Posts Tagged ‘Vickie Mendenhall’

West Virginia Day Tripper

I’ve started a new blog about my jaunts around the mountain state for those who enjoy armchair traveling. I thought I would keep it separate from my blogs here.  I have a lot of  photos of my travels and plan on doing more, so I thought it would be good to house them all in one place. I hope you will visit  West Virginia Day Tripper. Thanks!

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West Virginia Barns

As you can tell by my lack of  blog posts lately, I have become preoccupied with photography. I should be working on my third book or writing here more often, but it seems to have taken a back seat to what has become my passion: pretending to be a photographer.

My father was a photographer when he wasn’t working as owner and broker of his real estate company. He used a press camera which I wish to God I had in my possession. He loved taking pictures and vacationing through West Virginia meant getting out of the station wagon at each hairpin turn so he could get a photo of the “beautiful view.” There were at least 150 “beautiful views” per vacation. I didn’t mind because I was little and a ham for the camera. He has since passed, but I honestly feel him beside me when I frame a shot.

I love photography more than writing.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy receiving a royalty check each month from Amazon for my 2 ebooks.  It’s not much, but it still pays a bill or two, so that is nice. But, I’ve decided to concentrate on writing after I retire in a few years. My summer writing time has been replaced by day tripping and photography.

When you focus your camera, it is interesting to find out what your interests are. I had no idea when I started taking pictures that my eye would find old barns appealing. Old stuff. Maybe that’s why I like to haunt antique shops.

But, I credit my love of old barns to my grandfather.  He didn’t actually live on a farm, but purchased one to house his prized palomino horses. He named it Cherry Farm and I loved going there.  I believe he rented the house  to a family who took care of the horses. There was an old barn full of pigs. And I was sold. A couple of years later that barn and the pigs inside burned to the ground, but my love of barns lived on.

So, the first time I decided to take a drive, I was surprised what caught my eye. I seem to like old bridges, barns, and abandoned buildings. Who knew I would take back roads in hope of finding a wonderful farm to photograph. Here are just a few of the barns I have photographed in the past few weeks.

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Old Route 250 on the Marion/Taylor County line. It’s a goat farm and I love driving by it.

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Dean Drive. This is on the road behind my former home. I’ve driven by it hundreds of times…funny how it is now a

focus.IMG_2972Near Seneca Rocks, WV

The rest are from my little jaunt yesterday.

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I took about ten photos of this “truck graveyard.” Of course, that’s not really what it is.

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Near Watter Smith State Park

Near Watter Smith State Park

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Had to put the dead tree in this shot.

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This is the best I could do. It was on a winding road with no place to pull off. I rolled down my window, and aimed.

This is what happens when we finally get a break from the snow and the sun is shining on a Saturday afternoon. For those readers who are barn lovers, I drove from Fairmont south on I-79 and took the Lost Creek Exit. I drove on Route 270 from Lost Creek to West Milford and took Duck Creek Road (love the name) to Watters Smith State Park, which was CLOSED…bummer. I doubled back to get some photos I missed on the way and then took I-79 to the Jane Lew Exit in Lewis County and took Route 19 to Clarksburg. I had never been on either road before, so I had fun.

When I was young I told my grandma I had been on every road in West Virginia. She laughed at me and I got mad at her. In my defense, it seemed like I had. My dad couldn’t be away from his real estate business for too long (although I know now he really didn’t want to be in the car with my mom for very long), so our vacations were traveling around West Virginia.

I still love traveling around this state. The barns are becoming old and decrepit. Pretty soon a  new Walmart  or housing development will spring up on old farmland and  yet another barn will be just a memory. I hope to photograph a lot of them before time, or perhaps another derecho takes one down.

Ginger-Ale House

I made my first gingerbread house this past Christmas. I am fifty-seven years old and had never made one, so I decided that would change. I informed my children, who are now 28 and 26,  it is never to late to begin a tradition, and that when they came home from eastern Europe and New York City to stay with me over the holidays, we would be making gingerbread houses….beer included in the mix.

I have been researching gingerbread houses and even have a board on pinterest on the subject. If I was going to create a gingerbread house, I really needed to know what the hell I was doing.

I started by looking at recipes for creating the gingerbread walls and roof for the house and I thought to myself, “Oh, hell no.”  No, this gingerbread house newbie was going to have to buy kits this first year. The thought of mixing and rolling and baking on top of my Christmas cookies and planned dinner was too much for me.

So, I found kits at Walmart. I also started accumulating candy and stuff to put on the gingerbread house. I bought other bases because I wanted to have room to make a yard. I was ready.

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The best part of this was the fact that my kids, now grown, seemed to be excited to put together a gingerbread house. When they were small, I was so busy getting ready for a Christmas Eve sit- down dinner at our house for 25 people, baking cookies and cleaning, that I just never thought about gingerbread house building.  It took us a while to get everything cooked and ready. I even used china and didn’t think about using plastic bowls or plates for salads or desserts until I was just tired of  it all.  So, our gingerbread house building I guess had to wait.

Better late than never.

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My son has been living in the Republic of Georgia and already had plans to alter his gingerbread house. He was thinking of Georgian architecture and went to the kitchen and came back with a knife. He sat, studied, and then began manipulating his walls and roof. He was smiling, so I knew he came up with an idea.

Alex, on the other hand, jumped right in and began icing her walls to the base. She remarked several times she was going to win. Before we started, we decided we would post our houses on my facebook wall and ask my friends to vote on the best gingerbread house. No one would know who built what house. Alex was on a mission to win.

I, on the other hand, was dealt a blow when my gingerbread house was missing the icing bag. Really? Strike one on momma’s house. I tried to improvise by getting a zip lock bag and cutting a hole in one of the corners. Total fail. I made quite the mess.

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We had a lot of fun though.  After Alex spent a lot of the time bragging about how her house was going to win, disaster struck….sort of. She put so many round little balls on her roof, that her roof slid right off the house. It was too heavy. She used a few choice curse words and then just sat and looked at her award winning gingerbread house.

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So, her roof became a side yard. She exclaimed that she was done, but then grabbed a few gingerbread people and started icing them on as the roof. It left a hole in middle. As she finished her bottle of Blue Moon beer, she placed it into the middle of her house and proclaimed her creation, “a ginger-ALE- house.”  Way to recover, young grasshopper.

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Adam, meanwhile, changed the whole thing and created a drive-in. Yes, a drive-in movie theater. I was ready to start calling him Gingerbread Fred as he had pieces of gingerbread lying on the table with no direction in mind. And then it came to him. The result was creative and so very cute.

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I loved his result! It’s a Wonderful Life was even playing at the gingerbread drive-in and the scene where George tells Mary he would lasso the moon for her was on the screen. He had little cars with the speakers by the car and I just loved it.

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So, we were done. I was pretty proud of my first gingerbread house.

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It was a basic house, but I liked how I made the icicles. I also put tootsie rolls as logs.

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Now it was time for the judging. We cleaned off the messy table and lined up the contest entries.

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I then put it on Facebook, where my friends obliged and immediately began voting. People were also guessing who they thought each gingerbread house belonged to. Most of the people thought I made the drive-in, Alex made the cottage, and Adam made the beer hall. It was fun. I won, of course, but  as I got votes for “best workmanship,” the kids both received kudos for being creative.

In the end, our first gingerbread house building was a success, minus my icing fiasco.

I smiled when Adam said he wanted to do it again next year.

Gingerbread Fred will be thinking ahead.

Alex, on the other hand, will probably take a more modest approach and wait until her house is done before bragging.

And I am just happy I had both of my children on the same continent, spending an evening with their mom making memories.

Success.

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Pill Compartment Thingy

When people turn 40, 50, or 60, they usually get gag  gifts from friends who want to rub it in their faces that they are getting up there in the age category,  Black balloons add a festive touch to the marked occasion. And when the fun is over, the balloons burst and the gag gifts are put in a closet and forgotten about until they can be re-gifted when their next broken down friend reaches the golden age of creakiness.

I’m all about re-gifting goofy presents to the next birthday boy or girl, but wait a minute. What if you can actually use a gag gift? I think I can.

When I turned 50, I received some strange gifts to mark my creaky, decrepit, broken down, sapless body.  Some people receive prune juice, arthritis rub, or Depends undergarments. I was presented, among other treasures, a magnifying glass, a saggy boob bra, and a pill compartment thingy.

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It’s actually pretty big, you know, for all my medicine. I laughed when I opened this one, but after the party was over, I walked my rickety legs over to closet and shoved it somewhere to sit forever beside the rest of the gag gifts. I did later re-gift the bra to the friend who bought it for me since she was just a year behind me.

One day, a year or two after the wonderful birthday party, I couldn’t remember if I took my blood pressure pill or not. Strange. I mean, what the hell? Did I take it or didn’t I? Well, shit, this was frustrating. I didn’t want to take another one because maybe it would kill me or put me in a coma.

Hey, where is that pill compartment thingy my dear friend Debbie bought for me? I could actually use the thing.

And I have for several years now. Every Sunday morning I put a new week of blood pressure pills, calcium pills, and multi-vitamins in each little container so I won’t forget to take my medicine. Good grief, I am old!

When I travel, I really don’t have the room in my purse or bag for this giant pill reminder, so I carry pill compartment junior when I hit the road.

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Pretty sad, aren’t I?  I’m using my gag gift and purchasing more for my benefit. Yes, I am an old fogey now. But, I need to remember to take my medicine since I have little brain cells left.

But, take a look at the photo….

Yes, that’s right. You can barely see some activity going on in compartment M (which means Monday 🙂 Today is Saturday and on Tuesday I realized I missed my Monday medicine.

I obviously need a 24 hour nurse.

Etched in Tree

When my daughter graduated from NYU in May, I was hoping to squeeze in a visit to Central Park after all the activities.  We did and as usual, it didn’t disappoint. Spring had sprung and people, wildlife, and flowers were all around us.  I took pictures of turtles,

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my daughter watching ducks

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and just took in the beauty of the park.

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I then walked by and noticed a beautiful tree littered with initials carved into its base. I kept walking, but then smiled and turned around. It needed to have its picture taken and I immediately thought “blog post idea.” I’m just now getting around to writing about the  tree with the initial tattoo (ala The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)

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This tree had initials carved on it on all sides. I am terrible at estimating how old the tree is, but I am sure many of the initials were from long ago. I thought about the people who carved the initials. Long ago men carried pocket knifes. I don’t know if this is still the case, but I imagined people strolling along the path in the park, holding hands when they decide to mark that specific moment in time by carving their symbolic love in the tree, a permanent reminder of their love.

This custom has been around for centuries. I know one instance of tree carving, but decided to google and see what else came up on the subject.

Well, I’ll be damned. There is even a name for tree carving: arborglyphs.

The lifespan of an arborglyph ( I feel smart writing that) is of course limited to that of the tree. If a tree in the forest dies, so does its etchings…eventually. So, archeologists are confined to perhaps a few hundred years with the tree carvings, unlike petroglyphs, which may date back thousands of years.

Too bad trees don’t last forever. What a story that could be told!

Which brings me to a lesson I teach every year about the lost colony of Roanoke and a famous tree carving.

 

On May 8, 1587, a group of 117 men, women and children left England to sail across the Atlantic Ocean.  The colonist,s under the command of John White, headed for a destination on the Chesapeake Bay, but landed further south.

This colony on Roanoke Island was the first English settlement in the New World.  White, then governor of the colony–left the settlement and returned to England to get more supplies. Because of England’s war with Spain, there were no ships to spare. Three years passed before John White could return to Roanoke Island with the supplies. When he finally returned to the colony in 1590, he found the island deserted. The only trace left by the colonists was a mysterious ‘cro‘ carved in a tree, and ‘croatoan‘ carved in a fence post. Croatoan was the name of the nearby island and a local tribe of Native Americans.

It is possible that some of the survivors of the Lost Colony of Roanoke may have joined the Croatans. Roanoke Island was not originally the planned location for the colony and the idea of moving elsewhere had been discussed.

In this case of tree carving, it was done for the purpose of relaying a message. There was no heart with an arrow through this one. But, in the end, it was etched in a tree and made the fourth grade history book ever since.

So, the next time you want to  show your love by etching the big plus symbol between your name and the one you love, remember that  announcement  will  last a couple of hundred years.

So, be sure of it.

Our Disappearing Roadside Rest Areas

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 

Robert Frost

Years ago, there were no interstates. We had two lane roads and that’s about it. Sometime during the summer we would hop into our family car and travel around West Virginia. My dad was a realtor and land developer and said he could not be away from the business for too long at a time. I’m thinking that he just didn’t want to be cooped up in a car with my mom, who was so much more than a co-pilot; she was a drill sergeant  driving instructor and a callous wife. That combination was not fun if you were sitting in the front seat…which I was not.

No, I was sitting in the backseat…with a bucket between my feet and my face out the window. The hairpin turns on these West Virginia roads did not make me a happy traveler. My dad would also make us get out at almost every scenic vista to pose for a picture. He had one of those huge press cameras, and also took home movies. So, it took us a while to travel 60 miles through the mountains.

The great thing about traveling on a two lane road back then was the fact that there were numerous places to pull over and take a break. You could tell  because there was a place to pull over and the three main requirements:

1) shade

2) a great view

3) a picnic table right by the road.

Many people would pack a lunch before their little jaunts as  restaurants and gas stations were just here and there. Nowadays, there are interstate rest stops along the way where you can buy food and drink out of vending machines. Just writing this makes me feel sorry for the youth in 2013, as this way of traveling in the 50’s and 60’s was ideal now that I think about it. Well, except for the fact that most of the pull-off picnic rest areas did not have a bathroom. But, for the most part, they were a welcome break from traveling with three fighting young children in the back seat and one continuously perturbed woman in the passenger seat. My dad would always say the same thing:

“Look at this beautiful view. We need to get a picture.” We would then get out of the car and strike a pose.

If you lived in West Virginia back then, there were certain places your family would travel.  I will never forget stopping by the smallest church in the lower 48 states.   Right alongside Route 219 in Thomas sits Our Lady of the Pines. My dad even let me sign our name in the guest book located right inside. This cute 24×12 foot church has only six pews and seats twelve people. Peter Milkint, a Lithuanian immigrant, built Our Lady of the Pines in 1938. You know, I’m thinking that since Hawaii and Alaska did not join the United States until 1959,  perhaps Peter billed the church the smallest before those states had their statehood. I may have stepped into the smallest church in all the 50 states.

This tiny sanctuary receives about 30,000 visitors a year.

There were other places we would venture on our yearly 2-3 day “jaunts” around West Virginia and stopping by the roadside rest areas were always part of the plan. We would visit Senaca Rocks, Smoke Hole Caverns, Spruce Knob, and come to think about it, we never went anywhere else except for the Monongahela State Forest area. Naturally, they had many pull over rest areas with added concrete fireplaces. But,the  one place I remember most vividly, and that was Cool Springs Park.

Cool Springs was not a destination, but a stop along the journey. It was what our interstate rest stops are today, minus the animals and rusty tractors. It was such a surprise the first time we came down a 3 mile hill and saw this great rest stop/souvenir shop/petting zoo and I was thrilled to death. Kids love souvenirs and this place had everything. This was roadside kitsch galore.

I’m pretty sure my brother bought a tomahawk and I liked the penny in a small bottle with the words Cool Springs Park written across the front. Parents are more than obliged to purchase these souvenirs because it may mean some quiet time once the kids climb back into the car. Well, not when there is a tomahawk involved. But, regardless, it was a vacation pressed in my memory and I decided last week to travel to Cool Springs once again on my way to nowhere in particular.

Now, this isn’t my first trip back to Cool Springs since I was little and was continually tomahawked in the back seat of the car. No, we traveled along Route 50 when I had my own children. But, it had changed since the early 60’s. In the early 90’s, it was, well, more rusty. The owners of cool springs had many displays of train cabooses and other mechanical devices showcased around the acreage beside the gas station/ souvenir shop.  You could walk through the park like grounds over bridges and see the large water wheel in action. But, the tractors had a lot of rust on them and I didn’t want my children to touch anything. The animals weren’t around that day, but there were a couple of peacocks walking around.

Inside, the kids picked out a souvenir or two. The tomahawks were still there. Thank goodness my kids walked right by those. I smiled when I saw the penny in a jar and I believe I had a thimble to add to my printer’s tray.

Cool Springs was the ultimate roadside park. So, fast forward to 2013, and I decided to stop there once again, this time with camera in tow. Earlier in the morning I decided to do something spontaneous and hurriedly packed an overnight bag and I was on my way. The only certain plan I had was to travel east on Route 50. I was going to get to visit Cool Springs again.

