Posts Tagged ‘West Virginia’

Bluey

We have been having quite the winter here in north central West Virginia.  Right now the wind chill is -15 and I have to go to Walmart. I hate the cold….and I hate Walmart, so I’m not looking forward to venturing out in this Siberian express of a mess. It just takes me back to when I was a child.

I might as well just get to the point. The neighborhood kids called me Bluey.  Oh, not all the kids, just the older boys who went sled riding down our backyard hill without permission. We lived in a subdivision on a corner lot with a decent hill with a nice bump in the middle which could make your sled jump in the air. It was hard to keep the neighborhood thugs away. And I call them thugs because they called me Bluey. 

You have to understand I looked like a poster child for anorexia, except for the fact  I really did eat. I loved homemade bread and ketchup sandwiches. Of course that has nothing to do why I was called Bluey, but everything to do with the fact I probably did just enough to keep a bird alive. I had to hear that idiom all the time.

“She is so skinny.  I bet she doesn’t eat enough to keep a bird alive.” I have yet to see a starving bird sitting on a sidewalk… Will fly for food.

So, yeah, I was quite skinny and my lips would turn blue when I got cold. My fingernails would also turn blue, but they were usually hidden under my mittens I was wearing at the time. I had mittens with the long connecting string that my mom would weave through the sleeves of my coat so I wouldn’t lose them. Of course, I did lose them at times, which even I have no idea how I accomplished that feat.

So, my mom would bundle us up while smoking a Salem cigarette in one hand until she had to zipper our coats, and that’s when she would put the cigarette in her mouth and try to talk out of  the corner of her mouth at the same time.

“Vickie, quit squirming.”

I was squirming because the smoke from the Salem cigarette was entering my nose and heading down to visit my weak, naive lungs. Well, I also didn’t want to go outside…… I really didn’t want to go outside.

But, it was a chance for my mom to sit at the table, drinking her Maxwell House coffee and smoking her beloved Salem cigarettes in peace as she had one child who was nicknamed Cricket  because she was so hyperactive, (and sometimes nicknamed Bluey by neighborhood thugs) and another child who could move objects with her mind in the middle of  a multitude of daily temper tantrums. The only normal child, my brother, couldn’t wait to get outside and sled ride all day long.  I can’t even tell you how many times he walked back up that hill after flying through the air down the hill. No, I can’t even tell you because I didn’t stay out there long enough to count past 3.

Yes, Bluey  here had a self- imposed time limit of outdoor winter fun: approximately 15 minutes or the time it takes to roll the bottom layer of a snowman. I never got to put a damn carrot into a snowman’s head. I always asked for a carrot, but would usually pass it to my sister or my friends who came up the street to play with me. They knew the routine all to well. Plus, I also had to pee as soon as I put on my snow suit.

And what really sucked is the fact that my mom,  now calm after being separated from a hyper Mexican jumping bean and a destructive screaming meemie for a little bit, would make us hot chocolate when we came in. I hated hot chocolate. I hated chocolate milk. She knew this.

“Vickie, don’t wrinkle up your nose, it will stick like that one day.”  (I’m 58 and it hasn’t stuck yet, Mom.)

“Vickie, just try the hot chocolate. It will warm you up.”   Uh, I don’t see that happening……See, this is why I was hyperactive. My mom was constantly enabling my active nature with more sugar.

So, I would just grab a handful of those little tiny marshmallows that for some reason are put in a cup of hot chocolate like a garnish, I guess. I never did understand how the hell hot chocolate and marshmallows went together. Does it remind people of tiny snowman parts floating in a hot chocolate bath? I didn’t get it.

In the end, I guess some people just love the snow and cold and learn how to ski and snow board and become  outdoor winter enthusiasts for the rest of their lives. I ain’t one of those people. I apologize for using bad grammar, but it seemed appropriate as I was writing.  I ain’t one of those people.

If I were smart, which apparently, I am not, I would own one of those fancy remote starters so I could start my car from the school building I teach in.  I am also not smart enough to own a scraper/brush and I have to use my $.99 Walmart gloves to wipe the snow off of my windows.  I don’t buy expensive gloves because, like sock monsters, there is something stealing just one of my gloves on all occasions. I need connecting mittens. I  also wish I could hire one of the kids who wait for the last bus to scrape my windows, but I am sure there are child labor laws for that kind of thing.

