had his own conquest; we had brought games and puzzles and things for children, and the two-and-a-half year old took a real shine to AdventureMan. Together, they stacked up pieces to the puzzle, and knocked them over. She had a Viewmaster that she considered her camera, and she snapped “photos” of me. We had a glorious time.

They took us to a wonderful restaurant in Los Gatos, Oak and Rye, where I followed my nephew’s wife’s lead and had a fabulous tomato soup and a shaved brussle sprout salad. This was one of the tastiest and most satisfying meals of the trip.

00LosGatosShavedBrusselSprouts

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We were a large and noisy group, two children and five adults who had a lot of catching up to do (we had asked that our nephew’s wife’s mother also join us) and the restaurant found a large table for us outside (it was a gorgeous day) with a shade over us to keep us cool. The kids could move around and we could talk and we weren’t disturbing anyone. Friends of the family saw us dining there, and came over to chat, so it got even noisier – just more to catch up with 🙂 It was a grand reunion.

All too soon, we were saying goodbye, wishing we could stay longer but the road is calling, and we are on our way to another stop on the California coast. We hit San Francisco in the late afternoon, and get to go across the Golden Gate Bridge in perfect weather, accompanied by hundreds of people taking advantage of the perfect day to march across the bridge on foot.

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April 28, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Community, Cultural, Eating Out, Family Issues, Friends & Friendship, Generational, Geography / Maps, GoogleEarth, Living Conditions, Parenting, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Driving by Faith from Yosemite to Monterey

I only discovered by accident that my GoogleMaps app talks. Leaving San Antonio, we discovered she would tell us which lane to be in, when to exit, etc. I liked it because most of the time, we had plenty of warning and when we missed something, there was no judgement in her tone, just new instructions, helpful instructions, with none of that annoying righteousness navigators can assume. (I can say that, being the navigator.)

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I like it that AdventureMan and I listen together, and so I am not sounding like a nag. She repeats. Occasionally, AdventureMan told her to please shut up, that he had this, but she just wanted to be sure.

Leaving Yosemite was easy driving. I drove the leg to Merced so AdventureMan could look, and as we approached Merced, there were signs for stops with fruits and nuts and garlics and oils – all the bounty of the California Valley.

One thing I saw a lot of on this trip was a move towards multi-use restrooms; they were marked for male or female, and to me, this just makes sense. It especially makes sense if you are female, there are always huge lines in female restrooms and never lines in male restrooms. Now, we just all share. Of course, there is always the question of cleanliness, but I found, generally speaking, most of these unisex toilets were maintained with high degrees of cleanliness.

Behind this Merced shop, they are setting up for a large lunch crowd, and they have a petting zoo, as well as parrots

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They had such marvelous food-stuffs, I found wonderful dates, and an avocado oil, and all kinds of almonds and walnuts, pickled garlics, and AdventureMan found peanut brittle.

Leaving Merced, however, the GoogleMap voice told us to take a route that did not seem right. AdventureMan did not want to do it, but as it turned out, it helped us avoid traffic in Merced, took us on these very fast country roads to an intersection where we quickly found ourselves en route to Monterey.

Later, stopped in inexplicable traffic, she kept telling us she could save us six minutes, but it meant getting off the route, going through town and getting on again at the next light. We saw others doing it, but it kind of seemed like cheating to do that, and for what, you’re still stopped in traffic, just a little farther down the road? Most of the time, however, we learned to listen to her voice 🙂

The saddest thing we found, in this paradise where fruits and vegetables grow happily, were all the signs saying “Pray for Water.” California is one of the great food-baskets of the world, and the food supply is reliant on water. In the midst of a drought, with signs it may go on for many more years, they ask for our prayers.

Pray for Water.

April 27, 2015 Posted by | Cultural, Environment, Food, Gardens, Geography / Maps, GoogleEarth, Living Conditions, Road Trips, Travel | , | Leave a comment

Beaumont and Refugio, TX en route to Mission, TX

This is an exciting day; this is a day we travel new roads, roads we’ve never travelled before. New roads make our blood race.

