Mount St. Helens – Remembering and Renewal

As I stood listening to the Washington State Parks ranger talk about the history of eruptions on Mount St. Helens – dating back to Native American oral history from the 15th century, my mind flashed back to Sunday May 18, 1980. The memories were as vivid as if they had happened yesterday.

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Ranger presentation – Visitor Center

I had returned to graduate school and was sitting at the kitchen table studying for a final. My husband, Gary, was watching basketball in the nearby rec room.

“Come here quick,” he called – and I joined him at the TV. The basketball game had been interrupted to show the plume, streaming lava, and river torrents from the eruption of Mount St. Helens.

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May 18, 1980 eruption – photo courtesy of NOAA

We sat there dumbfounded and I forgot about my studies. There were frequent updates on the television for the next several days. We were able to observe area streams and rivers rise quickly as ice and snow on the volcano melted. We watched horrified as houses floated down the Toutle River and mud flows covered area roads and clogged rivers.

While the earthquake that triggered the eruption and massive landslide (the largest in recorded history) occurred at 8:32 am, the news coverage didn’t start until an hour or so later.

Since the volcanic cloud moved east, not much ash fell on Redmond, WA. Folks across the mountains had to wear protective masks and ash was several inches deep in some locations. The plume reached 80,000 feet into the atmosphere and deposited ash in 11 states.  My parents, who were living in Coeur d’Alene, ID had to deal with the ash.  My sister, brother-in-law and 5 year old daughter, Elizabeth, visited them that December and remember seeing an accumulation of ash still hugging the sides of the road.

After visiting me in Redmond, they then drove to Portland and stopped at some temporary trailers near Castle Rock that had displays of the eruption and aftermath.

Even though we didn’t have to deal with ash, the gases and particles in the atmosphere affected the weather that summer, resulting in much more rain. I was glad I had scheduled to take a summer class and couldn’t get out much on weekends to enjoy the normally glorious summers in the Pacific Northwest.

In 1982 President Reagan and the Congress created the 110,000-acre National Volcanic Monument for research, recreation, and education. It is managed by the US Forest Service. Inside the Monument, the environment is left to respond naturally to the disturbance.

While it would be after 1993 before visitors would be able to drive into the blast zone from the west side, the road to Windy Ridge opened in 1983. In 1987 we read that a Visitor Center had opened and we stopped there on a summer outing.

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Gary and Breanne looking at blast area

As I flew into Portland the at the end of June, Mount St. Helens was unmistakable with its blown-off top

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View of Mount St. Helens from descent into Portland

and I was glad I had planned to visit. I had not been back since our 1987 visit. I planned drive from Portland to Seattle, and definitely wanted to get a first-hand view.

After leaving the visitor center, opened by the Washington Parks Department in 2000, the Spirit Lake Highway (WA-504) wound through some small towns. Just past Kid Valley, I noticed a sign advertising Bigfoot and the Buried A-Frame. It didn’t hit me until I passed it again on my return that the A-Frame had been buried by the mud and was now a tourist attraction. The website claims that Bigfoot was killed during the eruption – once and for all!

My first stop was at Hoffstadt Bluffs where I enjoyed an elk burger on the patio overlooking the Toutle valley and distant Mount. St. Helens, still covered in clouds.

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Hoffstadt Ridge view

After lunch, I walked to the exhibit on the far side of the parking lot. (Click on the picture to read the full text of reporter Dave Crockett’s harrowing account.)

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A KOMO TV news car had been damaged at this location while filming the after-math of the eruption. It remains as a testament to the destruction and tenacity of the reporter.

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Not far beyond Hoffstadt Bluffs was a sign announcing that I had now entered the blast zone.

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Photo courtesy of mountsthelens.com

I stopped briefly at Weyerhauser’s Forest Learning Center, but didn’t have time to look at their exhibits.

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Not far beyond the Learning Center was a sign indicating that the hillside had been replanted in 1983.

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hillside replanted in 1983

There were several viewpoints between the Learning Center and the turn-off to Johston Ridge Observatory, each one with a closer view of the mountain.

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Forty-nine miles after leaving the Visitor Center just east of Castle Rock, I pulled into the packed parking lot

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below the Johnston Ridge Observatory and walked up the hill. By then it was mid-afternoon. After showing my federal Senior Access Pass at the entrance, I had an opportunity to view the exhibits. The Visitor Center was named after the volcanologist David Johnston, who was camped out on this ridge observing the volcano when it blew. His final words were “Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it.” He was never found.

I was struck by the somber tone and intense scrutiny visitors gave each panel with survivor stories and pictures.

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I then filed into the auditorium for a video presentation about the eruption and the aftermath. When the video was over, the screen retracted and a screen rose on the window behind where the screen had been exposing the mountain.

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Afterwards I hiked up the hill above the observatory. Lupine and Fireweed poked out of the volcanic earth and I thought about the ranger talk I had attended earlier in the day.

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She explained that regrowth of the area had occurred initially because ground squirrels

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Chipmunk – photo taken at Mt. Rainier

and pocket gophers had been spared deep in their burrows. As they began to rebuild their tunnels, they pushed dirt with seeds up to the surface. The seeds sprouted in the fresh soil. Fireweed was the first plant to appear.

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Fireweed and other wildflowers

Elk wandered into the area and after eating the fireweed, deposited poop which further fertilized the soil encouraging other plants to grow. After five years, the population of elk and deer had been restored.

“Are the dead trees on the hillside from a recent event, or are they still there from the original blast?” I asked a volunteer at the top of the hill.

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“They are from the original blast,” he replied.

It was amazing to think that they have remained for 36 years! I had presumed that the location was above the tree line, but then realized the hill where I stood was once forested.

In addition to eruptions that occurred in the summer of 1980, Mount St. Helens has remained intermittently active, and through early 1990 at least 21 more periods of eruptive activity had occurred, renewing again in October 2004 and continuing through mid-2008. Each of these period of eruption has slightly changed the landscape.

The following quote was in the Volcano Review, a newspaper-like publication I had received at the Visitor Center,

“The eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980 changed the landscape and changed the lives of many. Stories of loss and survival and of ash and darkness flowed from the Northwest on that fateful Sunday morning. Today, new stories are being written as new growth continues in the blast area and visitors experience this dynamic place for the first or 36th time.”

As I drove back to the freeway, I pondered the natural recovery and ecological processes I had observed. It was a day of somber remembrance, as well as a time to marvel at how nature evolves and renews.

 

 

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Circles of Support – Women Friends Across the Years

“Where are you all from?” was the standard question as the four of us struggled to put on our seat belts in each of the Uber driver’s cars.

Without exception, these men (and one woman) of all ages and nationalities, were impressed that we had been friends for 57 years and had been roommates at the University of Redlands.

In fact, Sue, Penny and I had all shared a room during our freshman year of college – the only three-in-a-room group. We have pondered what the Dean of Women saw in our applications and recommendations that made her decide that the three of us – out of all of the freshmen women, would be the ones most likely to manage having three in a room.

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Penny and Sue in our dorm room – 1959

It is amazing that we not only survived the year, but have remained fast friends all these years. While Carole had a different roommate during our freshman year, she quickly became part of the group and roomed with Penny off and on.

After graduation, we each went our own way pursuing graduate school or career, married and raised our families. In the days before email, it was difficult to stay in contact regularly. In 1995 we were in a place that we could get together and scheduled our first reunion. I still had two children in high school, so we gathered in Albuquerque and were able to spend a couple of days each in Taos and

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Carole, Penny, Sue, Me – Taos, NM – 1995

Santa Fe.

Since we had all grown up in Southern California and still had family that lived there, we were able to get together fairly regularly in California, usually gathering in Laguna Beach where Penny lived.

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Sue, Me, Penny, Carole aboard Penny’s brother’s boat – 2001

After our 40th college reunion, we spent a few days in Palm Desert where Penny’s brother has a condo. I had started birding the prior year and had my binoculars out all of the time – while everyone rolled their eyes. However, after we returned to Laguna Beach, Penny, Sue and I stopped at the Newport Back Bay on the way to the airport. When Sue saw a flock of American Avocets in breeding plumage, she was hooked. We have traveled together several times on birding trips, most recently to Cuba.

The four of us email almost daily. Our basic values about life are in sync which has enabled us to stay connected despite living in far-flung parts of the country, following different career paths and having varied interests. We have been there for each other through the ups and downs of life and through medical crises that we have each faced as we have aged.

It was wonderful to get together in Portland where Carole now lives in a Continuing Care Facility and near one of her sons.

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My birthday dinner in Portland 2016 – Penny, Sue, Carole and Me

After Portland, I traveled up to the Seattle area where I was able to connect with two other groups of women who have been long-term friends.

Kate, Sharron, Martha, Tisha and I were all executive directors of United Way affiliated non-profit agencies starting in the mid 1970’s. By the late 70’s, we were aware that there was a group of men executives that met regularly for breakfast to network. We, of course, couldn’t do that as we had families to tend to and get off to school before heading to work – and weren’t even invited. Being in the minority, we decided we needed each other and started meeting for lunch. After grappling with challenging board members and funding issues, we gradually became friends. After about a year, we started meeting for dinner at each other’s’ homes and our friendship deepened. We were there for each other through many personal challenges, as well as for work-related issues.

When I left Seattle and moved to Albuquerque and we met for our farewell dinner,

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Martha, Kate, Sharron, Tisha – 1994

I didn’t know whether we would remain close. However, strong friendships don’t go away and despite the distance, we have stayed connected and always get together whenever I visit.

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Sharron, Me, Kate, Martha, Tisha – 2000

Only Martha and Tisha were able to get together with me on my most recent visit.