Since I was looking out for photo opportunities on my drive, I noticed numerous abandoned buildings along the way. Once an interstate is built, a lot of restaurants, motels, and small businesses had to close due to a decrease in people stopping. Roadside parks had decreased also. People weren’t really stopping to stretch their legs or check out their map. Afterall, that’s what a GPS is for. Coolers are kept in a car for longer jaunts, and people wanted to stretch their legs where ever there were also restroom facilities. But, Cool Springs Park was still open, after all these years.

Ah,nostalgia.

The sign was still the same.

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I smiled as I got out of my car and decided to walk left through the park and save the store and restaurant for later.

I immediately noticed the neglect of the once magnificent park.

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The collection box was quite rusted. I think they quit checking for donations years ago 

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There was a very pretty covered bridge, but what you didn’t see is that it was jammed with old pieces of machinery and cars so there is no way anyone could cross the bridge any more.

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I’m thinking this is where all the old steam engines and mechanical devices go to die.

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There were a couple of birds in a very muddy pen. With the amount of rain the area had earlier, the whole park looked as if the creek bed washed up over its banks and covered the whole park. It was a very muddy walk.

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The more I walked around, the more I realized that this park will probably not be here in twenty years. Fences were down, the water wheel was no longer working, and the shelters had fallen down.

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I remember climbing into this caboose when I was little.

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The water wheel is no longer working. It was such a wonderful thing to see.

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I have no idea why this wishing well is enclosed by a chain link fence and is now full of water. I stared at this for a while, trying to figure it out. I should have asked someone.

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Sit at your own risk.

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And then I walked into a swarm of about 25,000 gnats. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating, but they went up my nose, in my eyes and ears and all through my hair. There were so many shallow pockets of water throughout the park, I immediately thought that this could be a prime breeding ground for the West Nile virus as the bugs and mosquitoes were plentiful. Since there were a couple confirmed cases of West Nile Virus elsewhere in West Virginia, don’t think that wasn’t on my mind.

I was miserable. It is not fun having bugs up your nose or in the corner of your eyeballs. And then I stepped in donkey poop.

Yes, I didn’t see them, but I knew there were two donkeys on the property. And there was donkey poop everywhere.

So, now I was just a mess. I decided to make my way into the store so I could clean the donkey poop from my sandals and splash water on my face, you know, to drown the gnats.

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Once inside, a flower arrangement sits in one of the sinks in the bathroom that no longer works.

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A souvenir store on one side and a restaurant/hardware store on the other. I could not find a penny in a bottle.

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Darn, a blurry picture and I only took one of the crowd that was sitting for lunch. The place was crowded with tourists wanting a tomahawk, locals, and those just stopping for gas. There were three people in front of me at the cash register, so I knew this was still a hit with those passing by.

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As I left to continue on my trip on the scenic byways of West Virginia, I pulled over to take one last photo of Cool Springs Park. I then just sat and looked over the whole place. I remember such a manicured place with a water wheel and people sitting under shelters eating food they brought in their cars. This is the ultimate roadside park. And unless something is done, the shelters will be on the ground, the fences that are still up will have fallen, and the rusty tractors and train engines will be a further rusty mess. There’s no going back unless the decay is stopped.

I would so prefer driving the back roads. Interstates are rushed, impersonal, and agitating. Back roads offer scenery, a meandering pace, and a greeting from a roadside picnic table for stretching your legs and taking in the beauty that surrounds you.

I hope Cool Springs Park survives for future generations of tomahawk buying children. It was a West Virginia treasure, and still is, despite being so very rough around the edges. Luckily, it is a major route for those enjoying a ride on their motorcycles and short cuts across our state.

I hope you stop if you are ever in the area.

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Canadian Rockies, Day 6, Part 2: Lake Louise and a Bear

Even though I got to see Lake Louise yesterday on the Icefields Parkway tour, I deliberately stayed to the left by the boat house during our short stop. I didn’t want to go inside or even see the front of the hotel and veranda. I wanted to be surprised.

Our Sun Dog tour guide dropped us off and I stood in a short line in the immense lobby.

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My room wasn’t ready yet, as it was only 3:30 and check-in time was at 4:00. No problem, I will just sit down on a chair and take some pictures. I looked up at the enormous chandelier. Some women were looking at me. Well, not really.

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I didn’t want to lug my bags around or leave them behind the desk, so I continued to scope out the lobby area from my seat. Out of nowhere , a white labrador retriever walked slowly right by me, just taking its good old time. I then saw a dog bed and a dog food bowl near a pillar with a picture of the dog and an explanation. I wanted to get a picture of the dog on his bed, because a picture of an empty dog bed just didn’t cut it, but he never sauntered back my way. I found out later the dog is the official mascot at this pet friendly resort. If you can’t bring your own dog, he is here to welcome you. I found a short video from 2010

I had a great people watching spot and honestly, the 30 minute wait went by quickly. I got back into the short line and got my room key and I was on my way. I was in room 501. I had to walk a far distance down from the elevator. I loved it though, because it reminded me of a scene from the Jack Nicholson movie, The Shining.

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When I opened up the door, I immediately saw two suitcases by the door. Uh oh.This can’t be good. I walked all the way back down the hall until I found two maids cleaning a room. They were so very friendly and called for a manager to come up immediately. They brought out a chair from the room they were cleaning so I would be more comfortable. I sort of smiled to myself, because this was the first bump on my previously unblemished trip.

The manager appeared in a few minutes and immediately looked up the information. In the meantime, she asked if there was anything I would like to drink while I waited, and she called down for a coke to be brought to my room. She  then looked at her papers and informed me that was indeed my room. The luggage must have been part of a tour group that had not arrived as of yet and was put in the wrong room. She took the bags out of the room, and I entered. This was taken care of in less than 5 minutes. Not much of a blemish. I put my stuff down and looked about the room. There were so many windows. I was at the end of the building. No wonder it was a long walk down the wing of the building. I had so many windows.

Room 501

Room 501

Here was my view from my room:

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Room service brought up my coke and I then looked to the left. Another great view.

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I looked out the right side of the room, which was right beside a field and the tree line. What the hell?

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Seriously? Was this a grizzly bear in the side yard?

It was. Whaaat? This is crazy.

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Can this trip get any better? I grabbed my room key and my purse and walked like I was on fire down the hall, into the elevator, down 5 floors, out the door, stopped to take this picture of the veranda-

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I don’t know why I stopped to take this picture. After all, on was on fire, right? I hurriedly made a right on the path and noticed he was still in the field. He had walked over a bit and now had an audience. Please forget me with the amount of bear shots I am going to post, but I was excited to see a grizzly bear.

This was my favorite photo of him.

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IMG_1993 Watch out, orange shirted tourist! Ok, just kidding. He wasn’t close to the bear.

 

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 The management was right on top of things and didn’t let us too close. I had a contingency attack plan. See those two little girls in front of me?  Just kidding….maybe, I mean, you just never know what would happen if a bear came after you.

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Canadian Rockies, Day 4: Kamloops to Banff

I’m very excited for this leg of the journey. I deliberately chose to travel eastward because I wanted to climb from the lower elevation of Vancouver up into the Canadian Rockies. The Rocky Mountaineer does operate in both directions. I think it would be more awe-inspiring than if I reversed my trip. So, yes, I’m excited. My camera batteries are charged (yep, I have two of them) and I am ready to go. We found out that we were not going to be able to make it past Golden today because of the horrendous flooding in the area. We are going to miss the Spiral Tunnels, but I’m glad the whole trip wasn’t canceled. Rocky Mountaineer is bending over backwards to make sure we are happy customers despite this drawback. It’s just something that has happened and it’s just a disruption for the last two hours of our journey. There doesn’t seem to be one person who has had a problem with this whatsoever. So, we carry on.

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Not only do I get to sit by myself, I am sitting at a place where there are no seats directly in front of me. I am right by the stairs, so I have a long counter in front of me and an amazing amount of leg room. It’s wonderful.

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I sort of liked the scenery approaching Kamloops and I’m excited to climb higher into the Canadian Rockies. This is the part I have been looking forward to the most. Kamloops is only at 1,100 feet in elevation and the Kicking Horse Pass between British Columbia and Alberta is over 5,300 feet, so we are going to be climbing higher, that’s for sure.

As I was eating breakfast, we came across the hoodoos outside of Kamloops. Since I was on the other side of the train, I knew there would be a glare in any pictures I took. We learned a trick on the train to get our cameras as close to the window so it would help eliminate those darn spots.

Anyway, about the hoodoos…

So, while researching the different places I would be seeing on my Canadian Rockies adventure, I stumbled across the word, hoodoos. I was going to get to see the hoodoos in along the way near Kamloops and in Banff. Ok, that’s cool, but I had no idea what hoodoos were. Sounded like something I would see on a ghost tour during Halloween night. Oh, no, here comes a hoodoo. Something like a Boogeyman…I’m not even close.

I’m a 4th grade elementary teacher, and we have studied rock formations. I’ve heard the word spires, but never hoodoos. So, I thought I would share what I found out about hoodoos, and if someone ever brings up the conversation at your next dinner party, you will look pretty damn worldly, because, you too, will be able to talk about hoodoos. You can thank me later.

Hoodoos are tall skinny spires of rock that protrude from the bottom of arid basins and “broken” lands. They have also been called fairy chimneys, tent rocks, and earth pyramids. Hoodoos are found mainly in the desert in dry, hot areas. That would explain why I had never heard of them. We don’t have any in West Virginia.

Hoodoos remind me of the drip castles we used to make every year while vacationing in Myrtle Beach. So, there you go; a little information about hoodoos.

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Since I had breakfast first yesterday, I will be in the second seating today. But, wait. The onboard director came back and said there were some open slots for first seating if any of us want to take it. I walked down and sat with a lovely couple from Tennessee and a woman from Alabama who had a strong southern accent. I enjoyed listening to her talk.

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We are traveling on the South Thompson River, with volcanic hills, and the hoodoos on the left across the river. I enjoy hearing the clickety-clack of the train in this portion of the country. We learn about Billy Miner, who committed Canada’s very first robbery in 1904 and coined the phrase, “Hands up!”  Our attendants came up the stairs, donned with a white scarf (napkin?) over their nose and mouth, yelling, “Hands up!” but we weren’t too scared, considering we knew who they were and for the fact they were carrying bananas. We all laughed, as it was quite amusing.

 

"Hands up!"

“Hands up!”

 

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This is one of my favorite photos of the whole trip

This is one of my favorite photos of the whole trip

The landscape is changing again as we are coming along lakes and the hills are getting higher.

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Lake Shuswap is also known as Osprey Alley, but to be honest, we saw many more osprey nests yesterday. I have called out “Eagle!” several times already this morning. I’m sort of having fun with it. We have been traveling for such a long time along the lake that I wanted to call out “Shark!” I knew that would get a laugh, but probably wear a little thin after a while, so I behaved myself and just said it to the Australian family. Speaking of the Aussies, the mom, Margaret, lost her voice and could not talk to anyone. I could tell she wasn’t feeling well today.

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We keep seeing the telegraph poles along the way. Some are sitting precariously over the lake. I like taking their picture.

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We pass places like Salmon Arm and Lake Mara. Salmon Arm is home to the longest wooden wharf in North America. I didn’t see it.

Craigellachie- Last spike for the  Canadian Pacific railroad is on the left. The train slows so we can all get a picture. I bet they were glad when the railroad tracks were complete. What a job!

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There are streams and creeks all over the place as we climb higher. Some of the water is still quite high due to the flooding as many of the trees and bushes are knee deep in the rushing waters.

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I am outside on the vestibule more this second day. I love the feel of the fresh air on my face. It is cooler, so I am wearing my new red fleece Rocky Mountaineer jacket. Feels wonderful.

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Ah, here come our snow-capped mountains. We all reach for our cameras to snap this one.

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A popular photo stop

A popular photo stop

We inch across the Stoney Creek bridge, a steel girder structure high above the canyon floor. I’m talking high. We travel slowly over the bridge, but approach it head on, so we aren’t able to get a picture of it. I have seen a picture of it, and it is imposing and scary. But, yet, since many of the guests have no idea what we are crawling over, they are taking pictures left and right and below.

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The creaking noise is a bit creepy. This bridge reminds me of one you see in old westerns, where the black locomotive goes over it and something bad usually happens. The creaking noise was unsettling, but we are over the bridge quickly, even though we are crawling.

looking down

looking down

 

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We are still climbing and the views are stunning.

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The last thing we pass through is the Connaught Tunnel, which is a long tunnel. I believe we travel through it for 5 miles. . The trip takes around 8 minutes to get through the tunnels. Our attendant tells us stories about the building of the tunnel at this time.

Our train journey is coming to an end and our attendants gather to talk to us and to pass out a postcard with their names on it. What a great group we had! I tipped them handsomely, as they did a great job to make sure our time on the Rocky Mountaineer was a good one.

 

IMG_1653We pulled into Golden, where there are buses waiting for us. I am on bus #7 with the other guests who will be traveling to the RimRock Resort.  Rocky Mountaineer is so very prepared in this flooding diversion. We have two onboard attendants who answer questions about what we are seeing next. But, what we are seeing next is amazing: two bear near the railroad tracks that are running parallel to the highway.

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I’m a big believer in things happening for a reason. Maybe today those bears are alive because we didn’t take the train like we were supposed to. That would have been awful and I know this happens every year on the tracks.

We missed traveling the Spiral Tunnels, but all the buses pulled over at the overlook so we can all get a good look across the mountain. We soon pass Lake Louise and follow Castle Mountain for a very long time. The Bow River follows us.

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We are soon entering Banff and I have immediately fallen in love with the town. Our bus meanders up a hill to the Rim Rock Resort, where my bags are supposed to be waiting for me. Check-in is smooth and easy.

It is hard to believe that my Rocky Mountaineer adventure has just ended. It was an amazing experience. I will sing their praises until the day I die, as for a solo traveler, I was in awe the entire time. Some people think it is an expensive vacation, and it is, but, you get what you pay for over and over again. I was pampered from start to finish, met some incredible people from all over the world, and saw a part of the country you can’t see in a bus or car.

I am ready for my days in Banff and Lake Louise.

So, when you are a guest at the RimRock, you are able to use your room key to take the Roam bus downtown. I entered my room to a most wonderful view. I have to thank Fresh Tracks Canada for recommending this hotel. It is closer to the gondola and hot springs and just a quick shuttle ride downtown. Thanks, Tyler!

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What a fantastic view.

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I was hungry, and decided to check when the next shuttle was coming through. It was almost 8:00 and I was ready for some pasta at the Old Spaghetti Factory. (Yes, I checked up on the eating establishments before I arrived. I knew exactly where I wanted to go.)

The concierge smiled and pointed outside. The bus just pulled up. I hurried outside and stepped on the bus. What luck, considering it arrives every 40 minutes. I would be eating 40 minutes sooner now.

Banff is already my favorite town. I love it! It is postcard beautiful!

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I ate, looked through some stores, purchased a t-shirt and a Banff Christmas ornament, and then walked to the bus stop. There is a live message board that lets you know when the next bus was coming through. I only had to wait 5 minutes. This was wonderfully efficient.

I got back to the resort to find complimentary internet, so I wrote a blog post and went to bed since it was such a very long day. Tomorrow I’m headed on a 10 hour tour on the Icefields Parkway. Off to bed I go.

Canadian Rockies, Day 3, Part 2: Hell’s Gate to Kamloops

We are still traveling along the Fraser River.  It’s very long and just when you think you have seen the most beautiful sight ever, another one pops up around the bend. The Rocky Mountain newspaper, The Milepost is very imformative concerning the history of the area according to the route and milepost. I sure as heck wish I had time to read it, but I can’t read on this trip; that should be against the law.

It looks like I’m the bald eagle lady, yelling out whenever I saw an eagle perched along the way, today I  saw something and I had no idea what it was. So, I yelled, ” Something alive on the rock on the left.”  I got made fun of the rest of the trip.

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There is a listing of  all the towns and cities we pass on our way and the next one I see is Yale. Yale is right on the Fraser River and is considered to be on the dividing line between the coast and the interior.

According to Wikipedia, ” In its heyday at the peak of the gold rush,  Yale was reputed to be the largest city west of Chicago and north of San Francisco. It also earned epithets such as “the wickedest little settlement in British Columbia” and “a veritable Sodom and Gomorrah” of vice and violence and lawlessness.