So, sitting here today, under a quilt and wearing a sweater on top of a sweater, I notice my fingernails are a little blue. Ok, that’s a lie. I have the heat cranked up to 72 degrees. My townhouse is three levels and my living room is directly above the garage, and seeing that heat rises, it is a sauna on the bedroom floor, and chilly on the living room level.  It’s cold.

So, this Bluey has decided to let the mail pile up for a few days. I will open the sliding door to my deck in order to fling bread out to the waiting crows, but that’s about it. We are under a winter storm warning tomorrow with a forecast of 5-8 inches of snow headed this way. You won’t see me heading to Snowshoe with skis strapped on the top of my car. No sir re Bob.

I hate the cold.

I hate snow.

And I still hate those thugs who called me Bluey……  I can hold a grudge.

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I may not like to build snowmen, but I pass judgement on them. This guy has no nose. This kid gets a B-.

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This is about what my snowmen looked like, minus the head.

 

 

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.

Blackwater Falls

I am ready to move to a warmer climate. I am tired of snow, spinning tires, and 2 hour school delays. But, despite this long snap of frigid weather and mounting snow drifts, I still find inspiration to get in my car and snap some photos. It would be much easier to snap pictures during the other three seasons, when I actually want to get out of my car for different angles, but right now I am basically a “shoot from the car window”  kind of pretend photographer.

When my son was in for Christmas, we decided to drive to Blackwater Falls right after a frigid couple of days. We wanted to see if the falls were frozen. What was I thinking?

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We stopped to take photos of this lovely old house.

Blackwater State Park is located in the Allegheny Mountains of Tucker County, West Virginia near the town of Davis. The park is about 1 1/2 hours away from my home.  It is named for the cascading falls of the Blackwater River, whose amber-colored waters plunge 62 feet and then tumble through the Blackwater Canyon, which is roughly an eight mile long gorge. The so-called “black” water is from tannic acid from the nearby fallen hemlock along with red spruce needles.

According to wvencyclopedia.org

“The river enters Blackwater Falls State Park at an elevation of 3,040 feet. For the next 2.2 miles it is a wild river, dropping 57 feet at the main falls and then descending another 560 feet, before leaving the park. The river, geologically young, has carved the spectacular, deep, and almost vertical walls of Blackwater Canyon, which cuts through the surrounding plateau. Blackwater Lodge opened in 1956 on the south rim of the canyon, and a 65-site campground was opened in 1961. The state park, consisting of 1,688 acres, was established in 1937.”

I have never been to the falls in the winter. Summer is a beautiful time to visit the whole area, but we wanted to see what it looked like after a few days of frigid temperatures. I was not too smart and wore tennis shoes and my gloves might as well have been made of thin cotton. But, I had my camera and it was great having my son along with me.

We arrived at the falls parking lot and were surprised to see so many cars. I thought we would be all alone, seeing that it was so cold. I noticed license plates from Virginia, New York, Delaware, and Ohio among the many from West Virginia.

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Did I mention there were 214 steps to get down to the falls? I hadn’t been there in years and hoped the slipping and sliding would be worth it.

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It was a beautiful walk and I was so happy the wind was calm. I am not a fan of cold, but I trudged on, hoping the falls would not disappoint.

They didn’t There were parts that were frozen, but a majority of the falls were plunging, business as usual. I was taken back by the surrounding beauty. This was a winter wonderland, no doubt about it.

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Trees in the canyon below showed the beauty of winter.

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My son is a great photographer. His photos look a lot better than mine.

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Blackwater Falls, one of the most photographed areas in the state.

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So, if you go down, you must go back up. In all honesty, the stairs that snaked their way down to the falls had many platforms along the wall. There were benches and different viewing areas for those who did not want to take the whole journey. It was not bad, and I am a complainer.

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My son was able to make this snowman while he waited for me at the top of the stairs..just kidding. I did fine. But, we felt we deserved a break, so we stopped at the Mountain State Brewing Co. for a beer.

 

IMG_3945All in all, I was glad we ventured into the mountains to visit Blackwater Falls. The best part, though, was spending the day with my son.

 

Driving Through Manhattan

My daughter usually takes the Megabus or Greyhound from New York City when she comes home to West Virginia for a visit. I don’t know what got into me this last visit, but I offered to drive her back to her upper East Side apartment so she wouldn’t have to take the bus back. Why did I do that?

I never wanted to drive in New York City. I have been there now about seven times to visit my daughter, and the traffic is a nightmare. I have either taken a plane or Amtrak, but knew I would never drive into Manhattan. Oh, I don’t mind sitting in traffic. That doesn’t bother me. What bothers me about New York City traffic is how other drivers don’t seem to mind cutting people off.  It should be called Sideswipe City.

