Archives for category: Photography

The San Francisco-Oakland Bay area is rich with adventures, so each day of my recent trip was spent exploring something new, including revisiting San Francisco to see the things missed on previous trips. We passed the incredibly ornate City Hall (those city fathers wanted to make a statement) and buildings with the old state seal.  DSC_0393

DSC_0300There were the obvious places, such as Fisherman’s Wharf, which was so crowded with tourists (not that we weren’t) that we skipped stopping there.DSC_0328We did join the crowd at Lombard Street, only because I hadn’t seen it and felt I must.  Driving the crazy curves in the line of cars and standing for the obvious pictures was actually pretty charming, only because it is what is is. DSC_0322We drove through the business district with the imposing iconic TransAmerica building…DSC_0351And this delightful lady reaching between tall buildings…DSC_0387Streetcars are as delightful as ever…DSC_0329And we visited the waterfront, enjoying the sailboats and fishermen…DSC_0339DSC_0342Leaving the city, we passed this delightful mural…DSC_0536before reaching the Golden Gate Bridge, which never fails to delight…DSC_0540On this day, we headed towards Sausalito, changed our minds and I suggested the beach, which looked pretty close on the map. Of course, I forgot that this is the coast and that short road was crooked and narrow and the trip to Stinson Beach took way too long for what we were planning. But we got there and dipped our feet in the ocean and enjoyed the views and people watching…

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DSC_0544…before heading back along the same long, curvy road…IMG_7353On other days, we headed into Berkeley, driving through the campus of UC Berkeley, intrigued with its ties to the incredible Phoebe Hearst and her son, William Randolph Hearst, along with buildings of every architectural style.  A hodgepodge of buildings strung through the hills.DSC_0230

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DSC_0412with the classic Clock Tower at the center…DSC_0242Looking for a late lunch, we found the Gourmet Ghetto district…DSC_0251opting for Oscar’s, a classic burger place, over the fancier trendy restaurants nearby. The selling point was that Oscar’s had been there since 1950 and was destined to close in a few weeks to be replaced by yet another salad restaurant. We wanted to experience the history not the health. IMG_7250That day, we drive north to the towns of Benicia and Martinez, the location of the historic home of one of our national heroes, John Muir. Entering Martinez, we were struck with the irony of the oil refineries in the home of the man who protected our wilderness areas. DSC_0260We found his home on a major thoroughfare, back by an interstate highway. You have to wince, but the site at least has preserved enough to let you envision the way it used to be. Looking at old photos of the rich orchards that covered the hills, you look out at the modern mess of franchises, motels, and fast food that have replaced the fruit and trees. But, if you look the other way, it’s the way it was, somewhat. You get the idea. This is the home where Muir took over his father-in-law’s orchards very successfully and began his writings that so enlightened the world. I had read much about him, but had forgotten how painful it was for him to write since his words are so lovely. DSC_0262

DSC_0264I should have realized when I saw the mess of his office with papers strewn around the floor as he did. It was nice to pay tribute to this genius of a man.DSC_0267On another day, we drove to Palo Alto to see the Stanford campus, probably the most beautiful campus I’ve seen. In contrast to the variety of building styles at Berkeley, from classic to contemporary, Stanford has consistency (like my own Oklahoma State University), which gives it much beauty.  This 8,000+ acre campus is casual and elegant and impressive as we entered through an avenue of magnolias and beautiful homes, followed by streets lined with oaks and shops and restaurants and then through the campus gate and an avenue of palms leading to the heart of the campus. DSC_0592

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DSC_0614The Stanford Memorial Church has a simple name that belies its grandeur. Having toured many cathedrals and historic churches, I have to admit that this lovely sanctuary reached me with its beautiful warm details. The incredible mosaic murals on the outside stand over the central quad of the university. IMG_7373

DSC_0611and the interior somehow comforts the worshipper.IMG_7375Across the campus, there are architectural details and fountains that delight. Students walked through them casually in their shorts and tanks. A group played in the elegant fountains, a perfect example of the atmosphere. I reminded myself that these are the brightest of the bright, playing and not studying at the moment.DSC_0644

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IMG_7402 - Version 2On our final morning in the Oakland area, we visited a beautiful botanic garden, the plants displayed by the region of California in which they grew.

