Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The John Prine connection

Sometimes on a day when I'm out-of-sorts or blue, a John Prine song will start playing on my Pandora folk station and turn my attitude, and my day, around.  The man is a lyrical genius, and some of his light-hearted songs leave me smiling for hours after I've heard them, songs like "Spanish Pipedream" or "Illegal Smile" (which he says was not about smoking pot).  Others of his songs leave me almost teary-eyed:  "Sam Stone" and "Hello in There".  That last number also tends to leave me riddled with guilt.

I heard his name mentioned in the '70's.  Kris Kristofferson subtitled his song "Jesus Was a Capricorn" as "Ode to John Prine", so I'd listen to that and wonder who in the heck that was (no internet, no Google, back then).  But I didn't discover him until perhaps fifteen years ago, and then I couldn't get enough.  One time he was appearing in Kansas City and my daughter took me to the concert.  She didn't enjoy it, I'm sure, but I enjoyed it enough for both of us.  This was long after John's voice had been half-stolen by cancer, but the lyrics were pure gold.  

While Cliff and I were riding the train up to the Grand Canyon, a guy dressed like a cowboy and toting a guitar came into the coach we were riding in.  He mostly just clowned around.  He'd sing a line or two and then crack a joke that wasn't all that funny.  I wasn't paying a great deal of attention, really, until he sang part of a song and ended it with "well done, son-of-a-gun, hot dog bun, my sister's a nun..." which got my attention.  I enthusiastically sat up straight and said, "John Prine!"  

"Oh, you like John Prine?" the guy asked; I nodded, and said, "He makes me laugh; he makes me happy.  I love John Prine!"  

The guy then proceeded to strum and sing a John Prine song I was barely familiar with, but the connection had been made.  You don't hear or read a lot about Mr. Prine, but when you find somebody else that loves his music, you are instantly friends.  

I was thrilled this morning to find a fairly recent in-depth interview with John on Youtube.  I was surprised to see how deformed his face is (from cancer), because when I saw him in person on stage he didn't seem to look that grotesque.  Anyway, in the interview he comes across as such a nice, normal human being, so very humble about his huge writing talent.  

If I could purchase a book of nothing but John Prine lyrics, it would be the best poetry book I've ever read.  

Here's a very young John singing one of my favorite anthems.

Interesting things at the Grand Canyon

I loved the Grand Canyon view from the Kolb Studio.

On this map of the historic village on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, you can see Thunderbird Lodge, where we spent our night at the canyon, and Bright Angel Lodge, where we went to check in and out of Thunderbird.  Anyplace you see on this map is an easy walk, even for someone with compromised knees.  El Tovar, of course, is where the best food is.  One of the most interesting spots, to me, was the Kolb Brothers' studio.  I'm not even going to begin to tell you about their exploits in the Grand Canyon and on the Colorado River, except to say they were absolutely fearless, and it was all I could do to watch a film from the early 1900's of them doing crazy things in the canyon and on the Colorado River.  Click HERE to read about them and their exploits.  

Here's a Youtube video that tells a little about them: 

Emery made the canyon his permanent home, and lived to a ripe old age.  Cliff and I got off a shuttle bus at the Pioneer cemetery (because I love graveyards), and we happened across his final resting place.  Even with his lifelong habits of daredevil behavior, he lived to be 95 years old.

Across the fence surrounding the graveyard, a fearless elk grazed.

On the bus tour we took our first day at the canyon, the guide cautioned us to watch our step at the overlooks, since there's nothing to stop a person from tumbling over the edge of the precipice at most stops.  

"Surely people aren't stupid enough to get too close and tumble down into the canyon," I said to him.  

Turns out several people die every year in just such a way.  There's even a book telling about all the known deaths at the Grand Canyon.

The guide took a couple of pictures of me and Cliff during our tour.  I'm not sure if he was just being silly or what, but this is a unique angle, isn't it?  

I realize this entry rambles here, there, and everywhere.  Sorry about that, but since my brain isn't too organized this morning, this is what you get.

Someone left a comment on a recent entry telling me that a word I used, "oriental", is a racist expression, and that "Asian" is the proper term.  I wish somebody would write a book telling me all the proper words to use for various people.  Anyway, if my terminology offended anybody, I apologize; it was only out of ignorance.  Now if only I can remember this the next time I need to use the term.  Asian, not oriental.  Asian, not oriental.  Asian, not oriental.  

Sheesh.  Sometimes political correctness throws me for a loop.  You can call me hillbilly.  I'm fine with that.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Arrival at Williams, Arizona

I snagged this off the Internet
We had been on the train for over twenty-four hours when we got to Williams Junction.  It was 10:30 P.M., and we had spent over thirty-six hours without much sleep, just a little catnapping.  There was nothing at Williams Junction except a railroad crossing sign and a mini-bus that awaited us.  Two other passengers embarked with us:  an older lady in a wheel chair accompanied by her granddaughter.  The driver loaded the four of us and our luggage into the van and, with a warning that our first stretch of the way was going to be a very bumpy dirt road, we were off.  Within ten minutes, we arrived at the huge Grand Canyon Railway Hotel and were very soon in our room and off to dreamland.

It was one of the nicest hotels I've ever had the pleasure of staying in, and they seemed to have everything well coordinated.  I handed the lady at the desk all the vouchers I had printed off for meals and the train to the Canyon, and she gave us tickets in return.  The building across the street with the green roof is a gift shop and restaurant, The Grand Depot Cafe, where hotel guests eat.  I would NOT recommend the restaurant: The buffet items were allowed to run out, and much of the food there seemed like it had been there quite a while; but it was paid for already, so we suffered through.  If you click on the link, you will see the reviews, most of which are negative.  Oh well, we got our bellies filled up after a good night's sleep (and Keurig coffee in our room) and were ready to board the train.  We were told to put our luggage on the cart in the lobby and it would be waiting for us in our hotel at the rim of the Grand Canyon.  We sat through a gunfight between the town sheriff and some outlaws (yawn), then boarded the train.  A young lady stood at the front of the car and gave us facts about the train and the area as we headed toward our destination.  After a two-hour ride, we got off the train and onto the bus that would take us to various locations on the rim.  But first, lunch at Maswik Food Court.  The food was better than at the Train Hotel, so that's something  We visited with a another couple who were seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time.  The husband had suffered a stroke some years before, and didn't get around too well; he seemed to be just one step from falling all the time.  All the other guests from the train who were spending the night at the canyon would stay at Maswik Lodge, but the lady who put together our trip wanted us to stay at a hotel or lodge right on the rim.  So after lunch and our two-hour rim tour, we checked in at the Thunderbird Lodge, built in the 1960's.
Check-in, though, wasn't done where we were staying, but several yards away at Bright Angel Lodge.  The rooms at Thunderbird were in no particular order, and if we hadn't run into the cleanup crew in the hall, we might never have found our room.  We did have a view of the canyon from our window, which was nice.  As promised, our luggage was there waiting.  And again, Keurig coffeemakers in the rooms!

