THE CURLEYS OUT WEST – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Tom and I took a ten-day trip out West to visit our daughter, Sarah, in LA and to see some of our old friends.

In LA, we got to experience some elements of city life that we miss out on in the woods where we live in Connecticut. We used grub Hub to order dinner from a local restaurant that we were too lazy to go to in person. The food arrived promptly and still warm! What an invention!

Sarah in her blanket poncho to ward off the cold in LA (it was in the ’50s and ’60s)

I spent an afternoon out with Sarah but she had an evening class so I had to take an Uber back to her house by myself. I’d never used Uber before and I’d heard horror stories about Uber drivers kidnapping women and selling them into sex slavery.

At my age, that’s not in the cards for me, so I bravely got into the Uber car. The very nice driver drove me through the scenic hills of LA for over an hour. I got to see some of the most beautiful and expensive houses up in the hills – some literally on stilts! It was a lovely drive.

We also experienced something totally ordinary to us but mind-blowing to LA residents – rain! Out there they get a rain shower every once in a while but never downpours or all day affairs like we get all the time in New England. They are more familiar with droughts and wildfires than days of non-stop rain. It had rained all week when we got there. The LA river is usually dried up and is used by skateboarders (it has a concrete bottom and curved walls) and film crews to film chase scenes. When we were there, there was an actual river flowing through the city!

Rain in LA (with an add for cannabis cookies in the background).

Dog owners were freaking out too. Apparently, LA dogs don’t like rain any more than their masters and when it rained all day, they had to go out and get their feet wet. This created a major crisis because dogs all over LA were balking and refusing to go out. So dog owners tried to adapt and I saw dogs dressed in rain coats and doggie galoshes walking around town. My dogs wouldn’t wear booties – they’d sit down and chew them off rather than take a step with them on. The LA dogs are either well-trained or total wusses.

Rain gear for dogs

While in LA, we went to the local weed store, where I was not allowed to take pictures. It was awesome! Counters and counters of products in fancy packaging. It looked like the make-up counters at a department store. There were all kinds of edibles, from mints to cookies, candies to brownies, even brand named candies and cereals made with cannabis. They had oils and plants and all kinds of smokeables, including the new craze, vape pens.

Weed shop

The personnel at the shop were very friendly and acted like the ladies at make-up counters, asking you what you wanted, telling you about the different samples so you could find the perfect product for your needs.

Tom was thrilled to be surrounded by all kinds of legal weed. He loved seeing all the weed shops dotting the streets of LA and I loved the huge signs for cannabis cookies all over town. I was also impressed by the fancy liquor stores that you could find in the aisles of the local supermarkets. Nothing like that in Connecticut. Here you have to go to a separate liquor store to buy booze, not the one-stop shopping you get in LA.

This was just the Whiskey section in the supermarket!

One of the perks of going to LA was that we would get to see some old friends. One couple, Gary and Beth, moved from Westchester as soon as they retired, about two years ago, to be near their daughter and five-year-old granddaughter. They spent the entire two years looking for a house to buy, but in LA houses go quickly and there is often a bidding war that raises the price above the asking price.

If you don’t make an offer within the first day the house is on the market, you’re screwed. Gary and Beth lost two houses this way but eventually found the ideal place, on their daughter’s street, literally six houses down from her!

They couldn’t be happier though their house is small and a big change from their spacious Westchester home.

Typical house in a nice LA neighborhood

It was great to spend time with these old friends and I got to see an even older friend. Tom has known Gary since college, but I have a high school friend, Susan, who lives outside of San Diego. We met at a restaurant in Newport Beach, halfway between Susan and Sarah.

Susan and I graduated high school together in 1967 and we kept up into the late 1970s when we were both young marrieds in New York City. But then Susan and I lost touch until two years ago on Facebook. We started emailing and we were thrilled to get to see each other in person again after 40 plus years.

Susan and me

Susan brought her husband of 45 years, Jeff, and I brought Tom and Sarah. We all hit it off amazingly well and if we lived near one another, we would be the best of friends and would see each other all the time. Instead, we are going to schedule monthly phone conversations so we can stay in touch in between our annual visits to LA.

The next leg of our trip also involved old friends. Another college friend of Tom’s, Marc, and his wife, Rachel, moved from Long Island after retirement four years ago to Portland, Oregon. One of their daughters lived there and now the other daughter moved there and is having a baby, so they couldn’t be happier. They lived in a suburban area in New York, a long drive from the city where all the action is.