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Me, Tisha, Martha – 2016

Sharron was out of state and Kate and her husband were on their sailboat before she starts another round of chemo. Tisha and Martha promised to let me know when they visited Kate during one of her infusion sessions and to connect with me via FaceTime.

Joanne and Margaret Lee are friends that developed from our time at The Arc-King County. Joanne was the president of the board when we both had young children. If she was able to guide the board expeditiously through the agenda at a monthly evening board meeting, she and I would stay in the office and visit until we knew that our husbands had gotten our children into bed. Later I was successful in recruiting her to come and work at The Arc. Along the way, I realized that Breanne was facing developmental challenges and was grateful for the support from other families. Joanne was also the one person I could talk with when I admitted to myself that my husband was an alcoholic. She accompanied me to my first Alanon meeting and she and her husband where there for the intervention.

Margaret Lee joined The Arc later to coordinate the Parent Coalition. She and Joanne and I became fast friends, along with Nancy, another parent advocate who has since passed away.

I have been back to Seattle every few years and the three of us always get together.

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Margaret Lee, Joanne, Me – 2004

Every year when I get her Christmas letter, Margaret Lee regularly scrawls a note letting me know that I am always welcome to stay with her and her husband Loren. I did that four years ago when I returned for her retirement party. It was such fun that I took her up on her offer when I visited again this year.

As usual, she and Joanne and I got together for lunch.

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Me, Joanne, Margaret Lee – 2016

After my groups of close women friends in Seattle, I knew I wanted to find a similar group of women in Albuquerque. The opportunity arose when a friend from work invited me to be part of a dream group. The composition of this group changed over the years when it was clear that someone in the group did not have similar values. When you are sharing your dreams, it is vital that each person be compatible. The two friends that were in the group from the beginning are Val and Tanya, and we have stayed close.

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Tanya, Val, Me – 2003

Sandy joined us in 2004.

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Sandy, Tanya, Val – Christmas high tea – 2009

While we no longer gather to share our dreams, we remain fast friends. Val and I try to get together every month or so to take a walk and visit. It has been Tanya who coordinated friends to provide transportation to physical therapy after my two knee replacements.

While I have many other wonderful friends in Albuquerque spanning my work, church and birding circles, I am grateful for long-term relationships and circles of support.

I feel lucky to have special friendships that have supported me, shared fun times, and endured over most of my adult life.

 

 

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Memories of Music and Place

“When I hear chamber music, I think of dinosaurs,” I announced recently at a gathering of family and friends.

“Oh, yeah,” my sister Chris replied as everyone else blinked in amazement, “although the dioramas were my favorite.”

The year I was seven and Chris was five, our family started going to the Los Angeles Natural History Museum about once a month. Our Dad had made a connection with someone who broadcast a Sunday afternoon chamber music program and allowed him to sit in the control room and record the live program on KUSC, which broadcast from the museum. According to their website, the classical public broadcasting station must have recently launched about the time we started our visits.

While our Dad was recording, our Mom took Chris and me to look at the exhibits. The massive skeleton of a dinosaur greeted us as we entered the museum – and is still there today,

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Dinosaur skeleton in entrance

as are the same dioramas.

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Diorama – African animals

When we returned home, Dad would play the music he recorded. According to a list of concerts during that time that the station recently provided, I’m sure that one of the programs he recorded was William Vandenberg, cello, and Yalta Menuhin, piano, in recital.

I began thinking of my associations of music and place during a recent visit with my son BJ.  His iPod cycled to an album of French café songs. I commented that I had become enchanted with this music while driving across the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec, Canada one summer and was delighted to find a station that played that style of music.

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Bonaventure Island – Gaspe Peninsula, Quebec

Recently, when I had my sister, Chris, listen to some of the music, I was chagrined to discover that one of the instruments was the accordion.  I guess I have to add another style of accordion music that I like.

Every Christmas as a child our parents would play a 78 rpm record of the Nutcracker Suite. I always loved the music and the accompanying story. Over the years I have seen many Nutcracker Ballet performances; however, the most memorable has to be the time I took six-year old BJ to see the Pacific Northwest Ballet Company performance at the Seattle Opera House in Seattle Center.

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Seattle Opera House – image from post card

I had purchased seats on the aisle in one of the first few rows so he could have a good view of the dancers. It was also the first time that I had attended a ballet in that type of venue.

I recently asked him if he remembered the performance.

“Wow, that was a long time ago,” he replied. “I remember the thrill of being so close I could see the musicians in the orchestra – and that it was my first live performance.”

When I hear Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker during the holidays, I can picture the giant mice, and the children running out from under the huge hoop skirts of Mother Ginger.

Growing up, the music I was surrounded with was fairly limited to classical music and accordion tunes. While our Dad always prided himself on being on the cutting edge of audio-visual equipment, we never owned a record player that played 45 rpm records – even with an adapter.  Listening to rock ‘n roll music, which took off when I was in junior high, only happened in venues away from home – with one exception: Ed Sullivan.  That television show was on at our house every Sunday evening.  I had my first opportunity to see Elvis Presley when he appeared on the show in September, 1956.

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Ed Sullivan and Elvis Presley during rehearsal – photo from Wikipedia Commons

During the summer of 1955, our family camped at Bass Lake just south of Yosemite.

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Mom washing dishes at our Bass Lake campsite

Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and the Comets had risen to the top of the charts a few months earlier and the scenic boat touring around the lake blared this hit single constantly.  As a teenager, I loved it, but it drove my parents crazy.

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Bass Lake Queen – photo from park website

I was still living at home in 1964 when the Beatles made their debut on the Ed Sullivan show – an event that many remember in the same way they know where they were when President John F. Kennedy was shot.

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Ed Sullivan with The Beatles – photo from Wikipedia commons

It was about this time that my fiancé introduced me to Dixieland Jazz, his favorite type of music – and I was surprised at how much I liked the Dixieland beat.  The first time I heard Louis Armstrong belt out When the Saints Go Marching In on his trumpet, I was hooked. In 1977 I visited New Orleans for a conference and several of us spent an evening at Preservation Hall.

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New Orleans – Preservation Hall – photo from Wikipedia commons

To this day, I still remember the thrill of being packed into the rickety venue that felt like a fire trap and listening to New Orleans jazz well into the night. After a while, the musicians had sweat dripping off their brows and I wondered how some of the performers, who looked to be in their 70’s and 80’s had the stamina to play the music with their gnarled fingers with such gusto – for such a long time.

When I moved to Albuquerque in the mid-1990’s, I was able to have my love of Dixieland jazz revived listening to performances given by Russ Jolly and fellow musicians,

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Russ Jolly Dixieland performance at Covenant Presbyterian Church

including three of his sons – Jay on base, Todd on drums and Jeff on guitar. One of my favorites in his repertoire was Muskrat Ramble.

While I really like traditional Chinese instrumental and vocal music, I don’t have any vivid memories from my nine months attending college in Hong Kong that I associate with this music. It would not have been music played by my fellow students in the early 1960’s.

After finishing my first Thanksgiving dinner in Albuquerque, family friend Tom Hussey looked me in the eye and asked, “So when are you going to join the choir?”

“When I get my life in order,” I replied.

“Then you’ll never join,” he stated flatly.

He was right and the following week I timidly attended my first choir practice at Covenant Presbyterian Church. I have been forever grateful for Tom’s straight talk. Joining the choir was one of the best things I have done for myself. Choir director, Jeff Jolly, has the ability to accept and work with all who want to sing. He is also a gifted composer and it has been such a joy to perform not only classical anthems, but also spiritual music in a wide variety of styles and beats.

A few months later, Jeff had us start learning a piece he had written, Hymn of the Holy Spirit, for the upcoming General Assembly gathering of Presbyterian leaders from across the country that was going to be held in Albuquerque. While the choir sings it every spring on Pentecost and I always enjoy it, I will always remember the thrill of performing it, in the company of all of the other Presbyterian Church choirs, 100 + strong from central and northern New Mexico, accompanied by an orchestra, at the closing worship service held at the Albuquerque Convention Center.

Every time we sing “Your presence like the wind, blows where it will, and where you linger, Your voice is still…” I think about that performance in 1996.

For the last 20+ years, Christmas Eve for me is all about singing at the two Christmas Eve church services. While the musical selections have changed from time to time, the one piece that remains constant is Jeff Jolly’s arrangement of O Holy Night.

And, it wouldn’t be Easter without singing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

When my sister, Chris, and her husband Bill and I traveled to Scotland in 2000, we had several opportunities to hear bagpipe music, including this man propped up against the outside wall of Edinburgh Castle.

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Piper – Edinburgh, Scotland

I expected there would be opportunities to hear Celtic music or attend a ceilidh. While staying in Stirling, we noticed a sign posted outside of the visitor information center announcing a ceilidh at the Church of the Holy Rude. We jumped at the opportunity – and arrived early.

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Church of the Holy Rude – Stirling, Scotlnd

While waiting for the performance to start, we wandered around the historic church and discovered it was where James VI, the infant son of Mary Queen of Scots, was crowned King of Scots !

We were the only tourists who attended the musical program and Chris remembers them being so appreciative of our interest.

In 2003 I traveled through Nova Scotia and spent several days on Cape Breton Island, where I was able to be immersed in Celtic fiddling music. I attended a ceilidh every evening in each local community where I stayed, including an intimate, folksy gathering in Baddeck.

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Ceilidh – Baddeck, Cape Breton Island – photo from Baddeck Tourism

After my tour of Cape Breton, I stayed with my friends Val and Wally at their summer cottage on Prince Edward Island.

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Wally and Val Ford – Prince Edward island

During that visit and again when I traveled to “the island” three years later, we enjoyed Celtic fiddling.

As I drove through Cape Breton Island one day the radio played music from a well-known Cape Breton soloist, Rita MacNeil, and I became enamored with the rich and haunting melodies she sang.