The town of  Spuzzum is up next.  The town is usually made fun of because of its small size. Until the town burned down at the end of the last century, Spuzzum boasted one gast station and general store, which served as a roadside lanmark.  At one time,  both sides of a sign on the Trans-Canada Highway read, “You are now leaving Spuzzum.” During the 50’s, 60’s, an 70’s,  the tiny hamlet was once a popular tourist stop as they even had their very own Playboy Bunny restaurant.

As we climbed higher into the mountains, we passed a mountain that was named as a memorial to the donkey: Jackass Mountain.  There once was a treacherours part of  the old Gold Rush trail and many of the poor pack animals who walked up and down the grade didn’t make it. The mules lugged supplies across the narrow wagon route, also known as the Cariboo road. But, the interesting part of this story is the the gold rush guys decided to also use camels to travel this route.  Seems only fair that it should be called Jackass Camel Mountain.

We have now made it to Cisco Crossing. It’s hard to squeeze in to get a good picture as this is the area of the most famous of rail bridges in western Canada.

We’ve spent most of our time on the north side of the river but at the Cisco crossing we swap over. There’s two lines along the Fraser, one on each side of the river. The Canadian Pacific was built first and thus got the best route, whilst the Canadian Northern (now part of the Canadian National railway) was built later and at the town of Siska the two lines cross and swap sides.

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Lytton is the self-proclaimed “River Rafting Capital of Canada.”  I can see why. The river looks angry and rushed, which I guess it what brings rafters to Lytton. We see one raft and someone waves at us from their raft. I had to laugh. Every where we have gone today, starting with the Rocky Mountaineer employees and never ending after that, people on our route are always waving to us.

Did I mention I’m having a wonderful time? Before you can even think that you may be thirsty, an attendant is standing beside you with a tray of water on ice.  I have been thrilled that the Rocky Mountaineer uses Coke, as I would have been quite stuck not having it to drink. Some people drink coffee in the morning; I have to have my Coke. My vacation could not be any better so far.

We soon left the Fraser river and started climbing up the Thompson river canyon. We are at the confluence of the Thompson and the Fraser. Where the Fraser was beigy muddy color, the Thompson is not and the color difference is obvious as they meet.

The landscape is dramatically changing as we approach the Thompson Canyon and an area known as Avalanche Alley. The railroad follows the track on a narrow area close to the river and hugs the imposing rock cliffs above the tracks. There are avalanche shields to protect the train in case of an avalanche, but it looks ominous and I was thinking I should be downstairs on the outside viewing platform at this time. But, I was wrong. We traveled on the other side of the Thompson and have a birds-eye-view of Avalanche Alley.  It seems so close to the river and you could see in numerous places where there have been recent rockslides.

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A series of tunnels and avalanche bridges protect the railway line from the continuous voyage of falling rock into the canyon, allowing the Rocky Mountaineer to traverse the mountains.

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I like tunnels..lol

I like tunnels..lol

I should have mentioned that right before we entered the Black Canyon and Avalanche Alley, the scenery began to change. It sort of reminds me of the old west.

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I wouldn’t have been surprised if cowboys with scarves over their nose and mouth stopped the train to rob us of our Rocky Mountaineer freebie souvenirs we just purchased. It seems drier and desert like almost in places. We approach Ashcroft, which is known as the driest town in Canada. It did stop raining while back, so I guess being a dry town at times is not so bad.

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Our carriage is great in that everyone is so friendly. People walk up and down the aisles talking to each other. It’s been great thus far.

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We have passed many little towns and some like Walhachin have a sad history:

“Ghost of Walhachin” “Here bloomed a “Garden of Eden!” The sagebrush desert changed to orchards through the imaginiation and industry of English settlers during 1907-14. The men left and fight-and die- for king and country. A storm ripped out the vital irrigation flume. Now only ghosts of flume, trees, and homes remain to mock this once thriving settlement.” Dept. of Recreation and Conservation

Our landscape has definitely changed since the beginning of our journey. We are no longer in an arid, dry part of the country, where it rarely rains. Or so they say, because it is raining right now.

Finally we’re free to arrive into Kamloops at its heritage railway station and we’re handed keys to our hotel room. We load aboard buses according to the hotel we are staying. I’m staying in the Coast Hotel, so I will ride bus #10 with other Goldleaf guests to that hotel. When we arrive, sure enough, my bags are waiting for me in my room. Nice touch, Rocky Mountaineer. I immediately head to a restaurant on site to eat dinner and back in my room. It’s amazing, but for sitting all day on the train, we all mentioned how tired we all were. Despite the rain, it was a great first day.

Here are some more pictures taken throughout this portion of our journey.

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Canadian Rockies, 1/2 of Day 3 : Vancouver to Hell’s Gate

I had to wake up pretty early as my driver was picking me up a little after 6:00a.m. We were heading to the Rocky Mountaineer train station. He met me right on time.

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I prefer to call it a depot, as that is what we call the building beside a train track here in West Virginia.  Anyway,  the Rocky Mountaineer train depot is a former Canadian National locomotive maintenance building. It’s a cavernous structure, and I am pretty sure that when the “alllll aboard” whistle sounds, it will echo about the place. I’ve watched a video about the Rocky Mountaineer and remember seeing a bag pipe player. I look around to see if there is someone wearing a kilt.

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The place is abuzz with people like me, excited this day has finally come. I see a lot of people standing by themselves, so either their partner is in the restroom, or they are like myself, on a solo adventure through the Canadian Rockies. Last week I emailed Rocky Mountaineer and asked them if they could put me in the last car so I can take pictures from behind, or at least place me in a car with a bunch of rowdy Australians. I mean, I don’t want anyone reading or sleeping on this trip like I have read. One should never nap on a luxury tourist train, right? They immediately sent back an email, apologizing they are not able to handle requests, but then posted several photos of how no matter where you sat, you would get great pictures. It didn’t hurt to ask and I appreciated the quick response from Rocky Mountaineer. They are a class act.

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There is a 60% chance of rain this morning, which should move to 100% as it is raining. But, you know, I don’t care right now. I’m about to embark on a great adventure. As I look around, I see a full-length glass wall so we can get a great view of the Rocky Mountaineer waiting for us on the tracks. It made me smile even more. I even see a red carpet leading to the double leveled Gold leaf cars (or carriages as they say in Canada). I feel special.

The waiting area within the train depot provides guests with an array of services while we wait for that all important “All Aboard” whistle.  There is  softly playing music in the background by a lady with a harp while we may enjoy complimentary tea or coffee. There is a lady walking around with a tray of orange or apple juice.  Since there is no departure board as we are the only train leaving the station, I mean, depot, we just check in with the person at a kiosk. Our bags are marked and placed altogether as they travel separately by truck and will be waiting in our rooms in Kamloops. Now, that’s something you don’t see every day.

After everyone was told it was time,  the bag piper started piping, and the “All aboard” was called, the glass doors opened and we all made our way out to the platform….in the pouring rain. Yeah, it’s raining cats and dogs and Canadian loons.  I don’t care. I’m getting ready to travel on the Rocky Mountaineer. The Gold Leaf cars were right in front of the depot, so I didn’t have far to walk. It seems like the red leaf single level cars were right behind the engine, and also at the end of the train. I had previously made a mental note to count how many carriages were on this particular trip, but in my excitement, I forgot.

I could already feel the pampering beginning. Each of the Gold leaf carriages had a Rocky Mountaineer attendant standing beside the red carpet, Canadian flag flying in the background. I climbed the spiral staircase to the upper level of the Goldleaf dome coach and settled into my comfortable and spacious reserved seat. I knew from the time I sat down that this was going to be one hell of a trip of a lifetime.

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I did notice that Rocky Mountaineer put me in the back gold leaf car in the very back seat. All I had to do was turn around and snap some pictures. And I sat with a lovely family from Austrailia. This was already starting great and it was only going to get better, for the four seats right in front of us were vacant and the car manager told us we could spread out if they didn’t show up. So, we all got window seats. It was perfect!

I chose the First Passage to the West route, also known as the Kicking Horse route and will go on to Banff.  With the horrendous flooding in Calgary, our second day may be abbreviated by  two hours as they will only be able to go as far as a town called Golden. We will be put on buses at that time and taken to our hotels in Banff.

Rocky Mountaineer then announced it was giving us each $150 to spend in their catalog free as an apology for the abbreviated trip. I thought that was great and eagerly filled out my request…I’m getting a jacket and a bunch of  other stuff. This was like Christmas on the Rocky Mountaineer. I applaud them as they are trying so hard to make everyone comfortable during an unforeseen event.

Any way, each trip is two days long with an overnight stay at a hotel on the way because the Rocky Mountaineer does not travel at night. We would miss so much of the wonderful scenery if it went all the way to Banff, and would defeat the whole purpose of this scenic train.

In the pocket in front of my seat is a Rocky Mountaineer newspaper, called The Milepost. This will be important as it will let me know when I need to jump up and head downstairs to the outside vestibule to snap some great pictures. It is possible to get photos right from my seat, but there may be a glare from the windows. But, then again, maybe not.  Oh my, those windows!  I can see right above me. Rocky Mountaineer is right; there is no bad seat on the train. The transparent, domed roof throughout the carriage ensures us that we won’t miss a moment of the splendid Canadian Rockies.

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Right away I look around at the other guests in my carriage. Since I really don’t know a stranger and could talk to a wall ( and did a few times in college), I won’t have a hard time conversing with others. My ears perked up as I thought I already heard an accent. Most of the clients on board the Rocky Mountaineer are generally from Great Britain and Australia. I wonder if anyone from West Virginia has ever had the pleasure of riding on the Rocky Mountaineer. I’d like to think I am the first. Actually, an attendant who met me at the door of my car told me I was the first from West Virginia for him, anyway.

I couldn’t wait until we started this trip. I felt a slight tug and then realized it was time to start the show. I looked outside my spacious window and noticed that all of the employees were standing outside, all in a row, waving to us as we left. I smiled and waved back at them. I thought that was sweet…especially since it was raining.

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Our carriage has 72 reclining seats with a lot of leg room and drop-down tables just like you see on an airline. Downstairs, there are restrooms, a galley kitchen, and a 36 seat restaurant for breakfast and lunch. And at the end of each carriage there is a small open-air viewing vestibule for fresh air and perfect photography.

There are 4 attendants in each Goldleaf carriage who are extremely attentive and knowledgeable about the area. As we begin our journey, we are all served a chilled class of mimosa for a toast to our Rocky Mountaineer adventure.

Breakfast and lunch are served downstairs in two sittings, and guess what? We got to go first.  Well, that excited me because I was quite hungry. The attendants passed out hot towels and as we walked downstairs, another attendant was waiting to squirt some anti-bacterial soap into the palm of our  hands. I sat with my new Austrailian friends. Their son, who is in eight grade, or 8, as they say in Aussie Land, kept kicking me under the table. It hurt one time so I gave it right back to him. The rest of the meal was injury free.

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The presentation of each meal choice was wonderful.  I decided upon the Rocky Mountaineer. We first got a plate of fruit.

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And shortly after, our breakfast arrived.

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It took us a while to get out of the Vancouver suburbs, or perhaps I was just excited to see some different scenery. I wanted out of the city and into the wild. I wanted to see a bear…..from far away. One of the first bridges we went over was the Fraser River Swing Bridge. I have never been on a swing bridge. I have been on one where there is a drawbridge that lifts up a section of the bridge so a boat may pass underneath, but this is my first time on a bridge that actually has a portion swing over so the boat or ship may pass through. It moves horizontally at a 90 degree angle to let the passing boats through. Pretty neat for just starting out on the trip.

We had a full day of train travel ahead of us and I hoped to multi-task the best I could. I wanted to meet people but also at the same time watch the mileposts for that all important first photo. I did my research and hoped to be downstairs when the first photo op approaches. I have to laugh at that, hours later, as the whole trip was a photo op.

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One of the first towns we passed was Fort Langley. Fort Langley is the exact location where, a century and a half ago, a huge fur trade business called the Hudson’s Bay Company established a small post to trade with the First Nations of the West Coast.  (First Nations is the same thing as what we call our Native Americans). The furs were shipped to Europe and other local produce was traded with the Russians in Alaska. In 1858,  there were rumors of  “there’s gold in them thar hills ” ( a saying that was made popular after gold was discovered in some areas.)  The gold rumors near this small town on the  Fraser River caused a massive influx of Americans to the area. Fearing annexation by the United States, British Columbia was proclaimed a colony.

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Along the route, I have noticed  many decaying telegraph poles. Some of them are photo worthy.  Once used to send messages between villages on the railway line, advances in technology has left telegraph standing behind. Time has not been kind and many are sitting precariously close to the Fraser River. ….The Telegraph Trail

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We approached the town of Hope, which is known as the Chainsaw Carving Capital of the World. But, it is better known as being the “Hollywood of the North” as many movies have been filmed in and around Hope. Sylvester Stallone starred in Rambo:First Blood 30 years ago and the town is still going strong with the cult following of the movie. Rambo put this small town on the proverbial map, that’s for sure.  A free map of filming locations is available at the visitor center.

The attendants gave us a heads up when a great photo opportunity came up. Some stood up, and some, like me, ran downstairs to the vestibule. It became apparent later on that if an attendant needed me, they had to come outside because I was out there when it wasn’t raining.

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After breakfast and before lunch, the attendants were busy filling drink orders. We were able to order anything from water to Coke, to juice, wine, beer, and mixed drinks….complimentary and for the whole trip. I didn’t see anyone swagger and lose their footing on the vestibule, so I would say everyone drank and rode the train responsibly.

Next thing you know, it’s lunch time. We’ve been traveling for several hours by now and first seating people are called to go downstairs after we get our hot towel. Some people put it directly on their face. I would have needed a nap if I put mine on my face. We were given a menu and I took  another photo of it. I told my new Aussie friends that I blog, because it seemed a bit weird to take photos of the menu. Oh well.

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We are coming to an area that I have been looking forward to: the rushing waters of Hell’s Gate. I imagine it would be a creepy place to visit on Halloween.    The towering jagged rock walls create an abrupt narrowing of the Fraser River, forcing the waters through a passage only 115 feet wide. I sort of gobbled down my chicken so I could head out on the vestibule. The server had to come looking for me to see if I wanted dessert. I didn’t want to budge from my spot.

The other guys outside had great cameras and I could hear that quick shutter speed noise. I quickly realized that my Canon Power Shot may have a great zoom, but missed a lot of photos because it wasn’t as fast as the others. I felt inferior, but that didn’t stop me from taking hundreds of photos.

So, anyway, we have arrived at Hell’s Gates. It looked imposing.

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According to the journal entry in 1808 of  explorer Simon Fraser, the name Hells Gate was described for this narrow passage as “a place where no human should venture, for surely these are the gates of Hell”. And the name sort of stuck. Nowadays, there is an aerial tram that carries visitors aboard one of the only descending gondolas in North America over the thundering waters.

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We had a bird’s eye view of the historic landmark from the Rocky Mountaineer, where 200 million gallons of water per minute push through the narrow passage. It was easy to picture what Simon Fraser first thought when he came upon the area.

This area is also of importance because there is a fishway that was designed to improve the run of salmon to the spawning beds. First Nations people…attracted to area for the salmon fishing. Fishways help the salmon through the difficult areas of Fraser River. Remember, salmon swim upstream. Can you imagine how difficult it is to get through an area that has 200 million gallons of water rushing from the other direction.

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This was also the site of the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.  Supposedly, for each mile of track laid, three chinese workers were killed. Hey, maybe it is haunted. Ghost Hunters International paid them a visit.

We saw many more old telegraph poles along the tracks. From what I found out before the trip began,  there used to be a telegraph line secured to them and that men used to live in shacks near critical areas.The railroad would send telegraph messages, which the men would record on paper and clip to a wooden pole attached to the telegraph pole. If the engineer saw a message attached to the telegraph pole, he would slow the train and grab the message

Like I mentioned above, the attendants made sure that we had enough tine to get our cameras ready for photo opportunities. The train slows so we can all hurry down to the vestibule and get our photos. I don’t know how, but I was able to find eagles perched left and right, so I would yell out, “eagle on the right,” etc. I could not believe my eyes, as we saw at least 16 eagles on this leg of the journey. There were many osprey nests and we even saw a herd of some sort of horned sheep goat deer. I don’t know what they were called, but the atttendant said that the females had horns but the males were “hornier.” Oh, that made the laughing women travelers four seats in front of me cackle for about 5 minutes. It was great to see everyone having a great time on the Rocky Mountaineer.

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Next up: Day 3, Part 2-Hell’s Gate to Kamloops.

Canadian Rockies Trip, Day 1: Arrival in Vancouver

Well, I am finally here in Vancouver…..  And it just really sucks. Ok, just kidding.  Everything so far as gone like clockwork. Thanks, Fresh Tracks Canada.

