Thursday, September 29, 2016

On the Subject of Bathrooms in Britain and Other Oddities

(This was the only thing I wrote on the entire trip while it was happening, hence the present tense and a bit of repetition from my previous post.)

At this point on the trip, we've stayed in eight different hotels across England, Wales and Scotland, with two more to go.  I've been quite pleased with the accommodations for the most part.  I had expected that traveling as a single on a tour with 45 participants would get me put up in tiny little closets with a twin bed and barely room to turn around, but each room has been roomy, with comfortable full/queen-sized beds and nice views out the window.  That extra premium to have my own room was money well spent.

The bathrooms in these hotels have been clean and well-appointed, but all share a couple of common elements that have left me amused and/or confused and usually each has a unique feature all its own that sometimes has me scratching my head.

The travel documents from the tour company had warned me that some hotels do not supply washcloths, deeming them unnecessary luxury items.  Huh.  Something to put soap on and scrub yourself with is a luxury.  Ok.  I popped a scrubby into the suitcase just in case.  So far about 50% of the hotels have supplied washcloths.

Most of the rooms have had nice, glassed-in showers.  A few have had tubs.  Both kinds of layout require care in entering and exiting.  The showers will be up on a 6-8 inch platform.  The tubs will be DEEP with high walls and necessitate careful climbing into and out of.  For someone who is still extremely skittish about falling after the great smoke alarm catastrophe and who is virtually blind as a bat without her glasses, this can turn out to be the biggest adventure of the day.  Most of the hotels have a sign in the bathroom offering to supply a non-slip mat for the tub, but who thinks to call housekeeping before they are standing naked and getting ready to step into the slippery tub.  I found myself contemplating at one point about how long it would take for someone to figure out I had fallen and cracked my skull (probably 10 minutes after I failed to show up at the coach on time) and how long it would then take them to break through the dead bolt and chain on the door.  My thoughts then wandered to how I'm sure Globus has that kind of scenario all timed out and the other 44 passengers would be on their way to the next stop on time less 10 minutes while the designated damage control representative took care of disposing of the body.  (I have a morbid imagination.)  I decided I should best not inconvenience them and be extra careful getting in and out of the tub.  They probably charge extra for that.

We have stayed in 8 different hotels and each one has had a different kind of faucet/shower control.  After a long day on the road and having one's senses overloaded on beautiful scenery, puzzling out the right combination to get water to flow through the pipes so you can take a shower can be almost overwhelming.  I very nearly gave up in Inverness.  All I could manage to produce was a bare trickle into the tub.  Finally, in desperation, I stumbled across the solution when I realized there were two parts to the shower controls, built into one piece of metal.  One turned left and one turned right and both had to be engaged to start the shower, but until you looked at it closely you would never know it contained two controls.  (I had a private chuckle the next morning on the coach when I overheard a couple of folks talking about having to bathe in a trickle of water because the shower didn't work.)

Also in Inverness, there was a notice on the tub and on the door that steam would set off the smoke alarm (!), so please keep the bathroom door shut.  The room was tiny and thoroughly steamy by the end of taking a bath. I slipped in and out of the bathroom, careful to leave the steam captured behind me.  Putting on makeup with a bathroom full of steam is not easy.  None of the bathrooms have been equipped with a fan, so tough luck there.

Most of the standalone showers have been designed in such a way that the shower head points directly out the door and you either have to step in and close the door and accept being blasted with cold water until you get the temperature adjusted, since there is not enough room to move out of the way, or risk filling the floor with water as you stand as far back as you can outside the shower while you fiddle with the taps.  I generally end up mopping the floor with the extra towel when I'm finished, because it takes awhile to puzzle out what all has to be turned to get the water to a comfortable temperature.

We won't even go into the variations of the toilets.  Let's just say that some work fine and others mull it over before they decide they might just accept the order to flush.  There was one that would spend about 5 minutes pumping water noisily upstairs to the appropriate place and eventually kicking off a violent flush after you had forgotten all about asking it to do its job.

The electrical set ups are just as off-beat.  I have stayed in hotels across the USA and have taken to carrying along a power strip because there is usually one outlet available for the various chargers I take along with me.  Just about every place we've stayed in Britain has a multitude of outlets all over the room - although not in the bathroom.  There will be a special outlet in the bathroom accepting two different kinds of plugs for "SHAVERS ONLY".  There is no outlet in the bathroom that can be used with the hair dryer.  The secondary issue in this particular case is that where there are plenty of outlets in the main room, there is frequently no handy mirror to help you style your hair.  I've been running about 50-50 on  whether my hair will be in order or look like a fright wig once it's dry.

I've surmised that the Brits must be absolutely terrified of electrical accidents. (Probably explains why there are no fans in the bathrooms.)   Each of the dozen or so plugs in their hotel rooms has its own switch and they are off when you arrive.  I'm glad that the converters we brought with us have lights to indicate the plugs are active, so I know when I've successfully kicked off the nightly charging process.

Some of the rooms will keep you busy for your first minutes in the room as you try and figure which switch turns what on and off.  Sometimes I will make the rounds, turning on all the switches, think I've figured it all out, reach for what I think is the bedside light switch and turn the entire room off.  Then there was the hotel room that requires you to insert your key card into a pocket beside the door to activate the lights and the air conditioning.  Not necessarily a bad idea to help cut down costs - although I do like to leave a lamp on when I leave a hotel room for supper and I was out of luck in that place.

I had a quandary at the boutique hotel where we spent our few days in London prior to joining up with the tour.  London was having a bit of a heat wave when we arrived and there was no air-conditioning.  When we arrived and each evening when we returned, the window would be wide open to catch the scant breeze.  I couldn't quite handle leaving my window open at night in a big city like London, especially since my room was on a lower floor and any American burglar worth his salt could have gained access without breaking a sweat (heat wave notwithstanding).  I can only guess that British burglars have some kind of ethical issue with breaking into boutique hotels in the Belgravia neighborhood.  Or maybe it's the CCTV cameras on every corner that deters that kind of criminal behavior, but I still shut the window every night and made do with a rotary fan to get through the warm nights.

The Brits supply an electric tea kettle in every room and it beats our standard hotel shoddy drip coffee makers all to heck.  I've seldom had a decent cup of coffee in an American hotel room.  When I decided to try out the tea kettle,  I expected that the tea bags supplied would produce a fine cup of tea, but I wasn't so sure about the instant coffee packets.  I've been pleasantly surprised to enjoy a good cup of decaf coffee in the evenings and they even supply little cups of milk and none of that nasty powdered creamer you get Stateside.  The Brits know how to provide decent warm drinks.

But another of their oddities is the dislike of cold drinks.  I wasn't about to ask for a glass of iced tea anywhere, but I expected I could at least get iced water.  In general, their idea of iced drinks involves about 3 ice cubes in a tall tumbler.  When you reach into a cooler for a bottle of water in a grocery or convenience store, it is barely chilled and certainly nowhere near cold enough for us Texans.  I have learned to tolerate barely chilled beverages, but I am looking forward to glasses packed with ice as soon as I get back home.  (The only adequately iced drink I've had here was when I ordered an amaretto sour.  It was more ice than liquor and mixer and I enjoyed it thoroughly.)

The Brits are different, no two ways about it.  But aside from their odd bathroom fixtures, their paranoid attitude toward electricity and their unexplainable fear of ice, I like it here.


Life on the Road with a Group Tour

When contemplating a first trip overseas, you have to decide which approach to take:  (1) plot the trip yourself and commit to renting a car and hoping you can cope with whatever the local roads and drivers throw at you, (2) plot the trip yourself and commit to using public transportation, or (3) join a group tour and let the professionals take care of the details.  We opted for a combination of (2) and (3).

