THE WEATHER OUTSIDE IS FRIGHTFUL

Be Delightful, by Rich Paschall


If you live anywhere in the United States, except the extreme southern portions, you will eventually get your share of winter weather.  The further north you live, the worse it is likely to be.  Here in the upper Midwest, we are likely to get a lot of snow and much sub freezing weather.  Some years we get a lot of subzero weather when I can look forward to the possibility of the pipes to the kitchen sink freezing.  It is somewhat less than joyful to discover the water does not run in the kitchen.

During my many years in Chicago land,  we have enjoyed some of the biggest snowfalls ever.  By enjoyed, I mean we were all stranded somewhere.  Hopefully, you made it home before the snow got too deep.  In 1967 as a youngster, I thought it was fun to have over two feet of snow.  School was cancelled and we got dig out cars and play in the street.  We could walk right down the center of usually busy Irving Park Road (Illinois 19) and not worry about traffic.  Buses were stranded everywhere as they were connected to overhead electric wires and could not get around stalled cars and snow drifts.

January 1967 Pulaski and Irving

January 1967 – Pulaski and Irving Park Road

By the Blizzard of 1979 we were not as amused with the snow as we were at a younger age.  In fact, it was the storm that pushed Mayor Bilandic out of office.  We can forgive almost any sin in this town except not moving the snow.  If he had not insisted the city was on top of the situation as the blizzard was raging on, he might have survived the poor effort. Like the snow in a soft storm, Bilandic was pushed to the curb in the following election.

We did not have another great blizzard until 2011, but we have had plenty of large snowfalls before and since.  I have done enough snow shoveling for a lifetime.  If you are lucky enough to have a snow blower, you learn they are not much good when you start measuring the snow in feet instead of inches.

February 1, 2015

February 1, 2015

Recently at work we heard that there was a state of emergency in the Atlanta area as they expected 1 to 4 inches of snow.  One to Four!  Of course we were all amused that they had to shut everything down over an amount of snow we would consider practically nothing.  On the other hand, they do not have mountains of road salt, a fleet of snow plows and an army of city workers prepared for even the smallest of snowfalls.  If the Department of Streets and Sanitation does not move our snow in a timely manner, the mayor will be the ex-mayor after the next election.

One year we decided to escape the winter with a week in Florida.  That was also the year that Florida did not escape the winter.  Everywhere we went from Orlando to the southernmost reaches of the state, we heard the locals swear to us that they NEVER have an entire week of weather like that.  Even Mickey Mouse must have gotten giant ear muffs for his mouse ears.

At least we had the beaches to ourselves.  From Clearwater to Sarasota and Miami to Key West, we did not have to fight crowds of locals and tourists for a spot in the sand.  Only the seagulls were walking around.  Perhaps it was too cold for flight.

Florida in January?

Florida in January?

Perhaps there just is no escaping Mother Nature.  If she so desires, she can stalk you around the continental USA like the merchant of evil she can sometime be.  Winter vacation in Florida is no guarantee of warmth.  When it is barely warmer than 1300 miles to the north, you are being advised that you should have stayed home.

So if the cold and the snow has overtaken your area, what should you do besides fret about the accumulations outside?  Aside from clearing a path in the snow, it may be time for a snowman, snow fort and snow ball fight.  It could be the time to get out the sled or toboggan.  You may wish to lace up the ice skates if you can actually get to the ice rink.

At this point in life, I can recall all those things fondly, but would rather delight in the inside of the house.  After all, there are so many things I consistently delay, a snow day or two would seem like a great time to start.  I have accumulated many books over the years that I have intended to read.  It would seem that not being able to go to the Wild West Sports Bar and Grill should not be so troubling.  I can always start one of the mysteries on hand or dive into the John Adams biography.

This January, I have continued my quest to watch all of the James Bond movies in order. I am now on the Daniel Craig films and have just one more to go. There are other DVDs I have had for a long while that I would like to watch, or watch again.  When the thermometer shows Zero degrees or the snow is piling up, the fire can be so delightful.  If you have a fireplace, that is.  Otherwise, just get a warm blanket.

STONEHENGE AND A ROMAN BATH

A Great Charter, by Rich Paschall

There are many tour operators in London.  Besides the trips they offer around town, you can go out on a day trip that will take you to one or more famous places.  On a previous visit to London I took the day trip to Oxford, then on to Warwick Castle and finally to Stratford on Avon.  Shakespeare was not home when we arrived at Stratford, but we saw his boyhood home anyway.  These trips last all day so you need to be ready for an adventure of up to 12 hours.