So they are over the moon to be right in the middle of Portland’s lively cultural life – lots of art, music, and theater going on 24/7.

Marc and Rachel can now go to concerts, openings, and shows all the time and they are having the time of their lives. They can easily walk and bike to many parts of town so they are not dependent on driving like they were most of their lives.

Portland townhouses like the ones our friends live in

They did drive us all over town though, so we have a good feel for this lovely city. Portland has a social conscience and a love for the environment. It is artsy and very progressive socially, politically and culturally and is often referred to as a hippie town. Weed is legal in Oregon and recycling is God – even the airports have multiple recycling bins. They are aggressively trying to deal with a large homeless problem, which has been a thorn in their side for several years.

The food in Portland, like in LA, is much healthier and they have local produce available all year, unlike the east. I ordered two quinoa salads that were the best I’d ever had. There were vegetarian options wherever we went and the salads and fresh vegetables were amazing. I could eat healthy and delicious everywhere, even at diner style places – I didn’t have to ferret out special restaurants that catered to ‘healthy’ options.

So we had a very western experience in LA and Portland and a great time with family and friends. It’s good to be back home with our dogs, who missed us so much, one of them dug up our carpet in the closet.

Welcome home, Mom and Dad!

HEIDELBERG, GERMANY

Our Visit to the Valley, Rich Paschall

For most of my visits to Strasbourg, France I returned home by going directly to Frankfurt airport for my flight.  It is about two and one half hours away by Lufthansa bus, slightly longer by Flixbus as they usually make one brief stop.  My friend from Alsace has driven me there as well. This year we had to change the plan.

Our return flight left early in the day so our options were to stay overnight near Frankfurt, or get to some place were we could make the journey in a short period of time.  We decide to go to Heidelberg for two nights.

Heidelberg

Heidelberg is a university town nestled among surrounding mountains in the Rhine Rift Valley.  The Nekar River flows through the valley with the town being largely on one side and the Heidelberg mountain rising on the other.  At just 48 miles from Frankfurt, it was a good place to be within early striking distance of our morning flight.

The population of the city is approximately 160,000 with a fourth of that said to be students at the renowned university.  Founded it 1386, it is Germany’s oldest and one of the world’s most respected universities.  It’s buildings are spread out over a large section of the old town.

Main street

The oldest streets are narrow, and making your way down them by on foot or by vehicle can be a challenge. Nevertheless, we found the city a great place to explore on foot.  Narrow streets may surprise you by opening up onto plazas or university sites that provide open spaces.

In our travels about town, we often noticed many flower shops.  For late October we found the abundance of flowers to be amazing.  The moderate temperature and somewhat longer growing season may be partly responsible.  The cultural interest certainly comes into play as tourists are not likely buying any.

Flower shop, Heidelberg

In all of the European cities we explore, we stop by churches of many denominations.  We often find structures of architectural and historical significance.  Many still operate as churches.  A few are no more than museums now.  Some are both actually.

Almost in the shadow of the largest Heidelberg church, seen at the end of the main street above, is the Parish Church of the Holy Spirit and St. Ignatius, or more commonly known as the Church of the Jesuits. Built between 1712 and 1759, the church steeple was added over a century later.

Church of the Jesuits

Throughout the oldest section of town are buildings of the Universitat Heidelberg.  One of the more impressive is the main library building, constructed between 1901 and 1905. It holds a collection of printed books counting in the millions, as well as paintings, maps and photographs, films and video.  Of course, they are up to modern methods, with e-journals and other electronic services.

While the “modern” library is early 20th century, the university library dates back to 1388.  It has enjoyed several locations around town.  The Bibliothek, or central library, you see here is one of many libraries in the university system.

Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg

While the tram system is a good way to get around, students as well as many locals know that the best way to travel about is by bicycle.  You will find that many of the university building are surrounded by bicycles throughout the day.  With automobile traffic being difficult, if not impossible, around many of the school buildings, the only ways to navigate the distances between buildings are on foot and by bike.

Bicycles

For the Heidelberg stop over we rented an apartment near a tram station. We found it on Booking.com as we searched sites for our stay. It was a bit more than a hotel perhaps, but the large space had a kitchen, large living room and large bedroom. It had a washing machine which was essential at this late part of our trip. One of the things that amazes me around Europe are the washer and dryers, as they are actually the same machine. I just don’t know why we continue to buy two machines, but I digress. The apartment had everything you would need to set up shop, although we did no cooking. We used the refrigerator, however, to chill the wine we brought from Strasbourg and there were wine glasses in the cabinet.