David has taken the challenge in previous trips overseas to do some driving in a rental car, but always where folks drive on the right side of the road.  Both of us agreed that we would not be comfortable attempting to drive in Britain until we had a chance to observe the roads themselves and how things work differently when driving on the left side of the road.  For the London stretch of our trip we decided the smart thing to do would be to travel mostly by taxicabs, taking the tube where unavoidable and taking a train on our one trip we wanted to make out of the city before we joined our tour group.

So far as London goes, I will never ever attempt to maneuver a rental car in that city.  Driving in London requires a certain level of throwing caution to the wind and it might be mandatory to have either a death wish or be a tiny bit insane.  It is quite an experience to sit in the back of multiple taxicabs and watch the drivers zip in and out of the tiniest openings, driving pell mell down a busy thoroughfare with pedestrians standing at the edge of the road (I kept holding my breath for fear someone would step off to their death) and seemingly running red lights.  (I finally caught on that there were two lights, one on the left for the thru traffic and one on the right for the turning traffic.)

Speaking of lights, one thing the Brits do that I think we should adopt is the yellow light coming on both to and from the red.  I liked that.

The first few taxicab rides I just held on and hoped for the best.  Our last night after the tour ended found us back in London and zipping around to a few last places on our list.  By that time, after 12 days in a motor coach on narrow British country roads, the taxicab rides weren't nearly so daunting.  But I still wouldn't attempt to drive in London.  I would undoubtedly end up blocking Piccadilly Circus or some equally busy place, having hysterics while some poor bobby tried to prise my hands from the wheel.

One of London's black cabs, Big Ben in the background

Looking toward Big Ben from the Jubilee footbridge over
Victoria Embankment

Once we joined up with the Globus Essential Britain tour and exited London, the road situation changed dramatically.  Sometimes we would be on what we would term an expressway, although much less stressful than our version and usually no more than four lanes, divided.  Most of the time we were on smaller two lane roads heading out to scenic sights in the countryside and coastal regions.  We were traveling on a luxurious motor coach, with plush seats and wi-fi (sometimes).  Our primary driver, Kevin, was very competent and never gave us a moment's concern, not even when we would meet up with another large motor coach.  The two drivers would squeeze past each other with inches to spare.  Our tour director would instruct us to "breathe in" as we would approach these passings.  Quite frequently there would be spontaneous applause for Kevin's driving once we cleared.

On the way to Loch Lomond, Scotland

Our coach parked for a photo op near Ballachulish, Scotland

Squeezing past a lorry on a narrow country road near
Blairgowrie, Scotland

The view through the front window near Kyle, Scotland
Not only are the roads narrow, in many cases there are hedgerows or rock walls right up next to the roadway so it's not like you can ease off onto a shoulder when it's a tight squeeze like you usually can here.  I can't be complimentary enough about our drivers. (Kevin was required to take a day or so break here and there and our fill-in drivers were just as good as he was.)

The bus - I mean motor coach (they were adamant about that) - was very comfortable and each day on the trip meant several hours watching the beautiful countryside through enormous windows that Kevin cleaned at the end of each day.  By the third day, most of us were taking cat naps between stops.  The seats were soft and comfortable and the motion of the coach was as good as any lullaby coaxing you into sleep.  We became accustomed to our travel companions either listing forward until they jerked awake, or their heads lolling backwards with their mouths falling open.  Fortunately I never heard anyone break into a snore.  

Hmm.  I best get back to the subject of this essay, which was not really supposed to be about the road conditions in Britain, but rather a tiny review on seeing Britain with a tour group.  Let's just close this portion with the observation that while I would never ever attempt to drive in London, I don't think it would be too much of a challenge to drive elsewhere in Britain.  After 12 days on the road observing a competent driver (when I wasn't catnapping), I think I have a basic understanding of the road signs and the roundabouts.  I would feel optimistic about flying into a smaller airport, grabbing a rental car and heading out to Dartmoor or up to the Lake District or the Scottish highlands.  Those were the three standout areas for me of all the places we visited and I would love to go back and spend some time exploring.

The time issue is the big negative about traveling with a tour group.  Don't get me wrong, the positives far outweigh the negatives, especially for your first time traveling abroad.  What you give up in freedom to roam and explore, you gain in getting to see far more than you would if you were traveling the same amount of time on your own.   The tour folks have this down to a science and know exactly how much time it takes to see a place, grab a bite to eat and get back on the coach.  They make sure to stop every couple of hours if it's a long travel stretch so you can visit the facilities, stretch your legs for a few minutes and grab a fresh bottle of water.  Sometimes you end up having to decide between visiting a promising gift shop and taking that potty break, because the stops are timed exactly to get the essentials taken care of and no extras.  You sure don't want to be the one who is causing the other 45 folks to wait on you to get back on the coach.

At the destination stops we would be provided with tickets and eased on up to the front of the line.  (This initially seemed like we were being treated like something special, although you quickly become aware that at every one of these stops, there are likely another half dozen or more tour groups being shuffled to the front of the line to keep them on the tour schedules.  These places depend on those tour groups for a big part of their revenue.)  For these primary tour stops, we would be turned loose for 90 minutes or a couple of hours and given a time to be back in our seats on the coach.  I would always plan on being done with the sight-seeing about 20 minutes before boarding time so I could stroll through the gift shop or grab that bite to eat.

I was disappointed that a few of the promised destinations fell more into the 20 minute rest stop variety,  but there were so many stops on the way that you really had to keep moving to get them all in.  I guess when you really think about it, after you've ooh'ed and aah'ed over the beauty of Loch Lomond and snapped 20 or 30 pictures, there's not too much point in hanging around.  There's more to be seen down the road a bit and a schedule to keep to, so we learned to step lively and see the sights without dawdling.

Our daily starts were early, with luggage to be outside your hotel door by 7am and boarding time set for 8am.  (There was a morning or two that started even earlier.)  While they were collecting and loading your luggage, you would have access to a full breakfast buffet at the hotel.  During the preliminary days in London, I thoroughly enjoyed the "Full English Breakfast", which is generally eggs, bacon (English style, more like thin ham), sausage, beans (like our pork and beans, only no pork), grilled tomatoes and/or sautéed mushrooms, toast and pastries.  By the time we joined the tour, the novelty of that spread had worn off a bit and I found it harder and harder to face eggs in the morning.  Fortunately, I developed a taste for the fresh croissants and the English jams, so I switched back and forth for the duration of the tour.  As the tour progressed into Scotland, you also had the option of your morning dose of haggis, which I declined to sample.  There's only so much adventure in my soul.

I was a bit apprehensive about what kind of accommodations we would enjoy during the tour.  I had paid an extra premium for a single, but I knew that many hotels in England provide twin beds and smaller rooms to singles.  My fears were unfounded.  I always had a full or queen sized bed and a generous sized bathroom (more on the bathrooms in a later post).  I usually had a decent view out my window.  I discovered rather late into the trip that the instant coffee provided with the mandatory electric tea kettle was much, much better than the instant coffee I'm familiar with and that became a late evening treat along with a package of the tea biscuits provided.   The majority of the time I had an ironing board and iron and sometimes a little fridge for my water.

What they didn't have, reliably, was air conditioning.  At the bigger chain hotels, air conditioning was not a problem.  At the smaller hotels, it got a bit warm at times.  These places did provide fans, thankfully.  Some of the hotels required your hotel key to be put in a slot just inside the door to keep the lights on and the air conditioning going.  That took me a few minutes to puzzle out, but I eventually got there.