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First, we have to get through Houston. It’s early in the morning, so Houston friends, I didn’t call. I know you’ll appreciate it 🙂

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One of the best parts of this trip was crossing rivers. We crossed lots of rivers. These are some of the rivers we crossed:

Brazos River
Colorado River (we crossed the Colorado many times on our journey)
Lavaca River
Arenosa River
Garzitas Creek
Guadalupe River
San Antonio River
Aransas River

Texas can be a very dry state, but after this winter and spring, southern Texas is as green as Alaska, and the rivers are flowing. We learned that a swale is the same as an arroyo; we know them better as wadis – places where rivers or creeks may sometimes run, but which may also dry up. In a country like Tunisia, when we lived there, there were not a lot of public facilities available, so a bridge over a wadi always was a welcome sight.

We trust in Google, but sometimes we don’t thoroughly understand the instructions. On this route, when we got to Victoria, they told us to take the Southern business route, so we exited and tried to find it, but discovered (it was only about ten minutes) that the road we had been on was the southern business route around Victoria.

Some of the worst roads we travelled were in Texas. At one point, we gassed up and it was my leg for driving. It wasn’t an interstate, but it was a highway with two lanes going both ways, a 90 degree entrance to the highway, and fast trucks barreling down the road. I am not a person who likes screeching tires, but I had to screech my tires to get on that road, and I still feel resonances of the adrenaline jolt.

Along this long long route 77, we got hungry, and there aren’t a lot of likely stops – it’s a long, lonely road. When we saw the signs for Refugio, our tummies were rumbling and we knew we needed to take a chance.

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Sometimes, luck is just with you. As Highway 77 went straight through Refugio, we saw, on the left, a place called Gumbo Seafood, and the parking lot was packed with big trucks, farm vehicles, cars; we’re not even sure we can find a place, and just as we start to turn into one, a big huge lawn-service kind of double truck takes it and we are forced to go to the back, where we find a spot. Inside, it is packed with customers, and loud, and food is going to the tables and it looks . . . Mexican!

We are shown to a table in a quieter area, where we order. When my meal comes, I am delighted – grilled shrimp, with sauteed onions and green peppers, a very hot pepper of some kind, and about half an avocado sliced. It was magnificent. In this hopping roadside stop, I had one of the best meals of my trip. AdventureMan’s tacos were stuffed to the brim, so much meat he couldn’t eat half of it, and he said it was not tasty, so he would rate this place lower than I would. Sometimes, it’s all in what you order, and there is no telling what you’re going to get. I loved this meal!

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For some reason, we assumed all the seafood was frozen, and wondered how an interior town would specialize in seafood. Once we saw the larger map, however, we saw they weren’t all that far from the Gulf, and we had evidence that at least the oysters were very fresh:

00GumboSeafoodCart

A lot of times, we run across fun places to stop along secondary and back roads, but we didn’t find any fun places this time, like for home made goodies. It was all rural and agrarian, and a lot of it looked like it had seen better days, until we got to Mission, TX.

April 12, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Cultural, Eating Out, Geography / Maps, GoogleEarth, Living Conditions, Relationships, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

1984, A Question of Irony, and a Brief Discussion of Privacy

From yesterday’s USA Today, a very brief article in the USA Round Up:

 

Alaska: Fairbanks

The number of security cameras in Alaska schools is going up. The Fairbanks Daily News-Mirror reported video cameras are being installed in Fairbanks middle and elementary schools and it’s part of a statewide trend aimed at making schools safer.

 

As I raised our son, I was – well, most of the time – an attentive parent. I would listen, and when necessary, I would correct. It’s a mother’s job to help her children navigate the pitfalls of life, and to have a tool-box full of resources with which to cope.

 

Perhaps I did my job too well. Our son became a lawyer, and he is very particular about the things I say, especially when I use a term incorrectly, such as irony.

Here is what Wikipedia says irony is:

event characterized by an incongruity, or contrast, between what the expectations of a situation are and what is really the case, with a third element, that defines that what is really the case is ironic because of the situation that led to it.

 

I am about to use the term “irony” correctly. 🙂

 

ffdffs

 

When I read the above article, I remembered the horror of Orwell’s 1984, the book, and then the movie. The movie was terrifying, the presence of cameras everywhere, hidden, not hidden, just knowing they were everywhere and everything you did could be monitored.