From our apartment location

Our brief visit to Heidelberg was just a day and a half, two nights. It did not give us enough time to see all of the historic sites. The autumn weather was mild and we were able to take many meals “in the streets” as my friend likes to say. Out living quarters were at the end of a quiet street in a beautiful old apartment building. Autumn would seem a lovely time to visit and we will hope we can add Heidelberg to our itinerary again.

CODDIWOMPLE IN IRELAND – Marilyn Armstrong

Monday Prompt: Coddiwomple


The definition made me laugh. This is the perfect description of our trip to Ireland. After the plane landed in Shannon and we managed to negotiate our way to the B&B where we were staying, it was coddiwomple for the next three weeks.

We never knew where we were, where we were heading and mostly, we didn’t really care. We found places we loved, avoided any place that had more traffic than we cared to drive it, and had a wonderful time. We missed most of the “favorite” tourist stops — too much traffic. We don’t go on vacation to sit in traffic jams, so if we bumped into one, we took the next uncrowded turn in the road. But we found stone circles and old graveyards and ancient round towers and at least one nearly unknown author who signed his book and let us play with his pet chickens.

Somewhere in Ireland

We stayed in some wonderful B&Bs and a fantastic one in Dublin that was really a small hotel where they also had a great dining room. We shopped in stores no one had heard of, got great prices on clothing that I still believe will never wear out. Garry’s tweed jackets don’t look any older than they did when we bought them almost 30 years ago.

Maybe it’s because neither of us have any sense of direction, but maybe this is really the way to vacation. Just go. Find a place. Look it up in one of the dozens of books describing every piece of land in the country. You mean … you don’t travel with a working library of the country you are in?

That was always the first thing I did when we were going someplace new. I bought every book I could find that had the historical details of the place. No book has everything, of course, so I bought all of them. A small traveling library was always with us.

Ireland

Along the way, we stayed in B&B’s that were known for having private libraries so we could read up on everything as we went. We took a million pictures, ate lamb and salmon and drank a substantial amount of Irish coffee (it’s never too early …) and Jameson. We sang in pubs and told stories.

If we should ever travel again to another continent, I would do it again, just like that. No fixed destination, no formal reservation except for the plane or to meet others.

Coddiwomple, all the way!

LACK OF SUBSTANCE – MARTHA’S VINEYARD – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Substance

When we used to spend a month or more on the Vineyard and became “summer people,” our vacations were completely lacking in substance and that’s the way we liked them.

You lost your watch on the third day. You forgot to wear underwear by the end of the first week. By the middle of the second week, you had no idea what day of the week it was and were probably at least a little tipsy.

Vineyard house – Originally part of the New York Yacht Club, it was a boathouse that became a house and is now an air BNB. This was where we stayed before it was restored. This looks “pre-restoration,” so the odds are that I or one of the many other photographers with whom we shared the house took the picture

If you made it to week three, by then you forgot what you used to do back on the mainland.

The Vineyard was where you went and nothing happened. There were no events. No parties. No concerts except usually one around the end of August to raise money for the food bank — generally the Taylor and Simon families propped up the event.


Since 1884, islanders have enjoyed the beauty of this magnificent carousel. Built by Charles W.F. Dare, it is the nation’s oldest platform carousel still in operation. Acquired by the Preservation Trust in 1986, the carousel is a National Historic Landmark. Children (and others) may enjoy a ride from Easter Sunday through Columbus Day. Rides cost just $1 and if you catch the brass ring, you ride for free. Video games and refreshments are also available.


Unless a president came to visit, or a plane crashed somewhere, nothing happened. Oh, right, one year, there were fireworks in the channel behind the house. There were two Clinton parties, one hosted by the Simons (that was when Clinton played the saxophone) and the next held by the Taylors, which is when I met Kate (I had no idea who she was until later). She was the only woman I met who dressed like me in long Indian dresses and beads.

One year it was really hot.

One summer it was surprisingly cold.

One summer, a novelist I liked did a book signing at “Bunch of Grapes.”

One of our friends made an amazingly good daiquiri. I made frozen strawberry daiquiris using real strawberries and brown sugar that tasted so good, even people who never drank got wiped out.

Garry commented considering the alcoholic stupor many of us were in, our real question should have been “Do I know who I am?”