Today when I listen to one of my CD’s of Celtic music from those locations or the melodies of Rita MacNeill – particularly the song ‘She’s Called Nova Scotia’, I picture the rugged picturesque landscapes of Cape Breton

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Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia – photo Cape Breton Tourism

and Prince Edward Island.

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Prince Edward Island coastline

In junior high and high school I played the cello. While I sold my cello to buy a typewriter for college, I continued to enjoy cello music and to this day always watch the cellists when attending a symphony concert. In the late 1980’s I first heard the liquid sounds of YoYo Ma when he performed on television. While he has become very innovative with the cello, I still prefer to listen to him playing more traditional pieces. In 2005 he appeared in concert at Albuquerque’s Popejoy Hall. It was thrilling to be able to watch him perform live – even from the balcony!

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Album cover of CD purchased at concert

During the summer of 1998, I took my daughter, Breanne to San Francisco to celebrate her high school graduation. One afternoon as we were enjoying an afternoon snack in Ghirardelli Square, a pair of musicians caught my attention as they played across the square. They were from Peru – one playing a guitar and the other a unique flute, called a pan flute that is made up of a series of graduated bamboo tubes.

As my friend Sue and I wandered around Aguas Caliente nestled in the valley below Machu Picchu, the sounds of Andean flute music floated around us – and my mind immediately went back to that sunny afternoon in Ghirardelli Square. However, now when I play my Fusion Andina CD that I purchased in San Francisco, I also have a mental picture of the Peruvian village high in the Andes of Peru.

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Aguas Caliente, Peru

Shortly after moving to Albuquerque, the Sandia High School band, where my youngest son Jay played clarinet, traveled to Colorado to perform. I drove my own car to be a quasi-chaperone at the hotel. During the trip we had the opportunity to visit the Manitou Cliff Dwellings outside of Colorado Springs. As I entered the gift shop, I heard the haunting tones of a Native American flute and purchased a R. Carlos Nakai CD. I have heard his music many times since, but will always remember being entranced at the cliff dwellings.

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CD purchased at Manitou Cliff Dwellings

Shortly after telling my son BJ that I would be visiting Cuba, he sent me a CD for my birthday featuring the Afro Cuban All Stars. While I really liked the beat, it wasn’t until I actually visited Cuba and enjoyed Cuban bands accompanying almost every meal, that I could associate the music with the place.  Now, when I slide the CD into the slot in my car and I hear the smooth melodies of the trombone and stringed bass, I see the outdoor cafes I visited in Cuba.

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Musicians – Las Terrazas, Cuba

From dinosaurs to exotic locations around the globe, I have so many wonderful musical memories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Evolution of Social Justice in My Life

Most of my adult life has been centered on advocacy on behalf of people who have not been afforded all of the advantages of the rest of us. It has been interesting to look back on events in my early life that shaped these views and how they played themselves out.

My childhood in Santa Monica, California was not in any way diverse. While some areas of Santa Monica were more culturally integrated, my neighborhood was not.  As I look back through my elementary class photos, the first, and only, African American student appears in second grade at Will Rogers Elementary (1949).

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2nd grade class – Will Rogers Elementary

My sister Chris recalls having a black girl in one of her classes that became one of her best friends at school. They wanted to play together outside of school and each of them went home and talked with their mothers. The mothers conferred by telephone and it was agreed that the girls could play at a mutually convenient playground. Both mothers visited during this ‘play date,’ but it never happened again. Chris remembers that neither mother felt comfortable about a visit in either one of their homes.

It was also the summer of 1949 that first jolted my social consciousness. Our family traveled by train to Florida to visit relatives and had to change trains in New Orleans. I was shocked to see signs in the railway station designating separate bathrooms and drinking fountains as “Black Only.”

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segregated drinking fountain – photo from wikipedia commons

It was an image that was seared in my memory and would drive later activities to work for equality and opportunity for people.

When we arrived at my aunt and uncle’s house, I was surprised to learn that they and their friends all had black housekeepers. While my aunt’s housekeeper was treated nicely, even at age seven I discerned an aurora of second-class citizen status which disturbed me. I, of course, did not realize that schools were still segregated.  A few years ago when I read The Help by Kathryn Stockett, I had an ah ha moment and recalled this early experience.

Right after my tenth birthday, our family moved to San Bernardino, California and I was introduced to a racially diverse community. One of our first activities was attending a fiesta at the House of Neighborly Service, a community center sponsored by the Presbyterian Church.

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Home of Neighborly Service – San Bernardino

Although my mother pronounced them as much too spicy, I loved the Mexican-American foods I sampled.

At San Bernardino High School I became aware of students that belonged to gangs and drove low-rider cars, but their lives didn’t touch me as they were not in my college preparatory classes or extra-curricular activities. It was only recently that I learned that the musical West Side Story that debuted in 1957 was based on an Aug. 20, 1955, brawl between two San Bernardino gangs – the Raiders (which I remember) and the Bullies.

While there were a few students from ethnically diverse backgrounds that attended the University of Redlands, a small liberal arts college, my classmates were primarily Caucasians who could afford private school tuition.

During the second semester of my freshman year, I decided the spending money my parents sent each month was not near enough and secured a job in the student cafeteria making salads. I have considered this job an extremely important part of my college education as my supervisor was a woman who probably did not have more than an 8th grade education. As a haughty college student, I learned that education is not the sole determinant of intelligence. This woman was wise in so many ways, and I have always valued my stint working for her.

During my sophomore year, I became enthralled with sociology and the forces that shape society. In a term paper, I defended California’s Bracero program that allowed Mexican American workers to fulfill a labor shortage harvesting crops.

During the summer of 1961, I journeyed to Hong Kong to spend my junior year of college At Chung Chi College as part of the Presbyterian Junior Year Abroad program. Despite the reading I had done, my eyes were really opened to the world of poverty, as well as the drive of political refugees. In a letter home I wrote of my first impressions.

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Dorm Room – Chung Chi College

            “There are many things that would be considered inconveniences at home, such as eating rice twice a day, washing your clothes by hand, sleeping on a bumpy, straw mattress, having only about sixteen inches of closet space, and pretending you don’t see the cockroaches scurrying from under your bed. But before I left home, someone told me, ‘enjoy even the inconveniences.’ It was wise advice, for although these things may be considered troublesome, they are part of a new life that is rich in its rewards and allows me to overlook these inconveniences. These experiences are also humbling, enabling me to become one with the people around me.”

I took classes in the Social Work Department, and was able, with an interpreter, to visit families living in squatter’s shacks,

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Hillside squatter shacks – Kowloon, Hong Kong

folks living in bed spaces shared by more than one person, and families in resettlement blocks,

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Resettlement block

I not only learned many lessons of life, but knew that I wanted to make social work my career.

Towards the end of the school semester, there was an influx of refugees from mainland China. The students at the college, who came to Hong Kong with their families as refugees, were very concerned about the people hiding out in the area near the border that was closed to all except the farmers who lived there. It was definitely not an area that Americans were supposed to enter. However, wanting to assist, I accompanied the students after dark to pass out bread to the refugees. They were probably startled at a young white face!

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Refugees being rounded up

As I look back over my letters home, I am grateful that it was before the days of email and social media. The hard-copy letters have survived for over 55 years. Snippets from my letters include:

“After reading about the Peace Corps incident [where a Peace Corps volunteer created an international incident describing the people in the host country], I am filled with a new sense of responsibility as I attempt to express my impressions of my year abroad. It is often difficult to report without making value judgements about a person’s mode of behavior or pattern of living. We so often think in terms of our own culture.”

I think this has stayed with me as I travel, and I am always reluctant to take photographs that show the poverty of a country I am visiting. It somehow feels voyeuristic or judgmental.

“It is difficult to describe accurately what it feels like to be a foreign student and to live in a completely different environment for a year….to what extent should a person living in a foreign culture adapt to the life around him and to what extent should he retain the characteristics of his own nationality. I have faced this dilemma more than once.”

Before heading home, I traveled through Taiwan, Okinawa, South Korea and participated in an ecumenical work camp in Japan, where I helped construct a health clinic.

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Ecumenical Work Camp – Japan

I started my first job as a social worker at the San Bernardino County Welfare Department within days after graduating from the University of Redlands in June 1963. I had a caseload of families, most of them single mothers and their children, receiving Aid to Needy Families and was responsible for making a quarterly home visit. Not only did I visit families who lived in the neighborhood made famous by West Side Story, but in parts of town that I didn’t know existed. It was a real eye-opener.

Over the course of the first year, I learned that many of the stereotypes of ‘welfare moms’ were based on false assumptions that they had loose morals and were lazy. I gradually came to realize that while they may not have made the best choices for themselves, I had to look at each one of them as an individual and accept that there were many impediments to their being able to succeed, including learning disabilities, physical disabilities, psychological problems and lack of education. It was also painful to learn that I could not change their lives or ‘fix’ them.

The early to mid-1960’s were a time of social unrest. As I was learning firsthand the effects of inequality in San Bernardino, Martin Luther King was organizing a march on Washington DC for jobs and freedom, and my sister, a junior at Berkley, was marching with fellow students and sitting in at the President’s office demanding free speech.

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Free speech sit-in – photo courtesy Berkeley library

I remember sitting at my desk stunned when the news rippled through the office on November 22, 1963 that President Kennedy had been assassinated. I itched to do more than just make home visits but that was not too happen.

By 1973 I had moved to Seattle with my husband. A short time later I was hired as Executive Director of the Arc-King County where my advocacy skills were honed as I sought to improve the lives of people with disabilities. The key issues were the civil rights of individuals with developmental disabilities, the public school education system, and the closure of state institutions. One of my biggest regrets was not being able to see the state institutions close. In the 1980’s and 90’s, The Arc of King County became part of a national movement as a chapter of The Arc of The United States and saw an expansion of self-advocacy on issues affecting individuals with developmental disabilities and their families.