But, I prepared myself. I had my trusting  GPS system, which I named Maggie, and I marked the route I wanted to take to avoid most of downtown Manhattan. She lives in Yorkville, which is in the upper east side. I was ready.

It was a nice drive for the most part. I really enjoy driving on Route 68 through Maryland. I have driven that route many times. But, I then had to turn north and head on Interstate 81 and then Interstate 78 in Pennsylvania and immediately noticed the heavy volume of long haul trucks. I mean, it was like being in the middle of a truck parade, minus truckers throwing candy out of their windows.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind driving in the least. I love taking road trips, but I had to wonder if this interstate is a main thoroughfare for truckers. Not only where there many many trucks, but there was a huge debris field of rubber tire pieces lying in the road and off to the side. It was a tire graveyard in some respects. Oh, sure, I see tire pieces along our Interstate 79 all the time, but this was different.  And then we got to see one in the making.

A truck had blown a tire and as we passed him we could see the tire shred right before our eyes. He managed to get off to the right side of the road, but not until he left a wake of rubbery debris in the middle of the road. It’s a wonder it didn’t fly up and hit another car.

Well, as I thought about this, a car in front of us ran over another tire shred and it flew up in the air and came right at us. And there was nothing we could do. It hit my front passenger headlight and then went under my car. Thank goodness it didn’t hit the windshield. I looked in my rear view mirror to make sure nothing was punctured and we continued on our semi-merry way.

As we approached New York City, after about 7 hours on the road, my GPS told me to take the next right. I looked up at the road sign that clearly said to stay on this road, as I needed to take the George Washington Bridge, but my daughter told me to follow what Maggie is saying.

Where are you , bridge?

Well, Maggie was banned to the glove compartment after she took us down by some loading docks along the river in New Jersey. This is after she made me go through a toll. I immediately turned around  as I  knew something was very wrong.  Maggie then took me the wrong way on the toll road.

“Dammit, Maggie, I don’t want to go West.”

After paying a toll three different times, I  found myself in front of the Holland Tunnel……..the $13 entrance fee Holland Tunnel. Seriously? It costs that much money to drive through a damn tunnel?  I was mad at Maggie, who made me backtrack three times and pay a toll three times only to drive me to the $13 Holland Tunnel. This is where she went into the glove compartment.

The Holland Tunnel is considered to be one of the most high-risk terrorist target sites in the United States. Is that why I had to pay $13 to travel through it? I didn’t understand.

Did not want to go this way…sigh

This was not good. The George Washington Bridge would have taken me along New Jersey and I would have been able to drop down from north Manhattan right onto the FDR Parkway, avoiding those mean Manhattan streets. But, now, with traveling through the Holland Tunnel, I would be deposited onto South Manhattan, where the street names don’t start with a number yet…..and I had to travel all the way to 95th Street. Great.

My daughter didn’t recognize any of the streets at first, but quickly got her bearings. I began seeing NYU flags on some of the downtown buildings, so I knew she would be able to pin our location. We were on the west side of town and we needed to get over to 1st Avenue, which would take us to her apartment. We passed through Greenwich Village via my daughter’s directions. I hoped she was going to do a better job than Maggie. After all, the glove compartment was too small for my daughter. I put my trust in the fact that this was her city and she was taking me on the right roads.

The traffic wasn’t so bad on the side streets. Oh, it was congested with a mix of cars and people on bikes with no bike lane, but it was manageable. You have to understand that I did not want to do this.  I was adamant in the fact that I was never going to drive through Manhattan. If there was a bucket list for things not to do before one dies, this would be #1 on my list. But, I now had no choice. I was in Manhattan…..in a car.  I’m not Catholic, but felt like doing the sign of the cross as we approached 1st Avenue.

Once we turned left on 1st Avenue, I gripped the steering wheel and charged on.

Drivers in this city are crazy. The best advice I can give is to never hesitate. Once you hesitate, a double decker sight-seeing bus will pull into your lane, even if you are there. I had to honk my horn, which is illegal in many places in Manhattan. We were almost side-swiped  more times than I can count on my fingers. Taxi drivers must have their own laws, bikers zipped in and out of traffic, and buses think they are the only ones on the road.