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Before I talk about my first introduction to this great city in the Pacific northwest, let me back up and tell you about my experience at the Pittsburgh airport before my flight. I wish someone would have been filming me.

I read where Air Canada is really strict about their carry-on dimensions.  And you know from a previous post that I was planning to just pack a carry-on because of my tight connecting flight timeline. So,  I went out and bought a nice piece of luggage that correlated with Air Canada’s carry-on policy.

I do try to be a rule follower.

So, when I got to the airport, I looked around and saw where my carry-on looked larger than everyone elses. Uh oh. I didn’t bring checked baggage. Oh, sure, I bought my old carry-on and left it in the back of my car….just in case, but  I had everything looking good.

So, I happened to see an Air Canada metal thingy, you know the apparatus where you put your carry-on in to make sure it fits to their dimensions for carry-on baggage. Well, it was in a little corner and there wasn’t an Air Canada person around, so I put my carry-on in the size thingy. (I’m sorry, I don’t know what the darn thing is called.)

It would not fit…. Not even close.

This is not good, Vickie, not good at all. So, I pushed it and manuevered the wheels, and scraped my fingers  pushing it down, and lo and behold, it finally plopped down!

Stuck

Stuck

And so I thought I would be a smart alec and I took a couple of pictures so that if and when the Air Canada people say, “Hey, you can’t take that monstrous bag on the plane,” I can just bring out my camera and show the picture, like, “Take that, obsessive compulsive Air Canada person.

Sounded pretty good except for one thing: I couldn’t get the bag back out. At all.

It would not budge.  I tried everything. I even had the metal apparatus on its side. I was working so hard I broke out into a sweat, although I think it was more because I was afraid I would have to check my bag AND the metal thingy with Air Canada.

Really really stuck

Really really stuck

So, there was only one thing I could do: I started wrestling with it….I mean, I was sitting on the floor. I was standing on the silver things on the bottom, I flung it one way and then flung it another way. I punched at that bag and jiggled its wheels.  I finally had to start pushing the whole thing out into the open and I was going to find a maintenance guy who had a welding gun…or something to break my poor carry-on free. Finally,  as I alsmost started to cry (not really, but almost),  I was able to free it.

I really wish someone had filmed it.

Anyway, back to my trip report. My flights were great and Toronto Pearson was pretty efficient I thought. I arrived in Vancouver and went to the baggage claim just like Fresh Tracks Canada instructed me to, and there was my driver waiting for me, holding a sign with my last name on it.  The driver was wonderful. He had two bottles of water waiting for me in the car and gave me a commentary about Vancouver: best places to go and history of the area. It was a great ride into the city.

When we pulled up to Sutton Place, the doorman got my bags and lead me inside. I had asked Fresh Tracks if they could get me an early check-in, and it was all taken care of before I walked in today. I was impressed.  Tyler from Fresh Tracks suggsted this boutique hotel since it was right in the middle of everything, and how right he was. This place is really great!

I really didn’t do much today in Vancouver. I bought a 2 day Hop on Hop off tour of Vancouver from the Vancouver Trolley Company, but stayed on the whole loop just to get a feel for the city and to give me ideas what I wanted to do in the morning. There is a trolley stop right in front of the hotel. All I have to do is flag one down as it comes by.

Really big trees in Stanley Park

Really big trees in Stanley Park

The concierge confirmed my sunset tour to the top to Grouse Mountain tomorrow evening, so I will be taking more pictures tomorrow.

IMG_1205

After I hopped off the trolley, I started to walk down Robson Street since I am right in the middle of everything. Robson Street is the heart of the city, some say. It s the most famous street in Vancouver, known for its shopping and dining establishments.

According to robsonstreet.ca, “Robson-goers may spend their day people watching and sipping coffee on an outdoor patio; they may start off shopping at unique boutique stores before being pampered at a day spa and then relaxing at a hotel. At night, the streets come alive with colorful buskers and performers. Visitors enjoy delicious drinks and fine foods at some of the city’s most celebrated restaurants. The street is recognized both on a worldwide level as well as locally as it remains Vancouverites’ favorite shopping destination. Robson is undoubtedly the street to see and be seen on.”

I had to look up what a busker is. I have never heard that term before. A busker is a street performer. The first thing that comes to mind when I think “busker, or street performer” is an organ grinder. I’ve always wanted to see one. I’ve only seen one on tv. But, here in Vancouver, they are called “buskers.”

“Maximum performance time is 60 minutes at any one location. After 60 minutes, you must move to a different location at least one full block away or in a different park.”  So, if you are busking and play a harp, be prepared to move every hour. Just sayin’.

I did walk down Robson, looking for a restuarant as I was starving. And because I’m always up for something new and exotic….and entered a Red Robin. I know, I’m pathetic. But, I’m tired. Tomorrow will be the day for pictures.

At least I won’t have to wrestle my bag anymore. It is sitting in the air-conditioned elegant room, sitting on a chair resting from being beat up on earlier.

Pretty sad when I try to bring a suitcase to life….I’m really tired.

I really like Canada so far.

Canadian Rockies Trip: Vancouver Eve

I’m ready to go. I have my detailed itinerary from Fresh Tracks Canada, my passport, Canadian moolah, and my camera with several memory cards. In a few short days I will be hearing the clickety clackety sound of the Rocky Mountaineer train as it takes me through the Canadian Rockies. But, up first, Vancouver, British Columbia.

I’ve decided to drive up tonight and stay in a motel close to the Pittsburgh airport. My flight is at 7:00 a.m., so I really don’t want to travel on Pennsylvania roads with suicidal deer and other critters with their red eyes looking at me while they pause in the middle of the interstate. No, I’ll find a hotel tonight that has an airport shuttle, you know, just in case my car doesn’t start in the morning. I have a neighbor who has eyes in the back of his head keeping an eye on my house and he knows under any circumstance should a vehicle or person be “visiting” me. The guy has a gun and he is craaaazy. (That should work, potential blog-reading-robbers)

You have to understand that I over-think everything. My main concern about this trip was the fact that I would be staying for six nights in four different hotels. What if Air Canada loses my luggage? I was watching the nightly news and they were giving statistics about how many bags are lost or delayed at the airports. How in the world would they catch up to me, depending on when (and IF) they locate my luggage? So, I have decided to learn to pack like a pro and just take a carry-on…and a computer bag…..and a purse…..and a jacket.

That may prove to be a silly dream. I need to take a jacket and clothing for 7 days. And that means 14 days in my world. I always over pack because you just never know. I will also need warmer clothing because one of the days I am going to visit a glacier. But,  I have been watching  youtube videos on “How to Pack for a Week in a Carry-On” and think I can do it. I’ve been trying to do it for the last couple of hours.

I don’t think I can’t do it..

not even done....

not even done….

I am supposed to land at 12:04 p.m. After picking up my baggage that I’m still thinking I won’t take, I am supposed to wait in baggage claims for my personal driver. I will have a personal driver…. You know, someone who stands at the airport holding a sign with  a name on it.   How special am I?  I hope he won’t be annoyed when I snap a picture of him. It will be hard for me not to talk to him, but I have learned my lesson from the New York City cab driver a few weeks back and will try to keep my mouth shut.

I’m excited to visit Vancouver. I didn’t realize it until last week, but I will be in Vancouver during our next “Super moon.”  And not only that, the photo opportunities will be greater the next night when I travel to the top of Grouse Mountain on the “Sunset Tour.” It is almost like I did that on purpose. I hope the weather cooperates.

It’s not supposed to cooperate….well, now it is as I go to post this. Yeehaw!

For those of you who don’t know a lot about our northern neighbor, let me tell you a few things about the vast country up above us.  Canada is divided into 8…. or maybe 10 provinces. (Be right back) Ok, Canada is divided into ten provinces: Alberta, Nova Scotia, British Columbia, New Foundland, Ontario, Saskatchewan……damn, I’m not very smart. (Be right back)

…..and Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Quebec. There are also three territories. Vancouver is located in British Columbia, which is way over there above Washington state. My grandparents lived in Spokane, Washington, so that is the closest I have ever been to British Columbia. When you look at the atlas, it is amazing how enormous British Columbia really is. And I get to go there tomorrow.

canada

*Vancouver is one of Canada’s warmest cities…uh oh, and it’s wettest…. There’s just no way it better rain on my parade. The Weather Channel online states that the weather in Vancouver this weekend will be partly cloudy on Saturday, 20% rain on Sunday,and 40% rain on Monday. Bummer for Monday. I think Weather.com  may be lying. After all, this is a trip of a lifetime, so it can’t rain.

*Vancouver is a very diverse city. 52% of its residents do not speak English as their first language  Over 30% of the population are Chinese. I will have to remember that if I get lost roaming the streets of Vancouver. I wonder if they will know what “pop” is, because I’m sure as hell not asking for a soda. (Be right back)…………… Ok, good, both British Columbia and Albert say “pop.”  I knew I liked these provinces.

*35% of Vancouver’s population is foreign born, the highest figure in the world.

*Vancouver is North America’s second largest Port (in tonnage & physical size) – after New York

*Vancouver is the second or third largest film production centre in North America. The X-Files was filmed here as was the Twilight movies.

*Vancouver is probably the only place in the world where it is possible to ski, play golf, and go sailing all in the same day.

*-Vancouver is the birthplace of the one of the worlds largest environmental organizations – Greenpeace

*Vancouver sits atop one of the worlds most dangerous faults. Well, that’s nice to know. There is also a sizable active volcano (Mt. Baker) close to the city in nearby Washington state. Well, I guess I am close to the famous “ring of fire.” My students learn about earthquakes and volcanoes each year. I hope I don’t have a story for them when they return to school this fall.

*Stanley Park, Vancouver’s largest, is 1001 acres—making it 10% bigger than New York City’s Central Park. I was just at Central Park last month. I will scope it out and compare the two. I can not imagine any park being more beautiful than Central Park. We shall see….even if it is raining….sigh.

*The Vancouver Aquarium ranks in the top 5 around the world. I plan to go there if it is raining. I keep a penguin cam from the Vancouver Aquarium up on one of my computers in my classroom and turn it on at the end of most days. The camera is right in front of the penguins and it is fun to watch. I just may have to pay them a visit and wave into the camera for someone like me who is watching the penguin cam.

Well, I think I have everything. The next time you hear from me, I will be in Vancouver, British Columbia, day 1 of my Canadian Rockies adventure. If you don’t hear from me, that means I am still at the airport or the wi-fi sucks at the hotel. We shall see.

I guess I could always find a Starbucks. The have free wi-fi….  Vancouver has over 200 of them.

Too bad I don’t like coffee.

S’mores

I have always loved picnics. Since I was the pickiest child on the planet, it was hard for my mom to find something I liked. No problem at a summer picnic, because there was a lot of food for me to put on my thin, wiggly paper plate. I would eat corn on the cob and watermelon. Ta-da. Ok, there were other foods I would eat. I wouldn’t touch the potato salad because whoever heard of putting chopped up potatoes in a whitish mixture ? I could also see little bits and pieces of unidentified food that I knew would take me forever to dig out. But, there was no way I was going to eat potatoes and white stuff in the first place and then call the damn thing a salad. Made no sense to me…potato salad. Give me a break. I saw no lettuce.  There was no way I was going to try that…ever. They did the same thing with macaroni noodles and called it macaroni salad. Macaroni is supposed to be with cheese or with beefaroni (which we called slop in my family.) Sometimes these ladies at the picnics brought the weirdest food.

I liked hamburgers with ketchup, but I would give the guy at the grill a dirty look if he tried to scoot a cheeseburger onto my bun. Um, Mr. Barbecue man, did I say cheese? No…who would ever put cheese on top of a piece of beef? That had to taste terrible. I would eat sliced Velveeta cheese at home and got pretty good with that cheese slicer thingy, but I would never put a slice of that on top of a hamburger. You just can’t mix things like that. So, sometimes I would just skip the hamburger and grab a fresh hot dog bun and put ketchup on it. I loved ketchup sandwiches! And in the end, I didn’t starve and picnics were great.

When our family would stay late at a picnic, usually a campfire would be involved. The adults whittled sticks and would place a hot dog in one hand and slide shove the stick through the middle of the hot dog halfway and would hand them to the kids. The first time I saw this happen, I didn’t know what the hell was going on.  What is this for, exactly? Everyone would then move close to the fire to get their hot dog nice and cooked.  Well, ok, but why not just throw them into a pot of  boiling water and be done with it? I didn’t much care for hot dogs on a grill because some of them had black pieces on them. The blackened burned spots would peel off like a scab, but again, it was too much work. And now someone was trying to get me to stick my hot dog in a blazing fire.

The whole problem with a hot dog impaled on a whittle stick was the fact that what if there was a sliver of wood that came off in the hot dog? I would put my hot dog near the flame, just enough to get it warm, and then take the hot dog and stick over to my mom and ask her to take a look at the inside of the hot dog to make sure I wouldn’t get a splinter in my throat. You know that could happen, right? My mom would shoo me away because I guess I already bothered her for most of the day, so I would take a plastic knife and dissect that damn hot dog to see if it was ok to eat. Again, though, this just took too much work, so I would just eye the hot dog bun and put some ketchup on it.

So, this whole  picky Vickie story leads up to the whole problem with s’mores.

S’mores. The word even makes me cringe. I don’t think I saw them until I was in junior high. I was still picky in junior high, but I wanted  to be cool, so I had to pretend I was all about s’mores and not complain like I did when I was at a campfire with my family. The first part of the whole s’more experience was getting that damn marshmallow warmed up and gooey. First of all, I wasn’t a fan of getting gooey fingers. Not going to happen. Oh, sure, I would impale my marshmallow down on the stick after slyly checking the stick for errant splinters. I would hover my marshmallow over the flame for a second and while everyone else was watching their own marshmallow, I took mine off and would eat it. I hated warm marshmallows. I hated melted marshmallows. But, I wanted to fit in with the other kids and if I told them I hated s’mores, then, well, they would hate me and maybe call me “Picky Sticky Vickie” or something.

By the time some of the other kids got their marshmallow off their sticks, I was already by the picnic table grabbing two graham crackers. Thank god I liked graham crackers, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to share them with melted white goo and a hunk of chocolate.  I decided whoever mixed these three food items together for the very first time must have had rocks in their head.

So, it was like this every summer at every picnic I went to. I had to work hard and perfected my s’mores avoidance technique: Put the marshmallow on a stick for like 5 seconds, take it off, pretend it is gooey, go to the table and on the way eat the marshmallow. One time I thought I was being watched, so I made the whole damn thing and then….oops, dropped it on the ground. There is no 3 second rule in the woods or any place with me.  There was no way I was picking it up.

It wasn’t until college  when I was invited to a picnic and offered a stick, that I realized a lie didn’t take much work at all.

“I’m allergic to marshmallows, and you can’t make a s’more without marshmallows.”  Damn, why didn’t I lie earlier. I lied about everything else.

In the past twenty years it has been easier to pass on the s’mores.

“Oh, hell no.”

The Cab Ride

Most of you know my daughter has been living in New York City while attending grad school at NYU. I was able to take a few personal days to travel up there to attend the graduation ceremony for Steinhardt, her grad school. At first I was going up to the all school graduation which was held at Yankee Stadium, but my daughter asked me if I could change my plans and come up to her earlier one since the venue would be a tad bit more personal than Yankee Stadium. I wish I would have just taken the whole week off and went to both, as I had a wonderful substitute in place, so I didn’t have to worry about that while I was gone.

Since the last time I went to New York, the major airlines decided to quit flying directly from Pittsburgh to JFK. Jet Blue used to be pretty inexpensive, but now wanted to take me from Pittsburgh to Boston and then to New York and jacked up the price on me. Delta did have one direct flight, but it was now $709. Gee, thanks major airlines.

My options were driving to New York City (oh, hell no), taking the MegaBus (when I googled it, pictures of burning wrecked Megabuses came up that I just had to go and look at), and Amtrak. I took Amtrak before and although it takes several years to get to New York from Pittsburgh, I enjoyed the ride. So, I booked my trip with Amtrak. This time, however, to avoid sitting near a woman with 4 children who wanted to sleep while the children squirmed, fought, and tattled, I decided to see what the business class car might be like, and upgraded to business. Wow, what a difference.

It was worth the $30 upgrade. I really thought I was getting away with something as there were about 64 seats and no one had to share the other seat with anyone else. At each stop, the conductor would make an announcement, “Folks, we are going to have a full house today. Please keep personal items off the seat next to you so people will be able to find an open seat.” I would look around and see people spread out watching movies or sleeping. Business class was definitely worth the upgrade.