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Me sitting at desk – Arc King-County

At one point, the county commissioners cut the funding for a program that served newly diagnosed children with disabilities and their families. I organized a protest in front of the court house – and felt delayed gratification in finally being able to be a sign-carrying protester. And, yes, the funding was restored.

It also was a time when there were few women in top leadership positions in the non-profit world.  I coalesced with four other women executive directors of United Way funded agencies to strengthen our positions. Since we were not included in the male morning breakfast meetings, we started our own support group.

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Professional Women Support Group farewell get together before I moved to New Mexico

When I moved to Albuquerque in 1994 and went to work for the Center for Development and Disability, part of the School of Medicine at the University of New Mexico, I continued my advocacy for people with disabilities and their families. While my job as Associate Director consumed much of my time, I continued to focus on activities that supported families.

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Me with co-workers

While advocacy in the disabilities field had been my life work, after I retired I realized that I could turn my attention to other areas and gave myself permission to let the next generation take over this work.

In 2007 I had another opportunity to practice social justice. When our church announced a mission trip to New Orleans that spring to assist with restoration activities after hurricane Katrina, I knew I had to go. I continued to be haunted by the memories of the devastation and heard that little progress had been made. The five days I spent helping to gut storm-damaged houses so the families could rebuild, had a profound effect on me. I am glad I was able to have this experience while I was still physically able to do this type of work.

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Multi-church work crew in front of one of the houses we worked on

These experiences over my life have formed and reinforced my core values of social justice, as well as given me ongoing ways of expanding my horizons and being able to see the world through others’ eyes. I’m sure will be more experiences to come.

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The People and Culture of Cuba – A ‘Wow’ Experience

“When you told people that you were traveling to Cuba, the reaction was probably ‘Why?’ or ‘Wow,” our Cuban Guide Gustavo began his introduction after our tour group had settled into our tour bus. I was traveling to Cuba with Naturalist Journeys on a People-to-People trip that also included birding. It was the perfect tour for me since I don’t like to visit a country to view its wildlife, without getting to meet the people and see cultural sights.

While it has become much easier for American citizens to visit Cuba, travel must be as part of a group that has a license. There are a lot of hoops to jump through, including having the application to travel approved by the U.S. State Department. While the tour was offered by Naturalist Journeys, it was under the license of International Expeditions who was the liaison with Havanatours that approved the itinerary and provided the guide. In addition, International Expeditions contracts with Marazul who obtained our visas,

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Cuban Visa

provided our orientation the night before we departed Miami by American Airlines charter flight, and was at the airport to get our boarding passes and make sure there were no snags.

The necessity of so many ‘middle men’ added to the cost of the trip. American Airlines has charter flights from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Los Angeles at this time. They must have to pay some hefty fees, as the airline flight of less than an hour was quite expensive.

Since we would not be able to use credit cards, we had converted cash into Cuban Convertible Pesos or CUC’s (the acronym sounds like ‘kooks’) before leaving the Santa Clara International Airport.

Our first stop would not be far – El Monumento de Che and the Museo de Che.

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Che Memorial and Museum

It was clear not only here, but throughout our travels in Cuba, that Che is very much a hero. After taking time to view the memorial, Gustavo led us into the museum, housed below the monument. I had forgotten that Ernesto “Che” Guevara was a medical student in Buenos Aires and from a well-off family before experiencing the disparities between haves and have-nots on his 8 month motorcycle journey in 1952 with a friend.

“It makes you want to re-watch The Motorcycle Diaries,” my friend Bonnie commented as we walked through the small museum chronicling not only his early life, but his transformation into a revolutionary.

Before leaving Santa Clara, our bus driver, Alexander, drove us around the plaza.

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Plaza – Santa Clara

A young woman sitting on a park bench caught my attention as she studied her cell phone while holding an umbrella bearing the famous picture by Cuban artist, Victor Manuel.

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Later as our group traveled towards Cayo Coco, Gustavo shared more about the Cuban Revolution. “Che Guevara met Fidel Castro in 1955 when both of them were in Mexico. Che joined the revolutionary movement and was part of the group of 82 fighters who sailed from Mexico to Cuba. “

Why do you think that the journey is referred to as the Granma?” Gustavo asked.

“Because they were disguised as a grandma?” Alice answered.

“No!” Gustavo retorted. “No dinner for you tonight,” he chuckled.

I thought her answer made sense.

“The Granma was the name of the boat used by the 82 revolutionaries,” Gustavo explained. He went on to detail that they were met by Batista’s soldiers and only 15 survived, dispersing into the Sierra Maestra.

The following day, after we spent the morning birding on the various islands in the Jardines del Rey archipelago, our itinerary called for us to visit a local arts and crafts market.

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Cayo Coco mercado

Although several in our group took the opportunity to buy souvenirs, I am not a shopper. After chatting with a couple of the vendors, I discovered that most were not the artisans. The real people-to-people exchange was occurring across the street where a few of the men in our group had the opportunity to ‘kick tires’ in broken Spanish with a local taxi driver and his Mercury.

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The next day we traveled to Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city and nearby Valley de los Ingenios, were founded and prospered on the production and export of sugar.

“You will be walking on uneven, cobblestone streets,” Gustavo told us the day before so we would wear appropriate footwear.

The bus dropped us off and we walked several blocks through the colonial city to the paladar where we were having lunch.

The architecture around the plaza was particularly impressive.

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Trinidad colonial plaza

Our lunch was our first experience eating at a local paladar, one of Cuba’s ventures into capitalism and part of Raul Castro’s economic reform. Paladares are actually independent, state sanctioned, restaurants that range from small family-run establishments to full-scale restaurants.  While they became legal as far back as 1999, there were a lot of restrictions, including only serving Cuban fare. It was not until 2011 that regulations were loosened, that menus became more cosmopolitan. Most of these establishments are being opened by repatriates who have the cash to purchase businesses from their savings while living abroad. In addition, these entrepreneurs are able to either access, or bring into the country, ingredients that are not accessible to the average Cuban.

Our lunchtime paladar was located in a building that probably came complete with the pre-revolutionary furnishings;

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paladar courtyard

it was like dining in a museum.

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A small band entertained us from the mini-balcony off the dining room.

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I chose grilled seafood from the available entrées.

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And, as we would soon learn, a ‘welcome cocktail’ – complimentary mojito, or as Gustavo referred to it – Vitamin R, preceded each meal.

After lunch we wandered through the colonial part of town

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to get a taste of commerce and then we had the choice of exploring the arts and crafts market or visiting the Canchancara, a mojito bar. As we walked to the bus, we had the opportunity of peeking into one of the small markets where Cubans can get staples with their monthly ration coupons. We were struck with how sparse the offerings were. There was just time for a quick visit to a pottery studio before heading to Topes de Collantes in the Sierra Escambray. We were glad to be traveling to a higher and cooler elevation.

In addition to birding-related people-to-people activities the following day, we had the opportunity to visit the Cuban Contemporary Art Museum located in the former home of someone in Fulgencio Batista’s close circle. It later became a place where the Communist Party housed VIPS’s during their visits to the area.

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Contemporary Art Museum

After a morning of birding, our next destination was Playa Giron along the Bahia de los Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) where we visited the Museo Giron and had the opportunity to learn the Cuban perspective on the Bay of Pigs invasion.

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Museo Giron

The homes on the nearby streets had been spruced up and become entrepreneurial, offering rooms for rent.

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While our lodging at Playa Larga were delightful and roomy cabins near the bay, no one had hot water and the shower was a drizzle.  Fortunately, birders are adaptable and the nearby birding more than made up for the cold shower.

The next morning we visited the nearby Korimakao Project that provides opportunities for children in the area to experience art and music. Two of their resident musicians entertained us.

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Korimakao Project musicians

In order to reach the highway leading to Soroa, our next destination, it was necessary to head north to the outskirts of Havana, where we had lunch at Il Divino. A paladar with a social purpose, it has programs for children and seniors. It serves dishes prepared with produce from its organic garden, including fresh mint for the ‘welcome cocktail.’ Everyone agreed that the dessert – coconut or pineapple ice cream, was the highlight of the meal.

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coconut ice cream

After lunch we toured the gardens while our local guide pointed out various plants and medicinal herbs.

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At one point I found myself standing in front of a bee hive.

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Since I am extremely allergic to bees, I moved quickly away; however, I was assured that the bees do not sting. Later Gustavo told us that since no pesticides are used in Cuba, honey is their number one export.

After lunch we boarded the bus for Soroa, located in the Sierra del Rosario.

The next day we drove to nearby Vinales where we stopped at a tobacco farm. The farmer showed us around the farm and explained the steps from tobacco plant to cigar. Growing the tobacco starts in raised beds.

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When the seedlings are big enough, they are individually transplanted by hands into the field.

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tobacco plants

When the leaves are picked, a worker selects the best

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and later they are hung up to dry.

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tobacco leaves drying

The farmer demonstrated how they are rolled,

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rolling tobacco into cigars

and then those who wished could savor a cohiba cigar.

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After birding at Cueva del Indio, we had lunch at a local organic farm

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and then had some time to explore the town center.

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Vinales plaza

I was intrigued by the people in front of the cell provider and wi fi hotspot across from where our bus had parked along a side street.

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The following day we visited the planned community of Las Terrazas. Our local guide explained that the valley was originally settled by a group of people of French descent who fled Haiti in 1792. They tried to grow coffee on the hillsides; however, they were not successful. In order to survive, they began cutting down the trees to export, as well as to make charcoal leading to deforestation. When the model community of 250 families was established in 1971, the government assisted them in forest restoration in exchange for housing.