The extra excursions we enjoyed and the meals provided by the tour I will cover in later posts, but I will say that the entertainment was excellent and the meals were adequate for the most part.  Our tour director was entertaining on the road, spinning tales (some tall) about the places we were going through and anecdotes about the royal family and other Brits of note.  At either end of the tour, we were expertly welcomed and discharged by very friendly Globus representatives.  At the very end of the tour I hesitantly asked if it would be possible to add a transfer to the airport for early the next morning and it was quickly arranged by a most charming and helpful young lady.  I don't know about other tour companies, but I can say that Globus knows what they are doing and I felt like I got my money's worth.

Our travel companions were a mixed assortment.  We had quite a few Aussies on board with us and they seemed to be a friendly and cheerful bunch.  While there were several single folks on tour, most were paired up with co-workers or friends or a family member.   There was one other single woman traveling without a roommate and she and I just happened to meet in the hotel lobby before the rest of our group assembled the first morning.  Toward the end of the tour we agreed that we had a bit of a bonus traveling alone, as we each got our own bench on the coach, all to ourselves, and we could spread out and be even more comfortable.  My additional seat generally held my hat, upside down, holding my knitting bag so it would stay put and I worked on my knitting project off and on while gazing out at the beautiful English countryside.

Sad to say, there is always a grump in any crowd and we had one.  He was generally complaining to the tour director early in the morning about some perceived slight in the accommodations and he bit the heads off a few of our companions who wandered into his orbit, but we lucked out in that he almost always fell asleep on the road so we didn't have to put up with too much out of him.  He was easy enough to avoid off the coach.  (Wouldn't you know, he sat across the aisle from me in the mini bus that took us to the airport for our departing flights.  The trip to the airport was an hour and he kept falling asleep and tilting toward me, getting snagged by his wife before he could fall out of his seat and then snapping at her for waking him up.  He must be a real joy to live with.)

So to wrap this up....I would definitely take another tour with Globus.  But not to England, Wales or Scotland.  They showed me a good time and I saw so much that I had heard about all my life and I enjoyed every minute.  But the best thing they did for me was provide me with the experience to know where I would like to return and take my time getting to know better.  Next time I'm going to stop and smell the heather, for as long as I please.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Brain Scatterings

Random things brightening my week...

Last night I went a couple of houses down the street for a neighborhood meeting and I was greeted at the door by a 3 month old toy poodle who caused me to wish longingly for a new baby in the house.  She tore around the room, deliriously happy that so many new folks had come to see her, and was literally bouncing off the walls, the furniture, and anybody who happened to be standing near.  I managed to get her to sit with me for a little while when I offered to play tug of war with her chew toy and we had a grand time together before she got distracted by something across the room and went barreling off on a new adventure.  Eventually her hyper excitement got her banished to the bedroom while the adults met, but it was so much fun to have the chance to play with a puppy.  It's been a long time.   Maybe Mojo needs a baby brother....

I have finally gotten my genealogy groove back.  About 6 months or so ago I embarked on a massive updating project to get everything I had randomly scribbled into my family notebooks transferred to the computer.  I'm close to getting that finished.  I've got 35 notebooks done and 10 to go.  The bad news is that about half of the 10 left are Hodge material and it's going to be a job thanks to rascally Dr. Hodge and all his court records that need to be transcribed. 

The good news is that I really, really like my new genealogy program (Reunion) and the reports it churns out on command.  I've got two get-togethers coming soon with various Mobleys, and I have spent some time this week getting the 3 Mobley and 1 Morgan notebooks overhauled so I don't have to feel embarrassed to show people "my stuff".  Everything is going into sheet protectors (partly to protect from over-handling, partly to prevent me from scribbling into notebooks rather than entering into databases as new information surfaces).  Just to point out the job it is, I went through 400 sheet protectors with those 4 notebooks and ran out just before I had finished with the Morgans.  If I average 100 sheet protectors per notebook, I'm going to be heavily invested in sheet protectors by the time I make it through 45 notebooks.  

My new mantra:  "One notebook at a time".  I am very pleased with the results of my months of labor and I'm getting itchy to get back to researching.  I have a wall of books I haven't had time to work with yet and I have some new information surfacing thanks to my having put a bare bones family tree into Ancestry that is causing new records to come flying at me from their matching routines and for the first time in a couple of years, I'm excited about getting back on the hunt.

I went out to the office supply store at lunch today to lay in another 600 sheet protectors and decided to swing by for a few groceries.  (Grocery buying does not brighten my week.)  As I was putting my groceries into the back of the car and muttering under my breath about the idiot way the clerk had packed my bags, a clean cut young man said "Aren't you Ms. Wilcoxen?".  My first thought was that a former student had mistaken me for Mother.  But he looked familiar and I suddenly realized that it was my car salesman from 8 months ago.  I spent 4 hours with him 8 months ago and he remembered my face and my name.  Speaking as someone who plays wallflower so well that most people forget me within minutes, it was a pleasant surprise.  I do like the folks at that dealership.

I have a new batch of sweet basil plants.  If at first and second you don't succeed, try, try again.  I'm pondering ways to keep my Italian possum/lizard/bluejay/whatever from spoiling another crop.  Mental exercise keeps you young.  So does sparring with a worthy opponent.

Hopefully the remainder of the week will continue to give me good vibes.  Beginning today, I have an appointment somewhere every day through Sunday.  Crossing my fingers that I don't get rained out of anything (not complaining about the rain, just could use a bit less intensity).  


Monday, October 12, 2015


Life sometimes takes a little dip into the dark side.  For the most part, I rock along fairly content with life.  But every so often it seems like everything goes arse over teakettle and before you know it, I'm in a black mood and struggling to find my way back to my happy place.

I've had worse tumbles into the grumpy zone, but last week did try my patience to the critical point.  All I wanted to do was lock myself in the house and cut off all communication with the outside.  I have a few tricks up my sleeve for shaking me out of my doldrums, so I did a lot of knitting on the current shawl and I did a lot of puppy cuddling and I watched a stream of sappy movies.   I was beginning to see the light by the end of the work week.

And then I realized that it was the beginning of the annual Hill Country Yarn Crawl.  I considered just blowing it off this year.  I really wasn't in the mood to mix with folks and I really, really, really don't need any more yarn. I'm also really feeling poor after a month of buying a new car and starting to make reservations for an upcoming major trip.

But I knew that getting out on the backroads of Texas is sometimes just the right medicine when I'm in the dumps, so I dragged myself out of bed early Saturday morning and headed out to visit the first round of yarn shops, starting with the furtherest points east.

First stop was LaGrange and The Quilted Skein.  This is a great little yarn and quilting store just off the square and I always find some really lovely temptations there.  (It's also just down the way from a great little Gold Crown Hallmark Shop where I stopped in briefly to kill some time before the yarn shop opened.)
The Quilted Skein

The shop was full of chatty, happy knitters and I found a couple of really nice buys, including a huge 750 yard skein of cushy wool in a color described as "Turkish Carpet".  I think this one is going to be a shawl for me.  I began to have a little more enthusiasm for the day.

The North Wind shows off the Turkish Carpet yarn
From LaGrange I headed toward Navasota to a store that until now I had never visited, W. C. Mercantile.  I could not remember if I had ever been to Navasota before, but I decided I had not because nothing looked familiar when I got there.  I saw several antique stores as I searched for my yarn shop and decided that I would spend a little bit of time checking them out.
W. C. Mercantile
The store was well worth the drive there.  They have an association with the Bluebonnet Hills Alpaca Ranch and carry some luscious alpaca yarn.  I succumbed to the temptation of a beaded scarf kit that I can't wait to tackle.  I also succumbed to the temptation to go inside the pen that had been set up in the alleyway next door for two alpacas from the ranch and have some pictures made with two of the cutest animals I've been around in a long, long time.
Roosevelt and Rising Son of Bluebonnet Hills Alpaca Ranch
While the yarn shopping was a definite success, antiquing in Navasota was a bit of a bust.  I strolled through several stores and was very disappointed.  One antique mall was such a jumble I felt like I had been strolling through someone's storage warehouse by the time I made my escape.  Another store had some really nice things, including some McDade pottery, but unfortunately the prices were way higher than what I knew the pieces normally sell for. So I decided it was time to head on to the next stop on the yarn crawl.