Nine hours later, I arrived at Penn Station. It was raining and of course I did not bring an umbrella. Penn Station is attached to Madison Square Garden, so I thought it would be better to catch a taxi if I was out front there, instead of a side street, and I did. I put my hand up in the air like Carrie Bradshaw did on Sex and the City and immediately a cab pulled over. Well, it pulled over because there were people getting out. I asked if I could use the cab, despite seeing about 10 other arms in the air nearby. I clearly pissed off people who were standing on the long street in front of Madison Square Garden. Remember, it was raining, not sprinkling.

I hopped in the back with my carry-on, laptop bag, and purse and off we went. But, it can’t be that simple for me. I had to go and say “Hello, good afternoon!” to the taxi driver. You wouldn’t think it was a big deal to talk to a taxi driver. But, Oh, Dear God, the conversation took a dramatic turn, or a comedic turn. I will go with comedic. Now you have to realize that traffic was heavy and I had to go up all the way to East 95th Street. Madison Garden is on West 33rd, so the following conversation is abbreviated somewhat.

“So, is this your first time in New York?”

“No, this is I believe my sixth time.” blah blah blah. Found out he has lived in the city for 19 years, from Bangladesh, he told me I should visit there, blah blah blah…more chatter. He started to talk about the April Bangladesh earthquake and handed me a flyer to look at while he talked about the disaster.

He asked what I did in West Virginia. I told him I was a teacher. He asked if I wanted to share half of his banana. No, thank you, I told him. I had eaten on the train.

Then, he went down the wrong road…not literally, being in a cab and all, but the wrong road, figuratively. I looked at the street sign and we were only at 59th. The traffic was bad. I was wishing I would have taken the subway and lugged everything up the subway steps.

“So, what does your husband do in West Virginia?” he said with his heavily broken English.

“I’m divorced.”

“How long you divorced?”

“4 years.”

“That is so sad.”

“No, I’m pretty happy about it.” I smiled. I was hoping there would be silence for the rest of the ride. Oh, hell no.

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

“No. I’ve had my share of goofy dates, though.” He looked at me strange. Maybe “goofy” was just a West Virginia word. Then he started.

“You know…. I believe in God….I love God….and I know God would want you to share your life with a man until you die.”

“You don’t think God would be okay that a person can be alone but happy for the rest of his or her life?”

“Maybe, but you should share your life with someone until you die.”

“Oh, you know, I am happy the way my life is.”

“Maybe………………..I’m going to fix you up with someone so you can share your life with him until you die.” I had to laugh.

“No, really. I’m ok. I am just going to get a cat.” I laughed, but he didn’t understand the whole cat lady scenario.

“You give me your phone number and I will have you meet someone.”

“No, I am only in New York for a few days, so I don’t have time to meet anyone, but that is so sweet of you to be worried about me since you don’t know me.”

“I can tell you are a wonderful person. You need to share your life with a man. God would want you to.”

“No, thank you, really. I really don’t want to meet anyone right now. I was married for 25 years and really enjoy being by myself right now. If it happens,it happens….. I’m not going to go out searching for a man.” I nervously laughed.

“I sorry I bother you. I can tell because you talk to me that you are a good person. God would want you to be married until you die.”

I can’t tell you how long this conversation went on, but by 80th street I was ready to jump out of the moving cab and meet God without a man. I know the Bangladeshian meant well, but he was spending too much time looking through his mirror at me in the backseat and little time watching cars changing lanes and waiting until the last second to stop at a red light. I was ready for a nerve pill.

When he pulled up in front of my daughter’s apartment, I handed him cash and a few extra dollars as a tip. After all, he did offer half of his banana and wanted to play matchmaker for me.

“I’m sorry I bother you. I won’t fix you up. Have a good time in New York and I do hope….God hopes…that you find a man to share your life until you die.”

“Thank you for being so worried about me. I will be fine. Thank you!”

I walked up her steps and as I opened the door to her apartment building, I noticed that he was still parked at the curb, watching me. I couldn’t buzz in fast enough. My daughter came down the steps, and I didn’t want to turn around again, but out of the corner of my eye saw a hint of yellow go past. He was gone.

And all I could think of was that quote from Casablanca, altered a bit to fit my situation:

 

“Of all the taxi cabs, in all the towns, in all the world, I stepped into his.”

The Time Change and Church

For those of you who follow my blog, you know tomorrow is my least favorite day of the year. I’ve surely written enough about Daylight Savings Time and how it turns me into a zombie for a few weeks after the time change.

Daylight Savings Time Ends….Again

 Spring Forward into the River

Hello Circadian Dysrhythmia

Go Fly a Kite, Benjamin Franklin

So, how many times can I beat this dead horse? Apparently, at least five times. I guess I just need to really get my opinion out there. Daylight Savings Time just sucks the life out of me…….and millions of other people too.

But, I have to admit, the whole time change did have one perk: church. Now, don’t judge, but I just did not care to attend church when I was younger. My dad was a Sunday school teacher, so we had to get up every Sunday morning and drive downtown to church. And, I’m sorry, but I just didn’t like it. I had a problem with the whole Noah’s Ark story when I went to that private hell of a Catholic school from first through third grade, and was tired of arguing about it with Sister Maria and then at Sunday school. I just didn’t buy it. I was mad at God for drowning animals. Taking only two of a kind was really mean, and when I was little, I held a grudge for a tremendously long time.  So, I just thought the whole church thing was a big ole fat lie to get money in a collection plate.

So, there was one Sunday each year that I didn’t have to go to Sunday school, and that was when it was Daylight Savings Time. Oh, I remember my parents talking while sitting on the couch about how they had to remember to turn the clocks ahead before they went to bed. I always wanted to try to sneak into my parent’s room and change the Big Ben alarm clock my dad kept by his bed, but after getting caught the first time, I decided I was doomed and would have to go listen about multiplying fishes and walking on water. None of the Bible lessons were believable to me. People can’t get that old. I told my mom Caspar the Friendly Ghost cartoon was more real than church. I remember my dad looking at me like I needed an exorcism. His Bible was all marked up and his handwriting in the margins. He was clearly into it, but his  nine year old heathen daughter wasn’t buying any of it.

I know  my dad would change the kitchen clock above our lovely gold refrigerator that Saturday night before he went to bed. He would change the time on his wrist watch. He would change the time on his Big Ben alarm clock and set the alarm to get up for church. But, every Daylight Savings Time Sunday morning we would always miss Sunday school. We slept it! My mom would yell first.

“Elwood, wake up! We’ve missed church!” I would wake up and smile. But, then, my mom would march into my room and ask why I pushed down the alarm clock so it wouldn’t go off.

The problem with all of this is that I was a great liar and lied every chance I got. So, when I really told the truth and tried to explain that I didn’t do it, no one believed me. I would be just like me to sneak into my parent’s room and push in the alarm buzzer thingy.

For years I thought my sister was the culprit because she would laugh at me for getting yelled at for turning it off. She wanted to go to church because she liked wearing her white patent leather shoes. She would deliberately put on a pair of white anklets that had a hole in the big toe so she could entertain while sitting in the pew at church. But, you know, I never ever pushed down the alarm button to keep us from waking up on time. I mean, I wouldn’t wait until Daylight Savings Time to do that. I’d do it every damn Sunday.

Years later, when I had my own children and complained how my husband wanted to go to church the next day when it was Daylight Savings Time, I would always try to balk. “Oh, come on. We are losing an hour. Let’s just sleep in.”  My mom was visiting during one of those time changing moments and just smiled when I was complaining about being blamed for turning off the alarm.

“Mom, I really wasn’t the one who would push in the alarm so we could sleep in after losing an hour.”

“I know.” I looked at her and she was wearing a shit-eating grin on her face.”

“God dammit, Mom! …….You were the one?…….and then you came in and blamed me?” She smiled and nodded.

Well, there was only one thing I could do….

I stood up and clapped.

“I needed that hour,” she said with a shrug.

So, in the end, the heathen’s mother threw her own daughter under the proverbial bus in order to garner a lost hour of sleep once a year.

Well, played, Mom, well played.

Happy Badger/Groundhog/Hedgehog Day!

 

Several men dressed like Abe Lincoln will gather on a knoll tomorrow morning, proclamation in hand, and will proceed to yank a fat squirrel out of its heated den. Crowds who have gathered on this cold cold February morning will wait with bated or alcoholic breath, whichever comes first. Will Phil see his shadow?  We must know.

Another Groundhog Day, another prediction. Will we have another six weeks of winter or will spring be right around the corner?  According to Wikipedia, ” if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, then spring will come early; if it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its burrow, and the winter weather will continue for six more weeks”.   The Weather Channel is already telling us we are going to have six weeks of winter. So, why all the brouhaha over a sleepy chubby squirrel?

Ok, a groundhog is not a fat squirrel. I apologize. A groundhog is a member of the squirrel family, but much larger than the ones I see eating out of the bird feeder.  Putting that aside, I’d still like to know how  the people in a small Pennsylvania town decided years ago they have a weather prognostigator?

“Hey, look at that groundhog! I can see his shadow. Do you think that means something?” I mean, how did this weird ritual start?

And it is weird. Think about it. People drive from miles around to gather in the cold to watch the town leaders grab a sleeping groundhog from its luxury living quarters, hold it up, and then proclaim to the masses if there will be six more weeks of winter. The crowd will clap and yell “hoorah” or moan and go home…or back to the bar. When did we start believing a groundhog? Why not a raccoon? They are smart enough to take the lid off of a garbage can. Surely they too, can predict the weather?

Ok, I know we don’t really believe a groundhog, but how did the people of Pennsylvania believe in it enough over the years to create such a tribute to weather forecasting? I just had to know.

I have written several times about the little varmint  Ground Beaver Day   Groundhog Day  Groundhog Day and a Haiku or Two in the past, but really never took a look at how this event started. I actually have this on my bucket list. Sure, why not drive up there one year just to say I did it?

Well, it looks like Groundhog day  began as a German custom in the 18th century in this country. When German settlers arrived in the 1700s, they brought a custom known as Candlemas Day.  Supposedly, a custom in ancient European weather lore used a badger or a hedgehog as the prognosticator.  Seeing  there aren’t too many badgers or hedgehogs in Pennsylvania, I guess the groundhog was the next best thing. It has been celebrated in Punxsutawney since 1886 or so. In Europe, it was the tradition on Candlemas Day for the church official to bless candles and hand them out to the people in the middle point of winter.It also has something to do with Mary and Jesus, but I didn’t want to go in that direction, so I ignored the religious meanings of the day. So, If the sun came out February 2, the mid point of the season, it meant six more weeks of winter. Tomorrow will be Punxsutawney Phil’s 127th prognostication.

Shouldn’t he be dead?

So, when you turn on the Weather Channel in the morning, you will undoubtedly witness the faux Abe Lincolns pulling a fat squirrel out of a den on Gobblers Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. It’s a big deal. And maybe the ground hog will be alive, celebrating its 127th year of forecasting or maybe he is an imposter for the real Phil, who no longer sees his shadow. Regardless, it is a tradition in our country that is here to stay. In fact, there are many “Phil’s” in different parts of the country. Afterall, the weather in Florida is different than Pennsylvania. It is known as “The Sunshine State.” Of course Phil would see his shadow down there. And that surely wouldn’t mean six more weeks of winter in Florida. That means, “Hey, I saw my shadow because I am in freaking sunny Florida.”

Here are some of the other “Phil’s” that will be called upon this February 2:

French Creek Freddie – My home state of West Virginia.

 A pissed off French Creek Freddie

North Carolina has five prognosticating groundhogs- Grady, Nibbles, Queen Charlotte, Sir Walter Wally, and Mortimer. ( I fancy the Sir Walter Wally moniker)

Tennessee- Chattanooga Chuck

Georgia- General Beauregard Lee

Canada- Wiarton Willy

New York- Staten Island Chuck

Ohio- Buckeye Chuck

I could go on and on. There are many famous fat squirrels that will be pulled out of their dens tomorrow.

Happy Groundhog Day! (Whatever the hell that means)

Smokey and the Car Wash

I was sitting at our local lazer wash the other day thinking back to the first time I ever went to an automatic car wash. I grew up in Weirton, West Virginia, and the new “automatic” car wash had just opened “up on the hill” near our home. I can’t remember what kind of car we had back then, but the whole family jumped in when my dad told us a car wash opened where you sit in the car while it is being washed. What??? No taking a bucket of water, soap, and a garden hose out into the driveway anymore? Well, not that I really helped wash our cars in the first place. I was and still am, a “non-finisher.” I just really can’t finish anything all the way through. Same for washing the car. I would get one side done and then spray the other side with the hose to knock some dust off and call it a day. You could never see that side from our picture window, so it looked like I did a great job.

When we pulled up to the new car wash, we had to wait in a line because, as all things new, people wanted to experience this new-fangled way to wash a car. It was the 60’s, after all, and inventions were just waiting to be invented. When it was our turn, a guy motioned for us to move up a bit. We then had to put the car in neutral. They guy then took some gigantic hook and put it somewhere in the front of the car.

“Will that pull off the bumper?” I thought that was a pertinent question.

The guy told my dad to make sure all of the windows were rolled up. We were ready. There was a little jerk and our car was on some track through a little building with these scrubber things on the sides. The noise was loud and the water was really hitting the windshield and roof of the car. To be perfectly honest, it was a bit scary. Those brushes were right up against our windows and then one roll up over the car and down the windshield.  Hey, this was fun….but not really.

After we were done, there were two teen-age boys who wiped our car with dry cloths. My mom had to interject her authority of being Queen of Weirton.

“Make sure you dry the car good….and there better not be any spots of dirt anywhere.”

Oh, but there was. When we pulled into the driveway, she had my dad not park the car in the garage. She wanted to inspect the job the new automatic car wash did on our family vehicle.

“Well, we won’t be going there again.”  I remember there were seven places that were missed. I smile at this because I can’t remember what I did fifteen minutes ago, but I can remember my mom ranting about SEVEN missed places on the car after visiting the new automatic car wash “up on the hill.” She loved to find something to bitch about. My dad was probably relieved that he wasn’t at the end of this particular rant. I remember thinking he was going to like this new car wash. Anything she disagreed about, my dad was then quietly all about.

So, one day I was sitting, watching tv, with our dog Smokey, on our lap. It was a hot summer day and my dad must not have wanted to wash the car by hand. I mean, who would want to, now that we basically had a robot to do it for us?  He asked me if I wanted to take a ride with him to the car wash.

Since Smokey was already sitting on my lap, I just picked her up and carried her a la Paris Hilton with her prized chihuahua to the car. Smokey often rode in the car. As all chihuahuas, Smokey was a yapper. Yap, yap, yap. But, who knew what was about to transpire.

Well, Smokey went ape shit. The noise first scared her and she buried herself beside my hip. We were yanked ahead on the conveyor belt. When the brushes hit against the car, that’s when Smokey defended her territory and her family. She ran over to the window and bared her teeth and growled and barked like she was ready to take on the brushes. She ran back and forth, over my dad and over me to each window. She was going to save us from this barrage of red and yellow bristles attacking us.

I should have counted how many times she ran back and forth. My dad also found it amusing. Smokey the chihuahua was fighting with the brushes at the automatic car wash.

When we got home, Smokey was exhausted and fell fast asleep on my dad’s lap.

The next few times we went to the car wash, we took Smokey along for our pleasure. It seems so cruel now to put the little yapper through this sort of animal abuse, but you have to understand I never once thought I was being abusive. I just thought it was really really funny.

And each time we got home, my mom would disappear downstairs for a few minutes. We knew she was heading for the garage.

Four missed places this time.”

Go Directly to Jail, Little Token

When I have played Monopoly in the past, I have always reached for the iron as my token. I know for a fact I have never played with another token. I never came across another friend who just had to have the iron too, so I guess that was good because I wouldn’t have played. I guess when you find a right fit  you just have to go with that one each time. And the iron and I made our way around to pass Go many, many times. So, imagine the horror when I heard today that Hasbro, the maker of Monopoly, is going to send one of the little steel tokens to jail……and they can’t even pass Go first.

What a great marketing ploy. Hasbro has set up a Facebook page and is letting people vote for which token gets to stay and which one will replace it. I went to the site to see how this was going to unfold.  The choices to vote for are the car, thimble, shoe, dog, ship, hat, iron, and wheelbarrow. I wish we could vote for which one gets to go, but alas, we were only allowed to vote for which one we wanted to stay.