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DSC_0722Around another curvy road (that’s all they have – I’m sure of it), we delighted in an old fashioned carousel with its colorful, fanciful animals and lovely paintings of California history.  Built in 1911, one of the last original merry go rounds in the country, it has been in this location since 1948, hidden away in the California hills.DSC_0735

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DSC_0726And so ends my tour of the areas around Oakland, an area of history, natural beauty, and absolute delights wherever you go on your adventures. Put it on your bucket list again and again because there is always something new to see.

On a Saturday in June, we traveled through the valleys of Sonoma and Napa with little intention of tasting the wines.  I’m sure that’s heresy, especially for someone like me who works with vintners and wines, but it wasn’t that kind of day.  We drove from Oakland, crossing the bridge that takes you by San Quentin prison, where the fog was rolling over the hills.DSC_0414We saw the missions bells along the way, one of my favorite things to spot in California. They mark the trail of Spanish missions in the state.DSC_0418We turned at the Sonoma Raceway to head up towards the Sonoma Valley and our first destination…

DSC_0417Passing the beginnings of the farmlands and vineyards, where a flag flew from a tree in the glory of the day.DSC_0421Our actual destination was Glen Ellen, home of Jack London, and we cruised through the small town which had changed since my friend had last been there and had met London’s daughter in a small bookstore. Neither remains. We headed to the park, touring the museum and then heading down the trail to Wolf House, the incredible 15,000 square foot dream house that London and his wife, Charmian, built. It burned to the ground days before they moved in.  I can only imagine their complete devastation at seeing the charred ruins.DSC_0424The trail was lovely, although it got hot quickly that day.  Thank goodness for the drinking fountains and benches along the way.  It’s not that far in, but can be a trek in the heat. DSC_0429The signs along the way tell you that you’re in a wilderness area. There were also signs to watch for a mountain lion that had been spotted in the area.DSC_0467DSC_0470Wolf House was spectacular, even in ruins.  No wonder it burned to the ground before help could arrive.  It’s deep in the woods, surrounded by trees.  But, you can envision their dream. Here’s the entrance.DSC_0440And a couple of other views.  Looking down into the house, you see the place it would have been, a house to entertain and enjoy. DSC_0444DSC_0448As an English major, I hate to admit that I didn’t know that much about London.  I’d read a little back in high school, but he wasn’t one that I explored.  After seeing the place and hearing his story, I ended up reading “The Call of the Wild” on the plane going home.  I get him now.  And his wife, Charmian.  Quite a story.  I walked up to their cottage, where he wrote and experimented with pigs and crops, becoming quite the farmer on his land. DSC_0474DSC_0479There were vineyards and cactus without stickers (not very technical) he grew to see if they could feed the cattle.DSC_0475DSC_0483Leaving the ranch, we spotted a fruit stand.  I love fruit stands, an homage to my mother who never passed one without stopping. We filled the car with the smells of the last of the cherry crop and apricots and sampled the juicy fruits as we drove.IMG_7316

IMG_7317Up Sonoma we headed, watching for Francis Ford Coppola’s winery, which I had visited several years ago and thought my movie loving friend might enjoy.  After passing it several times (no sign on the highway and my maps weren’t giving us time to exit), we found it in all it’s glory.  I’d been here about 8 years ago and the place looked like it had doubled in size, including adding a resort pool for families, which is unique since it’s not a resort.  It was packed, so I guess people stop for a swim.  It was lovely, just interesting since it’s in the middle of just about nowhere.  DSC_0485Lunch was great, overlooking the vineyards.  IMG_7329They had added more movie props along with the Oscars and other awards.  This is the desk from “The Godfather” – so they say.  There was also a Tucker automobile from the movie, “Tucker.”DSC_0489It was late afternoon when we left and the wineries were closing for the weekend.  We traveled through the Alexander Valley to cross over to the Napa Valley.  Some of the best wineries are in this area, marked with signs going every direction. A gorgeous drive along curvy roads through the hills, lovely on a Saturday afternoon.DSC_0493We headed south through the Napa Valley, passing through Napa as the Wine Auction was taking place, one of the top fundraisers in the country and probably the most profitable charity wine auction. Since I’ve worked with wine auctions over the last ten years, it was fun to even breathe the air of this giant event. DSC_0495Other than wine with late lunch, we didn’t sample the wines, but it was a delightful trip through the valleys that have changed this country’s wine industry. It’s always lovely. We circled back to our base in Oakland, ready to find another adventure the next day.