Thankfully the folks at W. C. Mercantile had given out homemade cookies to the yarn crawl participants because I decided to wait until I got close to the next yarn store before I stopped to eat, and I ended up taking a bit of a detour on another backroad.

A few miles out of Navasota, I had seen a sign pointing toward Independence and as I approached that sign on the return drive, I decided I should take the opportunity to visit one of the cornerstones of early Baptist history in Texas.  

I've been to Independence on numerous occasions.  The first time I must have been under ten years old.  I can remember Mother and Daddy stopping there on one of our trips to or from east Texas.  Baylor University and Mary Hardin-Baylor University began their histories at Independence, the men on one hill and the women on another hill.  Sam Houston attended the Independence Baptist Church. 

Back when I began attending Mary Hardin-Baylor, the school took a busload of students and teachers to Independence every year to visit the ruins of Baylor Female Academy and would provide a picnic lunch on the grounds of the historic site.  I wonder if they still do.  There is nothing left but the columns that belonged to the girls' dormitory, but they stand in a grove of live oak trees and are very photogenic.  I've visited numerous times and always enjoy the stop.

The ruins at the birthplace of Baylor Female College,
now Mary Hardin-Baylor University, in Independence
What I discovered this time, and I have no idea how the fact has escaped me all these years, is that there is another park at the site of the men's dormitory.  I had always been under the belief that nothing remained of the men's campus and as a MHB alumnus, had never bothered to explore the possibility.  This time as I approached Independence from the opposite direction than I normally do, I saw a sign to "Baylor University historic site" and thinking that was the turn to get to where I was headed, I turned only to find an entirely different Baylor Park sitting on the site of the men's campus.

There is a nice graveled path with markers to point out the locations of the various buildings that had been part of that site and an empty iron fence surrounding what was the original burial site of Judge R. E. B. Baylor.  His remains were removed to the Mary Hardin-Baylor campus in Belton in the 1920s, his tomb being prominent in the area between Wells Science Hall and the Chapel.  I passed it every day for 4 years and knew that he had been moved there from his original burial site, but never stopped to consider just where it had been moved from.  (I'm sure I read it at some point, but it just had not stuck with me.)  I enjoyed my little walk and was glad I had taken a wrong turn.  I just can't believe it took me this long to realize that there was more to see in Independence.

Historical Marker at the Baylor University birthplace in Independence
Leaving Independence, I got a little turned around and ended up on one of my patented "let's see what's down that road" rambles.  I love these little rambles.  I got a healthy dose of the love to drive backroads genes from both my parents and I always welcome the odd opportunity to do a little off the map exploring.  This one didn't last too terribly long and I was back on the road to Giddings before too much time had elapsed.

I had intended to eat in Giddings, but I was getting tired and decided to push on to my last yarn stop of the day at Yarnorama in Paige.  It is by far my favorite yarn shop and I always enjoy prowling there, exhaustion notwithstanding.  

I lasted until I got back to Bastrop before I just had to eat something and indulged myself with a rare stop at the Roadhouse for a hamburger.  (It's usually too crowded to get in.)  At the end of the day I was tired, but in a much better frame of mind after a day's ramble, and I had a nice basketful of yarn to show for my first third of the yarn crawl.

Bounty of Yarn
The next morning I was in no mood to roll out of bed bright and early, but I had promised to attend church at a little country church a few miles from Bastrop and take part in a patriotic service as part of my DAR membership. It has been a very long time since I've attended a service at a little country Baptist church and it definitely took me back to the days of Westhoff and Smiley.  I enjoyed myself and I enjoyed having lunch with some of the folks afterwards, but I was sure glad to get back home and spend the afternoon drowsing on the couch with Mojo and knitting when I could keep my eyes open for awhile.

Hills Prairie Baptist Church
It was definitely a good idea for me to break out of my rut and see some different territory and talk to folks who haven't been stomping on my last nerve.  This week brings a few welcome distractions (including more yarn crawling) and I expect that my mood will continue to improve.

Nothing like yarn and Texas backroads.


Saturday, August 08, 2015

Heart Over Mind

My mind knows that I need to stick with my de-cluttering goal and not be dragging in more stuff to fill the holes I've managed to make in the storage areas.

My heart keeps over-riding my mind and telling me to give a good home to estate sale finds.

I think my heart will always win this debate, drat the luck.

My association with Dixie's has plugged me into their estate sale activities and I've hit more estate sales in the past year than I have in the rest of my life put together.  I've made some really good buys and I've made some really baaaaad impulse buys, but I always console myself with the idea that if I decide I blew it by buying something I absolutely do not need in my life,  I can always (hopefully) re-sell it in the booth.  And, furthermore, even if I sell it for the price I bought it, I'm breaking even and coming out ahead.   That policy has mostly proven successful.  I'm sitting on an item right now that I'm probably going to have to take a loss on, but the total fiasco I made when I purchased it has taught me a valuable lesson and that in itself is a good thing in the long run.  Right?

A few weeks back I went to an estate sale that soured me a bit on the whole concept.  The sale itself was fine and I bought a few very nice things, but the location took me way into the deep woods in an area where I'm not so comfortable being in the first place.  Add to that, the way from the main road to the house was a very long one-lane drive bordered with woody undergrowth and there was no way you were going to make it in or out without having to squeak past someone headed the opposite direction, which meant scraping past God knows what.  I still haven't had the intestinal fortitude to examine my car too closely for scratches.

After that I skipped a few - mostly for location reasons, partly because the preview photos didn't show anything that I couldn't resist.  But this week's sale was in Smithville at the home of a woman I've known since our very early days living in Bastrop.  She is now in her late 80's or early 90's and headed into nursing care, had been living in this house for decades, and was interested in genealogy and history, so I figured this was a sale that I must check into.  Thursday morning I was one of the first in line and it was exactly what I expected to see - rooms full of almost too much to take in.  In addition, the back yard was full, the drive way was full, the porch was full and the crowd was big.  I made several circuits throughout and ended up with just a few things:  a couple of antique books, a couple of commemorative plates for local historical buildings, an old metal license plate frame advertising Bastrop State Park, and a piece of milk glass.  My day was made when I snagged a rare, autographed book for $10.  The book, a study of the paintings of Porfirio Salinas, is routinely offered online anywhere from $75-$225.  I already owned a copy that I managed to find awhile back at Half Price Books marked down to $50 that was in less than stellar condition and now I have a much better copy for a fraction of its value.  That kind of unexpected treasure is an example of why I so love estate sales.

Commemorative plates for the First Methodist Churches of
Smithville and Bastrop

A 1901 book on the life of Queen Victoria
& an autographed  book on Porfirio Salinas

Antique métal license plate frame advertising
Bastrop State Park

I spotted quite a bit of glassware that I would have been happy to turn around and sell and a few odd items that I wouldn't mind having in my own collection, but I wasn't interested in spending opening-day prices, so I left it all behind and figured I would make a check on the last day when prices were slashed to 50%.

So this morning I checked the photos for what was still around on the last day and some of those items of interest were available, so I stumbled out of bed and drove back to Smithville for a second round of scavenging.  I did much more damage to my checkbook today.