Back deck Vineyard house. Did a lot of drinking back there. Eating. And reading. There was a big rope hammock at the end of the deck. This picture had to be pre-restoration while we were still the summer residents — along with a bunch of other people.

So what made it so special? Probably the same thing that makes boating special. Nothing. You slept, you hung out on the dock. Read a book. Roamed through Oak Bluffs looking for bargains. Wandered around Edgartown. Had a burger. Had a drink. Bought something useless but pretty.

No substance. Doing nothing and loving it.

The Island Theatre. When we were there, it wasn’t air-conditioned. I suppose it is now.

Strolled over to the Flying Horses carousel. If you got lucky, you might catch a gold ring and get a free ride while the calliope played.

Watched pink sunsets over Nantucket Sound.

If it rained, maybe we’d go to a movie.

1891 – Circuit Avenue, Oak Bluffs. It changed very little in a century.

There was no schedule until you had to leave. Then, you had to find your watch, make sure you could find your ferry tickets. Hope the bridge was not open so you wouldn’t miss your boat. Missing the boat could mean a very long day in the parking lot of the Steamship Company.

Nothing was special or substantial about the Vineyard. That’s what made it special.

SUNSHINE, SPRING TRAINING AND SURVIVAL

The missing Harold mystery, Rich Paschall

George and his ever talkative wife Martha had just about enough of the Midwest winter. They were tired of snow,  tired of cold. At close-to-retirement age, they were just plain tired. When another cold night forced them to stay at home rather than visit a favorite neighborhood stop, they realized there was only one thing that could pull them through to warmer weather. Baseball! Right then and there, they began to talk about a trip to sunny Florida for a round of spring training games.

A year before, they had traveled to Florida on a rare road trip to see the Chicago Cubs play. The Cubs lost but they deemed the trip a success. They had visited a ball park other than Wrigley Field, spent a day at the beach, and wandered through town to do some typical tourist shopping. They had some very hot days, but did not suffer the kind of stifling humidity Lake Michigan can serve up in July. Now, in March, they were ready to go south again.

Always sunny Florida?
Always sunny Florida?

George sat down with spring schedules to see what teams would be playing. He wanted to find the best matches for the days they could go to Florida. Martha researched the ball parks themselves and the surrounding night spots on the internet. When they had chosen a few games they might like to see, they looked at hotels, air fares and rental cars. After a full night of debate and delay, they made their choices.

They would return to the familiar spots of St. Petersburg. From there they could go to Tampa to see the Yankees, then down to Bradenton to catch the Pirates and from there to Sarasota to see the Orioles.

Unlike the famous George and Martha of Broadway play and movie fame, this couple rarely had arguments. In fact, they were in agreement on just about anything that meant parties and good times. When almost all of their arrangements were in place, and they were congratulating themselves on another “road trip extraordinaire”, Martha had one more good idea. Of course, the good idea may have been fueled by the German beer she had been drinking all night, but it was an interesting idea, nonetheless.

“Why don’t we call old Harold for the game in Bradenton or Sarasota?” Martha blurted out as if her head had been hit by a rock and she was stunned silly.

“Harold!” George shouted with glee. “That’s a wonderful idea. The old boy probably needs a road trip anyway. Let’s give lucky old Harold a call.”

While Martha dutifully looked for Harold’s phone number, George wondered why the little tapper of Dortmunder beer had run dry. “I am headed to the basement, ” George called out. “I have to find another one of these big cans of beer. You killed the last one.”

“I did no such thing, George,” Martha lied.

When the twosome finally met back at the kitchen table, each was carrying the object of their search. “Well dial the phone and hand it over, old woman,” George said with a laugh.

“I am not as old as you, wise guy,” Martha said as she handed over the phone. Both began to giggle and laugh like school kids up to no good. The phone rang away as the couple talked on until George finally realized there must have been at least 20 rings. He hung up.

“I can not imagine that Harold is not home at this hour. He was never out late.” It was true, of course. In all his life Harold was rarely out at night, and since he retired and moved to Florida, he was always home by dark.

“He’s probably sleeping, you nit wit,” Martha declared. “Let’s give him another try tomorrow.” And so they did. In fact, they called for several days in a row and at different times of day, but Harold never answered. When the day of the trip arrived, Harold was not part of the plan.