 

The National Park Service may be my favorite government agency because I know if I see that name attached to a location, it’s not going to disappoint me. I’m going to see something beautiful and interesting, even if it’s not what I thought it would be, which has happened several times. I was looking for new places to go in the Oakland, California area and saw Point Reyes National Seashore on the map. When I enlarged it, I was fascinated. It didn’t look like anywhere else I’d been and it had that National Parks seal of approval, so we planned a visit, a day trip from where we were staying. Of course, I always have to remind myself when on the coast that places on the map that look close together take a lot longer to drive due to narrow, very winding roads, up and down the coastal areas. We drove by this place on a curve and turned back. From the road, I thought the figures were Eskimos, but they were kind of buddhas, much more likely in northern California.  Interesting to guess why they were there…IMG_7231
IMG_7232We stopped in Point Reyes Station for a quick walk up and down the street, peeking into shops and a wonderful market, gallery, gift shop. DSC_0060 IMG_7245Besides the old buildings, including the western bar above, there were interesting signs in odd places…the oyster farm wasn’t saved, by the way, but the signs remain around the area…IMG_7247 IMG_7234 IMG_7233We wound our way to the park, which is not at all what you expect from a seashore.  It looks more like the Scottish Highlands, with cattle ranches all around.  I didn’t take pictures of the veal pens, but know that I’m not sure I can ever eat it again.  Enough said…we passed ranch after ranch with all kinds of cattle to greet us on the way.DSC_0144DSC_0142DSC_0129DSC_0062I have no idea how long we drove through these farmlands, seemed like an hour, but there was finally a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean.DSC_0139When we arrived at our stop, there was the shock of getting out of the car to a fierce wind which caused us to layer up to stop the cold.  An information sign informed us that this is the windiest place on the west coast of the United States, not hard to believe that day. We watched the birds in the sky trying to fly against the wind, looking like they were hovering instead of flying. Later, I caught a shot of this guy trying to stay on a post.  DSC_0138We headed down to the famous lighthouse at the end, which was very fortunately closed, giving us an excuse to skip the 300 steps down (and back up). With the wind and the cold, we were having all the fun we could.DSC_0103 DSC_0105The sun came out briefly and then the clouds rolled back, leaving us to spot a ship in the cloudy distance.  A ghost ship on the horizon.DSC_0117The rock formations were fascinating and the wind shaped trees provided some shelter on the walk up and back.DSC_0120DSC_0094I caught the Rattlesnake Grass blowing in the wind.  As it dries out, the plant shakes and rattles like its namesake reptile.  DSC_0099The views of the seashore that stretched below us were the closest we got to the beach.  Our host said she had picnicked there in December in shorts – such is the northern U. S. coast.  You never know, so you take lots of layers, even in June.  Needless to say, we skipped the other beaches, although we caught a glimpse of Drake’s Beach.DSC_0092Our carefully made sandwiches with a dessert of gingersnaps from Trader Joe’s and apple slices were eaten in the warmth of the car, a casual picnic before we started back home. Back through the miles of ranches and fields and cows and flowers.  Back along the curvy roads, past the turnoff to Muir Woods, back through the Cypress forests, back to Oakland.  Another wonderfully interesting national wilderness that surprised us with its ruggedness and beauty.

 

 

Years ago, I visited Hong Kong, the closest I ever got to mainland China.  It was still under the British, but they were counting down until it was returned to China.  I loved all the exotic things about it, the foods, the smells, the bright colors, the fabrics, waking up to watch the people do tai chi in the park, all the beautiful people.  Of course, I was coming from Oklahoma, so it was definitely not like my home.  These days, I have a Chinese boss on the campus of Oklahoma State University and see Asian people everywhere I go.  I still don’t speak or read Chinese, but it’s a tad bit less foreign.