El Tovar
We were on our own for dinner that night and breakfast and lunch the next day.  We found THE place to eat, the sort of place Cliff and I never frequent because if it were anywhere but the Grand Canyon, you'd have to dress up.  El Tovar isn't as expensive as you'd expect, either.  If you visit the Grand Canyon, eat NO PLACE ELSE!  
The food at El Tovar is superb and the service is impeccable  
We were on our own from 2:30 P.M. Sunday until 3 P.M. Monday, so we had quite a bit of time to enjoy the Grand Canyon and various places of interest around the rim.  The free shuttle service takes you from one spot to another and, during busy times, runs about every five minutes.  Don't be surprised, though, if there's standing room only on all the shuttles after 10 A.M. when the tour busses start arriving.  And don't be surprised, after you look around and listen to conversations, to realize that Americans are a minority at the Grand Canyon.  I heard all kinds of languages being spoken and saw more young oriental folks than I've ever seen in one place.  The oriental countries must be very prosperous places to live, because a lot of them can afford to travel the world, it would seem.  

To be continued...

Oh, a note about our lost luggage:  I have not seen it yet, but remember, UPS doesn't often deliver on weekends, and never on holidays.  I would hope to receive it tomorrow.  I'm waiting to post a review online for the hotel in Williams because whether or not I receive my luggage will affect the review.  The man in shipping said he would email me the tracking number but I never received it.  Perhaps he took down my email address wrong.  I won't hold it against him (and the hotel) UNLESS we fail to receive our stuff.  

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Our first day on the train

After spending our first night-time hours on the train not sleeping (except for brief minutes of dozing), I finally saw the dawn shedding some light on the world moving past our windows.  Now I could see signs telling me what towns we were passing through, and at 6:30, when they announced that breakfast was ready, loudspeakers that had been silent all night came to life.  From this point on, announcements were made telling us what stop was next, whether it would be a long enough stop for smokers to de-train and have a few puffs, and so forth.

Imagine my delight when I discovered a fresh pot of coffee in our sleeper car!  It was surprisingly good coffee, too.  In fact, this trip was a treasure as far as coffee goes, because the two hotels in which we stayed were equipped with Keurig coffee makers in every room.  For an addict like me, that made up for other inconveniences such as lost luggage and a sleepless night on the train.

Breakfast wasn't a gourmet delight, but there were many choices offered, and considering the conditions under which the cooks and waiters work, it was wonderful, much better than what you find in motels that offer breakfast.  The other meals were great, and since our meals were paid for, we could choose anything on the menu.  The steak was very good.  Twice I opted for a nice big salad with chicken strips for lunch.

After finding the coffee that first morning, I returned to our roomette and told Cliff he might as well climb down and play footsie with me on the lower bunk.
  No, he didn't go to sleep.  He was only trying to get comfortable.  

He looks sleepy, doesn't he?  After breakfast we tried reading on our Kindles, but neither of us could concentrate very well.  As you can see, I was taking notes to help me with blog entries when I got back home.  Unfortunately, the notes ended up in the lost luggage, so I'm having to rely on memory.  There was a friendly man we saw often in our car who must have been a train attendant.  He never really told us what his duties were, but he said he was training the lady on our sleeper car who was an attendant.  He seemed to enjoy his job immensely.  At one point, he was paged on the P.A. system:  "Crazy Tom, please report to the dining car."  It was he who came around to see what times we wanted to eat our next meals as we headed west.  We would choose a time, he'd hand us a piece of paper with the time written on it so we wouldn't forget. 

Time sort of drags when you're riding a train for twenty-four hours one way, so we really looked forward to meals to break the monotony.  There is an observation car where anyone can sit, so we went up there a few times; but it was often filled to capacity.

That's Crazy Tom, explaining to Cliff how something works (because my husband ALWAYS wants to know how stuff works).  We learned to get off the train every chance we got... another way to break up the day and stretch our legs.  

We saw the verdant plains change to dessert-like conditions with snowcapped peaks in the distance.

We saw hills rising out of flatlands.  Crazy Tom told stories about civil war battles and Indians, over the P.A. system.

We saw towns we didn't know existed.  Who knew there was another Las Vegas?  

Sometimes depots are in tiny towns that are hardly towns at all.

Now there's a town we've heard of!  I think Bugs Bunny used to say something about taking a left turn in Albuquerque.

When we went through Garden City, Kansas, I thought about two Facebook friends I've never met face-to-face who live there, and left a Facebook "hello" to one of them, Char.

This shows all the stops made by the Southwest Chief.  We boarded in Kansas City and got off at Williams Junction.  We met a lot of people who were headed from one coast to the other, which would probably take the better part of three days... maybe longer.  Click HERE for all the details on the Southwest Route.  

To be continued...

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Sleeping in a roomette, and our first time in the dining car

When we boarded our train, the Southwestern Chief, we were directed down the steps to our tiny room.  Our beds were ready for us.  There's no room to dress and undress in a closed cabinette, we learned, except to stretch out on your bunk and put on your jammies lying down... no room to change in the bathroom, either.  In the cabinette, there was barely room for our shoes when we removed them.  

Cliff insisted on taking the top bunk because I'm not too agile, thanks to my knees; he was afraid I'd fall in the process of getting down.  I argued with him, because the top bunk is smaller and Cliff is the larger of us, but he insisted.  As it turned out that night, neither of us slept anyway, except for brief periods of dozing.