While you can reserve a tour at many locations in central London, we chose to book in advance before we left on our journey.  A visit to visitlondon.com and other tourist sites will link you to the leading tour companies.  We picked the Stonehenge and Bath tour and saved a little by buying in the USA and taking our vouchers with us.  Once in London we received an email saying our trip was cancelled but they would upgrade us to the Salisbury, Stonehenge and Bath tour for the same price and on the same day.  There was an additional entrance fee at Salisbury we did not have to pay, so we gained a good savings.

The modern charter buses pick up at various hotels around town and take tourists to a central location, where you board your particular tour bus and head out of town.  We got a slow start due to traffic but made our way on the road to Salisbury Cathedral.  We knew little about it, but learned a lot from our guide who explained everything to the group in both English and Spanish.

Salisbury Catherdral

Salisbury Cathedral

The first thing we noticed was the size of the structure.  The spire is the tallest one in Great Britain at 404 feet.  While the church was finish in the 1258, the massive spire was added later and finished in 1320.  It would have long since toppled without additional supports over the centuries, including tie beams designed by Christopher Wren in 1668

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The tall nave is impressive in length, with tombs filling the spaces between many of the columns.  The Diocese of Salisbury has been in existence since the beginning of construction in 1220.  The building houses one of four remaining copies of the Magna Carta, agreed to by King John and rebellious Barons in 1215, basically a peace treaty.  Unfortunately, the agreement was not honored by either side initially, but it did lay the basis for English laws in years to follow.  No pictures are allowed of the ancient document and it is protected in a small enclosure you can enter for viewing.  A full translation of the Latin document is nearby for the true historians.

Stonehenge

Stonehenge

Just 8 miles north of Salisbury is the iconic Stonehenge.  While it is thought to date back to 2000 BC, it could in fact be somewhat older.  There is a mound containing burial sites around it which dates back hundreds of years before the structure.  In front of that is a ditch which is clearly visible above.  No, they do not let you cross the mounds or go into the center, except for four times a year.  At the summer and winter solstice and Vernal and Autumnal Equinox.  If you are a Neo-Druid or Pagan that may be your time to go.  You can get rather close on one side any time.

The locals are unimpressed with our visit

The locals are unimpressed with our visit

Yes, there are sheep in the valley alongside Stonehenge.  It just seemed to fit appropriately in the countryside.  A parking lot that was formerly close by stones has been moved in order to restore the view. A visitor center opened in 2013 which is near the highway and well away from the structure.  You can walk up the road to Stonehenge, but take the visitor’s shuttle.  It is a long walk.

Bath, England

Bath, England

From there is was back on the bus to travel another 38 miles out to the town of Bath, Somerset.  Much of the architecture of the town is distinctive in it golden colored stone.  From the spot above (on the extreme right) we entered into the ancient Roman baths.

Ancient Roman bath

Ancient Roman bath

Dating back to 60 AD it is a popular tourist spot now.  Fed by hot springs to this day, the waters are quite warm. While they advise tourists not to stick their hands in the calcium and sulphate ion rich, and possibly disease laden (dangerous amoeba) waters, people do it anyway to see just how hot it is. The site itself is a treasure trove of artifacts from Roman times. A slow tour of the facility is worth your time.

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey

Nearby the Roman baths is the Abbey dating from the early 16th century.  While we got to see the building from several angles, there was no time to stop inside.  We were approximately 97 miles from London at this point and ready for our long trip back.

Our original intent had been the two stop trip in order to allow enough time at each place.  The three stops this far out of our origin meant there was little time explore, especially in Bath where we truly just ran out of time.  Nonetheless, we were glad to see Salisbury for its architectural and historic significance.

The tour provided lunch on the bus in order to save time, but some heavy traffic, even in off-season, slowed us down considerably. An alternative plan would have been to take the train from Paddington station in central London to Bath and catch a tour bus to Stonehenge from there.  Since our visit to the three stops was relatively brief, it is safe to say we would not mind a longer visit to each one.  Perhaps we will return some day in the future.

Related: Heathrow Express
Take The London Underground
A Tourist View Of England
London Calling

HEATHROW EXPRESS

Our London Trip, by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog


One of the things that my younger friends get to enjoy when we travel together is the discount I can get using my AARP membership.  There is actually value to being over 50 and a member of the organization.  I use the AARP travel site, powered by Expedia, several times a year.  Not everything gets a senior discount, but I have uncovered some good deals there.  I do take the time to check around on other sites.