Undeterred by their lack of success at lining up Harold for a game, they resolved to try him again once they landed at the Florida airport. They departed from Chicago’s Midway airport. Unbelievably, it was once the busiest airport in the country, but that was before the jet age. Now the crowded airport just seemed like the busiest airport. St. Petersburg airport, on the other hand, was in stark contrast, even for spring training. The crowd was small and the rental car line was short. The couple got their car, got to their hotel, and got on the phone. Still, there was no Harold.

“I hope the old guy is OK,” Martha said, finally voicing more than a bit of concern.

“Sure, Harold is just fine,” George insisted. “He is probably at some nice restaurant right now being fussed over by some cute waitresses. Don’t worry.”

At that very moment Harold was being fussed over by some weary nurses at the Intensive Care Unit of the county hospital. This trip, the retired planner from the Midwest was going to miss the endlessly talkative George and Martha.

Note:  The next Harold story appears next week.
What happened to Harold? The previous story: “Missing Monday

THE LOVE OF THE WATER – BY ELLIN CURLEY

What is it about water that so many people find endlessly fascinating and soul soothing? People pay top dollar to live in homes that have a view of water – any water – ocean, lake, pond, marsh, stream. Prime vacation spots are often on, in or near the water.

I love the sound of our backyard mini waterfall. I can also sit and look at it for hours. The sound of waves lapping onto the shore have been recorded innumerable times for relaxation tapes, sleep aids and comfort for newborns.

 

People also love the feel of water; pushing through the fingers, falling onto the hand, resisting a closed palm, like in swimming. People walk with their feet in the water at beaches and swim anywhere they can, both under the water and on top. There are a plethora of gadgets to help you play in the water, from inner tubes to noodles, paddle-boards, beach balls, etc. There are also too many water sports to even try to list.

96-SunriseWalkNIK-CR-1

There is a theory that our obsession with water is rooted in our time in our mother’s womb. As fetuses, we float in the uterus in a protective amniotic fluid, gently rocked as our mothers move. We may even hear the sounds of swooshing water. Which could explain the universality of humans’ love affair with water.

But it doesn’t explain why only some people seek the water in many different aspects of their lives.

Personally, we choose to live in the woods — but we own a boat. Listening to water slapping against our hull is our version of Nirvana. Our boat is big enough so we’re not close to the waterline when on-board.

72-garry-Marina_005

So we have an inflatable dinghy that we drive around. In that, we are as close to the water level as you can get, like in a canoe or a rowboat. I can’t resist putting my hands in the water and opening my fingers as we ride through the water. I love the sound of the little boat pushing through the water, punctuated by the percussion bursts of waves breaking against its sides.

72-ct-Marina_17

I don’t have any earth-shattering conclusions to make. I’m sure there are research studies out there on the subject. It’s just that I’m on my boat enjoying being on the water and wondering why it is so satisfying for me. I had a swimming pool and a pond during summers growing up but no one in my family went to beaches or liked boats. We were city folks who ‘roughed it’ in the countryside of Fairfield County, CT during our summer vacations.

72-garry-Marina_084

So I have no family history or childhood memories to fall back on, except the pool and the pond. Maybe that, combined with my primal connection with amniotic fluid, is enough.

QUESTION FOR THE SHARING WORLD – Marilyn Armstrong

Share Your World – May 7, 2018

If you were given $22 million tax-free dollars (any currency), what is the first thing you would do? 

Same as last time. Pay off the house. Possibly knock it down and build one more suitable to our needs.

Home, now

Help out my friends and family who need it. Take a really lovely vacation for which someone other than me makes ALL the arrangements.

Hire a cook and people to clean the house. Get my hair cut by someone who won’t scalp me. Get more Bomba socks!

In what do you find the simplest of joys?

Pretty much all my joys are simple. I’m not sure what a complicated joy would be.

I’m just happy when all the bills are paid and nothing is broken or breaking down.

What would be your ideal birthday present, and why?

I want that vacation, but I want someone else to take care of it. ALL of it. Reservations. Tickets.

Literally everything from leaving home to returning. I don’t want to worry about money or travel connections or whether or not they will let me have a bottle of shampoo on my flight.

Spring dog with window
Spring window, with dog

Usually, when all is said and done, this means staying home.

What did you appreciate or what made you smile this past week? 

This was not a very smiley week. I was grateful to finally have normal weather and some sunshine.

A flower or two would have been grand, but the leaves are coming out, so if we aren’t bright with color, at least we are green. Each time I look out the window, I see the leaves have gotten bigger. Spring is happening in a huge hurry, trying I think to make up for all that lost time!

Happy birthday, Owen!