The stretch of train track leaving Kansas City is rough!  We were rocking and rolling in our bunks as we traveled southwest through the night.  Add to that the constant tooting of the train whistle, plus our excitement and confusion at doing something totally different... it was a long night.   Neither of us are spring chickens, so of course we had to get up for the bathroom a couple of times.  As luck would have it, the bathroom was right outside our room, so it wasn't a long trip, except that Cliff had some difficulty climbing down from his bunk.  See, you can't actually sit up in the top bunk, so you must roll over and somehow slither down to the foot of the bed and cautiously place your foot on the top of two steps, then cautiously descend.

I hope this stranger doesn't mind my stealing his picture off the Internet, because it illustrates perfectly what it's like to move around in the top bunk.  Grant, whoever you are, if you happen to my blog and would rather not have your picture here, just leave a comment.

The bathrooms are tiny, but that's a good thing, because if the train rocks a little and you lose your balance, you just put out your hands and grab a wall or a sink and you can't possibly fall down because there isn't room.  Oh, let me warn you:  The first time you flush the stool, you'll think you've been shot.  The air-assist flush sounds like a gunshot!  Just look for the word "flush" and push the button beside that.  

After a long, long night that I spent mostly trying to see out the window in the dark (Cliff didn't have a window), I told Cliff to join me on the bottom bunk so he could at least see outside.  We chatted and bemoaned the lack of sleep (and my backache) until breakfast was announced.  You have to choose a time for your other meals, but breakfast is first-come, first-served.  Meals, by the way, are paid for when you have sleeping quarters on the train.

I'm inserting this as an afterthought:  Our lady train attendant (porter) put our beds down at night and put them up in the morning, but our first morning, Cliff felt funny about pushing the button to call her, so he figured out himself how to fold the beds out of the way.   

Now, three-fourths of the seats may be unoccupied when you enter the dining car, but you can't just choose a seat:  The waiter will lead you to a table and seat you across from two strangers who may or may not be traveling together.  If you are a died-in-the-wool introvert, the only way out of this is to have your meals in your roomette.  Trust me, you'd have to be more committed to your solitary nature than I, because by the time you've spent several hours in that tiny space (even with the best of companions), you want out of there for awhile.  So I met many, many people on our trip.  Here are the first folks we dined with, from California (I asked their permission to take this picture).

To be continued...

Friday, May 27, 2016

Our Amtrak experience: Getting ready

When I first started checking out the idea of traveling to the Grand Canyon by rail, I thought I'd keep it as cheap as possible by getting coach seats and hoping we could sleep a little sitting up as we traveled.  Twenty-four hours sitting up seemed like a long time, but we're tough, right?  Oh, and I'd take along some sandwiches and granola bars to eat, so we wouldn't have to pay for expensive meals.

Let me back up and say that this probably would all have fallen through had it not been for my friend Meesha, because I'm always "planning" some vacation or other that never happens.  I mentioned my potential travel plans on Facebook; Meesha, who travels Amtrak a lot, knows the ropes.  He suggested I buy tickets for the roomette rather than coach so we could lie down to sleep.  With that option, all meals are paid for, too.  I went to the Amtrak website to check prices.  Wow, the roomettes cost a lot more than coach.  But this was to celebrate our 50th anniversary, which is coming up on Flag Day.  Maybe we should splurge for once?

I was afraid I wouldn't get connections right for our projected Grand Canyon visit, so I ended up calling a travel agency linked on the Amtrak site.  When she put together the total cost, I was floored, and told her I'd call back.  This was, I think, in February.  After considering the whole thing for a few days, and with Cliff telling me, "If there's something you want to do, we had better be doing it now," I called the lady again.  I found out if I put it on my credit card, they would only take a small amount out at first and take the rest of the payment from the card after three months' time.  I realized that in that length of time, I could easily save the amount the trip would cost and pay the credit card off as soon as they took the money out.  At that point, I was in.  If Meesha had not suggested the roomette, I would never have gotten that far and committed myself to the trip.  Thanks, Meesha!  

Once the deal was made, I did a lot in searching on the Internet, starting with the Amtrak site.  Click HERE to read about roomette accommodations, and HERE to see pictures on the Amtrak blog (it says you have your own toilet... we did not.)  Toward the bottom of the page you will see "virtual sleeping car"; click on "Superliner Roomette 3D Tour".  Now, looking at this, you can tell it's a small space.  Amtrak gives you the dimensions of the room.  But nothing really prepares you for how small it is.  When the seats were set up for daytime travel, Cliff and I had to work at finding enough floor space for our big feet, but we did finally get it figured out.   

About a month before our trip was to happen, I received the vouchers for the trip in email and printed them off.  This included train tickets, hotel stays for three nights, and meals that were included.  Wow, it was really going to happen!

At this point I began worrying whether Amtrak would actually accept some ticket printed off at home.  Also, we were going to have to leave our car in the parking lot for five days, and we weren't even sure where the parking lot was, so we would head to Kansas City, talk to the Amtrak folks at the ticket window, and find the parking lot.  You can read about that HERE.  

So, ready or not, we left home around 8:30 P.M. on Friday, May 20, to begin our train-travel adventure at Kansas City's Union Station.

To be continued...

Thursday, May 26, 2016

He just can't help himself

Cliff has worked at several jobs in his life, and learned from all of them.  Because he worked at a metal plating place in his early 20's, he still notices a well-anodized piece of aluminum.  I'll be walking along, heading in to a restaurant or museum or motel, and I realize Cliff isn't right behind me.  I look back and there he is, examining the metal frame of a doorway or window, checking to see if it was anodized properly.  

Structures of any kind draw him like a magnet.  We were in the Flint Hills of Kansas at the  Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve when, once again, he lagged behind.  I turned to see him examining the boards on a wall.
Cliff also worked in concrete construction for a few years, and he often stops to check out sidewalks and retaining walls, pronouncing them "great work" or "sloppy job".  

I'm not sure what he was examining here on a visit to the ASB Bridge with David Remley.  I hope David doesn't mind me stealing this picture from his blog.
So it was no surprise that, when we were at a scenic overlook at the Grand Canyon, I saw him examining the magnificent welding someone had done on a guard rail:
 Everybody else was in standing in awe of the Grand Canyon while Cliff was inspecting the quality of a perfect welding job.  