It’s funny, but I think baby boomers are going to feel the same way about this that I do. Oh, sure, in the whole scheme of things, I really don’t give a rat’s ass about the impending doom of one of the Monopoly tokens, but yet again, off I went to vote to save my beloved iron.

The options to replace the permanently jailed token are a helicopter, a diamond ring, a cat, a robot, or a guitar. I immediately voted for the diamond ring. It makes sense and goes with the game. What the hell does a robot or a guitar have to do with Monopoly? Ok, I guess an iron doesn’t make much sense either, but you know, whatever.

So, baby boomer friends of mine, what token did you use when you played Monopoly?

 

 

 

Everyone Watch The Rose Parade, Ok?

I used to watch the Rose Parade every New Year’s Day for years before I was told all the floats were made of flowers. Maybe I just didn’t listen much to the commentator:

“And here’s a float from McDonalds…blah blah blah blah..roses.”

I was hyper when I was little, so maybe I just couldn’t watch and listen at the same time. The floats were beautiful. And it was named after a flower. Hence, the name, Rose Parade. I thought maybe it was named after a woman…….Rose McGillicuddy of Pasadena…..Ok, I made that name up. But why roses, I asked? Why not the Purple Cone Flower Parade or The Natural Material Parade?” I didn’t ask that when I was little. I’m asking that now when I am older and still challenged in so many ways. But, since I love to learn about insignificant things, I headed to google, king of all kings.

So, it looks like The Rose Parade started way back in Pasadena, California on January 1, 1890. The Rose Bowl football game was added in 1902 to help fund the parade. I thought that was pretty interesting.

The whole reason the parade started was to showcase the mild California winters. Many members of the Valley Hunt Club, the organizers of the very first Rose parade, were former residents of states in the east and midwest. One member announced at a meeting, “In New York, people are buried in the snow. Here our flowers are blooming and our oranges are about to bear. Let’s hold a festival to tell the world about our paradise.”  I would think the man should have said the oranges were ready to be picked, but I guess that’s how the hell they talked back then.

And so they did organize a little parade to show off how wonderful Pasadena is in the winter and how putting flowers on moving things made the freezing New Yorkers jealous enough to withdraw all of their money and move to their sunny community. What confuses me is the fact there was no television in 1902. People elsewhere would have to read about it in a newspaper. So, in the end, I am thinking the Valley Hunt Club wanted to ride down the street on their horses.

They had horse drawn carriages adorned with flowers. After the parade, there was a chariot race, tug-of war and other games which drew about 2,000 people. After a few years, the parade got too big for the Valley Hunt Club, so the Tournament of Roses was formed and later a football game replaced a chariot race, which was a big deal of the whole celebration.

The floats of today take about a year to construct. According to Wikipedia, “It is a rule of the parade that all surfaces of the float framework must be covered in natural materials (such as flowers, plants, seaweeds, seeds, bark, vegetables, or nuts, for example); furthermore, no artificial flowers or plant material are allowed, nor can the materials be artificially colored.”And this is what bothers me.  I mean, it bothers me just a little, but enough to gripe about it. Isn’t this a waste of nature?

I’m beginning to think somebody in the Valley Hunt Club was a florist.

Think about it. I bet you there are more florists in the Pasadena area than anywhere else. Ok, maybe flowers are shipped in from other flowery places. Tulips from Holland, perhaps. Acorns from a forest in the Applachians. I don’t know. But, this has got to be a boon for florist owners and growers. I guess that is a good thing for the economy. But, what happens to the flowers and natural materials after the parade. Do they go into the biggest compost pile in the world?

So, being that my mind is still a bit hyperactive and all over the place, I wondered about other wastes…..like Christmas trees. I have a bit of a problem with cutting down beautiful pine trees, dragging them home on top of a car, sticking them in the corner of a room and putting things on it….only to throw it away come New Years Day. Poor pine tree.

But then again, everything is like that, isn’t it? Chickens are raised only to have their heads cut off so they can be served on our dinner plates. Corn is grown on farms just so we can eat popcorn and cornbread stuffing. I guess I could go on and on. So, in the end, flowers are grown for the Rose Parade. I guess I have to live with that.

That being said, I think it is our responisibility to watch the Rose Parade to see the beauty of Pasadena’s mild winter and of course, the magnificent floats. They are beautiful. Band members nation-wide fund raise their little asses off to be able to be part of the parade. Our very own East Fairmont High School was able to participate in the Rose Parade several years ago. That was a big deal. And it was exciting to watch on tv.  I didn’t notice the sunny environment of California, however.

Is this still the objective? Regardless, watch the parade tomorrow. Kudos to the Valley Hunt Club of 1890. They came up with a great idea. Look how many people are now living in California.

 

 

 

What The Hell, Seagull?

I saw a seagull today. I realize that is not an unusual observation for many. People always see them at the beach. After all, that’s where they belong. So, why the hell are they flying around my local Walmart’s parking lot? In West Virginia.

I came to Fairmont to go to college in 1974 and there were a few seagulls in the Middletown Mall parking lot. I was confused then and I am confused now. They have no business being in the mountains of West Virginia. That is against the laws of nature. Why, that would be like seeing a polar bear on a Miami beach, a rattle snake crawling along in the Arctic, or a moose hanging out in Central Park. So, after going through more “animals out of their element” scenarios, I decided I needed to learn more about seagulls and why they are in Fairmont, West Virginia. We only have streams and rivers. And they aren’t even cool rivers, like the Columbia…..or the mighty Mississippi. No, my seagulls are near the Tygart and the West Fork Rivers. There is no sand, no waves, no crabs to peck at. Why, oh why, are they flying above me in the freaking Walmart parking lot? The search was on.

Many people are perplexed as well. A woman wrote from Iowa about seeing seagulls in her Kmart parking lot. Many other land-locked puzzled people were wondering the same thing. Is it a migration route? And if so, where the hell are they coming from or going to in Iowa? That makes no sense at all. Iowa is too far away. And a blogging friend informed me that the seagull is the state bird of Utah. Utah!  Seems that years and years ago locusts were eating a lot of crops and all of a sudden seagulls appeared and ate the locust. The Mormons saw that as a sign and the next thing you know, they’ve got a state bird. Apparently, the seagulls in that state like the brine in the Great Salt Lake.

Maybe the seagulls think West Virginia is part of Virginia. They, afterall, have Virginia Beach, seagull capital of a small stretch of beach. There are a lot of geographically challenged people out there who think West Virginia is western Virginia. Maybe the seagulls think the same.

Years ago, near Point Pleasant, West Virginia, people thought they saw a strange flying “thing” that was dubbed Mothman. Hysteria reigned in that small Ohio River town for many years afterwards. Mothman supposedly had red eyes, a large wingspan and could pick up a German Shephard and carry it off. There is even a statue to Mothman and a Mothman festival. But, a wildlife biologist said all along it was a sandhill crane,  a large American crane almost as high as a man with a seven foot wingspan featuring red circles around its eyes. He said  the bird may have wandered out of its migration route.

I guess not all birds know what the hell they are doing. Sure, Canadian geese flaunt their knowledge of their ABC’s by flying in a V formation. They fly south for the winter. Well, they used to until they decided that since these silly Americans are  feeding them, they’d just stay all year long. We can’t get rid of them or their trail of slimy algae green poop.

So, maybe my Walmart seagull got lost on his way to Bora Bora or Aruba or where ever they fly on their migration route. I had no idea there were so many varieties of gulls. All I know is that they can attack. I know this because I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Tippi Hedren got pecked in the forehead by one.

In the end, I guess I feel sorry for the seagull who is living at the Walmart parking lot. Where does he sleep at night? Sitting on a light pole can’t be fun. Doesn’t he miss the sound of the ocean waves lulling him to sleep?  And if he doesn’t leave, will the crows let him hang out with them? They are usually a tight group, not making friends easily.

I did just read that we may be confused by their name, as it implies the “sea.” Someone wrote there is no such thing as a “sea” gull.  Gulls can adapt inland. Well, then maybe their name should change. Canadian geese are no longer Canadian….. Hermit crabs are quite social……a teddy bear hamster is not a damn teddy bear……

and a jumbo shrimp is not a big little thing. Whoever is naming animals is on drugs.

Let’s Drop Something

It all started with Groundhog Day, you know. There was a famous groundhog prognosticator in Pennsylvania, and soon after cities came up with their own weather fortune teller whistle pig. Such is the case with the big New Years Eve ball drop.

When you think of New Years Eve, all those who don’t live under a rock know about the ball drop at midnight in Times Square in fantastic New York City. I took a picture of it from the top of the Rockefeller Center when I was there this summer. It’s just not the same, I guess, as being there smooshed up against thousands of people on a cold, drunken New Year’s Eve.

IMG_0670

 The first ball drop in Times Square took place on December 31, 1907. According to Wikipedia:

“The first New Year’s Eve celebration in what is now known as Times Square was held on New Year’s Eve 1904. The New York Times newspaper had opened their new headquarters at One Times Square (at the time, the city’s second tallest building)  and persuaded the city to rename the triangular “square” surrounding it for their newspaper (which the city later did on April 8, 1904). The newspaper’s owner decided to celebrate the opening of the company’s new headquarters with a midnight fireworks show on the roof of the building on December 31, 1903. Close to 200,000 people attended the event, displacing traditional celebrations that had normally been held at Trinity Church. After four years of New Year’s Eve fireworks celebrations, the newspaper’s chief electrician Walter F. Palmer constructed an electrically lit time ball that would be lowered from the flagpole on the roof of One Times Square. It was constructed with iron and wood, lit with one hundred 25-watt bulbs, weighed 700 pounds (320 kg), and measured 5 feet (1.5 m) in diameter. It was first lowered on New Year’s Eve 1908 (December 31, 1907).”

The Times Square ball drop is one of the best-known New Year’s celebrations, attended by at least one million spectators yearly.  The Times Square ball drop has also inspired other drops across our great nation. So, if you can’t be there in New York City for the ball drop, and don’t really care to watch it on tv, you can always check to see if your city has a creative drop of their very own. Not all cities drop balls. Some cities use their famous icon to ring in the new year. It  is obvious the state of Pennsylvania loves to share their symbols on New Years Eve.

*  Eastport, Maine- a maple leaf is dropped. There is also a sardine drop in the city also. The Great Sardine and Maple Leaf Drop

*  Saint George’s, Bermuda- a Bermuda onion wrapped in Christmas lights is dropped.

*  Key West, Florida- A gigantic conch shell is dropped.  There is also a gay bar that drops a giant ruby slipper with a drag queen inside. Fun times.

*  Miami, Florida- The Big Orange Drop. Well, Florida is the orange capital of the world. “Mr. Neon” was recently renamed, “La Gran Naranja,” which I am thinking means the big orange. I really know my spanish.

*  Atlanta,Georgia- The Peach Drop. Georgia loves their peaches.

* Gainesville, Georgia- Chuck the chicken drop in honor of the humane society.

*Harrisburg, Pennsylvania- strawberry drop.

* Tallapoosa, Georgia- they drop an oppossum. It started out as a joke and has now grown as their biggest yearly event. I hope it isn’t alive. The Possum Drop

*  Winder, Georgia- A jug drop.

* Easton, Maryland- a crab drop.

* Havre de Grace, Maryland- a duck.

* Princesss Anne, Maryland- a muscrat.

* Niagara Falls, New York- A Gibson guitar is dropped from the Hard Rock Cafe.

*  Black Creek, North Carolina: A large red heart drop represents “A Small Town with a Big Heart.”

* Eastover, North Carolina- a flea is dropped….. A flea.

* Charlotte, North Carolina- a crown is dropped.

* Mount Olive, North Carolina- The New Years Eve Pickle Drop.

*Raleigh, North Carolina- Acorn drop

* Elmore, Ohio- a sausage is dropped.

* Marion, Ohio- a popcorn ball is dropped. Marion is the popcorn capital of the world.

*Port Clinton, Ohio- a walleye fish named “Captain Wylie Walleye” is dropped. Walleye Madness.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qPNV-88Aok&feature=player_embedded

* Cincinnati, Ohio- A flying pig is not dropped, but flown, maybe to show there is at least one time “when pigs fly”.

* Allentown, Pennsylvania- a replica of the liberty bell is dropped.

* Akron, Pennsylvania- a gold and purple shoe is dropped.

* Beavertown, Pennsylvania- a beaver is dropped. I hope to God it isn’t real. PETA would be all over them.

*Bethlehem, Pennsylvania- a Peep is dropped. Yes, one of those yellow Easter peeps. The company that produces Peeps is based there. I was happy to see they aren’t dropping baby Jesus in Bethlehem that night.

*Blain, Pennsylvania- a wooden cow is dropped from a silo. Moo.

*Cleona, Pennsylvania- a pretzel is not dropped, but raised. Why, Cleona, are you raising the pretzel? Not cool.

*Carlisle, Pennsylvania- an Indy car is dropped.

*Cornwall, Pennsylvania- a Cannonball Drop.

*Dillsburg, Pennsylvania- two pickles are dropped. I guess one should drop a pickle in Dillsburg.

*Duncannon, Pennsylvania- a sled is dropped….without any kids holding on I presume.

*Easton, Pennsylvania- a crayola crayon is dropped early in the night to accommodate little kiddie’s bedtimes.

*Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania- a giant M& M is dropped.

*Falmouth, Pennsylvania- a stuffed goat is dropped.

*Frogtown, Pennsylvania- a frog is dropped. This is getting sort of redundant, no?

*Gratz, Pennsylvania- a wildcat is dropped.

*Halifax, Pennsylvania- a hemlock tree. Oh, come on, now!

*Harrisburg, Pennsylvania- a strawberry is dropped. My son has been to this one.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvjwtM37CmY

*Hershey, Pennsylvania- a Hershey Kiss is dropped. Well, this makes sense.

*Hummelstown, Pennsylvania- a lollipop is dropped.

*Ickesburg, Pennsylvania- a french fry is dropped. These people are just bored.

* Lebanon, Pennsylvania- a giant stick of bologna is dropped.

*Lisburn, Pennsylvania- a pair of yellow pants is dropped. Can’t wait to read the history on this one.

*Liverpool, Pennsylvania- a canal boat is dropped.

*McClure, Pennsylvania- a kettle is dropped in honor of their Bean Soup Festival.

*Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania- a wrench is dropped. The Wrench Drop

*New Oxford, Pennsylvania- an antique trunk is dropped.

*Palmyra, Pennsylvania- The Giant Shoe is dropped.

*Pottsville, Pennsylvania- a bottle of Yuengling beer is raised. I bet those attendees are having fun that evening.

*Red Lion, Pennsylvania- a cigar is dropped.

*Shippensburg, Pennsylvania- an anchor is dropped.

*Strasburg, Pennsylvania- ping pong balls are dropped.

*Shamokin, Pennsylvania- a chunk of coal is dropped, turning into a diamond when it hits the bottom….like magic…oooh

*Hilton Head Island, South Carolina- a giant golf ball.

*Fredericksburg, Virginia- a pear is dropped.

*Mobile, Alabama- a moon pie is dropped. Yes, a moon pie and then the manufacturers of the moon pie hand out about 5,000 of them to revelers.

*Wetumpka, Alabama- a meteorite is dropped in honor of the meterorite that hit the city. Um, ok.

*Fayetteville, Arkansas- a hog is dropped.

*Panama City, Florida- a beach ball is dropped.

*Pensacola, Florida- a pelican is dropped.

*Des Plaines, Illinois- a diamond is dropped.

*Manhattan, Kansas- “The Little Apple” is dropped. I get it. Cute.

*New Orleans, Louisiana- a gumbo pot was dropped for a while. The new drop is Fleur-de-lis. Like I’m supposed to know what that is.

*Bartlesville, Oklahoma- an olive is dropped.

*Memphis and Nashville- a guitar and a music note.

* Plymouth, Wisconsin- a cheese wedge is dropped.

*Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin- a dead carp caught by locals is lowered.

* Show Low, Arizona- a deuce of clubs cards is dropped.

*Flagstaff, Arizona- a pine cone is dropped.

*Tempe, Arizona- a giant tortilla chip.

*Honolulu, Hawaii- a pineapple is dropped.

*Vincennes, Indiana- watermelon drop. Many engineering students across the nation drop watermelons and pumpkins throughout the year.

So, there you have it. There are New Year’s Eve celebrations all across the world. Many more cities just drop a ball,  but some places use their representative symbol to usher in a brand new year. Happy New Year to all!

I have decided to have my own celebration….. I am going to drop a few pounds.