I found out quickly not to drive in the far left lane as delivery trucks will just stop there to unload and then you are stuck. People won’t let you back into traffic. Motorists in New York City aren’t courteous. They have places to go and people to see. My license plate clearly stated I was from West Virginia. And I was being eaten alive. I think other drivers smelled my weakness, as they were changing lanes right on top of me. I hope that some day they had to drive through West Virginia and were stuck on the top of Mt. Storm after a heavy snowfall. Yeah, city drivers, take that.

My daughter was nervous, as she was the passenger and on the side where most of the potential side-swiping was taking place. After driving about 45 blocks, with about 50 more long blocks to go, my daughter, who was holding on to something on her side of the car, looked over at me when we stopped at a red light and said:

“You’re sitting there, smiling, you weird-o.”

I was smiling. I couldn’t help it. I was driving in New York City! I guess I was having fun with the realization that I was doing something so brave, so daring, as to actually drive 95+ blocks through Manhattan. I deserved a prize or something. I was not scared at all. In fact, I was kind of enjoying the drive. I have been a guest in a taxi numerous times on these streets, sometimes wondering if I was going to arrive alive, but this time I was in charge of my own fate in my naive West Virginia Subaru.

I arrived on her street with no new dents or scratches. I was just going to drop her off and get the hell out of the city before rush hour.  But, she talked me into staying and I found a place to park on the street just one street over. We had a nice afternoon in Central Park north and we headed to a great Thai restaurant that is a requirement each time I visit.

I left the next morning at 4:15, hoping to beat morning traffic. This city never sleeps.  I followed the FDR right over the George Washington Bridge and back the way I was supposed to travel on my way in. It was so much easier.

But, I would never have had this experience. I can honestly say I drove through New York City.

Thanks Maggie. I may let you out of the glove compartment next trip.

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 Trip, Day 6: Banff Gondola, Upper Springs, Moraine Lake

I woke up very early because I had to jam a visit to the top of Sulphur Mountain via the Banff gondola before check-out time. There was much to see and do before my transfer to Lake Louise after lunch. So, I took a shower and off I went after another enjoyable breakfast at the Rimrock. I had a voucher, courtesy of Fresh Tracks Canada.

Sulphur Mountain is basically right up the road from the Rimrock Resort.  I could either wait for the ROAM bus, which would be free, courtesy of the Rimrock, or I could walk. All I knew is that I had to get to the top of Sulphur Mountain because I had heard the view from the top was absolutely stunning.  Everything I had seen thus far has been stunning. Actually, I have run out of adjectives. I am in awe.  I had my camera and off I went.

It was a quick walk to the gondola, only about 5 minutes.

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The views were amazing just on this short walk.

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Since I was early, there was a short line. A tour group from China was in front of me, but the gondolas came and went quickly.  I gave the person at the window my voucher and received my ticket. If you take the Banff Gondola, make sure you keep your ticket, as there is a charge to go up and a charge to go down. If you buy the combined ticket, keep it. A lot of people  who visit hike to the top and then purchase a ticket to go down.

The gondola, a four passenger cabin, is tiny, and rocks a bit while going up Sulphur Mountain. It is an 8 minute ride up the mountain in the cable car to the summit of Sulphur Mountain….2,292 ft. almost perpendcular.  On top, at the Summit Upper Terminal, I was standing at an elevation of 7,486 feet. I’m quite sure I have never been to a higher elevation. The highest mountain in West Virginia is Spruce Knob, which is 4,863 feet in elevation, also the highest in the Allegheny Mountains. But, this view is to die for. Every which way I turned, I found a majestic mountain view. Do I really have to leave here today?

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One gets a bird’s eye view of six mountain ranges. We could see Cascade and Tunnel Mountains, plus the whole town of Banff. Tunnel Mountain was first called, “Sleeping Buffalo” because, well, it looked like a sleeping buffalo from the north. As for Tunnel Mountain, it’s a great name considering there is no tunnel through the mountain. There were plans years ago to put the railroad through the mountain, but it was not cost efficient.

View from the gondola

View from the gondola

Up at the summit, the visitor’s centre contains restaurants, gift shops, and an observatory up at the top for the best view. I could see the Banff Summit Walk, which must have taken forever to complete the decking. I could see a small buiding on top of the next mountain, Sanson Peak.

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There are two research facilities up on the top of the mountain. The Banff SummitWalk  leads to the Cosmic Ray Station National Historic Site of Canada, and the Sanson’s Peak Meterological Station. In 1903, a meteorological observatory building was completed atop Sanson Peak. The stone building is still there and since I am a weather dork, I wanted to peek inside. First, though, I wanted to get a better look. I didn’t have a lot of time and had no idea how long the hike would take over to Sanson Peak.