For London I relied on a flight and hotel package from Chicago.  Many hotels are suggested and unless you opt for the higher priced well-known names, I find the selection to be hit and miss.  The hotels all have reviews, but they seem to me to be of limited value.  You can find good and bad comments for each one.

We were lucky to get a direct flight on British Airways from Chicago O’Hare to London Heathrow airport.  The service was better than other flights I have taken across the Atlantic and the unlimited drinks were certainly a plus for a few travelers.  The entertainment options are amazing, but I chose to try to sleep a while each way.  If you can not sleep on the plane, try to stay awake all day when you arrive.

London train station

London train station

It is always good to research your destination in advance, especially how to get around your destination city.  Trust me, you do not want to drive in London.  Aside from the driving on a different side of the street, the roads tend to be quite crowded at almost any hour.  We decided to get into town on the Heathrow Express train from the airport to Paddington station.  We bought the round trip tickets online before leaving home.  This gave us a small discount over the train station price. We printed out the vouchers and exchanged them for real tickets when we arrived at Heathrow.  Don’t worry about finding the train.  There are plenty of signs in your native tongue, if you read English.

By car and by bus it is estimated to take about an hour and 20 minutes to get from Heathrow to Paddington.  The Heathrow Express will get you there in about 15 minutes.  The few extra dollars is more than worth it, especially for tired travelers who may have been up all night.

Paddington Station

Paddington Station

As Paddington is a main train station and a convenient stop for tourists, you can find many pubs, hotels, souvenir shops and currency exchanges in the area.  Do not use the first currency exchange you see.  There are likely two more on the same block.  Go in each and ask for the rate, then go back to the best one.  We found an exchange for 1.25 USD for one British pound.  Down the street we could have paid 1.35.  Those dimes add up if you exchange a lot of cash.  It is better to change cash than pay your credit card’s foreign transaction fees, unless you have a card that does not charge it – lucky you!

Since the street is littered with souvenir shops, and some are the currency exchanges too, you should check the prices in several before you buy.  I saved 3 pounds on a soccer scarf by pricing the exact same item several times over a couple of days.  There is no hurry to buy souvenirs if you will be in the same spot for 5 nights, 6 days as we were.  If you really need a Paddington bear, you can find all sizes up and down Craven street and surrounding areas.

A hotel with great location

A hotel with great location

Our hotel was picked off the online site.  Unless you are going to pay for the much more costly package deal, your room choice may be just luck of the draw.  We selected one based on website pictures and location.  The relative location to the train, the tube, the buses, the pubs and restaurants made it a good stop.  In reality it was barely adequate and a disappointment.  I have generally had good luck with hotels and hostels, but was disappointed a few times as well.

When you leave the train station, there are many hotels within walking distance.  Fortunately, my travel companion has a good sense of direction and researched the walk in advance.  I may have gone off in the other direction.  We were pleased with the surrounding areas and all it had to offer.  After three days in a room too small for two and somewhat uncomfortable, we got a better room for the asking.  I was prepared to use my laptop to find something else if they had not changed our room.  Do not be afraid to complain or ask for a change if it is truly warranted.

Do they all look the same?

Do they all look the same?

We explored the area on foot the Sunday we arrived.  We were surprised at the spots that were closed or opened very late.  London is not Chicago (or San Antonio) and the local customs are much different. We walked extensively through the area, down to Hyde Park and across to Kensington Gardens and back through the neighborhood using a paper map. Yes, we know it is the era of phone apps, but we did not have phone service, nor wish to pay international rates to get it.

The homes and apartments of the area all seemed to have a similar style.  In fact, on some streets all the houses looked the same to me.  I guess there are streets like that here.  We enjoyed our walks in Paddington, and the days ahead would take us to the famous sites around town.  We got an “Oyster Card,” rode the tube and got the pictures I guess every tourist gets.

We learned to “mind the door,” “mind the train,” and “mind the gap.”  Keeping all of this in mind, we also learned to “mind our cameras” on future stops.  These pictures came from my phone.

Related: London Calling,” Sunday Night Blog

WHAT MAKES A GOOD VACATION? by ELLIN CURLEY

My concept of a good vacation keeps changing with the years. When I was young, I felt a real vacation was one during which I had to experiences stuff  totally different than what happens in my everyday life. I wanted experiences that would take me out of my life and plop me down into a different one — at least for a while.