That's my husband.

Pictures won't do it

When I mentioned that we were going to be going to the Grand Canyon, several people said to me, "Take lots of pictures."

I take pictures almost everywhere I go, but I really didn't plan to take many pictures of the Grand Canyon.  Several trips to the beautiful-beyond-words Colorado Rockies have taught me that pictures of big, majestic works of nature are wasted.  If most of the special magic of a natural wonder is in its size, you may as well forget pictures.  As I stood beside the Grand Canyon, I was almost breathless as I tried to take in the vastness of the place.  I could look and look, and wherever my eyes rested, there was more of it beyond.  So, so big.  I can't say the colors of the place are lovely, really.  It's just huge!

Our first evening there, the growing shadows as the sun was going down created interesting changes, but no beautiful colors.  

Monday morning I awoke at 4 A.M., made a cup of coffee in the Keurig in our room, and went out to wait for the sunrise, because wouldn't the Canyon be lovely at sunrise?  I had intended to take the shuttle to a farther-distant spot on the rim, but I got lost stumbling around in the dark and decided to just remain in the village.  I found a nice place right behind El Tovar with a bench for sitting.  Gradually, the day began to dawn.  Other folks were out seeking a view, the same as me.

Well, I learned that if I want to see a pretty sunrise, I should stay home.  The sun gradually rose in the cloudless sky, but did absolutely nothing for the canyon or the sky except to illuminate things so you could see what was going on.  

another early-morning watcher with the moon overhead
Oh, two hours later the sun hit the red sides of the Canyon in such a way that they were fairly remarkable, but no picture of mine really shows a great beauty as far as color goes.  

If you want to see great pictures of the Grand Canyon, click HERE.  There are some perfect shots, but none of them passes along the sensation of how large the Canyon feels, and how small you feel when you are standing on the rim.  For that, you have to actually be there.

Fashion statements

When Cliff and I first married, he wore Levis as his standard garb.  He worked at a metal-plating place in the city where they used caustic chemicals, so sometimes when he got splashed with the fluids, eating holes in the material of the jeans.  I've never been a seamstress, but Cliff's mom was good at patching, and she would mend the holes for him.  That job was really hard on clothes.  The aluminum to be plated had to be wired to a frame before it was dipped in the solutions, so Cliff kept pliers handy in a hip pocket, which in time wore a hole in the pocket: Another mending job for his mom.  That business of always carrying pliers stayed with Cliff, even after he left that line of work.

At some point in our marriage, Cliff discovered overalls.  He's always been a good-sized man, and overalls were just plain comfortable.  Wearing his Big Smiths, there was no problem with "plumber's crack", nothing binding around the waist, and always a place to keep his pliers.  He still kept jeans in the closet to wear when he went someplace.  

In the past several years, Cliff has decided that at his age, comfort is more important than style.  If he can't wear overalls to a place, it just isn't worth going; he'll stay home.  After all, a man never knows when he'll need to use a pair of pliers, and with overalls, there's always a place for them.  Cliff even wears overalls to church.  The preacher used to kid him about that, but he finally got used to it and left him alone.

Now, this is fine with me, because I like to be comfortable, and you won't see me dressing to the nines either.  

As years go by, one sees fewer people wearing overalls, so they have become a rather unusual item of clothing, drawing stares from strangers and eliciting comments from older folks we run into, a regular conversation piece.  On a vacation such as we just finished, a day seldom goes by that someone doesn't approach Cliff, smiling, and say, "My dad always wore overalls" or "Those overalls sure do bring back memories."  A trip to Branson really brings out the comments, due to the age range of most people who vacation there.  

This doesn't bother Cliff in the least.  It's his fashion statement.  You know how one sees "old hippies", guys who are bald on top, who still keep their hair long enough for a pony tail?  Does it make them look handsome?  Do they think it does?  Nope, but you can kiss their hineys, because that's one way a man lets the world know he doesn't care about fashion trends.  It's his idea of being a free spirit.  I think that's how Cliff is with his overalls.  That, and they're just plain comfortable.

As we were seeing the sights around the Grand Canyon the other day I saw ahead of us, near the Hopi House, an older man (our age) wearing overalls; I pointed him out to Cliff.  It wasn't long before the man and his wife caught sight of Cliff, and their faces lit up in smiles.  He pointed to his overalls and then pointed at Cliff.  They approached, and the guy said to Cliff, "Where you from?"

Turns out they were from Kansas, so it was no surprise to them that we were from Missouri.  Later on we ran into them again when we stopped for lunch and the guy said, "Say, I'm glad we found one another.  I want my wife to take a picture of us together to show my daughters:  They're always saying, 'Oh Dad, nobody wears overalls any more.'  I want to show them I'm not the only one." 

And here they are:  Two older guys from the midwest making their own statement, and just being comfortable.    When we parted, the fellow said, "Well, you go on back to Missouri and keep things in order, and I'll take care of Kansas."

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The case of the missing luggage (All's well that ends well)

Here's the story.

We purchased a three-day Grand Canyon trip:  We would arrive in Williams at 10:30 Saturday night, check into the Grand Canyon Railroad Hotel, stay there until  Sunday morning, then board the Grand Canyon train.  We would arrive at the Grand Canyon, join a Rim Tour bus group, eat lunch, and get on the bus to see fantastic views of the canyon from various spots.  Then we would check in at Thunderbird Lodge, right on the rim of the canyon, spend that night and most of the next day, and return to the Grand Hotel in Williams.

Before we left the hotel in Williams, we were given tags to put on the handles of our two suitcases after writing our names on them.  Then we were to carry them to the lobby and load them onto a luggage carrier.  We were told that when we checked into the Thunderbird Lodge that evening, our luggage would be in our room, waiting.  When we checked out of Thunderbird Lodge the next day, we were to leave the luggage in the room with the tags still on them; when we returned to Williams, our luggage, again, would be already in the room ahead of us (a different room than before).