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I don’t know about this. I looked at the walkway and walked down a lot of steps. There were benches at each landing. It looks like this is an interpretive trail, as I am reading markers full of information at each landing.

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I decided that I just didn’t have enough time to hike over and up, so I concentrated on getting my pictures of the view from where I was standing.

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I zoomed in on the Banff Springs Hotel, a beautiful building. I was supposed to stay here, but changed my plans for the Rimrock due to its proximity to the gondola and hot springs, which I plan to visit after descending this mountain.

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I headed inside and climbed the stairs to the Observatory deck. The views were even more impressive.

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To see the view from the top, check out the Banff National Park webcam

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Town of Banff

Town of Banff

There is an interactive giant compass located at the top of the Upper Summit Terminal. I enjoyed taking a picture of this compass. You are able to find out the distance and direction to your home and other cities around the world.

This is for my daughter, who lives in NYC

This is for my daughter, who lives in NYC

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Is that West Virginia? :)

Is that West Virginia? 🙂

Since I wanted to visit one more place before I left Banff, I got back in the short line for my trip down Sulphur Mountain. I tried to take a picture of the Rimrock, but it was a bit blurry because the darn tiny bucket of a gondola was swinging just a bit.

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Once off the gondola, I started the short hike over to Banff Upper Hot Springs.

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It really didn’t take too long to get there from the Banff Gondola. I would say it was a 5 minute walk, maybe shorter. I tend to stroll when I like the surroundings and there’s a nice shade along the path. Since it was morning, it was crisp and just a really nice leisurely walk to the hot springs. You do go through a small section of a parking lot before you reach this sign.

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The mountain was named in 1916 for the hot springs found in the area. I walked over to the water coming out of the mountain in the picture above and immediately smelled sulphur, hence the name, Sulphur Mountain. Banff Upper Springs opens early and closes around 11pm, so if you have time to soak your weary bones, the time frame is wide open to you.

The water temperature is kept between 37 and 40 degrees Celsius or in my world, 98 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit

The hot springs in Banff National Park are what made Banff so famous in the first place. It is the reason the Banff Springs Hotel was built. At first, there was a railroad that was built right to the hotel for guests who wanted to visit the warming powers of the hot springs.  Guests came here for the medicinal waters and would take a dip year round as had an ideal temperature for soaking throughout the seasons. They are the highest springs in Canada.

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After taking a few pictures of the springs, I noticed the hotel was directly across the road. I could see it through the trees. So, I saw a long wooden ramp and thought I would try to take it to see if it leads down to the main road. There weren’t any signs, but I knew it was there for a reason. I was right. It took me to the bus stop and all I had to do was walk across the street.

Speaking of the bus, Banff became the first municipality in all of Canada to use an all-hybird electric transit bus. All four of the buses have wildlife imagery all the way around it, with pictures of grizzlies, wolves, elk, goats, fox, deer and moose looking at me as the buses pass by. It’s a convenient schedule and I never had to wait for more than 5 minutes until the next Roam bus appeared. Maybe I just have great timing.

I went to my room and packed. Check-out time is 12 noon, which is great for me. Sun Dog Tours will be picking me up for a transfer tour to Lake Louise at 1:30. I will have time to hang out in the lobby and write.

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I found the perfect spot by an open door leading to a terrace. The fresh mountain air combined with great scenery of the surrounding mountains made for an easy wait.

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The doorman, Jeff, or Geoff, or maybe I am wrong as I only heard him say, “with 2 f’s,” so I guess I made the assumption his name was Jeff. Could be Ralff, perhaps, but anyway, Jeff came over and we began talking about Banff. He knew a lot about West Virginia, which surprised me, I guess. He told me Banff is indeed wonderful, but not if I don’t like snow.

I don’t like snow. Darn. There goes my dream of moving here when I retire. All kidding aside, I would move to this area in a heartbeat. I am over the moon with the Canadian Rockies. West Virginia is known as the Mountain State, but in all honesty, in comparison maybe we should adjust that moniker to the “Mound State.” The Rockies reach high into the sky, poking right through the clouds. I have decided I am no longer a “beach person.”

I took a final picture of the Rimrock before I had to leave. This was a great hotel.