I found a large collection of dishes by Steubenville in the Woodfield pattern.  There is a variety of plates, saucers, a sugar bowl and creamer, tea/snack plates, bread plates, cups and a large platter.  I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it but at the bargain basement price of $22.50 for the entire lot, I couldn't resist.

Woodfield dishes
Two china head dolls I spotted on Thursday were still waiting for a good home, so even though I'm not much of a doll collector, I figured I had room in the china cabinet for Charlie Chaplain (complete with cane and bowler hat) and a sweet lady with a crocheted outfit.

Two china head dolls
There was quite a bit of blue carnival glass still there and I had intentions of buying it all, only to discover that the punch bowl that I was really after was damaged with multiple chips out of the rim, so I settled for buying the pitcher and tumbler set.  I sold a set similar that had been in Mother's collection, so this one I feel sure will be in the turnaround and sell category.

Pitcher and tumblers in blue carnival glass
As I was checking out this morning, I mentioned the good buy I had gotten on the Porfirio Salinas book the first day and was asked if I had noticed the Salinas painting in the bedroom.  He didn't know if it was an original or a print, but it was priced low and I might want to take a look.  One of the helpers dashed in to bring it out for me to see.  I wasn't sure at a quick glance in bad light just what it was either, but at $20 it was cheap even for a print.  So I grabbed it, too.

Once home, I took it out in the bright sunlight to study it and I'm fairly sure it's a print on canvas, but it's an old print and even prints of Porfirio Salinas paintings are mostly out of my price range, so I figure I'm ahead in any regard.  Porfirio Salinas, if you don't know, specialized in paintings of bluebonnets and has an association with the Bastrop area.  I've long wanted to have a Salinas print and even though this one is a bit grimy, I'm happy to have it.  I just have to figure out where to put it.

A pasture of bluebonnets  by Porfirio Salinas
This was a nice wrap up to a difficult week.  Between an onslaught of work and a nagging, persistent allergy headache, it's been one of those weeks that I'm better off hibernating at home away from polite society.  I found myself in such an irritable state yesterday at one point that I took a break and wound yarn for a new project - just to get myself in a more tranquil place and less likely to throw things at the cats, who seemed determined all week to find my last nerve and jump on it.

The remainder of the weekend I plan to wash all these dishes I've acquired and work on that new yarn project and maybe indulge myself in watching a sappy rom-com or two.  

Things are looking up.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Touring the Backroads

Back during the monsoon season in May, Cousin Glynda alerted me to a historical tour that was going to take place via bus in parts of Bastrop, Williamson and Lee Counties.  She knew that my maternal grandparents had lived in that area during my childhood and, given my family history bent, thought I might be interested in tagging along.  It turned out that the tour was to be based on a book by Charlene Hanson Jordan, a book I had owned for quite some time, entitled "Stuck in the Mud at Post Oak Island".  Mrs. Jordan would be our tour host.  While my ancestors were not involved in the settlement of this particular area, I am interested in all things related to Bastrop County history and it involved an area that I was somewhat familiar with, so I signed on. 

Alas, the week preceding the scheduled tour, the area received non-stop rain and it was decided that it would not be particularly wise to aim a large tour bus down potentially washed out and/or muddied out country roadways, so the tour was rescheduled to July when it could be almost 100% sure that dry conditions would prevail.

I had almost forgotten about the whole thing during the course of the Colorado trip and the early July work crush, but when the fog cleared and I was finally getting a bit of free time to take care of personal business, I glanced down the calendar a few weeks and realized that I had a date to tour some backroads.  Yesterday I headed a bit north of Elgin to finally take advantage of the opportunity to see some parts of Bastrop County I had no idea existed.

The book that inspired the tour.
Post Oak Island refers not to a portion of the County that is surrounded by water, but rather an area part prairie, part sandy land that at one time was home to an isolated grove of post oak trees.   A good percentage of the settlers drawn to the area had Scandinavian roots and many of the community names reflect this.

We began our tour at the Yegua Creek Evangelical Church, which sits in the area once known as Type.  This is not the original location of the Church.  It came later to build next to the Type Cemetery and it now oversees the maintenance of the historic cemetery where many of the original settlers are buried.  The church sits out in the country amid fields and old homesteads and roads that twist and turn until you can get so turned around you have no idea where you are.  (I can attest to this because I looked up the route to take out to the church, but decided to let the GPS take me home.  I didn't pay much attention to the fact that I wasn't retracing my route in until I had been directed this way and that and the next thing I knew I was surrounded by brown corn stalks on every side with no idea which way was out.  Thankfully the GPS may have been taking a circuitous route back to the highway, but it did get me there.  Eventually.)

Yegua Creek Evangelical Free Church

Type Cemetery, adjacent to the church
Cousin Glynda and her son Daniel (who was our driver for the day) work for the travel company that was providing the bus, so I had a bit of an inside track on this outing.  Otherwise I might never have heard about it.  It turned out to have been publicized more in the Elgin area (I guess I'm not as well plugged in over there as I thought) and I was pleasantly surprised that a few folks with whom I have other historical connections turned up to share the afternoon.  We departed on our 5 hour tour in air-conditioned comfort, with plush seating and on board restroom facilities, during the hottest part of the afternoon.  But inside the heat was not an issue and outside it wasn't raining, which was a big plus over the original plans.

Our chariot, driven by Cousin Daniel Melton
The route we took was a series of overlapping circles out along narrow, but mostly paved, roadways through the area where Bastrop, Williamson and Lee Counties join.  We headed first to Pleasant Grove, which is a very familiar area to me since I have kinfolks living out that way and since I've visited the cemetery there many times.  The biggest surprise to me on this portion of the trip was how quickly I realized where I was, even though I was approaching it from an entirely new direction.  To get to the house where my Grandparents Hodge lived when I was young, we would drive out Pleasant Grove Road until it ended and then take what was then a series of gravel roads out to the middle of nowhere and I would quickly get a bit turned around and have no idea where I was or how to get to the farm.  Later when I began to drive, I finally learned my way out there but was never really comfortable with any detour off that learned route.

But, as we approached the Pleasant Grove Road from the opposite direction I know, I was suddenly aware of exactly how I would proceed to go out to the old farm place.  It's taken me most of my life, but I guess I finally know my way around out there.

After stopping briefly at the cemetery for a short talk on the history of Pleasant Grove by one of my mother's old schoolmates, we were back on the road and beginning to circle back to our point of beginning.  We saw points where old school houses and old churches and old stores once sat and where once thriving farms have been replaced by exotic game ranches.  (I think we saw at least three exotic game ranches.)

One of our stops was to see a unique house that a young couple has built into the side of a hill.  We were allowed to go inside and take a look, and all of us were impressed with how nice and roomy a house it was, although from the outside you would never guess how deep into the hill it extends.  Solar panels are mounted on the hill above the house and we were all interested in the little unit you can see in the picture below just above and behind the gentlemen in the driveway.  That little outhouse looking building provides the means to heat the house.  I didn't get all the technical details, but I did hear that part of the source involved a wood burning option.  I had two thoughts upon leaving the interior - (1) that it would be an ideal place to sit out a tornado threat and (2) I would go crazy in a house that has no windows except for a few on the front side.

Entrance to a house built into the side of Catfish Hill.
A lot of the places we visited were now empty fields, with the occasional old cistern remaining behind to indicate where the school or other building once sat, but a few buildings remain.  We saw an old settler's cabin that had been moved from a few miles away to sit beside the Lawrence Chapel and Cemetery.

A dog-trot cabin that was originally the home of Adam and Sarah (Miller) Lawrence.