We toured a number of community activities including listening to local musicians,

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Las Terrazas musicians

touring a school,

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school children

stopping for coffee at a coffee house, and visiting the studio of a local artist

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artist

who explained how he made his own paper from recycled paper.

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hand-made paper

We spent our final two days exploring Havana. The first morning the bus dropped us off in the historic areas of the city, stopping first at a cigar store for those who wanted to take Cuban cigars home.

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Book sellers lined the side of the nearby square, reminiscent of vendors along Paris’s Seine.

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book vendors

“You will notice various people dressed up,” Gustavo warned. “If you want to take their picture, you will be expected to pay a fee.”

A short distance away as we gathered around Gustavo while he explained a local historical site, I noticed the archway into a nearby building’s garden. The fountain was framed nicely by the arch. I stepped away from the group to take a picture. While I noticed what appeared to be a soldier standing in front, I didn’t pay much attention as I made sure that I didn’t capture people in my picture.

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After rejoining the group, the ‘soldier’ came up to me demanding money. “Por que?” I asked. He just flashed his permit in front of me insistently. Fortunately, Pete got rid of him by handing over 1 CUC.  After he left, I checked the picture I had taken, and sure enough he was not in it. However, I was very careful taking pictures after that experience.

We walked through a number of plazas, including the Plaza de Catedral,

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Catedral San Cristobal de la Habana

where we went inside the baroque interior of the Catedral San Cristobal de la Habana. Unlike cathedrals in other Latin American countries I have visited, this one did not have local citizens praying or lighting candles.

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It was clear that a great deal of restoration is occurring on the colonial buildings. Many have been newly refurbished, like this hotel.

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restored hotel

On some streets, we could see restoration in progress.

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Overall, the buildings in Habana Vieja were in much better condition than I had expected.

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street – Habana Vieja

No visit to Havana would be complete without checking out Hemingway’s haunts. He had a room on the 5th floor of the Ambos Mundos Hotel,

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Ernest Hemingway’s corner 5th floor room

which is still preserved in its original condition. While standing in line for the elevator, we admired some of the photos on the adjacent wall, and then

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Hemingway photos – Ambos Mundos Hotel

toasted Hemingway from the rooftop bar.

Next we walked to the nearby La Bodequita del Medio,

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La Bodequita del Medio

where Hemingway often went to drink. The adjacent walls are covered with signatures of prior visitors.

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That evening after dinner at a paladar overlooking the harbor, we went to the Buena Vista Social Club. After watching the movie by the same name prior to my trip, I was really looking forward to listening to the band at the Café Taberna, so I was really shocked when the bus dropped us in front of a hotel and I discovered that the performance is now like a Las Vegas nightclub act!  At the end of their hour and a half show, they came and got two of our group to join them on the stage.

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Gary and Bonnie dancing with Buena Vista Social Club dancers

“What do you consider Cuba’s biggest challenge?” someone in the group asked Gustavo during the trip.

“Transportation,” he replied without hesitation. “Hitch hiking is the national pastime.”

While transportation is improving in the urban areas, the more rural areas of Cuba have very few cars and rely on bicycles,

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Rural transportation

or horse drawn carts.

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While I had expected most of the cars to be 1950’s era American-made cars, I was surprised to find out that they are primarily used for taxis – both by tourists,

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classic car taxis

and by locals.

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“Are most of these old cars owned by descendants of 1950’s owners?” I asked Gustavo.

He nodded ascent, “although the owners may not be the drivers.” The revenue from the taxis allows them to be ‘owners’ of their own business.

At some of the tourist locations we visited, we encountered modern taxis

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and mini-taxis

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both made primarily in China.

Europeans and Canadians are not restricted to tours and can rent cars.

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rental car

I discovered this sign in a Havana museum.

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On our last day in Havana there were entrepreneurial old car owners, or their drivers, lined up along Revolutionary Square. It was fun to sit in the front seat of one while we had a group picture taken.

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Group picture – courtesy of Sue Clasen

Revolutionary Square, located in a more modern area of Havana, contains a statue commemorating Jose Marti, the hero of Cuba’s independence from Spain and a historical mentor to Castro.

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Jose Marti memorial and museum

Around the square are various government buildings, this one bearing the caricature of Che.

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government office

Next we visited the Museo de Revolucion, originally the ornate presidential palace. After the revolution, it was converted to a museum.

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Museo de Revolucion

Behind it is the Granma Memorial.

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Granma Memorial – houses the Granma

We stopped a few blocks from the Malecon and walked to take pictures of the recently re-opened American Embassy.

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Me in front of American Embassy

After lunch at a paladar on the ‘street of barbers,’

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we drove south to visit Hemingway’s home, Finca Vigia, now a museum, where a very knowledgeable docent shared stories of Hemingway’s time there with his third wife Martha Gellhorn.  “Martha wanted him away from the bars in Havana,” she relayed. “While he willed the house to his fourth wife, she was forced to sign everything over to the government in 1961.”

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Outside Finca Vigia

The interior of the home is closed to the public, so we peered through the open windows at the various rooms.

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Hemingway’s library

Our plane didn’t leave until late in the evening, so we languished our remaining hours on the lawn of the Hotel Nacional.

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Farewell mojito – Hotel Nacional

As we drove to the airport, Peg Abbott, our Naturalist Journeys guide, told us that since most Cuban professionals, including doctors, earn a meager monthly salary, that those who work in the tourist industry and receive tips are considered wealthy.

It seemed as though only those in our group were in the ticketing area at the Havana International Airport. Gustavo came in with us to make sure everything went smoothly. When my friend Sue and I stepped up to check-in, the clerk seemed distressed and said something in Spanish we did not understand. She finally got up and escorted us around the corner and into a small, room – and the turned around and left us there. We wondered why we were being isolated.

As soon as she was gone, I cracked open the door and was relieved to see Gustavo talking with others in our group not too far away. “We need your help,” beckoned.

After bidding some others goodbye, he came to troubleshoot. Somehow our names were not on the manifest and he was able to remedy things. We checked in, got our boarding passes and went through immigration where our pictures were taken and matched to our passports and incoming photos – and then we were able to relax and begin to decompress, realizing that our visit to this amazing country was soon to come to an end.

It was definitely a ‘wow’ experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Culinary Life Journey – An Evolving Adventure

“What price would you put on this?” one of the woman inquired holding up a fancy jello mold. We were sitting around the table in our church hall pricing donations for the big parking lot sale. “Nobody uses these anymore,” she stated emphatically.

It got me thinking about the role of gelatin salads in my life and wondering when this type of salad/dessert became popular and when it fell out of favor.

From Medieval times until the mid-19th century jellied dishes were strictly eaten by the elite – primarily because they were too time intensive for the average cook. However, it wasn’t until the 20th century and the rise of the middle class, that this dish became more common. When the Depression hit, jellied salads were a way of stretching ingredients affordably. During WWII when sugar and other ingredients were rationed, cooks could use fruit juice and exhibit entertaining pizzazz, despite shortages.

Knox gelatin was a staple in my home while I was growing up, and as a young married woman in the mid-1960s I made many a jello salad.  My daughter still requests a cranberry salad made with raspberry jello for Thanksgiving – although I never relent. As I look back over my food choices and preparation methods, there are influences that lingered from my mother and grandmother’s experiences during the Depression and WWII – and even earlier.

My grandmother Elizabeth Stage was born in a coal mining community in Durham County, England. Her family moved a number of times to other mining communities until her father left the mines when she was a teenager. Women learned to cook by helping their mothers prepare food for their large families (my grandmother had 3 brothers and 4 sisters). My grandmother was an excellent cook – and never used a recipe. She made excellent vegetable soup with a beef stock. While each time it was slightly different – based on what she had on hand, it was always delicious because she had a knack for knowing how to season it. She was also an excellent baker – her rolls and pies were the best!

Whether it was because it was easier ‘to do it oneself,’ or whether she didn’t want her daughter to have to spend her growing up years in the kitchen like she did, she never taught my mother how to cook. Recipe books were essential to mom as she learned to cook on her own as a newlywed. She avidly collected recipes during her entire life – a trait I inherited.

While I was too young to remember the impact, my mother learned to adapt to war-time shortages.

page from my mother's WWII cookbook

page from my mother’s WWII cookbook

Because rubber was not available, when our refrigerator gasket split, it was not able to be replaced and the refrigerator became useless. I have vivid memories of riding with my mother to purchase a block of ice each week, which she put into the laundry sink to keep perishable items cold.

Each member of the family had a ration card that determined the amount of rationed items (sugar, butter, meat, canned goods) that could be purchased. I have a copy of mine.

my WWII ration card

my WWII ration card

When I was almost five I was plagued with recurring tonsillitis. At the recommendation of one of my Dad’s work colleagues, I was taken to a doctor who used nutritional strategies to treat his patients. In fact, this physician recommended that our entire family adhere to the same diet which consisted of very little meat, very limited sweets, no ice cream – and other restrictions. My parents were so thrilled that I was no longer continually sick, they were zealots about this manner of eating which permeated my childhood and teenage years. While I am glad I grew up healthy, it made me sad to read an essay I wrote about a classmate describing her as “liking to eat meat and ice cream.”

My mother was an avid muffin-maker and involved me in making muffins by the time I was 8. Muffins were always made in a yellow fiesta-ware bowl, which now belongs to me. I wouldn’t dream of making muffins in anything else!

my muffin bowl - originally my mom's

my muffin bowl – originally my mom’s

She prized herself on being able to substitute ingredients she did not have. Periodically, after everyone was served and sitting around the table, my mom would hesitate as we started to eat and then ask expectantly, “How do you like it?”