When I lived in an apartment building in New York City, a ‘real’ vacation could be anything from a cottage in the woods, to a tropical island, to sightseeing in a foreign country. I tried cruises. I took canal boat trips through the countryside of England. Over the years I drove through most of France. I loved to stay in B&B’s in people’s homes. That way I hoped to learn a little bit about how the locals lived their daily lives.

Block Island

Block Island

I think I confused the terms ‘trip’ and ‘traveling’ with the word ‘vacation’. Trips were often exhausting, especially with little kids. I came home exhilarated but never rested. I was recharged mentally but not physically. That’s fine – when you’re young.

Now, in my 60’s, I need to be physically as well as mentally rested. I want to come home feeling better able to maneuver through my life. I don’t want to return feeling like I need significant doses of R&R. Therefore, my concept of vacation today is much more specific than it used to be. I want a physical change of pace from my house in the woods in Connecticut. I want to spend my days doing things other than running errands, doing laundry, cooking, etc. I want time to sleep well and relax effectively, smell the roses and enjoy the scenery.

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I am now on this year’s vacation on Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island. We have a power boat which is like a mini condo that floats. When we travel by boat, we take our vacation home with us. Our home base is familiar but we get to enjoy it in a different place, with different vistas and different people. Living aboard is our form of camping out – like an RV but on the water. We love it.

We do much the same things to relax that we would do at home. Yet we return feeling totally re-energized and relaxed. It’s the polar opposite of my adventuresome, traveling days. My goals and expectations have changed.

On this kind of trip, I feel continents away from my house and my friends and family. Every day feels carefree and peaceful. I feel removed from the stresses of ‘real’ life. That’s my new definition of a good vacation!

HOW COME THINGS GET SO COMPLICATED?

We were supposed to be going away for a few days to visit friends in Connecticut. We started planning the little jaunt back in May. Each time the appointed day got close, someone had a problem — and we had to reschedule. One of us (me or Garry) was not feeling well. Garry’s shoulder was out, I had a stomach thing.  It’s one of the perils of aging, I guess, that the likelihood of one of us not feeling up to snuff will occur.

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And then, there are the dogs. They have dogs. We have dogs. Once, our dog sitter wasn’t available. Another time, their son was away on business. Then, there are unexpected visits. His brother. Garry’s brother. Friends.

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We began the process with our first scheduled date set for June. Delayed and I don’t remember why, but I think it was a dog sitting issue. We each canceled once in July, and between us, three times in August (them, us, them). We were supposed to go last week, but I wasn’t up to it. Today was our “rain date,” but our host is feeling poorly.

I said “Tell you what. I know you guys are going away next week for a couple of weeks. When you get back, if you see some time, give a call. We aren’t far away and after August, the calendar is wide open.”

“Yes,” he said. “And maybe by September it will have cooled down a bit.”

And that’s where we left it. He said “It shouldn’t be this hard.”

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It shouldn’t be this complicated. But there’s some malevolent Murphy’s Law operating in our universes. It makes simple plans into a Byzantine maze. Before Tom called, we were already grappling with an unexpected hit on Owen’s schedule which required him to be down on the Cape Monday. That would leave the dogs almost entirely alone  for close to 24 hours. I’m sure they’d survive as long as they have food, water, and the doggy door, but they are unused to being alone at all, much less for an extended period. Gibbs gets anxious when Garry is in the bathroom.

That’s the other problem. We only have two dogs now. Bonnie and Gibbs, the two black Scotties. Bonnie is fine with anyone who can hold a biscuit. She is a bright, happy, little girl. This is not necessarily typical of Scottish Terriers. As a breed, they can be quite stand-offish. And they are never “just anyone’s” dog. They like who they like … which is sometimes quite quirky.

Gibbs has a long history of being a kennel dog. In the past 4 months, he has bonded tightly to Garry and I. He has not accepted anyone else. Maybe if someone else was around more than a few hours at a time, he would begin to accept them but not necessarily. Even when friends were here for a week, he never warmed up. He stopped barking at them all the time, but he was still suspicious.

It’s possible he will never cotton to anyone but us. Scotties are often one or two-person dogs, not friendly to anyone outside a small family circle. Bonnie is outgoing, but that’s Bonnie, not Scotties in general. Gibbs is more like my first Scottie — Mac-A-Dog. He was wary of anyone who didn’t live in the house … and we’d raised him from pup.

That said, there is a limit to how much the dogs can run our lives. We spoil them. We indulge them. But we aren’t willing to be stuck in the house all the time, forever. Gibbs will have to cope with occasional absences and substitute humans coming by to feed, water, and provide companionship.