The irony comes in that here we are, with cameras everywhere, and we are glad for it. The irony is that our society has slipped so far from its ideal that we cannot trust our neighbor to behave him or herself, and we protect ourself by placing cameras so as to encourage people to behave.

 

I am not so sure that our moral codes have ever worked well; I think it seems to be the nature of humanity to claim a moral code, but not to adhere strictly to it. I think of people who talk about the safety of the ’50’s, but I don’t believe that safety was truly that safe. I think children disappeared. I think wives were beaten, women raped. I think robberies and assaults happened, and I think the law was more lax than it is today.

 

But it is an irony, IMHO, that we welcome cameras today as a low-cost policing of ourselves, our neighbors, and those we fear will hurt us or take our property. We trust ourselves and one another so little that we are increasingly installing cameras. We’ve been considering installing them through our home security company; we have motion detectors, cameras are just the next upgrade. Have we exchanged a high value on privacy for a heightened perceived need for protection of life and property?

September 25, 2014 Posted by | Books, Character, Civility, Community, Crime, Cultural, Family Issues, GoogleEarth, Interconnected, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Privacy, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues, Technical Issue | 4 Comments

The Turnagain Arm Pit BBQ on the Road to Seward

We’d forgotten to think about lunch. We had eaten all our Japanese crackers, the kind you can’t eat on the plane or the smell will make all the other passengers sick, and we still have a couple hours drive ahead of us to Seward where we are going out again to see glaciers and wildlife.

And then, we go past the Turnagain Arm Pit BBQ. We pull up at Turnagain House, a finer restaurant, but it is not open and we drive about half a mile back to the BBQ. As we open our car doors, we are so glad to be there. It smells like home, it smells like Pensacola, BBQ.

Turnagain Arm is the area we are driving through, so Turnagain Arm Pit BBQ is a clever play on words. This is what it looks like from the road:

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This is what it looks like when you walk in:

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This is the Turnagain Arm Pit BBQ Menu – it’s a little pricey, but hey, it’s Alaska, and you don’t fine real pit BBQ everywhere. Everything is imported . . . and there are not a lot of restaurants along the highway to Seward. . .

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AdventureMan ordered his favorite, pulled pork. It was delicious, but a little fatty. The sauce was great:

00TurnagainPulledPork

I ordered the mixed plate, I ordered it because of the chicken, which I saved to eat later and then, oh aaarrgh, I forgot it. . .

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The scenery along this highway is fantastic. I didn’t take a lot of photos because we really wanted to get to Seward:

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June 26, 2014 Posted by | Alaska, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Food, Geography / Maps, GoogleEarth, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , , , | 4 Comments

Juneau to Anchorage on Alaska Airlines

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I have such mixed feelings towards Alaska Airlines. I am about to vent, so if venting bores you, just skip down to the pictures.

I love that Alaska Airlines is truly Alaskan, formed of a conglomeration of smaller companies that used to fly Alaska, and that they truly serve Alaskans well. Alaskans get all kinds of perks on Alaskan airline. So when they board, it’s like “these special people, and then these special people, and these special people, and all the rest of you” and like there are six of us not-so-special people still standing there waiting to get on. After my first flight with Alaska, I learned not to carry any carry on baggage; just a large handbag I can tuck under the seat in front of me; all the overhead compartments are full.

Yes. I know. It sounds like sour grapes, and it is a little bit. I’ve been special too, on other airlines, and you get so you kind of like being treated special. I just take a deep breath and tell myself that old saw “every monkey gets his turn in the barrel” which is sort of a karma thing, everybody gets lucky some time and other times everyone has to take a turn in the barrel.

Here’s where the grapes really got sour. I am a cherry picker when it comes to trip planning. I don’t always get it right, but I put a lot of planning into finding the right small tours, the right schedule, the right seats, the right accommodations. I love the special details, and I take pride in juggling all the factors and getting a strategic plan together.

I found the perfect reservations, reservations that got us from Pensacola to Juneau in one day, and then from Anchorage back to Pensacola in one day. For three months, I gloried in the perfection of those reservations, until Chelsea called me and said they had changed everything.