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Enjoy this story? Jumping in Mud Puddles is now an ebook  that you can download on your Kindle. Don’t have a Kindle? No problem. Amazon will let you download their Kindle app FREE…Yes, free.  Have a look see.  :)  My literary debut….. Amazon.com for $3.99. It’s sort of funny.

Jumping in Mud Puddles: A Memoir of a Picky, Hyper, Big Fat Liar

Daylight Saving Time Ends….Again

For those of you who have been following my blog for several years now, you know it is time for my Daylight Saving Time rant. Yes, it is time for all of us to take down our  clocks and turn them all back an hour tonight. Well, it ends at 2 a.m. I am sure there are some people out there who are OCD enough to wait until exactly 2 a.m. to turn them back. The rest of us will change them before we go to bed tonight. I shall be mumbling and cursing as I change each time machine.

I just re-read my Daylight Saving Time posts from the past and it is clear I have issues with the stupid time change. And it is stupid. My economics professor son told me once there is a savings. I say “No way, Jose!”  It messes up the workings of my inner clock and that’s all I care about. It takes me almost two weeks to feel normal again. Well, as close to normal as one can feel.

All I know is that it will now get dark earlier until Daylight Saving Time begins again on March 10, 2013, when we spring forward yet again. I find this yearly thing a little monontonous, especially when there are problems associated with this procedure…. My beside alarm clock adjusts itself. Well, my former clock adjusted itself and it is now in a landfill somewhere nearby. It decided to change back an hour on a Wednesday in the middle of October. I woke up an hour later than reality and barely made it to work on time. Damn Daylight Savings Time. I got to school and realized that I only put mascara on one eye. Maybelline hates Daylight Saving Time too, I imagine.

I think the only good thing about Daylight Saving Time is that it is also known to be a time to change the batteries in your smoke detector to make sure they work. The Energizer battery company endorses that, you know. So, you will be reaching and dusting and changing clocks and changing batteries tonight. Life just sucks.

Arizona, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa do not observe Daylight Savings Time. These are the smartest people on the face of the earth. There are also 75 countries that do not observe the time change. Again, smart people. The rest of us should rise up against the machine. I have no idea what the hell that means.

Here are my Daylight Saving Time rants. I would write more today, but how many times can one beat a dead horse?  Apparently, I try more than three times. See you in March for my next rant. I am not a happy camper when that one enters the picture.

Peace be with you, Daylight Saving Time people.

Spring Forward into the River   Hello Circadian Dysrhythmia    Go Fly a Kite, Benjamin Franklin

You know, this is all George W. Bush’s fault. Yes, I realize he has enough blame on his plate, but he is the one that changed it to the first Sunday in November. I remember the day well:

On Monday August 8, 2005, then President Bush signed into law an energy bill that extended Daylight Saving Time by four weeks beginning in 2007. Since 1986 the United States had observed Daylight Saving Time from the first Sunday in April through the last Sunday in October. The new bill calls for Daylight Saving Time to begin three weeks earlier on the second Sunday in March and end on the first Sunday in November. Why? Why can’t this madness just end? No, Georgie wanted three more weeks of Daylight Savings Time….so we all could save what? I don’t know.

The mastermind behind Daylight Saving Time is Benjamin Franklin…. inventor, statesman, and someone who played out in lightning storms one time too many. He wanted to save candle burn time. Well, guess what? We now have freaking electricity.

In the end,  I’m not saving a damn thing that I can tell.  I’m wasting. I’m wasting time writing about Daylight Saving Time when I could be doing something more productive……like changing the batteries in my clock or something.

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Enjoy this story? Jumping in Mud Puddles is now an ebook  that you can download on your Kindle. Don’t have a Kindle? No problem. Amazon will let you download their Kindle app FREE…Yes, free.  Have a look see.  :)  My literary debut….. Amazon.com for $3.99. It’s sort of funny.

Jumping in Mud Puddles: A Memoir of a Picky, Hyper, Big Fat Liar

NYC Trip Report: Scoring tickets to the Colbert Report

I’ve been to New York City to visit my daughter several times, and let me tell you, it is exhausting. Every time I come home I am pissed at myself for being out of shape. And people, if you plan to visit New York City, you will walk. Oh, sure, there will be some of you who taxi from one place to the next. That is the smart thing to do. I am one of the stupid tourists.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I had a great time in New York. I love New York. But, my daughter walked me all over the damn place. And I will admit that I need to lose weight. I was able to lose 22 pounds last year and did pretty well hoofing it around NYC last summer when we went apartment hunting. Oh, hell, that’s a lie. I was ready to have a stroke. Like I said, I’m not very smart. I picked 90+ degree weather to walk around the city. I’m beyond stupid. This year was the same.

My journey to NYC is not quick. First I have to drive two hours to Pittsburgh International Airport. I have to park in the extended long term parking lot, which is not close to the terminal. By the time I make it to the building, I really want to just stand on that people mover thingy. When I hear someone coming up behind me, I will start walking, but I don’t wanna.

After my nice flight with Jet Blue, I arrived at JFK airport. I like airports. Just thought I would mention that. I don’t know why taxi cab men scare me, but I feel like I am imposing on them. So, I head outside to the ground transportation area and buy a $15.50 ticket to ride the NYC Airporter bus. It takes a while to exit the airport, as the bus driver stops at each terminal.  I didn’t mind. As long as I didn’t have to drive through New York, I don’t care if I was on the back of a donkey. Again, quite a lie. I would care.

The bus dropped me off at Grand Central Station, where I have to find the 6 Local Uptown train. Again, it’s easy. Well, except that I found out while I was on the subway that the Local 6 was not working this particular day. What? I’m on the local 6. Well, apparently it is allowed to change to be called the Express 6 which bypasses my stop. Someone sitting next to me tells me that I can get off at 125 and then take the local 6 downtown to my stop. What?

So, I get off the stop and walk across to the train going in the other direction and hop on, hoping it is the right one. It was. I then walked a couple of blocks to where my daughter was meeting me for lunch. I could see her smiling at me. I know that smile. I am doing somethig stupid.

“Mom, you are such a tourist. You don’t need to look both ways when it is a one way street.”

We had a nice lunch and walked back to her apartment so I could drop off my carry-on. Our plan for the day was to head to the Brooklyn Bridge and then head over to High Line. We walked the several blocks up the hill to the subway. I had to stop several times on the way up. I am weak. We got off the subway on Chambers Street. I had never been this far south before. So, there was the Brooklyn Bridge. And it was all boarded up on the sides of the bridge for construction. I had no idea we were going to actually walk over to the other side. What?

My daughter on the Brooklyn Bridge

Well, we had to walk over to the other side. I don’t know why. Because everyone else was doing it? There was nothing to see for quite a while. We stopped and wrote our names on some plywood…because everyone else was doing it.

It took us forever to get to the other side. And it was 90 degrees and 2:00 in the afternoon. Where the hell are the clouds? I was complaining a lot. My daughter told me to stop. I stopped.

It’s a 1.3 mile walk, but it takes a long time to walk due to the amount of foot traffic….and baby strollers…..and people like me who take pictures along the way and complain about the heat and stop alot. But, I was glad I did it. Because when we got to the other side, there was a park. And that park had a water taxi. Oh, hell yeah, I was on that thing.

The water taxi cost $25 and takes people around the statue of Liberty, past Ellis Island and Battery Park and up the Hudson. It makes stops along the way for those who want to get off in a different stop. I sure as hell didn’t want to walk back over the Brooklyn Bridge.

It was pretty cool. The taxi was huge and besides those who just wanted to look from inside the air conditioned lounge area, there was an upper berth and lower outside viewing areas. It was nice. We opted to get off at one of the piers on the Hudson, Christopher St., Pier 45 on West 10th Street.

This is also Grenwich Village, which was pretty darn cool. We walked past a Bareburger, where we had an early dinner. After that, my daughter wanted to take me to High Line Park. We had to walk again.  I thought she was taking me to a normal park. Boy, was I surprised when I saw High Line. High Line is a park built on an elevated freight line railway. The freight line wasn’t in use since the early 1980’s. It was slated for demolition as it became an eyesore for those who lived in the neighborhood. One man’s crusade led to the development by the city of New York to create this elevated park. It is magnificient. We walked along the park until a storm hit us. That’s not the best place to be when a thunderstorm approaches you. Luckily, there were places for all of us to hide. We then hailed a taxi and headed back to the apartment. We had great aspirations for the next day. We were going to wake up early and head to the local bagel shop for breakfast and then rent bikes in Central Park. However, we ate a huge breakfast and opted to go back to bed for a little bit. We then showered and headed via subway down to visit the Top of the Rock.  I’ve always wanted to visit Rockefeller Center and see the ice skating rink and the NBC Studios. It didn’t disappoint. Several blocks are pedestrian only, and it is just a really neat area. We finally found the place where we were to buy tickets to the Top of the Rock. I wanted to see Central Park from the top of this building. It was great.

After we left Rockefeller Center, I looked at my watch. We were late. My daughter wanted to go to the Colbert Report Studios to see if we could get standby tickets to that night’s show. We were supposed to be there by 2:30. So, we started walking. We had to go to 54th Street. We were on 50th Street. The Colbert Report was filmed on 54th Street. We had to hurry. Oh, but wait. We got to 54th Street. Alex asked a doorman and he told her it was about four blocks to the west. What? Four long ass blocks. We walked some more. And walked some more. We passed by where The Letterman Show was filmed. Nope. We kept walking. I was ready to give up. We had to be there in ten minutes. Not going to happen. I really thought she got the address wrong. We were headed into a less commerical area, one that had auto repairs and……nothing else. My daughter was laughing at me. Finally, we found it.

It was 2:40. We didn’t make it. Alex walked up the steps and a guy stepped out of the office. He told her that we needed to go stand by that garbage can. He pointed to….a garbage can. Someone would be out at 4:00 and hand out stand- by tickets if there were any to give out. It was a slight chance that we would get tickets and we had to discuss this.

Well, right by the garbage can was a narrow covered alley and there was a guy sitting there eating lunch. He told us he was in line for tickets. Except he had tickets. Oh. So, we were screwed. We stood there talking to another couple who came to stand in line. They too had tickets, but came to stand in line, because if wasn’t a certainty even with tickets that you could get in. I was ready to give up when the couple told us they had 2 extra tickets that we could have. What? Omg.

So, we sat and stood in line from 2:40 until they came out at 4:00 and took our information from our driver’s license and then left. Now there were two lines…one for ticket holders and one who were stand-by’s.

We were now full fledged ticket holders. They let us go into the studio at 5:50. We had to go through a metal detector and hang out in the lobby for a long time. We took pictures.

So, we got to watch the Colbert Report being filmed. Since, we got there so early, and they took us in after the VIP people, Alex and I were #7 and 8 to be seated. It was great. By the time we got out, it was time to hail a taxi and head to a Thai restaurant in Upper East Side. We then walked to her apartment. I was one tired tourist/mom.

 I left early the next morning. I hope to return in the fall sometime when the weather is a bit cooler. I’d like to see the 911 Memorial this time…and Central Park again. I missed it this visit.

I just love visiting my daughter.

Travels with Atticus the Cat

I just got back from taking my son to the Dulles airport. I wrote earlier that Adam was moving to Tbilisi, Georgia, which is pretty far from West Virginia. And he decided to take his cat, Atticus, with him.

This wasn’t an easy feat. First Adam had to make a flight arrangement with an airline carrier that would permit a cat on board as carry-on. I guess some frown on letting a mewing cat hang out under a seat. Turkish Airlines would let Atticus travel with them. But, hold on. They looked through the reservations, as they only permitted one cat or dog per flight. I guess that makes sense. I wouldn’t want to travel with five barking dogs on one flight. But, as my son pointed out, crying babies are just as bad. So true, Adam, and they don’t have to be put into a carrier and shoved under the seat. Not yet.

There are too many reports about animal deaths and loss after being checked as baggage. I would have let Atticus stay with me if Adam couldn’t keep him on the airplane. Most cargo compartments are kept unventilated. Delta Airlines doesn’t permit animals in the cargo area during the summer or winter months. Sometimes dogs or cats get loose somehow during transit. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 224 dogs were lost, injured, or killed during airline travel between 2005 and 2009.  Airlines currently do not have to report the deaths, so that number could be much higher. So, checking Atticus as baggage was out of the question.

So, Adam was able to book a flight for he and his cat for June 19. Well, that was easy. Oh, but Adam had only started. There were so many procedures that Adam had to follow:

1. Quarantine or No Quarantine- Each country has a different protocol for pets entering their country. Adam had to first find out if Atticus would be warmly welcomed or thrown in the slammer for a certain amount of time. Adam found out that Georgia would welcome Atticus with no problem, whatsoever. But, he also had to make sure that since he had a layover in Turkey that Atticus would not be taken into custody and thrown into a Turkish kitty cat quarantine for a while. Adam had to have the vet examine Atticus, however, and sign the proper health certificate that he was a healthy cat. It was his passport, so to speak. He also had to have a USDA endorsement on the health certificate, I think.

2. Vaccinations and shit- While Atticus was at the vet’s office, he also had to have entry-required vaccinations that were quite expensive. I am sure one was the rabies vaccination and another may have been a feline shot. Throw in a prescription for kitty cat Xanax, and he was on his way.

3.. Pet carrier- Adam couldn’t just shove Atticus into the carrier that most people use. You know, the metal white carrier with the door and bars on the front.

No, Atticus had to have an expensive one that could be put under the seat on the plane.

I really liked the pet carrier Adam purchased. There was also a zippered compartment where he could put Atticus’s leash and Xanax..

4. I can not stress the Xanax enough. The vet wrote a prescription for Atticus. It was a “real people” Xanax that would calm Atticus down. Because, he had quite the adventure ahead. First of all, we had to travel by car for four house from West Virginia to  Dulles Airport, outside of Washington, D.C. Adam told the vet that Atticus freaked out in the car just to get to the vet’s office. After the drive, there would be a 2 1/2 hour wait for his international flight. The fight was then twelve hours to Istanbul, Turkey. There was going to be a seven hour layover before boarding again for another 1 1/2 hour flight and then the drive to the university. So, yeah, Atticus needed to be knocked out, or at least given an anti-anxiety drug. Hell, I would need to be knocked out for an itinerary like that.

5.  Pretty blue harness- Atticus could not wear just any collar. He would be able to slip right out of  a collar. Some people have their pet microchipped. That probably would have been a good idea for Atticus. I don’t think he had any identification on his body whatsoever. That probably wasn’t a good idea.

5. Animal diapers- Oh yes, Atticus was going to have to wear a diaper. It was going to be a long day. Adam quit feeding him right before we left for the airport and gave him 1/2 of a Xanax right before we left.

Ok, so we were ready to head to Dulles. Atticus was given a Xanax and Adam put the blue harness on him. He had a hard time walking with it on, and I have no idea why. We put the kitty litter box in the far back of the car since we were going to let Atticus hang out inside the car. I was going to drive while Adam played baby sitter to his cat.

Well, he was fantastic. The Xanax just made him mellow out and he sat on Adam’s lap the entire trip, listening to music and letting the air conditioner hit his face. He really enjoyed the air. When we pulled into the parking lot, Adam put a diaper on him, which was hysterical, because Atticus just lay on his back and let Adam put the damn thing on him. There was a hole for his tail. It was too small, so I am sure it came off during the flight.

Adam put Atticus in the cat carrier and we were on our way into the airport. I left as soon as he checked in with his airline and he was headed to security.

I drove the four hours home and while I was driving, got a text from Adam. I pulled over to read it, and smiled. Adam had to take Atticus out of the carrier and lead him through the x-ray machine at the security check-point, diaper and all. I hope someone was amused. Adam said the cat was excellent.

Adam has arrived in Tbilisi and sent me a Facebook message that they got in safe and sound and that Atticus did great. Of course, I read where there were only two pieces waiting at the baggage claim for Adam, instead of three. I sure hope it isn’t lost forever.

Because it could have been the suitcase that had Atticus’s kitty litter box and food.

In the end, if your pet must travel with you, make sure he will be comfortable. There is no way that Atticus could have gotten through everything that he had to go through if he was not doped up. Just sayin.

You tore up my couch and terrorized my cat, but I’m going to miss you, you little shit.

Red Rover, Red Rover, Let’s Mow Vickie Over

Ever wake up and see a clown sitting on the edge of your bed?  Pretty scary, right?  Well, that’s how I felt when someone mentioned playing  Red Rover.  I hated when we played that game when I was little. I mean, who invented this horrible little game? I’m thinking some German woman weightlifter named Olga.  It was bad enough that I had to sing about the plague with “Ring a round the Rosie”,  now I had to get a knot in my stomach every time Red Rover was mentioned.