“What did you do different?” we would always ask before taking another bite. She would have replaced an ingredient with something she had on hand. While we used to make fun of this when we were younger and laugh about her inability to discern what could be swapped for the correct ingredient. Behind her back we used to say that she had no sense of taste. While it is true that she did not adequately season, I am more forgiving of her propensity to substitute. I would image that it stemmed from learning to cook at the end of the depression and during WWII when substitution was normal.  Learning to ‘make due’ with what you had would become an important lesson I carried into adulthood.

When I became a Brownie, our troop took a cooking class sponsored by the Gas Company. While it has been many, many years since I made Bags of Gold (cheese dumplings that simmered in tomato soup), it is one of the recipes from that cooking class that survived over the years. By time I was a young mother, Bags of Gold were replaced by the much easier tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches, which are still a comfort food on a cold winter day.

At Arrowview Junior High, all girls were enrolled in a home economics cooking class (while the boys took wood shop) where I enjoyed learning to make all kinds of new foods and felt triumphant when our homework was to replicate recipes at home, especially when they included foods that “were not on the diet”. I remember my mom wanting to get me excused from preparing items we didn’t eat at home, but I refused.

I took Home Ec at San Bernardino High School and for a time thought I wanted to be a home economist, until I discovered that I would be bored in most of the jobs. During my teenage years I helped more and more with meal preparation, as well as helping to can peaches, apricots and applesauce during the summer months. Baking and decorating Christmas cookies was an annual tradition. During this period of time, I began collecting recipes and started my first recipe box.

When I went to the University of Redlands and lived in the dormitory, I was like a kid in a candy store being able to eat whatever I wanted – and had ice cream for dessert every day! During the second semester of my freshman year I got a job in the cafeteria helping to make salads in bulk.

I was fortunate to be able to spend my junior year at Chung Chi College in Hong Kong and learned the basics of Chinese cooking from my roommates. After returning home, I expanded my repertoire of Cantonese recipes and frequently treated my family to a Chinese meal. After learning to stir-fry vegetables, e.g. broccoli, until it was just tender, that I could enjoy vegetables I had previously shunned because they were always prepared too well done. My go-to Chinese cookbook

my well-worn Chinese cookbook from Hong Kong

my well-worn Chinese cookbook from Hong Kong

was one I purchased in Hong Kong and is in both English and Chinese characters.

sample page

sample page

Alas, I developed an allergy to soy in my late 50’s which has limited my enjoyment of Chinese food.

Later when I served as Executive Director of The Arc-King County, I donated a Chinese banquet for six to our fundraising auction each year and discovered how difficult it was to prepare the ingredients ahead, transport them, and then do all of the last-minute cooking in someone else’s kitchen!

dishes I purchased in Hong Kong that I always used for my banquets

dishes I purchased in Hong Kong that I always used for my banquets

After I married, I looked forward to preparing meals each evening, even when I was a harried working mother.  I assiduously prepared weekly menus, often trying new recipes.

In 1974 our family moved to Washington. The Puget Sound area was not very cosmopolitan at that time and I complained to my sister that the only tortillas I could find were cocktail-sized ones in a can. A short time later I received a box from my sister and brother-in-law that contained tortillas, salsa, and packages of seasonings. One of the packages of tortillas was blue. I had never seen blue corn tortillas before and assumed they had molded, so threw them away – much to the horror of my sister when I told her.

Our home at the south end of Mercer Island backed up to the woods. I cleared land behind the house and put in a garden. I referred to this period of time as my ‘back to nature’ era. In addition to the garden, I picked apples from an abandoned orchard and wild blackberries that grew everywhere. Within a few years we ran into financial difficulties and I had very little money to spend on groceries. I dug out my mom’s war-time recipes and became creative with hot dogs. My stir fry skills enabled me to stretch meat and vegetables.

“Were you aware that things were difficult?” I hesitantly asked my oldest son BJ recently.

“No, all I remember is that you wouldn’t buy sugar-coated cereals,” he laughed.

Men really didn’t cook during that period of time and it never occurred to me that it would be important to teach my son how to fix meals until I came home late one day. My husband was busy working on his car and BJ was hungry. After that I started teaching him how to prepare simple foods.

The world of seafood opened up to me after our move to the Seattle area. We never ate fish of any kind when I was growing up, not even fish sticks or tuna sandwiches. Being introduced to fresh salmon, Dungeness crab, and oysters was a real treat. The woman who was my administrative assistant had a cabin on Hood Canal and invited the staff of The Arc to spend the weekend. I learned to set a crab pot and went home with a live crab in a pail of water. It was quite an experience to toss it in a cauldron of boiling water when I got home.

The small coffee roaster called Starbucks had opened in the Pikes Place Market area a few years before our move. At this point, it is hard to image that espresso drinks were not added until 1984 – and Seattle’s coffee culture was launched. I treated myself to a latte once a week on my way to work.

When I remarried in 1979, my cooking was celebrated and my husband feted me with fancy appliances on gift-giving occasions. I made pizza in a pizza-maker and experimented with a variety of homemade pastas with the attachment on my Cuisinart. I spent rainy weekends baking and making meals for the busy work week ahead. My recipe collection continued to grow and my mother-in-law, also a cooking enthusiast, gifted me with a large recipe box – which I still use today.

my recipe box

my recipe box

It was about 1980 when I visited my sister and brother-in-law in Albuquerque and they had a microwave. “It is the ultimate in laziness to boil water in a microwave,” I quipped to them. However, before long, we too acquired a microwave – and were among the 25% of American households that owned one. It didn’t get much use until a winter storm resulted in a broken pipe that poured water from the 2nd floor bathroom into the kitchen – right through the stove. During the time the stove was out of commission, I had to do all my cooking on my electric appliances and became quite adept at using the microwave.

Jay and Breanne learned to use the microwave when they were quite young and were able to prepare after-school snacks for themselves as they got older.

During this period I also learned to entertain. I don’t remember my parents having people over for dinner and this was not embraced during my first marriage.

Gary-40th

However, the period of milk and honey would not last forever. Once again, money was tight and I drew upon my earlier honed skills to feed my family. We had to sell our house and moved to an apartment in Kirkland, WA before renting a smaller home. We met a family that would be come close friends. Thanks to Cathy and Lee Wangerin, I learned the joys of informal gatherings around food.

New Year's Eve - 1991 in our Kirkland home with the Wangerins

New Year’s Eve – 1991 in our Kirkland home with the Wangerin family

I am not sure whether it was childhood eating habits or my concern for the environment that drove my desire to eat fresh, pesticide-free food. During the years that we lived in Kirkland, WA I joined a local co-op and enjoyed buying foods in bulk.

By the early 1990’s my second marriage was failing and I longed for the closeness of family. While I had enjoyed my visits to Albuquerque, it seemed so prosaic. However, when Chris picked me up at the airport in November 1993, she proclaimed she had a surprise for me. The first stop was the mall where she showed me that Albuquerque now had an espresso cart. I knew I could think about moving and not worry about having to live in a ‘coffee-desert’.

Christmas 1991 - "I require a double latte"

Christmas 1991 – “I require a double latte”

Just as I adopted seafood when I moved to Washington, I eagerly learned to love green chile and appreciate that New Mexican cuisine was unique from the popularized Tex-Mex type of food.

After having both of my knees replaced in 2002, I found that when I stood long period of time in the kitchen that my legs ached and I looked for more efficient ways to prepare meals – and gave myself permission to purchase more ready-made items rather than feeling that I had to make everything from scratch, even when entertaining. I would laugh and say that I had ‘great shopping skills.’  I gained some skills that has enabled me to age more gracefully and not feel that I need to cook the way I used to.

In 2007 I subscribed to fresh produce from a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) local farm and picked up a box every two weeks. While I have always been fairly adventurous about trying new foods, this experience stretched my repertoire of fresh vegetables. I discovered a myriad of ways to fix swiss chard and learned to love kale. My brother-in-law loves to tease me about kale and is not sure that he wants me to bring salad to family gatherings in case I sneak in some baby kale.

contents of first CSA food box

contents of first CSA food box

Travel has enabled me to sample unique foods from different parts of the world – I always want to try the local specialty: eel at a banquet in Hong Kong, reindeer sausage from a street vendor in Alaska, grilled alligator appetizers in New Orleans, and ceviche and cuy (guinea pig) in Peru. I’m sure there are more food adventures to come.

I have only been able to part with a few of my cookbooks, even though I don’t actively use most of them anymore.

my cookbook shelf

my cookbook shelf

While only a few will actually be tried, even to this day I cannot resist tearing out recipes from the monthly newspaper food supplement.

memoir-recipes

When I look back over my life journey with food, it is clear that for me cooking is more than the drudgery of putting food on the table – it has been an evolving adventure and a  form of creative expression.

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Advances in Space Travel During My Lifetime

On September 27, 2015 I was sitting in a lawn chair in the street in front of my house admiring the moon in full eclipse.

Total lunar eclipse of 'super moon' - Photo by Laurel Ladwig

Total lunar eclipse of ‘super moon’ – Photo by Laurel Ladwig

The neighbors who had wandered over for looks through my spotting scope as the moon began its trek into the shadow of the earth had lost interest and gone back into their homes. Alone with my thoughts and the grandeur of the moon, I began pondering the advances in our knowledge of outer space during my lifetime.

I think that my early interest in outer space must have been encouraged by my Dad, a civil engineer. I remember a trip to the Palomar Observatory near San Diego where we had the opportunity to see one of the powerful telescopes

Visit to Palomar Observatory - 1948

Visit to Palomar Observatory – 1948

as well as frequent visits to the planetarium at Griffith Park Observatory to watch constellations come alive as they were projected on the ceiling of the theater.

While I don’t remember being impacted in 1947 when a rancher in Roswell, New Mexico discovered unidentified debris on his property, the controversy about whether it was the crashed remains of a flying saucer or a weather balloon not only stimulated stories of extraterrestrial beings and UFO reports, but also drove the desire to reach and explore Mars.