We had paperwork telling us that we would do our check-in for Thunderbird Lodge down the street at the Bright Angel Lodge, so that's what we did, and they gave us our keys.  Back down the street we found our room and, sure enough, our bags were waiting.  Next day when we checked out, we left our bags in the room as we had done at Williams, took our key-cards down the street to Bright Angel Lodge to check out, and had a conversation with a guy about our bags to make sure we did things right.  "Yes," he said, "you did the right thing.  I'll be down there to pick them up now."

 We spent the rest of the day until almost 3 P.M. looking at all the places of interest in Grand Canyon Village.  We had a wonderful lunch, strolled around from one place of interest to another, and then went to the depot to board the train back to Williams.  We talked about how wonderful it was not to have to worry about our luggage:  It was all taken care of.

We checked in at the Grand Hotel in Williams again and went to our room.  I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when we found our luggage had not arrived.  The girl at the front desk told us they probably just hadn't had time to get it put up and suggested we eat dinner.  By the time we finished, she assured us, the luggage would be in our room.  

But it wasn't.  The girl started calling the guys who took care of bringing in the luggage.  She called Thunderbird Lodge.  When she mentioned Thunderbird Lodge, we told her perhaps she should check with Bright Angel Lodge, since that's where we had to check in, and the people there were the ones who were going to pick up our luggage.

No luck.  So here we were with no chargers for our cell phones and the iPad, no clean clothes (no dirty clothes, for that matter, except for what we were wearing),  no toothbrushes and toothpaste or deodorant.  I was almost in panic mode.  At one point I found myself being hateful with the girl at the front desk, but then I did apologize to her, telling her I realized none of this was her fault.  

Later on she brought me a bag with a few essentials in it.  After that, a man came up and had me fill out a claim, giving a full description of our luggage.  At 3 A.M. next morning we were headed for our Amtrak trip home, feeling pretty much like stinky, dirty bums.  By this time I was looking at things from a different perspective, though, telling myself it's all just stuff.  There wasn't a thing in those bags that couldn't be replaced.  The spare iPad, the one Cora thinks is hers when she's here, was among the lost items, but in the vast scheme of things, it wasn't that important.  After a night's sleep on the train, this morning I woke up positively cheerful, although I still had a feeling we'd never see our "stuff" again.  

We arrived at Kansas City Union Station around 8 A.M. this morning.  When we got to our car, the first thing I did was plug in the poor, dead iPad (I have a car charger for it, thank goodness) and check my email, because I had been told the hotel would keep in touch with me by email and phone.  Sure enough, there was an email, and here's what it said:   "Hi, I’m glad to report that your missing luggage has been found. It unfortunately slid under the seats of the van and was out of sight. However today the two bags were discovered. I look forward to hearing from you so we can get the luggage back safe and sound to you. Have a great day.

Monica Grubbs
 Bright Angel Lodge
Front Desk Lead"

I felt like celebrating!  However, when I called the lady, she had already sent the luggage back to the Grand Hotel in Williams.  I've now talked to someone there, and they will be sending our luggage home.  
Here's what I learned from this:  Don't put your chargers and devices in luggage that could get lost.  Keep them with you at all times.  I did have both Kindles in the bag I carry with me, so Cliff and I had something to read on the train, at least.  What I missed once my iPad's battery died was being able to ask it "Where are we?" or "What's the temperature here?".  Also, the iPad serves as my watch.  When I woke up in the night on my top bunk, the only way to find out the time was to take my Kindle to the bathroom with me, where there was a light.  It's the basic Kindle, so it isn't backlit.

Looking on the bright side, by the time all this happened we were done with our Grand Canyon experience, so that wasn't ruined.  If it had happened on the first luggage-move, the whole trip would have been a disaster because I would have been preoccupied with our missing stuff instead of enjoying the beauty of the Grand Canyon.

Indeed, all's well that ends well.  Of course it really hasn't ended until I have the luggage in my possession, but the odds of that happening are looking pretty good at this point.     

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Stuff I've posted to Facebook lately (for my non-Facebook friends)

Where shall I start?  I guess with THIS OBITUARY from a lady who penned for herself.  It made my day.  Then I went to her guestbook online to leave a message and found out other strangers had also appreciated her words.  

Check out this HOUSE FOR SALE about twenty miles from me.  There's a link that allows you to go to the realtor's website and see the price, which is far too rich for my bank account, but seems reasonable, or even low, after you look at the pictures.  I'm trying to visualize what it would look like if I bought it:  dust on everything, garage sale furniture arranged sparsely around the place, weeds along the garden path.  Yeah, it's just as well I can't afford it, but then if I could, I suppose I could hire a maid and gardener.

How about 64 FAMOUS PEOPLE AND THEIR LAST WORDS.  Some of these are priceless.

Here are a couple of things I have NOT shared on Facebook, mainly because in my excitement about our upcoming vacation I have over-posted lately and refuse to post a single thing more until tomorrow.

I'm pretty sure one of the two baby pullets I bought for Cora's pleasure is a rooster.
Red, the one on the right, has a very large comb.  For you city folks, that's the red thing on top of a chicken's head.  I'd be willing to bet she is a he; not to mention the fact that he's larger.  It's a good thing his name is gender-neutral.  On the bright side, I'm without a rooster at the present time, so as long as he turns out not to be a people-attacker, he can stick around.  I miss hearing a rooster crow.  At least when a chicken's sexual identity changes, he doesn't have to worry about all this complicated stuff like, you know, which rest room to use.  

This is my black Iris.  It just happened to be in a spot where it had a garden hose dragged over, around, and through it for most of the winter, and I'm surprised it's even alive, let alone blooming.  I don't think it shows up in this picture, but there's one more bloom trying to open, too.  We won't be using the hose to water any cows nearby next winter, so perhaps by another spring the plant will heal from the abuse it received.



Yesterday I wasted many hours googling videos and Internet articles about Amtrak travel (have I mentioned before this is our first trip by rail?), hoping to prepare myself for our journey to the Grand Canyon which begins tomorrow night.  For the most part, this will be a journey without Internet.  From what I understand, there are few chances to connect to the WWW on the trip or at the Grand Canyon itself.  I believe there is Wifi at the hotel in Williams, Arizona, but we really won't be spending that much time there.  