Chinatown in San Francisco is always a must see when I get to be in that interesting city of hills and history.  This time I didn’t get to eat, but I took the time to watch new things.  There are always the signs and the lanterns…I love this corner on Clay Street with the wonderful street lights and lanterns and where I have feeling of my son, Clay, around me…the first Chinatown I ever visited was in Seattle with him…DSC_0528There were old signs…DSC_0359And signs that mixed the old with the new…DSC_0507DSC_0522When you look up, you see signs of the family life going on above you…DSC_0508And, down an alley, you can find a tiny fortune cookie factory that produces 30,000 fortune cookies a day to be sent around the world. They give free samples and you can watch this lady make them so quickly. They offered to let me write my own fortune, but I’m not sure that would work.  After all, don’t you want the surprise of seeing what the cookie gives you?DSC_0516DSC_0518I was trying to find a mah jongg game in progress to report back to my friends who share the Americanized version with me, but found none. In the parks, I discovered Chinese Chess played by men surrounded by their friends who quietly watch and then shout excited comments when a play is made.  One game was crowded and always quiet.  My friend said that must be the money game. DSC_0369Nearby, this man enjoyed his cigarette, unnoticed by any but us..DSC_0377On a Sunday, amidst families and tourists, there were groups of women playing a poker-like game, dragging their crates and cardboard boxes to the park.  Some would stand up and throw the cards down ferociously, adding to the fun of watching.  DSC_0533Walking the streets, ducking in the shops full of made in China trinkets and treasures, listening to the foreign voices, smelling the delicious smells, peeking down the alleys…a few hours in Chinatown is always a fun stop.  A peek into another culture that will always seem mysterious and exotic as the residents keep the traditions of their homeland in the land of opportunity.

This month, I returned to Oakland, California, to visit an elderly aunt and cousins of a friend of mine.  As an Okie, California is the land where people from my state went in hopes of a better life when the seemingly never-ending days of dust storms and depression wore them down.  Today, I survey the crazy state of California with love and wonder and, always, a shake of my head.  What a place of natural wonders, bountiful harvests, oceans, mountains, deserts and total craziness.  That’s just the Okie in me speaking, of course.

Oakland is across the bay from San Francisco and my friends live high above the city, up curvy, narrow streets, in the Piedmont Hills area, maybe beyond that.  These Okies moved here after the war, World War II, and purchased the place for $15,000.  They also purchased the lot next door and planted the giant redwoods that tower above them today.  The lots seem to go straight down.  I guess all the coastal people who live on the sides of hills want to be there, even though it’s a long drive up, not to mention bike ride or hike, to the nearest store or, coming up the hills, for help to arrive in case of emergency.  But Californians are outdoors people.  They ride horses, bikes and hike everywhere.  I’m digressing because I really want to share this fun trip with you.  I got to do so many interesting things that it will take a few blogs to do it justice, things that aren’t always on the top of the tourist list.  This was more about exploring.

First, I want to share the beauty of the home we stayed in.  When you drive up, all you see is the garage.  When you look out the front door, here is the view…where is the street?  Just keep going up the stairs…maybe 30 of them.  Imagine getting your groceries down there – or furniture or anything else.  IMG_7283The other side of the house shows the three levels.  There is an apartment 10 steps down and then the main level another 15 steps down.  You can get to the bedroom level down another staircase and then to the rest of the yard, which then goes down, down, down into thick growth.  Here are the stairs that I walked up over and over in the dark and rain from the main level to the apartment to the street.  You do adjust…DSC_0276You know what?  It’s a magical place.  The trees alone are incredible, planted by arborists when these hills were first populated.  Before then, the hills, these steep hills were clear.  I can tell you that planning a house on a steep hill is something that doesn’t appeal to me, no matter how many beautiful homes I’ve seen in the Hollywood Hills, San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle, Oregon.  I’m not enough of a mountain goat.  But, then there are these signs we passed every day, curving up the road to the house…DSC_0273 DSC_0272 DSC_0409And the wonder of hearing a rustle beside you as a mother and fawn wander into the patch of yard…DSC_0161And, the best part of this place is the incredible view, the view that mesmerizes you every minute of the day as it changes and changes and changes.  I couldn’t walk anywhere without my camera, trying to capture any of its beauty.  My hostess said she has never tired of this view she grew up with.  You look over Oakland, over to San Francisco, with Oakland Bay bridge and the Golden Gate bridge in the distance.  DSC_0566DSC_0574DSC_0566DSC_0672And, sometimes, this was the view…IMG_7331I’ve been to Muir Woods and heard my hosts talk of the big Redwoods right up the hill from their home.  For some reason, we didn’t realize that there is a park, a beautiful regional park, a few blocks from this home where these now middle aged Californians, born of Oklahoma parents, grew up, riding their horses and hiking all the day long.  In this park are the remnants of some of the largest California Redwoods, once so tall that they were seen from the sea and used by the sailors to navigate the area.  The trees were logged after the San Francisco fire and after the quakes, but are now protected.  This was a hidden gem during our stay, a place to walk where the big trees once stood and where their offspring shoot up around the former stumps, forming circles of trees, called “Fairy Rings.”  Once you understand why the trees are in circles, you can stand inside the ring and envision the size of these giants.  You can look up to see the light and stand in the forest, imagining the forest as it once was.  DSC_0165DSC_0167
DSC_0193DSC_0178DSC_0167And so the latest California adventure began…with the view and in the trees.  Hope you’ll share the rest of the trip with me.