Lawrence Chapel, with an unusual curved front
We meandered around to Beaukiss, which I've heard of all my life and don't think I've ever actually seen until now.  We stopped briefly at an old Masonic Lodge, home of the Post Oak Island Lodge #181, which is still active.

Post Oak Island Masonic Lodge
After leaving Beaukiss, we made our way to Lawhon Springs, another one of those places I've heard of all my life and never visited.  Historian Audrey Rother took over the microphone there to give us a bit of history on that area where her family lived.  We saw the old school house and the location of the springs which gave the place its name.  From there we drove to Down Home Ranch where most of our party got out for a presentation by the founder.  Glynda, Daniel and I have been to Down Home Ranch many times, so we opted to stay on board the bus and have a nice catch-up visit.  I heard some pretty good tales involving road trips that Glynda's family took years ago with her mother and aunt (my great-aunts Ruby and Ora).  All I can say is that any activity involving those two ladies (and their sister, my Grandmother Ivy) generally included some hilarious stunts.  This time I heard about the time they all went on a paddleboat ride on the Mississippi River and Glynda having warned all her youngsters to stay out of the dirty river when the boat docked, only to look out and see Aunt Ora paddling around in the water.  Those old ladies were always a hoot and you never knew what to expect from them, except that you would sure have a good story to tell afterwards.

Back on the road, we ended the tour in Siloam where the Yegua Creek Farms is located.  This operation is a pecan orchard and commercial kitchen and they were waiting for us with Bar-B-Q and fixings and we all were more than ready to take on some vittles at that stage.  Again, I had no idea this place existed, but if you are wandering around the backroads around Elgin, this would be a good stop to make.  I just wish I had had the opportunity to pry the cucumber salad recipe out of the folks.  I don't like cucumber salads, but I loved that one.

After our meal, we headed back to the church, tired but happy with our afternoon's activities.  I grabbed the opportunity to purchase a couple of books by a local author, then headed home under the questionable directions of the GPS lady.  I missed a couple of photo ops that I had spotted on the way out to the church that morning, so I may have to go back at some point, but at least I got the opportunity to grab a few photos at a tiny crossroads next to fields of mature milo (which I always called maize, but I learned during the tour is really milo - live and learn).  I love seeing these fields of red in the early and late sun.  Pictures really do not do it justice.


Looking out over a field of milo.
I really didn't think there was a whole lot I was going to learn when I headed out yesterday morning.  After all I've lived in Bastrop County for 40 plus years, was born in Elgin and carried all around that area by my grandparents and parents when I was little, and have been a family historian studying the various spots in the area where family lived for decades - but I have to say it was time well spent and I will probably have to retrace the tour route on my own when the weather gets a bit cooler.

The other memory I will keep of this day is the experience of traveling those narrow little roads in such a huge bus.  Traffic on those back roads is fairly sparse, but it was comical to look down the road and see a pickup round the bend headed toward us and see them pause - consider - and cautiously approach us, hugging the far side of the road as close to the edge as possible.  I was thoroughly impressed by my cousin's ability to maneuver that bus, backing down one lane drives when there was no turnaround and swinging out so wide to make a turn over a culvert that you would be sure we were going to land in the ditch, only to swing into the turn with inches to spare.

Being a historian may sound dull, but dull is in the eye of the beholder.  I had a heckuva good time yesterday.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Making the Connections

Back in February when we started making reservations, I ran into a bit of a problem.  The root of that problem was that I don't fly very often and I haven't learned the tricks of getting where I want to be if the airlines don't happen to have the right combination available as a choice.  I was wanting to fly in and out of small town airports and the round trip combinations offered just didn't work out.  I could fly into Durango fairly easily, but flying out of Gunnison was a problem.  All the flight connections arrived in Austin at midnight or later and there were major layovers in Denver.  I just did not want to have to deal with making my way through the airport that late at night.  So I decided I would just have to pass on the trip.

But Karen is much more experienced in figuring out ways around scheduling problems with the airlines and before I knew it, she had it worked out so I could get back to Austin a little before 10 pm.  Still not ideal, but at least I would still be more or less functional at that hour and less likely to have hysterics if I ran into snags retrieving my baggage or finding the shuttle to my car.

It wasn't until I was getting all my boarding passes pulled together before leaving the house that I began to wonder whether I was going to be able to handle the last day of travel after all.  In order to catch my plane in Denver, I had to get up at the crack of dawn and catch a bus in Gunnison at 6:20 a.m. that would take me to another bus that would take me to the bus station in Denver.  Then I had to figure out from there whether I was going to take another bus to the airport (about an hour ride) or grab a cab at an astronomical price.  Theoretically I would have about 4 hours to figure that last part out if I didn't mess anything up along the way.

I'm one of those compulsive people who maps out everything in detail before a trip, so it was that last part that had me agitated the night before.

Bright and early we were up and loading the car and driving into town to a gas station that serves as the Black Hills Stage Line bus stop.  I wasn't the only one catching the bus, but I was definitely the oldest one catching the bus.  All the other passengers looked like, and probably were, college students.  I had been expecting a Greyhound style bus, but instead it was a shuttle bus and wasn't big on comfort.  At least there were few enough passengers that we could spread out and have plenty of arm and leg room.

I was fairly relaxed at this point - until we started running into the road construction.  This is not an unusual phenomenon in summertime Colorado and you get used to sitting and waiting 15 to 30 minutes for your lane's turn to move.  It's one thing to run into a construction wait when you are out sight-seeing, but it's another when you are supposed to be catching a connecting bus in an hour.  About the time we hit the second construction stop, I was beginning to speculate about whether there were any car rental places in Salida.  Even though our driver was hauling it (and that in itself was worrisome as we were going up and over Monarch Pass, a drive that gives me the willies when I'm behind the wheel), we were running about 20 minutes behind schedule when we finally rolled into the bus stop.

Thankfully, we saw our connecting bus (this time it was a big Greyhound) waiting for us to arrive.  We were slinging baggage out of one bus into the other at top speed and back on the road in about 10 minutes.  We were an hour out of Gunnison and I was pooped already.  There were only about a dozen passengers on board, so we all spread out again.  Our original group of college kids plus one old lady were joined by a young mother and sleeping child, a middle-aged lady who almost got left behind at the second stop when she got off to use the bathroom, a guy who was either high or not quite all there, and a young man who kept up a non-stop shouting conversation with the driver in Spanish (they had to shout thanks to the motor noise and the driver sitting behind a plexiglass panel).

We lost the spacey guy at the first stop, thank goodness, and after that I stopped feeling like I had to keep an eye on my belongings.  And after the minor excitement of almost losing a passenger at the second stop, things settled down.  Despite my intention to watch the last of the mountain scenery slip past, the restless night and the morning nerves were beginning to catch up with me.  The conversation in the front of the bus continued unabated and developed into white noise that, along with the rocking motion of the bus, allowed me to doze off for awhile.  By the time I and the little boy across from me woke up, we were beginning to approach the outermost suburbs of Denver.

I guess all big city bus stations are probably the same.  I had decided that I had enough time to take another bus to the airport and headed toward the ticket desk - only to discover a long waiting line of folks, many with upset kids and piles of baggage.  It did not seem to be moving very fast.  I glanced toward the opposite site of the room and the main doors and saw a line of waiting taxis.  I decided whatever the cost, it was worth bypassing the aggravation of that daunting ticket line and getting myself to the airport in the fastest way available.