In the early 1950’s when I was in junior high, the idea of traveling to the moon, let alone Mars, was a pipe dream. Knowledge at that time stated it would be impossible for someone to travel to the moon and return within a lifetime.

In 1956, my sister Chris received a second place ribbon for her 7th grade science project that calculated how long it would take an airplane traveling 900 mph to reach various planets.

Chris 7th grade science project

Chris 7th grade science project

On October 4, 1957, the impossible became possible when Russia launched the first satellite, Sputnik, into orbit around the earth. It traveled over 18,000 mph – 20 times faster than general science knowledge imagined twelve months earlier when Chris did her science project!

It was the dawn of the space age – and the space race. The United States launched its own satellite, Explorer I, on January 31, 1958 and created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) six months later.

During the summer of 1960 while spending an August weekend in Laguna Beach, CA with college friends, we were amazed to see a satellite inching across the sky as we sat in the amphitheater watching the Pageant of the Masters. It could have been the Explorer I that was still in orbit, or perhaps the newly launched Sputnik 5.

The following spring, both Russia and then the United States put astronauts into space. While President Kennedy challenged the country on May 25, 1961 to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, it still seemed impossible.

At the same time that NASA was working on its mission to reach the moon, it also developed its Mars mission. In 1965, three months after we were thrilled to learn that a Russian astronaut had walked in space and one month after a U.S. astronaut had completed this feat, a satellite transmitted the first pictures of Mars. At the same time, my husband and I were watching the popular TV show, “My Favorite Martian.”

Looking back, it is hard to know where comic book authors and movie producers got the idea that Martians had antenna or skeleton-like heads.

On July 29, 1969 my husband and I were able to leave work early to be home for a historic event. That afternoon he and I, our two-year old son, BJ, and my mother-in-law sat transfixed in front of our small black and white TV screen as Neil Armstrong and “Buzz” Aldrin became the first men to step foot on the moon. I still get goose bumps remembering how we watched anxiously as the television cameras broadcasted the banks of NASA scientists in Houston describing the ascent, and then the astronauts’ voices announced their arrival by saying: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” The trip had taken only 10 days.

We held our breaths, and even normally active BJ was mesmerized, while the image switched to show the exterior of the space ship as the door opened and Neil Armstrong descended the ladder and placed his foot on the surface of the moon.

The photo actually was taken by Neil Armstrong as Buzz Aldrin left the space craft. - NASA photo

The photo actually was taken by Neil Armstrong as Buzz Aldrin left the space craft. – NASA photo

As he put his other foot down, he exclaimed “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” How thrilling it was to have witnessed that moment.

NASA photo taken by Neil Armstrong

NASA photo taken by Neil Armstrong

In addition to subsequent trips to explore the moon and continuing satellite images of Mars, satellites began transmitting images of other planets – Jupiter and its moons (1979), Saturn (1979 – 81), Venus (1990) and since then each planet has been visited with a probe. Scientific teams spending time doing experiments at the International Space Station now seems routine. Each of these visits makes me think of Chris’s 7th grade science project and now visits to these planets has been realized.

In June 1983 I cheered when Sally Ride made history as the first American woman to be part of a space voyage. She became a symbol of promise to young women interested in science. About this period of time I began to notice women sitting at consoles as part of the Houston team.

It has only been in the past few years that I have taken an interest in viewing eclipses of the moon and sun. It was not very rewarding to look at an eclipse through a pin hole that reflected the shadow on the sidewalk or similar surface. It seemed as though most lunar events happened in the middle of the night.

In May 2012 I gathered in a park with family and friends for a picnic and solar eclipse viewing party. My friend Barbara Hussey, an astronomy buff, knew several months in advance when the eclipse would occur and had ordered special glasses that allowed us to actually look at the sun – an amazing experience.

solar eclipse viewing party

solar eclipse viewing party

The recent lunar eclipse was scheduled for just past sunset on a clear and balmy evening.

Mars continues to be the next frontier. Scientists want to determine whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms, or is it possible that there are or were extraterrestrial beings.

Not too long ago after I visited the Griffith Park Observatory in May 2013 with BJ, Cori and Lilli,

Lilli and I in front of Griffith Park Observatory

Lilli and I in front of Griffith Park Observatory

we watched video clips of the moon landing. Then Lilli, who had recently turned six, wanted to watch video clips of the Curiosity Rover that was entering its second year exploring Mars. It was thrilling to me that she knew about it and wanted to learn more.

2015 marks 50 years of NASA’s Mars Mission. While I probably won’t be around to witness a manned landing on mars during the 2030’s, it will be a space milestone that Lilli will get to witness.

Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, believes that commercial space travel will be possible and conceptualized Spaceport America, located in southern New Mexico. The Governor and State Legislature also believe in the concept and authorize funding for the New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) the state agency charged with the responsibility to design, develop, construct, operate, and oversee the successful development of Spaceport America.

While who knows what will be in store for the future space exploration and travel, I feel privileged to have lived through a period of time when our knowledge went from exploring space being impossible to space probes having visited every planet in our solar system.

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My Mom and her Accordion – Part of My Musical Heritage

I am always surprised when I hear accordion music on the radio. Nobody listens to accordion music anymore, including me. However, there was something about the tune that was nostalgic. Because my mother was a professional accordionist and teacher before she got married, I grew up listening to tunes such as ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” “Lady of Spain,” and “Manzanita”.

At Christmas, I have fond memories of her leading a caravan of neighborhood children up and down the block and accompanying us as we sang carols at each house.

In the early fall of 1932, three years after graduating from high school, Mom became intrigued when she heard about an Accordion Group at a Los Angeles music store and convinced her parents she wanted to learn to play.  The purchase included ten free group lessons, and before long she was able to play actual songs on her own.

Mom with her first accordion

Mom with her first accordion

By that December she performed three pieces for two different chapters of the Eastern Star – and her career was off!  Her scrapbook contains page after page of newspaper articles reporting her performance for various organizations over the next two years.

“See those windows in the addition at the back of the house,” by sister Chris recalls Mom telling her on a trip the two of them took back to Santa Monica in the late 1980’s. “That is where grandpa and grandma had a room built in early 1935 so I could give private accordion lessons.  I had been teaching in the den, but it was not big enough.”  The Chrissy Stage studio was born and she started her own accordion club that met once a week.

Mom-SM-house

“My Dear Miss Stage, The Music Arts Society wants to thank you for the delightful program you presented at the Santa Monica Sing…” read one of the many thank you notes that have survived for eighty years. She performed almost weekly for a variety of organizations from the Mail Carriers and Ladies Auxiliary to the Veterans Service Club. Her performances became advertisements for her studio. My grandmother always had a knack for promotion, and I am sure she was the agent and advocate.

Mom at accordion performance

Mom at accordion performance

By mid-1935 she had 13 students, ranging in age from 7 to over 40. Their 11 performing members were called the Accordion Troupers. Two years later she had outgrown the home studio and she and my grandmother opened a music store in the downtown area of Santa Monica. It offered accordions, accordion accessories, music, and repair services – managed by my grandmother, in addition to instruction offered by my mother.

Mom and her accordion band - 1936

Mom and her accordion band – 1936

During the same period of time, Jimmy Walker, a cousin in England Mom had never met, also was smitten with the accordion. In his memoirs he describes being “spellbound with the instrument.” Even though he was only 17, he managed to save enough money from his part-time job to purchase his first accordion – just before the depression started. “This was the start of my long and happy association with the squeeze box,” he reminisced. When he visited the music store each week to make payments towards the instrument, he became acquainted with the owner. By time he made his final payment, he had been offered a full-time job working at the store.

Jimmy Walker

Jimmy Walker

Over his career he played regularly in pubs, clubs and on cruise ships. He was still playing at age 91.

A professional musician will sacrifice to obtain a high quality instrument. For an accordionist, quality of sound, range, number of keys and tone variability are critical. In addition, the instrument’s ‘pizazz’ was important. Mom’s accordion, an Italo-American, had inlaid mother-of-pear and other glamour touches that caught the light and sparkled when she played. It was probably her most prized possession over her lifetime.

mom---accordion

I would guess that one of Mom’s deepest disappointments was that neither Chris nor I took an interest in learning the accordion, although she tried with both of us. Chris became an accomplished pianist,

Chris - piano recital

Chris – piano recital

and I played the cello in junior and senior high school.

My cello recital - accompanied by my friend Leslie Reed

My cello recital – accompanied by my friend Leslie Reed

How excited she was when my oldest son BJ developed an interest in the accordion, in addition to the acoustic guitar.

BJ with small accordion

BJ with small accordion

She passed her instrument on to him.

While I am not fond of accordion music, with the exception of beer garden polkas – in the right environment and accompanied by the appropriate beverage, I am grateful for the musical heritage my mother and her accordion contributed to my life.

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Gratitude for Childhood Vaccinations – No More Scary Diseases

I remember hearing the hushed conversation between my parents when I was about five or six: “…daughter was rushed to the hospital last night in an ambulance…polio…now in an iron lung.”  I knew that I was not supposed to hear the conversation, so did not ask questions.

It was 1947 or 8 and the country was in the midst of a polio epidemic. If I was awaken in the night by a siren, I worried that it was someone else being rushed to the hospital with polio.

There were posters in public buildings promoting the work of the March of Dimes with pictures of children wearing braces and using crutches.

Fight Polio advertisement.

Fight Polio advertisement.

At some point I saw a picture of a child using an iron lung.

iron lung

iron lung

It was a scary time. The Salk polio vaccine was not developed and available until 1957. I didn’t receive the vaccination until 1961 as I was preparing to spend my junior year in college in Hong Kong.