Believe it or not, I'm happy about that.  I don't have a lot of discipline when it comes to regulating my time on the Internet, so it's good to have it forced on me once in a while.  I have loaded some ebooks onto the Kindles so we'll have something to read, but as distracted as I am, I don't know if I'll be able to keep my mind on a book.  However, it will be a twenty-four-hour trip one way, so who knows?   

Ever since we booked this trip, I've focused far too much on the length of the journey, feeling I should have spent another wad of money to extend our actual time in the Grand Canyon itself.  Yesterday I took my time, read the detailed itinerary, and realized we really will have quite a bit of time there:  We arrive at the rim at 11:45 Sunday morning aboard the train, and don't leave until 3:30 P.M. on Monday.  That's really a big chunk of time, and time spent Monday is our own, to do as we please!  Our motel is right on the rim.  We'll be eating when we arrive on Sunday, then doing a motorcoach tour that lasts two-and-a-half hours.  The rest of that day and most of the next is ours.  

I was concerned that my aching knees would limit how far I could go in our exploration of the canyon until I read about the free shuttle busses that run every fifteen minutes.  We can get off at any stop, enjoy the scenery, and get on the next bus that comes along whenever we're ready.  I wish we had done this while we could both still hike, but it's no use crying over last year's crop.       

I'm so excited about this whole thing, it's hard to refrain from putting several exclamation marks at the end of every sentence!!!  

Look at the weather Sunday and Monday!  I've been checking this several times daily for the last week, praying, "please God please God please God let the sun at least be shining at sunset and sunrise," and so far it looks promising for the time we are there.  We'll need a coat or jacket.  I'm fine with that.  I wish I had a proper light jacket that wasn't so bulky and was fit for going out in public, but the winter coat will have to do.

I could go on, but you get the idea.  Cliff has heard me talking about nothing but this trip for the past twenty-four hours.  He can't surf the Internet in peace because I sit down beside him every time he starts up his computer and make him watch videos of the train and Grand Canyon.  I have searched reviews for the best places to eat on the south rim... the only meals we'll have that aren't already paid for are the evening meal on Sunday and breakfast and lunch Monday.

My suitcase is packed.  I can't wait!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Kitty rescue

This morning around 4 A.M. I poked my head out the front door for a weather-check.  Mama Kitty and Jake were there griping for me to feed them.  Well, only Jake was griping; Mama Kitty has more class than that.  She is not a vocal cat.  However, she does station herself on the porch at feeding time and then follows me, or leads me, to the barn when I go outside in the morning.

Three hours later, I headed out to feed them.  Only Jake was there, but I expected to see Mama Kitty in the barn.  Turns out she wasn't there, but that isn't unusual either, so I poured their daily portion of Costco's cat food in the pan and stepped out into the rain.  I had taken a few steps before I noticed the meows of a cat from somewhere in the barn.

I went to the front of the barn and entered from there into the main portion of the barn, where we used to keep hay; Cliff keeps his latest tractor purchase in there waiting for restoration, as well as the lawn mowers.  In front of the tractor (which has a bucket on the front) was a stack about four feet tall of plywood and other assorted useful wooden pieces and poles.  The meowing was coming from beneath the stack, back in a corner.

I called "kitty kitty", and she answered.  She really didn't sound desperate, and yet she is NOT a vocal cat, so she was wanting some help getting out of there.  I looked under the stack and then got on it and peered down in the corner, and saw no cat.  Yet she would answer me each time I called.  The thought entered my mind that maybe it wasn't her.  There's a stray that comes for dinner sometimes.  But it's a wild thing and wouldn't likely interact with me like this cat was doing.  

I was going to try and unstack the wood, which seemed an impossible task even before I began; turns out it WAS impossible.  That stuff was heavy.

When Cliff got up, I told him about it.  He asked if I thought she was hurt, and I told him she didn't sound like it.  He doesn't like to hop out of bed and start doing things, so I left him alone for a couple of hours, then went out to see if the cat was still trapped.  She was.  By this time her big old spoiled son, Jake, was starting to act weird, meowing and running around like an idiot.

Cliff moved the Oliver tractor out of the way and brought the John Deere in, putting the forks under the stack of plywood and lifting them.  I didn't see Mama Kitty come out from under, and he backed up and then made a stab at a different spot under the stack.  I got down and looked.  No cat.  We both stepped outside for a minute, and when we got back, Mama Kitty was in the process of climbing down from a pole that supports a corner of the barn.  At some point when we were looking elsewhere (under the stack, maybe?) she had been released and climbed up the pole to escape her dungeon... I guess.  I do know she was UNDER there all that time, because that's clearly where her voice was coming from all that time.  She had probably followed a mouse or rat down there and dived into a spot from which escape was impossible.

She followed me into the part of the barn where I feed the cats and began eating, dirty but unharmed.  Jake was walking the length of her, rubbing his big old head all over her affectionately and smiling.

All's well that ends well.

Monday, May 16, 2016

I've had a revelation

Indeed I have, and I now understand things about my mother in her later years that I just didn't before.  The revelation began when Cliff started removing every trace of cows from the place.

I've dealt just fine with selling the last two heifers.  I wasn't emotionally attached to either of them as individuals, and besides, I've said goodbye to lots of cows over the years, especially in the past four years when the universe was hitting me over the head with the fact that it was time to stop keeping cows.  

But then Cliff started cleaning up the barn so he could make use of storage space he lost when I bought Bonnie-the-Jersey-cow several years ago.  And he removed the makeshift pen in our yard where baby calves had roamed, and hauled the calf hutch down to the pasture.  In the cleaning-up, clearing-out process, he also took out the horse stall he and a former co-worker had made for my horse, Blue.  Now he will be able to park a tractor there.  

I had a vague uneasiness during this process, but it has taken awhile to put my finger on the cause.  It's the finality of it all.  I got pretty depressed when I realized that growing older is a matter of giving things up, letting things go, one item at a time, until all you have left to give up is your life.  

I'm not trying make my readers feel bad.  Now that I realize what's happening to me, and that it's just the natural order of things, I can assess my abilities, do things I am able to do, and not focus on what I've lost.  It's called acceptance.  

When Mother and Daddy were moving from their place at Oak Grove out here to our property, I remember Mother crying and saying she was having to give up so much.  I was puzzled at this, since there wasn't anything she had, or did, in that location that she couldn't do here.  Of course, she knew Daddy was dying (cancer), and I'm sure that loomed large in her thoughts, overshadowing everything.