So I made a beeline out the door and was quickly on my way.  It turned out the cost wasn't nearly what the online searches had led me to believe, so I congratulated myself on making a good decision.  It wasn't long before I wondered just how smart I really was, because my taxi driver seemed to be trying to beat his best time from the bus station to the airport.  I think he would be right at home driving a cab in New York City.  He was weaving in and out of traffic at 70 mph and slamming on brakes and then flooring it again.  I told myself that since it had seemed on the entire trip that my guardian angel was working over-time to ensure that everything worked out along the way, either I was going to live to see the airport or there was nothing I could do about it anyway.  So I sat back, stopped backseat driving and found myself actually enjoying the wild ride.  We skidded into the drive next to the American terminal and then ensued 15 minutes of the driver trying to deal with a balky credit card reader.  But I was safely at the airport much earlier than I had expected to be and all was well with the world as far as I was concerned.

I was pretty punchy, though, so for the first time ever I was the idiot traveller who had to go through the screening gate 3 times because I kept forgetting about the stuff in my pockets.  One advantage of having reached the age I am is that they just rolled their eyes and waited for the dingbat to get it together instead of yelling at me.

This seems like a good place to insert a few comments about the people I observed while waiting around in airports on this trip.

(1) If you are in a relationship and traveling with your significant other, and especially if you are a woman (as much as I hate to be that specific), for God's sake it is not necessary to talk non-stop to your partner just to fill the silence.  I heard more women uttering more inanities to poor men who were sitting alongside with their eyes glazed over like they were being systematically tortured.  I would attribute it to nerves about flying since I tend to chatter when I'm nervous - except I see the same thing happen all over the place in smaller doses.  It just seems to be amplified in airports where so many people are stuck waiting for an hour or more with not much to do.  After spending time in an airport, I begin to wonder how anybody manages to stay in a relationship if they don't know how to be quiet together.

(2) If you are traveling alone, striking up a conversation with another traveler is fine.  Good even.  Helps pass the time.  But don't go on and on and on in a monologue about all the places you've been and how this airport stacks up against all the other airports you have ever been in.   I got ensnared in such a conversation with another woman who was headed to Dallas and who proceeded to tell me that I should go try and get on the earlier flight with her.  Well, aside from the fact that all the flights to Dallas were being announced as full or overbooked, I sure as shootin' wasn't going to end up flying with that chatterbox, so I suddenly needed to use the restroom and took myself off down the terminal aways until I found a quiet seat next to a plug where I could charge my phone and sat there until I was sure her plane was off the ground.

(3) This is just a personal wish.  If you have an infant, it would probably be best not to take any trips by air for at least - oh say 5 years or so after birth.  The last leg of the trip from Dallas to Austin included a non-stop serenade by two infants who really weren't enjoying the experience.  This was about 16 hours from the time I had rolled out of bed that morning and my nerves were exceedingly fragile at that stage. I almost joined in with the concert.

(4) Now that I think about it, perhaps you shouldn't fly with your children until they are old enough to drink.  Although I would make a few exceptions.  On the flight to Dallas I was waaaaay in the back of the plane and sitting beside a young father and his perfectly well-behaved son of about 10 years old.  I think the boy was nervous about flying, because as soon as we started rolling away from the gate, he shifted to put his head in his dad's lap and closed his eyes.  The two of them fell asleep before we had finished climbing and presented a sweet little picture that warmed the heart.  But then there was the twenty-something sitting behind me with two younger boys who I am assuming were siblings since they were paying absolutely no attention to his pleas to settle down.  I think they must have been having a friendly tussle about something, judging by the bumps against the back of my seat and the dull roar of hilarity that occasionally erupted to disruptive levels.  Added to that distraction, the two flight attendants and a pilot, who was getting a lift and had to stand up the entire way because the flight was sold out, were huddled in the back galley having their own little party.  Let's just say that neither of the flights home was particularly restful.  Thank heavens for knitting as a calming activity under stress.

(5) Which brings me to another personal pet peeve.  If you see somebody working on some needlework involving yarn, here's a handy guide to keep you from getting snapped at.  If the person is working with more than one needle, they are knitting.  If they are using one needle and it has a hook at the end, they are crocheting.  I have never heard anybody but another knitter or crocheter get it right.  I'm always asked what I am crocheting.  I've seen numerous folks crocheting being asked what they are knitting.  It seems to be the rule to get it backward.  It is fine to ask what we are making.  It is fine to admire the work in progress.  It is fine to tell me that your grandmother performed magnificent feats of either knitting or crochet.  But, if I had a dollar for every person who has said "I just couldn't do that" or "I just don't have the time to do that", I could retire now.  It's not that hard, it just takes practice like anything else.  And if you are sitting in an airport waiting for a plane, you have the time.  Better to say "I would never in a million years want to sit and play with yarn".  Fine.  I just happen to prefer doing something productive to sitting around playing Candy Crush on my phone.  (No offense intended.  I've wasted many an hour playing computer games in my past.  I just got tired of wasting time and decided to do something with it instead.)

We finally pulled into the gate in Austin about 9 p.m.  I was never so happy to get somewhere in my life.  The airport at that time of night is a whole different experience from the airport in the morning.  It seemed to be in the same state of exhaustion as we were.  We all trudged our way to the baggage carousel like zombies crawling out of our crypts.  Finally I retrieved my bag, found the shuttle to the parking lot, crawled into my car and started home.  Other than almost driving out in front of the shuttle as it headed back to the airport, the trip home was uneventful and I was welcomed home by the furry kids with many barks and baleful glares.   Getting home is always the best part of a trip, no matter how much fun you have had.

To close out Cindy's Marvelous Adventure 2015, I wanted to include a few pictures of the souvenirs I brought home.   Bringing everything home turned out to be a bit of a challenge, since I rashly purchased a basket that I didn't need but that I thought would be nice for a small knitting caddy.  I ended up opting to check my biggest bag and acquiring a tote bag in Crested Butte (a bag that I absolutely adore) for my extra carry-on.  I put the basket in the bottom of the tote and packed everything else that wasn't a T-shirt inside the basket.  Mostly that was a nice collection of miniatures to add to my Southwestern art gallery dollhouse.  On top of the basket full of minis I added the yarn I had purchased for extra padding.  It was a perfect solution.

So the final count for souvenirs was 6 T-shirts, 4 books and assorted pamphlets, one pin, one patch, one dog collar (which turned out to be too small, drat it), one leather purse, one tote bag, 3 skeins of luscious yarn, 1 basket and the following additions to various dollhouses.

Moccasin earrings with turquoise accents.
I just remove the earring fittings and voila!
Miniature moccasins for sale in the dollhouse store.

Tohono O'Odham (Papago) Horsehair Basket with Turtle Design
The smaller basket is from an earlier trip, but by the same artist.

Handwoven basket by Sue Fedenia and a tiny petroglyph magnet.

Tiny pottery pieces picked up here and there on the trip.

Tiny wolf sculpture made of fossil mammoth ivory.

Tiny reproductions of a local artist's work on printable magnet backing.
Unfortunately, as soon as I got home, I was hit with an onslaught of work, so nothing has been done about adding these to their new homes yet.  Hopefully that will happen soon and I can share photos of the new and improved Turquoise Moon Art Gallery.  I started that dollhouse to showcase all the miniature pottery I had picked up over the years on our travels to Colorado.  David has brought back quite a few wonderful additions over the intervening years, but there is nothing like going out there personally and seeking out more tiny treasures to add to the collection.  It's nice that I can bring all my tiny treasures home inside a small basket.  But on the other hand, those tiny little treasures can get pretty pricey.  I'm already beginning to figure out the budget for the England trip that is coming up in another year or so.  I did a good bit of damage to my bank account this trip thanks to my philosophy of "who knows when I'll be back".  I can just imagine the wild justifications I'll be able to make when I'm across the pond.