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This latest snafu has delayed that fateful day, but it will come again. Owen thought maybe he could leave food out for Gibbs. That would probably be okay, assuming Bonnie doesn’t eat all of it. She doesn’t eat as much as she used to, so it would probably be okay. I should get one of those timed feeding things for this kind of situation. I’ll think about it.

Meanwhile, what originally was a simple three-day visit to friends who live a mere 75 miles away morphed into a wildly complex event that didn’t happen at all.

Why do things get this complicated? It was easier packing up and going to Arizona than driving a couple of hours to an adjacent state. Talk about the universe sending a message!

THE DAILY POST | COMPLICATED

COMING HOME: A SNARKY TRAVELOGUE

In summary, traveling to Arizona on JetBlue was like travelling first class, almost. Coming home via American Airlines was like being luggage. But less comfortable.

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It was a very long ride home, though shorter than flying westward. Eastbound, we had a tail wind that got us to Logan an hour early.

It seemed much longer. Not only were we starved — which I expected and for which I was prepared having brought a variety of semi-nutritious snack food (do salted peanuts and Fig Newtons count as nutritious?) and a large bottle of water. Bought at the airport because food for which you pay ten times the normal price is safe, while food bought in a grocery at normal prices will explode on impact.

I think we could have been dead in our seats on our return flight on American and only other passengers would notice. The flight attendants were in the back of the plane, playing cards. Having, as far as I can tell, a fine old time.

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There was no entertainment. No television. The WiFi was not free. They wanted $12 (each) for 60 minutes (each) — and the Patriots-Kansas City game was on. Which was more than an hour. They had whacked us with a $25/per bag luggage fee … and wanted another $12 from each of us to use their WiFi? For an hour? It wasn’t even unlimited WiFi. You had to watch one of their programs. Mean-spirited bastards run that airline.

As I told the attendant, “Your airline sucks.” She agreed. They probably treat her like luggage too. Don’t fly American Airlines.

We managed to get the score in real time on our smart phone. It somehow connected to the WiFi despite the firewall American Airlines erected. Let’s hear it for Google. When the game ended, Garry and I had books on our Kindles, so we survived without WiFi …and those salted peanuts helped too.

When we got home, it was obvious no one had cleaned since we left. Talk about filthy. Wow. Two weeks of dog hair, sand, and odeur de canine. The Christmas tree is still up (“Don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of it and I’ll put the wrapping paper away, I promise”). Right. Sure. Uh huh.

I swept three times before unpacking anything and washed the floors twice this morning, but it’s going to take a lot more scrubbing before the place is habitable. I’m not a clean or neat freak, but I draw the line at genuine filth.

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The kid’s going to be 47 in May. You’d think he’d have a grip on “clean,” wouldn’t you? You’d be wrong.

We are home. No fresh food because we used it all before leaving. Today I threw away about five pounds of leftovers that had become lethal-looking science experiments during our absence. Garry made a very short trip to the grocery store. We needed half-and-half. That’s not groceries. That’s survival.

Tomorrow we’ll deal with The Rest of the Story. Today, it’s football and not being in transit. Sorry I missed your blogs today and yesterday. I’m surprised I’m awake and almost coherent.

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While we were away, someone won the $1.5 billion PowerBall. Even after taxes and fees, it’s still more money than I can imagine having. More money than Garry and I earned in our entire lives. Combined. Before taxes. More money than us and all our friends had or ever hope to have.

Someone won it. On a $1 lottery pick. Go figure.

NOTE: We have concluded that there is a secret interaction between hair gel and PowerZero so dangerous and explosive, it is banned from the air! That’s the only sense I can make of it. Who knows what hidden dangers lie in your luggage?

ME – FROM THE BLOOMING DESERT

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You know you are on vacation when you think of something you want to post, but when you get to the computer, you can’t remember what it was and that doesn’t really bother you. Much.

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I hear it’s snowing back home. That bothers me, a little. Because I don’t want to be greeted at the airport by snow. Or ice. Or cold. Or any form of New England winter.

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There are flowers blooming here. Flowers, blooming in January! It’s warm enough for shirtsleeves, at least in the middle of the day. It cools down a bit as evening approaches.

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They call this winter? Nah. This ain’t no winter, uh-uh. This is nice, balmy spring weather.

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We went out today and took a few pictures. Ate some Thai food. Bought more toothpaste. Garry thought I’d brought extra. I thought he had a spare, but as it turned out … well, for everything else, there’s Walgreen’s.

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I miss my dogs.

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I want to be transported home in my sleep and wake up in my bed, warm, snug, and well-rested.

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