When my mom first retired, she began making quilts, simple quilts.  She turned them out like a factory, giving them to everyone she knew.  Daddy once said he was glad she enjoyed doing that, because it was something she could do as much as she wanted and it didn't hurt her in any way.  Mother's other hobby was letter-writing, which was also good for her and allowed her to vent if necessary, as well as to count her blessings.  Yesterday I thought about all this and realized I had seen my mother give up things, one step at a time, until she finally gave up and entered a nursing home on her own.  By then, she couldn't quilt any more because her vision had failed.  She still wrote letters, though, until the last few months of her life. 

Am I tying this together properly?  Am I making sense?  

Now it's up to me to assess what I can still do:  I can't "go" for walks regularly, but I'm able to walk anywhere around home and outside, within limits.  I can still keep chickens.  I think I'm still up to gardening; we'll see how that's going in July.  I won't name all the things I can do, simply because they number in the hundreds.

With the cows gone so permanently, I'm thinking more and more about a dog.  The only thing that keeps me from shopping for one is right now that we still have a little traveling to do.  Once we are unable to travel due to our aches and pains, there will be a dog.  I can feel it in my bones. 

Here's something that occurred to me:  I have a guitar that I get out once a month, if that.  Arthritis hasn't yet crippled my hands, and I can still carry a tune: I need to get the guitar out of its case and use it when I'm alone, singing any old thing that comes to mind.  I need to do it often, just for my own benefit, while I can.  It's "something I can do that won't hurt me".  As a matter of fact, I need to sing around the house more, guitar or not.  Yes, shouldn't we all be singing as we pass through this world?

So, there you have it.  Just my thoughts this morning.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Looking ahead to the next vacation

It's almost time for our trip on the rails to the Grand Canyon, and I'm already planning a trip beyond that to the Colorado Rocky Mountains.  Tentative planning, that is, without setting a date.

We know Colorado well, and it's only a day-long drive from here.  No motels will be reserved and nothing paid for ahead of time, because we will be ready to go at the drop of a hat.

The thing is, many times the little girl we babysit goes to spend a week with her grandparents in Iowa.  We'd like to go to Colorado during one of those weeks.  There is only one time we know for certain she will be gone, and that's during the first week in October, but there will likely be others.    

I've always wanted to see Colorado in autumn, and at first I was going to plan on going in October.  However, when I put out feelers to my Facebook friends, the idea didn't sound so great.  Among comments like "It can be nice then" and "It's my favorite season in Colorado", I heard disaster stories:  hailstorms, snowstorms, ice... yes, during the first week in October.  

Well, October is a lovely time to go to south Missouri and Arkansas and check out the fall colors.  So we'll just wait until the child's next unplanned trip to Iowa and pick up and go.  We can leave with little notice.

Speaking of the little girl, she isn't even three years old yet, but she thinks she knows everything and will argue her point.  Although Cliff still calls her "the baby",  she is anything but.  She's more like a miniature teenager.  She's a nature girl, a hillbilly whose shoes come off as soon as she's in the house (sometimes before).  She's a free spirit who has no problem with squatting outside when nature calls rather than going in to the bathroom.  She's a chatterbox in the true female tradition.  She still would rather do adult things (cooking, cleaning, gardening) than play with toys.  In fact, she usually only plays with toys if Cliff or I join her in playing.  Then she'll play for an hour at a time.  But we have to play by her rules.  She has a hard head and an unquenchable spirit.      

Being around the little girl as she grows has been so good for us, because we've had all the joys and few of the responsibilities and worries that go with raising one's own child.  She's truly a gift to us and to the world.  

I thank God for her.  She has given us more pleasure than ten vacations.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Something about that song

Early in the morning, I like everything quiet.  But since I've discovered Amazon Echo, I've found I can choose an Amazon Prime playlist that's "for relaxation" or "for meditation", turn the sound very low, and fully enjoy it.  I go to sleep by these types of list, and it turns out the same music also soothes me in the early morning hours.  Much of the music on those lists is instrumental, but as I sat at the computer this morning, a haunting voice singing some powerful words reached out and grabbed me.  I asked Alexa (because you can do that), "What is this song?"

She answered, "The song is 'God Bless the Grass' by Sara Thomsen."

I immediately built a Prime playlist of songs sung by Sara Thomsen, then hunted up the lyrics to that particular song.    

  Malvina Reynolds: Song Lyrics and Poems  

God Bless the Grass
Notes: words and music by Malvina Reynolds; copyright 1964 Schroder Music Company, renewed 1992. People often think of this as an ecology song, but Malvina wrote it after reading Mark Lane’s comments about the John F. Kennedy assassination.

God bless the grass that grows thru the crack.
They roll the concrete over it to try and keep it back.
The concrete gets tired of what it has to do,
It breaks and it buckles and the grass grows thru,
And God bless the grass.

God bless the truth that fights toward the sun,
They roll the lies over it and think that it is done.
It moves through the ground and reaches for the air,
And after a while it is growing everywhere,
And God bless the grass.

God bless the grass that grows through cement.
It's green and it's tender and it's easily bent.
But after a while it lifts up its head,
For the grass is living and the stone is dead,
And God bless the grass.

God bless the grass that's gentle and low,
Its roots they are deep and its will is to grow.
And God bless the truth, the friend of the poor,
And the wild grass growing at the poor man's door,
And God bless the grass.

Wow!  These words made me think of everybody I know who has fought against impossible odds, refusing to quit.  My parents, surviving through the depression.  My daughter, holding down a job while going through chemo and then putting up with all the side effects that cancer leaves behind it, still working at a steady job.  My husband, studying for and then acquiring his GED when he was in his 50's.  

Once in awhile I see a song with words that make me say, "I wish I'd written that!"

This is one of those.  I really like the way Sara Thomsen sings it, but I couldn't find it done by her on Youtube, so here it is by the lady who wrote it in 1964.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Ah, the magic of a sunrise

I used to take pictures of pretty sunrises often.  I'm a morning person and I've seen some fantastic dawnings.  