I began to think about childhood illnesses and vaccines last winter after the measles outbreak at Disneyland, where the majority of children infected had not been vaccinated. Since the theory that vaccinations were linked to autism had long been disproven, I wondered why parents would subject their children to serious diseases. To me who had experienced measles first hand, vaccines were one of the miracles of modern medicine.

My first serious childhood illness was Scarlet Fever, which I now know comes from a certain strain of the streptococcus virus. I contracted it when I was almost four. In addition to the rash, it settled in my tonsils and I was confined to my bed for three weeks. According to my mother’s notes, all of my paper toys had to be disposed of afterwards.

About the time of the hushed polio conversation, I came down with measles. About the time I recovered, my sister Chris came down with them. Our poor mother! When I was well enough to go outside, I still had to stay in the yard and not play with my friends since our house had a quarantine sign on the front door.

quarantine sign

quarantine sign

I came down with chicken pox when I was 9 and a half and remember having to stay home from school for about 2 weeks and being doused with calamine lotion to control the itching. Children were not allowed to return to school until all of the scabs had fallen off.

Me with chickenpox

Me with chickenpox

BJ, my oldest son, born in 1967, came along at the right time. The measles vaccine was developed in 1963, so he was immunized against measles and received his polio vaccine before he started school.

He came down with mumps when he was almost one. The mumps vaccine had just been released. It was too late for him; however, my husband and I were among the first adults to receive the shot since neither of us had contracted it as children.

BJ caught the chicken pox after my husband’s mother had shingles. Unfortunately, for my mother, he did not break out until he was visiting her in California during spring break. It was a light case; however, Mom had to play nurse-maid rather than doing fun activities. He still had some scabs when it was time for him to fly home. Mom solved the problem by purchasing a turtleneck t-shirt from him to wear on the plane.

I got my pay back in 1981 when my niece came down with chickenpox while she and her parents were visiting me in Washington.

And a few years later, my younger children also got the chickenpox. The vaccination for that childhood illness was not developed until 1995.

Dr. Lance Chilton, an Albuquerque pediatrician who is a member of the Section on Senior Members of the American Academy of Pediatrics (SOSM), recently focused his weekly column in the Albuquerque Journal on remembering the days before vaccines. In response to the Disneyland measles epidemic, SOSM gathered stories of diseases that pediatricians generally don’t see anymore.

He wrote, “Like others growing up in the polio era, I had friends that were infected and died or who were paralyzed for life.”

One of his colleagues wrote “For those of us who lived those days, and saw the specter of death on far too many children, we continue to be grateful for the amazing role vaccines have had in the protection of all our children.”

In 2015, the World Health Organization announced that one strain of poliovirus has been eradicated from the world. It and smallpox have been taken off the list of infectious diseases – both thanks to immunization.

While there have been amazing advances in medicine during my lifetime, I am particularly grateful for the development of vaccines to prevent childhood diseases.

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How Things Have Changed – My Life Through Fashion Trends

The temperature was in the mid-90’s as I drove by a local high school as the students were leaving on the first day of school – Albuquerque 2015. A great many students were wearing Bermuda shorts and scooped neck t-shirts. It didn’t appear as if there was any impetus to have a new ‘back-to-school’ outfit. Aw, how things have changed.

Having a new outfit to start school was important in 1956 when I started high school (10th grade then). By the first of August, my mother and I had visited the fabric store and picked out a pattern and fabric for me to make my back-to-school dress. I insisted that it be a dark fall fabric. I remember it had ¾ length sleeves – hardly the kind of dress I should be wearing in mid-September in San Bernardino, CA where the temperature often was over 100 during the first week of school. I couldn’t find a picture of my 10th grade back-to-school dress. This the 11th grade one.

11th grade back to school dress

11th grade back to school dress

It was the era of felt ‘poodle’ skirts, two-toned saddle oxfords or ‘bucks’ that needed constant attention with pads of white powder. The skirt lengths were calf-length, whether loose and swirling or pencil thin. Sadly, I never owned a poodle skirt. Since my mother made nearly all of my clothes, she deemed the cost of the felt too expensive. When the weather cooled and we switched from blouses – that needed to be ironed – to sweater sets, we always had a little scarf tied at the neck or a string of pearls.

Me with high school friends

Me with high school friends

I and my friends poured over Seventeen Magazine, our go-to source for high school style. In one issue there was an article titled, “What is Your Perfume Personality?”  As the foothills explorer in my free time, not unsurprisingly, mine was “woodsy-mossy.”

When I started college at the University of Redlands in 1959, conservative straight skirts were worn for classes. Instead of saddle oxfords, young women usually wore flats. I asked some of my college friends what they remembered about college attire.

“I remember we had to wear nylons (with seams) and heels to the Commons (dining hall) on Sunday,” my friend Carole reminisced. “This was before panty hose, so we must have worn garters” – or girdles.

Me with college friends in our dresses, nylons and heels - 1961

Me with college friends in our dresses, nylons and heels – 1961

Penny wrote “I think that I usually wore panty hose with my skirts.  I can specifically remember that on some of those hot, HOT September days, that the perspiration on my nylon-stockinged legs rubbing together caused chaffing of my thighs while walking up to the “Hill” for classes.”

She also remembers “we couldn’t hang our laundry on the lines behind the dorm on Sundays.” And, of course, this was before dryers were common place since they were still very costly.

It was expected that we would wear hat and gloves when we attended the get-acquainted teas. I remember wearing a royal blue pin box hat with matching royal blue gloves. I felt so chic and kept both items packed away in my cedar chest for many years afterwards.

Pants, but never jeans, were worn for casual activities. I don’t know whether the private college had a dress code, or whether we were just following the norms of the times. My college friends don’t remember any written dress code – “We just somehow seemed to know what was customary” Penny relayed.

I have photos of me wearing a suit with a cropped jacket for important occasions, such as the Science Dinner, writing banquet or debate tournament.

Me with Penny King after a debate tournament

Me with Penny King after a debate tournament

My sister Chris entered School of Architecture at the University of California at Berkley as the only female student in 1962. I asked her whether it gave her more liberty to dress casually. “A lot was left as “understood”.  Dresses for school and slacks for evening.  Wednesday night dinner was “dress-up” – going to church outfits.  Going to San Francisco included hose, heels and dresses,” she explained. “After several years it became apparent that I had to upgrade my clothes to be taken “seriously” and “professionally”.  Daily dress included nylons and nice shoes – even though the distance between classes included many hills.

My first job out of college was a social worker in the welfare department. I can’t imagine what the families that I visited thought when this young woman appeared at their doors wearing business attire, heels and hose!  I’m sure it didn’t create an atmosphere of rapport.

At some point in the 1960’s – after Jackie Kennedy became First Lady – the skirt lengths went from mid-calf to knee-length.

When I got married in 1965, it was expected that I would have a ‘going away’ outfit. I have no recollection what it was, except that it seemed silly, since we were going camping on our honeymoon.  I asked Chris what her recollection was when she married in 1967. “Oh, yes, I also had a going-away suit,” she stated. “Mom said it was the proper thing to do.”

For casual wear, jeans became popular and by the 1970’s pant legs went from straight to flared at the ankle. However, as I perused photo albums, it appears that on most casual occasions I wore slacks,

Me with Mom

Me with Mom

and only wore jeans for hiking and camping.

Me on a hike with friends

Me on a hike with friends

Chris got her first pantsuit sooner than I did. After receiving her degree and moving to Albuquerque with her architect husband, Bill, she interned with a civil engineer. “I got my first pant suit in 1970 when I needed to go in a private plane to a site in southern New Mexico,” she stated.

In 1971 singer James Brown released his hit, “Hot Pants” and instantly it became a fashion trend. I remember feeling racy after purchasing a one-piece outfit – a knit top with hot pants that zipped up. I wore with boots, but only a few times. It was very impractical as I had to practically undress to use the restroom.

When I moved to Seattle in 1973 and became director of The Arc-King County, it was expected that I wear business attire. At some point during the 1970’s I acquired my first pantsuit; however, it was business suits on most days.

Me in one of my summer business suits after receiving my MBA in 1984

Me in one of my summer business suits after receiving my MBA in 1984

I remarried in 1979. It was not going to be a fancy dress for me – and purchased a suit I could wear to work.

Wedding attire - 1978

Wedding attire – 1978

By the late 80’s when I developed a growth between my two outer toes (the product of wearing narrow, pointed-toe shoes too many years), the doctor suggested I could avoid surgery if I wore Birkenstocks like he did. I was indignant and told him that as the Executive Director of The Arc – King County, I could not effectively represent the agency at civic events in Birkenstocks.

A short time later, women’s footwear became more casual, heels lower and widths wider. Spiked heels and narrow toes have returned to women’s fashions and I know the price they will pay as their feet age.

When I attended my 30th college reunion, everyone still dressed up.

Me with Penny King at 30th U of R reunion - 1993

Me with Penny King at 30th U of R reunion – 1993

When I moved to Albuquerque in 1994, I was delighted to learn that business attire was much more casual than in Seattle. While I had a few suits that I really loved,

photo from 1992

photo from 1992

they sat in the back of my closet for several years before I was ready to retire them.

I purchased my first denim dress.

Me with a friend - 1995

Me with a friend – 1995

What a difference 20 years makes. When I attended my 50th reunion at the University of Redlands, we were all in casual attire.

Reunion picture - 2013

Reunion picture – 2013

The best wardrobe of all is that of retirement – casual pants or crops on most days. I haven’t worn a skirt in years. I have always liked the poem “When I am old I will wear purple with a red hat…” While purple and red hats are not my style, the meaning is clear: I can now wear what I love and what is comfortable.

Judy-Grand-Canyon

And, from observing the high school students that sent me on this fashion retrospective, perhaps young women today will not be bound by all of the fashion rules that women of my generation were bound by.

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