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A Sun Dog Tour bus pulled up at exactly 1:30. This promptness is just unacceptable. It made me smile, because I have never seen such promptness as I have witnessed on this trip. Bravo, Canadian work force.

There would be only 4 others joining us on the transfer tour to Lake Louise. When I climbed on board, I saw a couple from Texas who were on the Rocky Mountaineer with me in the same carriage. We then stopped at Banff Springs Hotel to pick up another couple.

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How ironic. They were also on the Rocky Mountaineer, sitting just a few rows in front of me. They were from England. After we got settled and began our trip to Lake Louise, we discovered we were all using Fresh Tracks Canada for our trips. We discussed how wonderful it was to use such a wonderful travel company. I told them that what drew me to call them in the first place was the fact that I liked their polar bear on the front page of their web site. You know, sometimes it’s just those little things that make you decide upon something. So glad I did. There is no doubt I will be using them for any future Canadian adventure I hope to take.

Our tour guide asked if we minded taking a side trip to Moraine Lake as she needed to take the couple from England there. Are you kidding me? Can this vacation get any better? I was wishing I had more time on this Canadian Rockies adventure to visit the Cave and Basin National Historical Site in Banff and Moraine Lake. The Cave and Basin is one of nine sulphurous hot springs clustered in three groups near Sulphur Mountain. Since I already saw one, I will visit The Cave and Basin on my next trip to the area. (See, already wanting to come back.) But, I will get to see this beautiful lake, even though we will only have a few minutes to get out of the bus and snap some shots. I’m a lucky duck.

We first went by Castle Mountain. The tour guide tried to go a back road, but the route was closed due to the recent flooding and mudslides. So, we had to turn around. I did get a photo of Castle Mountain from a closer vantage point.

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We were near Lake Louise and took the left towards Moraine Lake. The sign said “11km.” It was a nice drive. Our tour guide told us the road is closed in the winter and used as a cross country ski trail. The thought of snow closing a road made me shudder. They must get an awful lot of snow up here.

Finally, we reach the sparkling blue Moraine Lake. It was stunning.

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From where I stood Moraine Lake did not look so large, but looks are deceiving. It is a large lake. It is situated in the valley of the Ten Peaks, although being at an elevation of 6,183 feet does not seem like a valley. The photo does not do it justice. I even looked it up on Google Earth when I got home to see if looks were indeed deceiving. Indeed. It is spectacular. As I have learned earlier on this trip, the color is due to the refraction of light off the rock flour deposited in the lake on a continual basis.

After dropping off the couple from England and snapping a few pictures from this one end of the lake, we are on our way to Lake Louise, where I will spend the rest of the day exploring the lake.

Next up: Canadian Rockies, Day 6, 7: Lake Louise

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.

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.”

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.

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.

CSI: West Virginia

If you are a mom, you have to wear many hats. You are (in one long breath), a doctor, a nurse, a vet, a teacher, a psychic, a story teller, a cop, a beautician and barber, a chef, an EMT, a genealogist, a bodyguard, a maid, a professional organizer, a seamstress/costume designer, a personal shopper, a referee, a fashion coordinator and a chauffer. I would like to add another to the long list of  jobs that mothers perform daily :  crime scene investigator.

You may not think that mothers should put crime scene investigator on their resume, but I beg to differ. Case in point: The Case of the Smeared Ladybugs. It was a new case that I was working on for a few weeks. I had just finished solving,  The Case of the Baby Powder all Over the Carpet with an arrest in that one.

I had two suspects in that case: Big Boy Adam Jay, a curly red-haired punk, age 6.  He’s been downtown at the station several times.  We had his mug shot hanging up all over the place.  He knew the ropes.  The kid  knew how to use his noodle.  I soon found out  he had an accomplice, Baby Face Alex. Alex was Big Boy’s sister. She was 5 years old. Soon, she was singing like a canary.  Big Boy called her a Stool pigeon. I told him to shut his yap. She didn’t want to go to the big house.

During interrogations under the lights, Alex spilled her guts. She fingered Big Boy as the culprit. He was the brains of the operation. In a nutshell, Baby Face told me that they didn’t want to move. It was explained that the new house was almost complete and that she and her brother were to box up their possessions for the move to the country. They talked and decided to sabatoge the house-selling process. Big Boy figured that if they made the house “ugly and smelly”, no one would want to buy it. So, one night, they took a large container of Johnson and Johnson Baby Powder, and sprinkled it all over  their bedroom carpet, beds, and dressers. It looked like snow on Christmas morning.