Maybe as the result of how I see things since I began meditating, I've pretty much stopped with the picture-taking.  Why?  Because if you think about it, a photo is a very poor substitute for the real thing, and it cheapens what I consider a priceless experience.  You could say the same for pictures of beaches, mountains, and other natural beauties, but those aren't accessible to everybody, so it's nice that people share pictures.  

Anybody can see a sunrise or sunset if he so desires, as long as he has eyes that function.  

Yesterday when I opened my eyes after a forty-five minute meditation session, a lovely pink light was coming in my north window.  Now, I am always awake to greet the dawn, but there isn't usually that much color spreading around the sky to the north.  If there was that bright a rose/pink color due north, what must the rest of the sky look like?

There were storms around and clouds everywhere when I stepped outside.  Clouds make for lovely sunrises, and I could see there was such a sunrise in progress.  What was the most amazing, though, was the bright pink that covered so much of the sky.  It's a wonder I didn't bump into a tree on the way to the barn to feed the cats, because I could hardly take my eyes off the heavens.  Back in the yard, I found myself slowly walking around the house from front yard to back to see every possible angle of this miracle of loveliness in the skies.  I found myself grinning like an idiot, turning slowly around to take in every aspect of the panorama.   I was reminded of movies in which  they portray characters who, after consuming LSD, look around in a daze with hands extended, smiling and saying "Wow."  Because that's exactly what I was doing.  

Thoughts of picture-taking crossed my mind, but I let the impulse pass.  Lightning and thunder were going on during all this, and at one point I asked myself, "Should I really be standing outside?"

Then I shrugged and thought, "What better time to die than while looking at something like this?"

After about ten minutes, the beauty began to wane.  I decided to take a few pictures with my iPad after all; there was still quite a light show in the sky.  I shared my photos on Facebook.  So far there are 89 "likes" on the album and several comments. 

If only they could have seen what I saw a short fifteen minutes earlier.  If only you could.   But no photo could really portray what I saw, the vastness of it all, the subtle changes with every few seconds.

due north
looking east
partial rainbow over the grandson's house
looking east earlier

So there you have it, with my assurances that it was many times this gorgeous fifteen minutes before the pictures were taken, and at least 100 times prettier in person than in a photo.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Getting ready for a train ride

It's less than two weeks until we will be getting on a train and going to the Grand Canyon.  The ticket vouchers are printed.  

Cliff and I have agreed that we should go to Union Station ahead of time and make sure we knew exactly where to go and what to do.  Yesterday Cora wasn't here because her dad couldn't work due to rain, and we decided to get it over with.

Because of our Amtrak departure and arrival times, we've decided the only practical thing to do is leave our car in the parking garage while we're gone:  It's only $10 daily and we'll only be gone for five days.  However, we'll be arriving after dark, and we didn't want to grope around looking for the proper place to park.  

We are such babies in the city, but the GPS is usually a big help.  Yesterday, there was a little glitch.  Sometimes, once you are in the general vicinity of a location, the GPS assumes you're close enough and tells you you have arrived.  We saw the entry to a parking garage, it was right at the checkered flag that said we had arrived, and we turned in.  Cliff put $2 in a slot and received a little card.  We cruised through the place and saw nothing but reserved parking.  What's up with that?  

Ten minutes later we were totally lost inside the parking garage and still hadn't found anything having to do with Union Station.  Finally we saw a man who was there to fix somebody's windshield; he directed us to the nearest exit and tried to tell us how to get to the proper parking garage.  We were in an area that was for Blue Cross/Blue Shield workers and employees of another business.  He told us to go to the exit, push a button, and an attendant would tell us what to do.  It's a good thing he told us about the button or we'd still be stuck in there, because the button wasn't that easy to see.  

Stuff like this really gets to Cliff.  He was fit to be tied, and when he's upset, so am I.  We'd wasted ten or fifteen minutes lost in a parking garage and spent $2 in the process, but thanks to the attendant who answered our call after we pushed the button, we found our way out.  At this point Cliff wasn't up to hunting for the proper parking spot.  We just parked out in the open in front of Union Station and went to locate the Amtrak office.

 Just inside the door is an electronic screen that is supposed to tell you where various things are in the building when you touch it, but it wasn't working.  A pleasant lady with a baby in a stroller said, "It wouldn't work for me either."  

The lady, a former school teacher, was in Kansas City to do a little sight-seeing with her granddaughter, who looked to be no older than three months.  They had gone to Nelson Art Gallery, but it's closed on Monday.  I told her the World War I museum was right across the street from us, and that it's the best thing to see in Kansas City.  She said the Uber guy driving her to the station had said the same thing, but she thought her granddaughter would have enjoyed the art gallery more.  However, with two recommendations, maybe she'd go there.  

Cliff and I had to laugh about this later, because that baby was not old enough to know the difference between an art gallery and a war museum.  When Cora was that age and we took her someplace, she was just happy being pushed around in a stroller in a new place and meeting strange people who smiled at her, talking in high-pitched voices and acting silly.  

Unfortunately, after we parted ways, I remembered that the war museum is also closed on Mondays.  Poor lady, and she told us she had never seen any Kansas City sights.  Folks, make a note of this:  There is not much to see in Kansas City on Mondays.

I spotted the Amtrak ticket office.  We went in, I showed the guy in the ticket window my voucher and asked if that was all we needed to board the train.  He said it was.  He also went over some rules with us, and said, "Oh, I see your meals are included.  Be sure to get the most expensive items on the menu."  

Alrighty then.

When we stepped out of Union Station, we noticed a smiling man who was obviously there to help country bumpkins, told him our plans, and asked him about parking.  He pointed the way to the proper parking garage entry and told us to just go on in, take a card, and drive around, because the first thirty minutes are free.  We could have kissed him.

So now we are prepared for our big adventure.  I truly wish I had spent another pocketful of money when I was planning it, because we are going to be spending as much time on trains as we are at Grand Canyon.  How come it takes a train 24 hours to get there?  However, the train will be part of the experience, because we've never traveled by train.  Looks like we'll be eating high on the hog both going and coming back, and we'll have a place to sleep.  We can also go up high in the observation car and watch the world go by... wait, won't that be Kansas?  

That's OK, I'm excited anyhow.  Happy anniversary to us!