“Oh, Dear God, Bozo, they want to play Red Rover today. What would you do?”

First of all, no one wanted me on their team.  Remember, I was anorexic skinny.  The other team loved not having me on their team, because they knew I was the weakest link. They didn’t even need to whisper, “Run through Vickie”…..or… “See that girl, the one with the shaking knees and…wait, ok, she was standing sideways,..anyway, see that girl with just a little bit of skin on her bones?… Yeah, the one who is crying…. She will let go of  Lee Ann’s  hand every time. Run at her!”

Now,you have to understand, I wasn’t bad at outdoor games. I was awesome at kickball. I didn’t have much power in the kick, mind you, but I could run.  I ran like a deer. A graceful anorexic deer. We played kickball in my neighborhood all of the time. In the street beside my house. I played Duck Duck Goose. (I’m laughing out loud at that one right now)… Mother May-I?…Freeze Tag….Red Light, Green Light….Hopscotch…Colored Eggs…..Do I need to go on?  Ok, I will.  Drop the Hankerchief….Hot Potato…Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?….Chinese Jump Rope (made mine with a bunch of rubber bands)…Ok, done..Wait..I really liked singing The Farmer in the Dell, but damnit, never got to be the cheese, standing alone….I remember one time when it was getting late, we started playing  Hide and Go Seek, and had Monica be it. We told her to count to 100 so we could find a great place to hide, and then we all went home..Yeah, that was my idea.

We would play outside all day long. We had to. Our moms kicked us out of the house. If we stayed in the house, we had to fold towels and do chores. We had freedom outside. The only times we ran in the house was to pee and to get money for the ice cream man. When we were very little, the whole neighborhood was pissed off at my mom because she called the ice cream trucks company and told them that the truck came when “her children” were taking a nap. How dare that ice cream truck. So, they came after dinner until we got older and didn’t take naps. What kind of pull did that woman have to get them to adjust their arrival times..Wow, what a witch…Anyway, the ice cream man came later…sigh…not when you were playing and it was hot, but after dinner, which  was not as gratifying. Thank goodness I was fairly liked by my friends, or they would be doing much worse things to me than trying to break my arm with Red Rover.

For any of you who have been living  in a bubble and have never experienced the painful game of Red Rover, let me tell you the rules. You get two lines of kids that don’t have anything else to do but inflict pain on each other, make them hold hands  and then you take turns calling someone over. “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Vickie over”  That person runs like hell and tries to break all the bones in your arm as the person you are holding hands with has a death grip on your hand and won’t let go.  And you know damn well they will try to run off-center and concentrate on Brittle Girl.  Every time.

In the end, all games foster cooperation and teamwork, teach social skills and help develop coordination for those who walk funny.

But, call me crazy, but I think Red Rover was a game for losers…..Yeah, that’s right….. Future loser bullies. Because it was those loser bullies who were the first to also want to play Dodge Ball.

Don’t even get me started on that brain-damage-inducing game.

Creative Play Sends Mom to Funny Farm

I love being a mother. I truly do. It is the best job in the world.  Sure, there are some days when you wonder if your children are idiots.  Or “Special.”  (Which means, retarded, but we can’t say that anymore)  Case in point, years ago, we  had just built our new house and we had just moved in. I had just scrubbed my kitchen floor earlier in the day and it was looking pretty. My husband and I had walked my brother-in-law out into the garage as he was getting ready to leave, when all of a sudden, Alex, who was only about 4,  came running out crying and pointing back into the house. “Mommy….unrecognizable blather….Adam”   I replied, “Ok, Alex, Mommy will be right in.”  I had no idea what the hell she just said, but if Adam was involved, it was going to be good.

We had a large kitchen with a dining nook and an eating bar on the island and on another eating bar by the family room. One big room. I walked into the family room, and Adam was standing still in the kitchen, like a marble statue. Like they were playing Freeze Tag and Alex quit and had walked away from him a while before. “What? I asked Adam. Then I saw it.  Shards of glass EVERYWHERE. Thousands upon thousands of mini pieces of glass, or shards, like I just said, all over the counter, all over the floor, all over Adam. Well, and in a path to the garage, because little Alex was covered in glass also.

“Oh my God!!!” Don’t move.  Adam, what happened?”  Now, you have to understand that Adam didn’t  really let anything bother him. I am sure he was thinking that it was an experiment that didn’t go too well. Like the time he and Alex covered their legs with toothpaste (Never found out what that was about). Or the time they poured the whole container of baby powder all over their bedroom in the old house because they didn’t want people to want to buy it. He wanted the  house to look “Yucky.” Well, son, it did look yucky, since the day before that, when you poured all of the cereal out of the boxes and stomped on it. Gave new meaning to “Snap, Crackle and Pop.” I had no idea he was trying to sabotage us selling the house. I just thought he was quite mental. Smooshing jelly beans into the carpet was a highlight.

I didn’t curse in front of my children. I really didn’t say a curse word in front of  them until Alex was in high school. Then, I realized I enjoyed it.  I curse all of the time now. Enjoy getting my friends to join in.   So, anywho, I didn’t curse that day, and I think even the most prim and proper person you can picture would have given their permission for me to spew out some expletives that day. “Adam, what did you dooooo?” (You idiot)

“We were sword fighting.”  Adam replied like it really wasn’t a bad idea.  “With what???” I couldn’t get to him, as he was surrounded by lovely pieces of glass shrapnel, intent on piercing and  living under the skin forever. This was just pissing me off.

“Light bulbs.”

Yes, my mad scientist son and his assistant, Igor, were sword fighting…with light bulbs. No, not the long ones that are flourescent bulbs, but the regular light bulbs. I believe they were  60 watt  bulbs. (Why am I mentioning that?)  Why would anyone in their right mind even think to sword fight with light bulbs. Pretzel sticks, perhaps, even soft, friendly Q-Tips. But not light bulbs. Right then I realized I was probably going to be put into a “home” before I was 60. (Only have 7 years to go.) And right then I realized that Adam’s elevator didn’t go to the top floor.  It went beyond.

I worked on that kitchen for hours. I first had to take their clothes off , examined their bodies, and I looked through their hair. Surprisingly, they had no glass there. I then handed each child to Jay, and he took them upstairs for bathtime. Even though they just had freakin bath time while my brother-in-law was downstairs talking to Jay. I then wiped off all of the counters. I swept the floor with a broom. I swept the floor with the vacuum cleaner. I then got masking tape and got on my hands and knees and put my face down close to the floor to look for pieces I missed and would dab them with the masking tape. Then I did the whole process all over again.  Each time I widened my circle. Hell, glass could have been in the cat dish for all I know. .All the while, I was trying to figure out why they would sword fight with light bulbs. I guess they went through a couple of the 4 packs.

The next week I stepped on an errant piece of glass that was out of my of cleaning  region.

“F&^%!  Son of a Bitch!!!”  No, didn’t make me feel any better. There was glass now living under my skin. I would be aware of it everytime I took a step. I talked to my mom, aka Joan Crawford later that day and told her what happened.

“Oh, those poor kids. Vickie, you should never leave kids alone, even for a second. You should know better than that.   They are so lucky that glass didn’t fly in their eyes and blind them. Why, I had THREE  kids and I never…………………………….(oops, hung up on her by mistake)

NOW I felt better.

MonkeyShines

Most, if not all of my adventures when I was growing up in Weirton, West Virginia, were with my best friend, Ramaine. She lived down the street from me, and we were attached at the hip.  We were in Camp Fire Girls together.  We rode the school bus together. We had a cabin in the woods together.  It seemed like we were laughing all day long.  My childhood was great because I had a best friend who was just like me. We lived outside the box, and had some very creative days.  And, boy, were we stylish… We even  bought white pants with pictures of the Monkees faces all over the pants.  We were weird, but knew how to laugh at ourselves.  We did that quite well. Sang the definition of “lima bean” into a tape recorder.  The word, “bored”, was not in our vocabulary. The only difference we had was that she was a gerbil person, and I was a hamster person.  Which lead us to the pet shop.

We used to visit the pet shop often.It was at the Weirton plaza, a little strip of stores near our homes. The guy had a lot of different animals at the pet shop.  One particular visit to the pet shop concluded in uncontrollable laughter, one that I can say  was the hardest I ever laughed in my whole life. Ramaine reminded me that we were in 8th grade when this happened. Dear God, she even remembers what she was wearing that day. Well, it was a day for the record books, that’s for sure.

The pet store was small, with a long counter with rows of animals in their little cages beneath it. The place was jammed with critters. I couldn’t bring myself to look at the snakes, though. There was even a mynah bird that cussed like you wouldn’t believe. It always amused me. But, on this particular day,  I was on my knees, looking at a mother hamster and newborns on the bottom row. Ramaine was standing, bent over a little, looking at something else, when all of a sudden she asked, “What’s on my head?”  I stood up, and my mouth dropped open.  I didn’t or couldn’t say a word. A spider monkey  had stepped off the top of the counter right onto her head. I really think I could have put my fist in my mouth.  “What’s on my head?” she repeated. Well, hell, I couldn’t answer. I mean, there was a monkey on her head. Just sitting there. Ramaine reached up to feel what was on her head, and the monkey swatted her hand away. “What’s on my head?”  She was expecting her bestest friend to give her an answer. She was panicking a little, starting to pace, and I  was not answering, but standing there with a big smile on my face. Ramaine tried to bend over, and that’s when the little fellow grabbed her hair with both little hands to hang on. That’s when I first started laughing.

“What’s on my head????”  Everytime her hand went up to feel what kind of creature was sitting there, he would release one hand from grasping onto her hair and slap it away. I couldn’t speak. I was laughing so hard. It was one of those silent, belly laughs, where you shake, but no sound comes out of your mouth. Now, Ramaine was pacing faster and moving her head, and bringing up her one leg for some reason, and that monkey was hanging on for dear life and I just couldn’t tell her that there was a monkey on her head.  It reminded me of  a little monkey jockey, riding something. I was in awe.  I had never seen a live monkey.  I did look around to see if a little old man with an organ grinder was standing nearby.

“VICKiE,  GET IT OFF!!  WHAT IS IT?  GET IT OFF!”  That monkey must have liked the view, because he had no intention of leaving Ramaine’s head.  She looked like she was having a seizure. Her arms and legs were flailing all about,  and the monkey was leaning to the left and then to the right, and would only take his hand off of the death grip on the her hair to swat at Ramaine.

I had to sit down on the floor. I started laughing so hard, I peed my pants. This is a recurring theme for me. Laugh. Pee. Repeat. “It’s a monkey….”  I finally was able to speak. “I peed my pants.”  Ramaine didn’t care. She had a monkey on her head.   The owner finally came over and had to pry the little monkeys fingers from her hair. It wasn’t working too well..  Finally, a banana (I think I am making this part up) was waved in front of  the monkey’s face and he left her head and went to sit on the owner’s shoulder. I found out later that the monkey’s name was Ginger. Ginger, I wish I had my camera that day.

I’m glad Ramaine was able to laugh about the whole thing on the way home. But, it was a nervous laugh, I could tell. I was sitting on a towel my mom brought for me and had to explain why, once again, I peed my pants. “I’m going to have to make an appointment for you to see Dr. Harper. There must be something wrong with your kidneys.”  No, did you not hear me?  There was a MONKEY on her head. I mean, come on.  Urination justification.

The Fish Head Story

My dad used to go fishing all of the time and would bring back live fish.  My mom would let them swim around in the large kitchen sink, and then she would chop their heads off and I would cry.  I can’t even tell you how many times I asked her not to chop off their heads, and just let them be my pets. You have to understand that I have an Ellie May Clampett love for animals.  I once went into anaphylaxic  shock from picking up a hornet that I accidentally brushed off my shoulder and that landed wounded on the pavement. It stung me on my cheek. (Yeah, I put it close to my face as I apologized to it.)  But, I love animals. My stuffed animals had a place to sleep each evening. Later in life (4 years ago, I had a physically challenged cricket that lived in my kitchen window. Don’t ask.)

When I was a freshman at Brooke High School, I thought I would recycle the next fish head, take it to school, and give it to my biology teacher. So, after my mom cut its head off, I wrapped it up and put it in the freezer. The next morning I took it out as soon as I woke up, because I didn’t want to forget it. Fish Head made the trip on the bus and I was all ready to give it to my biology teacher before school started. Major brownie points for the freshman.

Well, Fish Head didn’t make it to his classroom.  A bunch of us were standing around, talking, and I decided to take Fish Head out of its wrapping and show my friends before he went into the biology room. What I did next was unexpected and random.  I yelled across my little circle to a friend,  “Heather, think fast” and tossed the fish head to her. Why? Who knows how my brain thinks.

Well, old Fish Head went flying and Heather didn’t catch it. Instead, one of his teeth hooked onto a buttonhole on Heather’s blouse.  She had no idea what came flying at her, but she looked down, close to her neck, and saw a fish looking at her.  Heather started screaming, and old Fish Head started swinging back and forth. He must have started thawing out, because he had guts or something coming out of its head, and they were swinging too.  Was that a great throw, or what?

Heather was screaming a little too loud, and by this time I was laughing so hard, I peed my pants. I remember what I had on…brand new pair of red coulottes and I thought I looked hot. (or “tuff” as we said in 1971.) Well, until I peed my pants. I guess that is a turn-off.  I had to sit down on the floor because I was laughing so hard. I couldn’t stop.  Fish Head was still swinging and Heather was going into shock. Someone finally got the tooth unhooked and everyone involved (Heather, Fish Head, and me) went to the office.

While I was waiting for my mom to bring me clean clothes…and socks, I had to confess to the principal what I had done. But, I couldn’t even get the words out, because I was still laughing.  Well, laughter does tend to be contagious, and by the  end of my explanation, I had the principal, the secretary, and even Heather, laughing. The only one not laughing, was Fish Head, who was put in a garbage bag and taken away somewhere. Well, my mom wasn’t too happy either.  It wasn’t the first time I had peed my pants from laughing.  Not even close.

Riding With My Hand Out the Window

I get car sick.  Pukey Vickie.  I’m surprised that nickname didn’t stick.  When I was little I got sick on the school bus almost every day. When I did throw up, my best friend, Ramaine, would yell out loud for everyone to raise their feet (especially if we were ready to travel up a hill).  Sometimes I would run up to the front and throw up on the stairs. I guess I thought it would be confined and easier for the bus driver to clean up. Except for the fact that each child would be taking home a piece of me each day.  That’s why people should take their shoes off in their homes. Anywho,  I know the bus driver hated me.  A couple years later he ran over my Chihuahua, Smokey. I am sure he did it for revenge.  Poor Smokey.

My parents kept a bucket and a towel in the back seat for me. And kept the air conditioning running, even in the winter.  On top of that, I rode with my hand out the window.  That really helped.  Anyone who says this doesn’t work  is wrong.  And no longer my friend.   Needless to say, weekend jaunts down the Blue Ridge Parkway were quite fun.  That road had many hairpin turns. I  know that  I would think twice about going on back roads if I had a child that was pukey.  I guess if you live in West Virginia, you aren’t going to have straight roads.  My brother and sister pleaded with my parents to turn off the air conditioner.  Next trip they had a blanket.  Now that I think about it, they were always sick.  I didn’t care. What was important was my well-being.

When I was in fourth grade, my mom handed me a little green car sick pill. I took it every day for a long time. Didn’t really seem to work. I did quit vomiting when I started sitting in the front of the bus and started watching the road. The bus driver (new guy) would have the window opened up a tiny bit, so I sat there, looking straight ahead, with my little bony arm stretched up so my hand could greet the air. I was in business.  I didn’t find out until I was in my 30’s that the little green pill was a mild tranquilizer. The hell you say!   Mom said it was given to me because I couldn’t concentrate on anything and I was diagnosed with hyperactivity.  I’m thinking she diagnosed me.  Then she added, “That’s why I taught you how to play chess when you were in second grade.  You needed to learn to concentrate.”  Meanwhile, I’m concentrating how to murder her and get away with it.  I mean, seriously, a mild tranquilizer?  Ok, yeah, I was nicknamed Cricket when I was little because I hopped all over the place. I was like a little Mexican jumping bean.  But, I am sure I was endearing. To stifle that energetic creativity with a tranquilizer is just so wrong.

Nowadays, as a teacher, I can’t go on field trips unless I take Dramamine, sit in the front and stare ahead. People think that if you get car sick, once you are stopped and out of the car, you are ok. That’s not true. I’m sick for hours. So, I try to take the day off on field trip days. Yeah, my kids want me to go, because I am incredibly fun. But, seeing me with my hand out the window diminishes great teacher status.

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