During the investigation, I also found smashed jelly beans in the carpet throughout the house. They also put Match box cars on the steps leading to the second floor  for the prospective buyers to trip on and tumble down the stairs to their death.  The cars appeared their daily, but the two denied any involvement. I had to interrogate the only other occupant in the house that could have been responsible, their father, Clueless Jay. He wasn’t aware there was a second floor.

After I shut the books on that case, and we made our move to the country, so our children could lead a normal life away from the big crime city of Monongah, population 345 1/2 (Don’t ask) , I noticed a smashed lady bug on my kitchen nook window. Somehow lady bugs entered our new home and enjoyed crawling on my nice, clean windows. Someone had murdered the lipstick-red insect. It appeared upon further investigation, that the perpetrator put his or her finger directly on the lady bug, crushing it to the window,

and then smearing its remains down the window for approximately 4 inches. Someone in the new house was a cold-blooded killer.

a line-up, several years and 4 cases later

This did not sit well with me. After all, Jeffrey Dahmer started off by taking wings off of butterflies. Soon, he was eating people. I had to nip this in the bud. First, lady bugs, and then the killer would move on to ant hills or earthworms. I was an animal lover. A lady bug has worth, and perhaps some bug children somewhere else in the house.

I immediately ruled out Baby Face Alex. I knew she had it in her heart not to hurt anything. Her stuffed animal dog buddy, Fluffy, recently fell off of her bed and Baby Face cried  because, “Fluffy is paralyzed.”  I was impressed by the kid’s vocabulary. So, I eliminated her as a suspect. I interrogated Clueless Jay, who had no idea what a nook was. My only other suspect was Big Boy, and he didn’t squeal. He denied any involvement, especially after my “all animals have feelings” talk. I saw him crying outside , while playing with his Tonka trucks. Good. That meant there was still time before we had to start calling him Jeffrey.

But, he still wouldn’t budge. So, I  brought out the big guns. I had Scotch tape and powdered sugar. And a big ole lie. I brought them into the kitchen nook.

“Big Boy, Baby Face, this is how I am going to find out who killed the lady bug and smeared it down the window.  I am going to take some of this powder I got from a police officer and lightly put it in the smear.”  I took some powder and brushed it with one of those little plastic watercolor brushes onto the lady bug guts. “Now, I will take a piece of tape and press it against the window. I will leave it on their for exactly one minute. This will then give me a fingerprint.”  I looked at my watch for a minute. ” Ok, now I will carefully peel the tape off of the window and hang it in the air for 30 seconds.”  Some more watch looking. “Ok, now, I have fingerprints of the person who smeared the lady bug.  The police officer told me that after I do this, it will only take about 10 seconds for the white powder to appear on the finger of the person who did this.”

As soon as I said that, Big Boy Adam brought his hands up and looked at his fingers. “Gotcha!” I said to him. The procedure made absolutely no sense, and that’s what made it brilliant. Score one for the mom.

And that’s how I solved The Case of the Smashed Ladybug.  Big Boy and Baby Face grew up to be upstanding citizens and although there were a few more cases I will delve into at a later time, they never spent any time in the big house. And that’s because of yet another hat I wore.

So, yeah, mom’s should add crime scene investigator to their portfolio. And we should all get to look like Marg Helgenberger.

Alice (and Ducks) in Wonderland

When I was in college I majored in Speech Communication and Drama (the first time around) and had to participate in one-act plays and stage productions. One of the big productions put on was Alice in Wonderland. So, my good friend and roommate, Jeri, and I went to try out.  When the parts came out, we looked down the list to see what parts we got. We knew we would get a part, because it was a pretty big cast.  We were hoping for a big part. Jeri won the role of the Red Queen. I was very happy for her. I secretly wanted to be Alice. I looked for my name. Yeah, there it was………….Vickie Mendenhall…………..Duck/card

I was a duck. Yeah, a duck. And a card. Like in a deck of cards. Wow. This was….such great news. (I am being extremely sarcastic, in case you can’t tell.) I mean, what the hell?  A duck?  And then, I had to change out of my duck costume, and don a card costume, and then back into the duck costume.  Oh, and it gets better.

Our director wanted to use a real baby pig for the part where the baby turns into a pig. She said that she had made arrangements for a farmer to lend us a baby pig, but needed someone to be in charge of doing the switch behind the curtain when it was time. She called out people who were free during that time, and my name was called. Well, I loved baby pigs. I had a pig collection in high school. Some people collect Pez and baseball cards. I collected pigs..Go figure..