 

In 1963, the year I graduated from high school and left for college, Alfred Hitchcock scared us all to pieces when he released the now classic film, “The Birds.”  If you saw it back then, you remember.  At the Delman Theatre in Tulsa, birds (parakeets) were released in the balcony while we watched, adding to the horror.  I’ve seen it since and it makes me flinch, even when I see the special effects.

Several years later, I was home with a toddler, pregnant again, when two Chimney Swifts flew down our chimney, landing in our family room.  All I could think to do was call my husband home from work to get them out of there.  Remember that scene with the birds coming down the chimney?

I’m a big fan of birds and still have the bird handbook I had as a kid.  The back pages are full of the birds I spotted, listed in my precise printing.  I like birds.  Really.

Last year, I wrote a blog on the baby Mockingbirds who were flopping around my yard.  I actually formed kind of a bond with the parents, standing in the yard and talking to them while they watched over their babies.  I kept the cats away as much as I could and the babies flourished.  I also wrote a blog on the eagles nest this year – more proof that I really do like birds.

This year, the Mockingbirds were out again.  I never saw the babies, but the parents were out there watching the cats every time they left the house.  I think those birds were fine with me.  They were soon replaced with another set of Mockingbirds.  I’m assuming this is a different couple because  too much time had passed for the first couple to still be worrying about their babies.

The current couple is loud and aggressive, possessing a lot of attitude.  I can hear them outside, see them conferring while they sit on the telephone lines.  It started with one of my cats trying to nap on the glider on the deck.  I give him credit for not backing down.  He is determined to have his naps despite the harassment.  The birds wait for him to come through the door and immediately begin.  It doesn’t matter what time I let him out or how dark it gets, I see or hear them out there.  They take turns.  You can see them changing positions. Sometimes the bird on duty swoops down and follows the cat so closely that I have to slam the door so the bird doesn’t come in the house.  Yikes!

I walked outside the other day to take pictures…notice the bird squawking above and the cat’s ears down.  The bird has actually flown down to sit within a foot of the cat.  Gutsy.

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I didn’t think the cat was reacting until I took photos and noticed he was hissing, mostly in annoyance.DSC_0784My other, bigger cat, the brother of this one, won’t even go out the back door.  He shrinks and looks around for the birds.  The other day, I returned from errands and pulled into my driveway.  As I was getting out of the car, the bird was in the tree, watching me.  Really creepy.  A couple of days later, I was at the kitchen sink and the bird flew towards the window at me, swooping up as it realized there was glass there.

I wonder if this would be as creepy if I hadn’t seen that movie?  Dang you, Alfred Hitchcock!  I’m ready for this little drama to be over! DSC_0795

Here we are, almost 40 years later, waiting for the next Star Wars movie to open.  When the original was released, I read about this phenomenon in the newspaper and took the family to see it.  My youngest, my son, was only about 1 1/2 years old, so it was his first movie.  I remember spending part of the movie walking around the back of the theatre with him, little knowing how much it would affect his and our lives.  From then until now, I can’t remember a time that Star Wars wasn’t around me – or under my feet.

There were the movies, anxiously awaited by the entire family.  The first thing we recorded when we got a VCR was Star Wars.  I still have the tape somewhere.  And the toys!  Packed in my garage are the figures and the tiny guns that I picked up so many times that I can’t count.  The toys I waited in line for, the special figures only available from some cereal or by mailing off something.  Some are stored in the big Darth Vader carrying case that’s out there somewhere.  There’s the Millennium Falcon and the At-At and the Storm Troop Carrier (it actually spoke when you pushed the button) and planes and one of those big snow creatures they rode and no telling what else.  My son collected lunch boxes and his Star Wars box is a prize.  Later, we had Star Wars talking figures and large collector figures and whatever else came along.  By this time, my son was in college and my daughters were marrying guys who had also grown up with Star Wars.  One of my sons-in-law has his figures intact with their guns, packed away for safe-keeping.  Nothing to snicker about either.  This is important stuff.