It was horrible. I had to make decisions I wasn’t prepared to make. Chelsea did her best, but I was no longer in control (OH NO!) and I just did the best I could. She really did work with me. I was mad about the circumstances, but she did her best to find a solution. Just about every change cost me money, including the worst of all, because I am not special on Alaskan Airlines or American Airlines, we had to pay $25 every time we checked a bag, and every time we had a (mandatory) overnight, we had to pick up our bags and PAY AGAIN THE NEXT DAY! It irked me because I had us starting off with Delta originally, where our bags go free. Hey, these $50 (for two people) charges add up fast!

Of course, any seasoned traveller will laugh at “perfect” travel plans. It is a set-up. There is no perfect; God-with-a-sense-of-humor will always humble our human arrogance when we think we have achieved perfection.

So you know our trip started badly with the continuing weather delays in Dallas Fort Worth, and that was not American Airlines fault, but even so, neither was it a fun way to start our vacation.

Now, leaving Juneau for Anchorage, it’s a piece of cake. The hotel is five minutes from the airport and car rental drop-off is just out the back door. Juneau airport is small, and friendly feeling. The Alaska Airlines baggage check-in was compassionate. She looked at our trip history so far and said “you guys don’t have to pay today” and that small gesture really made us feel good.

At our gate, I took a photo of the entire upstairs waiting room. This is the whole Juneau airport:

00JuneauAirport

At our gate is a pictorial history of Alaska aviation, but it doesn’t answer my question: What was the other airline that flew alongside Coastal Airlines out of the downtown amphibious airport?

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The plane we are on is kind of old-timey, and it is stopping in Yakutat and Cordova, two fishing villages, en route to Anchorage. There is no first class on this flight, but there is freight, and evidently a whole lot of freight. I have never seen this before, but the front part of the airplane is all blocked off with this black curtain/built-in thing for freight:

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Sitting next to me is a man exactly my age who grew up across the channel from me. We were the same year in school, and he is cousin to the girls I played with when I was a kid. We didn’t know each other. As a grown-up, he piloted ferries for the Alaskan Marine Highway System and now does special contracts, guiding the large cruise ships through the various ice fields. And, he tells me, the other airline flying out of Juneau when we were kids, the one with the green planes, is Ellis Airlines. Wooo HOOOO! He tells me before we take off so I quickly text my Mom’s old friend because she was stumped, too! I knew it started with an “S”, LOL. Isn’t life funny, how you can end up sitting next to the right person at the right time and place, and ask the right question?

Anchorage airport is much larger than Juneau, but as we pick up our rental car, the man behind the counter learns we are former military and gives us a great car, and map, and lots of good directions to get us headed towards Seward. Life is sweet, in spite of all my griping and sour grapes.

June 25, 2014 Posted by | Adventure, Alaska, Bureaucracy, Civility, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Geography / Maps, GoogleEarth, Humor, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Local Lore | 2 Comments

Where is Lokoja, Nigeria?

Today the church celebrates the Birth of John the Baptist, whom the Moslems call Yahyah, and who has a much-visited tomb in the Ummayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria. The church also prays today for the diocese of Lokoja, Nigeria, which is just south of Abuja, from where 300 girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram, people who believe girls should not be educated. Most of those girls are still missing. Three hundred girls . . . Lokoja . . . John the Baptist . . . Syria . . . so much need for prayer. . . The reading is from Forward Day by Day.

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TUESDAY, June 24 The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Isaiah 40:11. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

So much of our scripture is violent and distressing, yet there are many passages like this, full of comfort and assurance that the trouble is over. Others might look at it and say, “Your God is violent and terrible, and the reassurances are flat and silly.”

Maybe that’s true. I tend to look at them more as descriptions of how we experience our lives rather than declarations of God’s nature. Our lives are difficult and often catastrophic—earthquakes, malaria, civil wars, and dangerous militias, to name only a few issues—and our lack of control means we blame God for it. But I don’t think God acts that way. And in the face of catastrophe, we say meaningless things: “Everything happens for a reason.” That’s no comfort at all.

Isaiah speaks peace to his people, trying his hardest to take their pain seriously and to offer the truth that everything will be okay in the end. When it’s not okay, it’s not yet the end. That “okayness” might be justice here or it might be eternal life, but this present trouble is not the end of the story.