In closing, here may be the most scenic photo I took the whole trip.

The descent into Austin.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Scenic Routes

By request, I am inserting this post to give more specifics about the various routes we took on our scenic sight-seeing.   If you happen to find yourself between Durango and Crested Butte, I can recommend them all, with the warning that a good high clearance vehicle with 4-wheel drive is pretty much required for the really spectacular views.  Also, some of the roads we traveled are only open from June thru September, so if you visit earlier or later, be sure to inquire locally before heading up to the higher passes.

In Durango, be sure to ride the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad for some great views from the vantage point of a viewing window in a rail car perched on the edge of the mountain.  You don't have to worry about mountain driving - you can just sit back and enjoy the ride.  If you ride the open gondola, be prepared for your hair and clothes to be covered in a fine layer of coal dust when you reach the end of your trip.  (Reservations recommended to get the seats you want.)

Riding along the Animas River, D&SNG RR
The first car drive we took with jaw-dropping scenic views was Highway 550 between Durango and Ouray, also known as The Million Dollar Highway.  It is named for the cost of building the highway, but could just as well be named for the million dollar views along the way.  This is a beautifully maintained highway, drivable with any vehicle.

Approaching Silverton on Highway 550 
From our base in Ouray we took two scenic tours.  The first was out Camp Bird Road (also known as 36 - I'm assuming that is a state or county road number).  This is definitely a trip to be made in a 4-wheel drive vehicle.  There is a fork at one point and we took the option for Yankee Boy Basin and by the time you get there, your back teeth may be jarred loose.

Headed down from Yankee Boy Basin
Our second scenic tour involved driving to Telluride and back.  From Ouray we went north on Highway 550, turning west on 62 at Ridgway.  About 15 miles or so out of Ridgway, you are treated to wonderful views of the Dallas Divide.  The road runs into 145 at Placerville and we turned onto 145 and stayed on it to Telluride.  This drive is on well maintained paved roads and can be made with any vehicle.

We did not return by the paved road, however.  We returned by Last Dollar Road and while 4-wheel drive isn't mandatory, a high clearance vehicle is and 4-wheel drive is recommended.  From Telluride, we took 145 a short way back, turning on the road that leads to the airport (look for the sign).  This road will branch shortly down the way from the turnoff, with the left option leading to the airport and the right option turning into Last Dollar Road (also known as T60).  This drive winds and winds, goes over shallow, rocky creeks and shallow rock slides and at some point you will begin to wonder if you took the wrong road and you are never going to see civilization again.  There are wonderful views of mountains, valleys and aspen groves and it is well worth the bouncy ride.  You will be traveling through private property, so be careful of getting out and wandering too far off the road.  

Eventually you will reach the end of the twisty little dirt road and you will find yourselves approaching Highway 62, just west of the lookout over Dallas Divide.  Turn east and you will soon be back in Ridgway.

Little side note here.  Large portions of the original True Grit motion picture were filmed in this area.  There is a little cafe/bar named True Grit on the square in Ridgway.  We did not eat there this time, but I've eaten there many times in the past.  Not a bad place to stop for a drink after traveling on Last Dollar Road.  It used to be full of atmosphere and I imagine it still is.

Looking back as we came to the end of Last Dollar Road
Leaving Ouray, we headed toward Gunnison by way of Highway 550 to Montrose.  At Montrose we turned east on US 50 (there is now a loop around the business district, or you can turn east on Main Street and cut through town until you hit US 50).  About 10 miles or so from Montrose is the road leading to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (watch for the sign).  There is an entrance fee, but make sure you don't miss Black Canyon.  While in the Park, just follow the park roads and you will see the turnouts at all the places where you can hike out to the canyon's edge and see the awesome canyon views.  Do yourself a favor and don't skip any of the stops because each one of them has a unique perspective of the canyon.

The Visitor's Center at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
After leaving the Park, we stayed on US 50 heading east to Gunnison.  About half way there you come to Blue Mesa Reservoir, which is a beautiful lake and a lot of fisherman spend their entire vacation there.  

There are many, many places to stay in the Gunnison area, but I highly recommend going on to Almont and staying at Three Rivers Resort.  It was a delightful 3 days we spent there.  Turn north on Highway 135, which is also Gunnison's main street.  Almont is about halfway between Gunnison and Crested Butte and three rivers come together there in a rush of white water.  If you need groceries, stop in Gunnison before you head out because there are just the basics available in Almont.

The first full day we were there we made the scenic rounds in the Crested Butte area.  From Almont, continue on Highway 135 north to Crested Butte.  The first scenic drive we took was to Lake Irwin and you will take 12 (also known as the road to Kebler Pass) to reach Lake Irwin.  Do not be fooled by maps that make it look like you can take the road all the way over Kebler Pass to Aspen.  You can't.  It is 4-wheel drive for a good long way but eventually it becomes impassable.  This road is closed during winter.

Keep a lookout for signs indicating a turnoff to Lake Irwin and/or the Lake Irwin campgrounds. It's about 12 miles after you have left Crested Butte behind.  The road up to the Lake is rough, so I wouldn't recommend trying to go by car.  Once you have turned off the main road, it is another few miles up to the lake.  There are picnic tables and composting toilets available and the freshest air you will ever breathe.  A not-too-strenuous hike will take you down to a nice little waterfall.  Folks are fishing and boating and sunning on rocks and camping a bit further up the road from the lake.  It's a gorgeous place and well worth the trip.

Lake Irwin
The second half of our day of scenic driving in the Crested Butte area was further north of town.  Continuing on 135 past the turn into the historic district, proceed north veering onto 317 to Mount Crested Butte (the ski resort) and keep on driving.  You soon begin climbing gently and the historic town of Gothic will come into view about 8-10 miles past Mount Crested Butte.  There is a little store in Gothic with some souvenirs and information, but the whole area is part of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory and you are not permitted to roam around.

Keep driving past Gothic and you will soon be back in areas where you can explore a little.  There are many little government campgrounds spotted along the road.  They are all primitive campgrounds, so don't expect much in the way of amenities.  If you keep on going, the road will take you to Schofield Pass and I think it pretty much ends there.  Once you are well past Gothic, the road is in questionable shape, so again 4-wheel drive is recommended,  You'll find yourself surrounded with beautiful mountain vistas and on the way back toward Mount Crested Butte, watch for the little meandering stream in the valley.
David checking out the stream in a valley just north of Gothic.
Our last day we headed east out of Almont on the Taylor Canyon Road (742).  This road is dotted with little government campgrounds and also with the odd herd of cows wandering about.  About 15 miles from Almont you will come to Taylor Lake and the little settlement called Taylor Park.  Continuing left on 742 would take you to Cottonwood Pass.  We chose to turn on 765 toward Tin Cup and ultimately Cumberland Pass, as described in my previous post.  While the road to Taylor Park is paved and easily passable by car, once you switch to 765 you are headed toward rougher road.

When we descended the mountain and arrived in Pitkin, we turned onto 76, which led us back to US 50 about 15 miles or so east of Gunnison.  There are a lot of scenic areas that you can detour to off 765, but do your research before you go.  On my first trip we made the trip up to see the Alpine Tunnel and I'm still wondering why we thought we needed to do that.  We made a slow drive up a mountain for something like 20 miles and saw a caved in tunnel with a historic information sign and then we had a slow 20 mile trip back down to the main road.  Interesting?  A bit.  Scenic?  Not so much.

Somewhere between Tin Cup and Pitkin
That was the last of our backroad rambles.   We've made many, many other trips on the backroads of Colorado in these areas, but these are the favored places that we wanted to return to.  They are tried and true and I hope someday some of you get to see them as well.