Anywho, I raised my hand and said that I would be willing to do the pig switch, despite the fact that I had to be a duck, then a card, and then a duck. I would try to find the time. But, oh my God, there were problems.

After my initial disappointment, of you know, being a duck in a play…in college, I decided to  embrace it and be the best damn duck anyone had ever seen…because, I was a professional, damnit…sigh

I had to have a costume made for me. A duck costume. At least my face would show and I wouldn’t be hidden behind a duck head. I did look  like a duck, with yellow chicken legs and big feet. The feet would pose a problem in every performance. Meanwhile, the director couldn’t find anyone to take the little piggie home each evening. She didn’t think about that. So, she decided to keep it in her office. Yeah, real smart. Her office smelled like hay and piggie poop.

So, the night of dress rehearsal went smoothly. I decided to ad lib something while on stage both times I was on as the duck and I thought the director would stop everything and yell at me, but I heard her laughing in the seats. Someone who was sitting by her told me she was crying she was laughing so hard. I had to be in a scene with a jury of animals, like a mouse, and I don’t know what other animals were jury members. Some one used pepper somehow and we all had to sneeze, just a little sneeze. But, I made mine last forever, like I was trying to sneeze, over and over, and sounding like a munchkin from munchkinland at the same time. (I really could have been a voice-over for cartoons.)

Another time Alice was passing out candy to animals for some stupid reason and we were just supposed to take the candy and go stand back in the line. Well, I decided to stand there, fidgeting, holding out my hand each time , even though we were in a line, and then I looked at Alice with my eyes crossed and said thank you in my munchkin voice, and the girl playing Alice burst out laughing. Uh, Oh, I was going to get yelled at. But, the director told me to leave it in there for the performances. I was going to be a duck hit.

Well, the performance the next night was filled with some problems. Everything ran smoothly, but only because I am a professional, damnit. After I was onstage as a duck, I had to run downstairs and get the pig, in my duck outfit. And carry the thing upstairs. The farmer had showed me to hold the pig by its back feet with one hand and to put my other hand on its chest. He said hanging it upside down like that would pull on its vocal cords and it couldn’t squeal. Well, that part was true, and the pig did great. We made the exchange each time without a squealing pig behind stage before it was time. But, each time the pig had to run off stage and Vickie the duck had to run after it each time, catch it and take it back downstairs. Then I had to run back upstairs, and change into my card outfit.

Well, I tripped going up the stairs in my duck outfit and landed on my knee. The pain was unbelievable. It hurt so badly and I still had to be a card and a duck again. I was crying some real duck tears. Well, some older guy who was a community member who was some animal (I can’t remember), told me he had a pain pill and that I should take it. So, I did. Yeah, I am a stupid duck. I only weighed 100 pounds and I was loopy for the rest of the performance. I mean, very loopy. I didn’t really know what was going on. He probably gave me some LSD or something….Pyschedelic Duck….perhaps a Disco Duck…

The audience cracked up at my scene-stealing, but I was soo messed up. Then, Mr. Wallman, the old man that our theater building was named after, Wallman Hall, came looking for me. “Where’s that little girl duck?” he asked frantically. “I opened the door to Ms. Lough’s office, and the pig ran out.”  Yeah, the pig was on the loose.  We didn’t need the piglet anymore that night, and I had to change into a card, so poor Mr. Wallman had to hunt for the piggie on his own.

Well, they didn’t find the piglet for hours afterwards. They thought maybe someone stole it, but they found it sleeping in the costume room, all curled up in a hat. Weird, but not as weird as how I was feeling. I had no pain in my knee until I woke up the next morning. I woke up wearing a robe. I don’t even remember how I got home or how I got undressed. But, when I woke up, my leg was swollen and I was in pain. So, yeah, I took another pill that next performance, but cut it in half. I mean, no one else could fit in the outfit. I had the duck voice going on and people asking me afterwards what I had in my mouth to make me sound the way I did. I was like a Peter Frampton “How do you Feel?” voice changer duck..I had to perform. The show had to go on!

Some one filmed Alice in Wonderland and I wish I would have purchased a copy of it. My kids would see a high duck with ripped yellow hose (which the director loved) parading around on stage looking like….a duck.

I realized after that last performance that I could be an actress if I really wanted to.  But, no, I decided to stay in Fairmont, West Virginia, and become a dental assistant for the next four years. Yeah, that sounds much better.

What a lucky duck!

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.

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.

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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