PRAY for the Diocese of Doko (Lokoja, Nigeria)

Today the Church remembers The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist.

Ps 85 or 85:7-13; Isaiah 40:1-11; Acts 13:14b-26; Luke 1:57-80

June 24, 2014 Posted by | Africa, Cultural, Faith, Geography / Maps, GoogleEarth, Lectionary Readings, Nigeria, Spiritual, Survival, Women's Issues | Leave a comment

From Juneau to Tracy Arms Fjord on AdventureBound

Taking a break from The Celebration, we get up early, drive to our Juneau friend’s house and park our car and she drives us over and drops us off to catch the AdventureBound trip out to Tracy Arms. For two weeks the weather forecasts have told us that this day will be sunny, bright and warm, and ha ha ha on us, it is cloudy and cold, but not much rain. In Juneau, not much rain is a pretty good day :-).

We meet some really fun people as we wait to board – one couple married four days, one couple of young adventurers who, like us, travel on their own as opposed to group travel or cruise ship travel. Our lively conversation made us late to board, only to discover that everyone else had booked for this “sunny” day and every seat in the cabin would be occupied. Once you sit down, that is YOUR spot, oh ugh, this is the worst kind of tour for us, but we discover we can go in and out at will and this works. We spend a lot of time outside, taking photos, watching for whale and porpoise and bear and eagles – all kinds of wildlife. It’s not so bad.

Before we leave, I shoot this photo. It’s not original; I had a similar poster once from the 1920’s or 1930’s advertising trans-Atlantic boat travel on some French line. I just love the lines:

00CruiseShipDouglas

Juneau is landlocked, so everything that comes in or goes out goes by boat or plane. Container barges bring in larger items, and I was amazed how high they can stack a barge. I was also amazed that on top of the containers are vehicles strapped on tight; school buses, campers, snow plows – no wonder everything costs so much more in Alaska!

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These bear made me so sad. Look how skinny they are, down at the bottom of tall, steep cliffs, eating barnacles. Bear eating barnacles – they must be starving. Some of them look all molty and have fur coming off.

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I never saw these glaciers when I was little. The Mendenhall glacier is relatively large compared to the Sawyer glaciers (1) and (2) but the Sawyer glaciers are calving. The sound is unforgettable, the cracking, the thunder, and entire sections of the glacier falling into the bay. Other burgs crack off underwater, and they come up huge, whole and a sparkling, unforgettable icy deep blue:

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There is equipment going all the time at Tracy Arms to record the calving, the sights and sounds:

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Mama and baby seals catching a few rays at high noon near the glacier:

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Here is a piece breaking and falling into the water:

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You can see the tour boat is surrounded by ice and icebergs:

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The glaciers are currently neither advancing nor receding, but you can read the trail of the glacier’s recession over thousands of years in the steep, ice-scraped mountains on both sides:

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On our way home, we spot whale. You can shoot a lot of shots of a piece of whale, or where the whale was a split-second ago, LOL.

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As we reach the dock, I call our friend to tell her we are arriving and she laughs and tells me she is already on her way; she was watching the boat arrive from her place across the channel. Within minutes, she is picking us up for home made fish cakes and chop chop salad. Best of all, great conversation, lots of laughter and wonderful stories of past times in Alaska. Her family was a pioneer family in Nome before she married and came to Juneau, so she has some great tales to share. Our families have had a lot of joint adventures, in Alaska, in Germany and in Edmonds.

She also asks great questions like “how did you buy groceries in Kuwait?” and “what did you do about laundry?”, practical questions, and exactly the kinds of things that made our lives more challenging – and interesting – to us. It was a great evening.

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June 23, 2014 Posted by | Adventure, Alaska, Beauty, Community, Environment, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Generational, Geography / Maps, GoogleEarth, Interconnected, Travel | , | Leave a comment

Where is Aba, Nigeria?

Today the church prays for the diocese of Aba, in the Nigerian Delta:

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January 2, 2014 Posted by | Africa, Education, Faith, Geography / Maps, GoogleEarth | , , | Leave a comment

Where is Warri, Nigeria?

Today our church prays for the Diocese of Warri, in Bendel, Nigeria:

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November 23, 2013 Posted by | Faith, Geography / Maps, GoogleEarth | Leave a comment