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They re-released the first three episodes in theaters when my oldest daughter was pregnant with her first son.  She could feel him jumping as we watched our favorite scenes.  Another generation has come along and all eight of my grandkids are familiar with the stories and the characters.  I was at a 2 year old’s birthday party, a child named after my son, and he knew Darth Vader in his limited vocabulary.  Good job, Dad!  Here’s my son with one of my grandsons many years ago, passing down the fun…

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So here we go again and I couldn’t be more excited.  The next series will start and the comparisons to the old ones will be rampant on social media and we’ll all be swept into this wonderfully fun world again.  Last week, I traveled to Oakland, California and was amused to hear all the references around the Bay area.  First, I spotted this book in a gift shop.  Where was this series when I needed it for my kid?

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Then we drove by the entrance to George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch, pointed out by a local.  She remarked that the woods we were passing through were the setting for the Battle of Endor (she didn’t say that and I had to look it up).  You know the one where the rebels and the Ewoks fight the stormtroopers in the woods.  Of course, you know.  That great scene where they rode those fast things that raced through the trees.  Anyway, I could see what inspired it and where it was filmed (except for the computer stuff, of course). It looked like this area…

DSC_0167I learned that the cranes that we kept passing on the way across the Oakland Bay Bridge into San Francisco were the inspiration for many of the big machines in Star Wars.  After all, George Lucas passed them all the time.  It makes sense.  From then on, I tried to capture the images as I was driven by them.  Can’t you see them marching across the movie screen?

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I guess I’m getting too excited.  There are still months to go and more trailers to entice us and more products to show up in the stores and I know that we will all be in that theatre, waiting for the music and the opening and the familiar heroes.  I’m excited that there’s a new generation getting their own episodes and new parents walking around picking up the beloved toys and just crazy fun for this old grandmother to share.  Silly…

Putting together the puzzle of who you are is a lifelong process, if you like that kind of puzzle.  The older you get, the more you wonder…   The more you wonder, the more pieces you want to find…  Don’t we all wish we’d asked more questions of our grandparents and parents?  The information comes to us piecemeal and we don’t begin to connect the stories until later…when we wonder…

My mother didn’t tell me too many stories of her childhood until she was in her last years.  I didn’t ask her mother anything, although I spent a lot of time with her.  I studied the photos and put things together through my life, but we didn’t talk about it.  I knew my grandfather died when my mother was 5 and that she spent a lot of time with his mother, her grandmother, in the house my aunt and uncle later lived in, across from Central Park in Ardmore, OK.  I knew my grandmother had siblings she loved very much who lived nearby, less than an hour away.  I saw some of them at times during my life.  That was pretty much all I knew about my grandmother’s family until very recently.  To think how much time I spent with my precious grandmother, who gave me such a sense of adventure and unconditional love always, and to not have a picture of who she was.

I knew she was widowed at age 27, left in the depression with three children.  Her husband had left her a small neighborhood grocery and she owned her home, which gave them dignity even when the gas was turned off, according to my mother.  The kids always worked and all three turned out to be successful members of society.  When times got better.

The hard times were long back then.  We’re talking about Oklahoma in the depression years now.  Late in my grandmother’s life, she told my mother the story of her wedding day.  My mother didn’t tell it to me until shortly before her own death, many years later. I’m glad she told me.  My grandmother said my grandfather showed up at her parents’ farm in his wagon with a brown horse and a buffalo blanket, brown on one side and black on the other, to pick her up to get married.  My grandfather’s best friend, his best man, was with him and commented, “Where’d you find this pretty little thing?” My great-grandparents handed her a bouquet of flowers and she left to get married.  She was 18 and he was about 41.  Their short years together were sweet, although my mother said he may have known he was sick when he married her.  He died at age 50 of Bright’s Disease, a kidney disease that is treatable today.

So, that’s the picture I have in my mind, even though I’ve never seen a photo of my grandparents together.  Here’s a photo of my grandmother (on the right) in a youthful moment

Artie Holt West (right) & friendAnd here’s my grandfather, swinging two lovely young things in his single days.Ben West & friends - Version 2Through the miracles of emails and internet and social media, I’ve connected with relatives I didn’t know before over the years and we’ve shared photos and stories.  My cousin, actually my mother’s cousin, sent me photos of my grandmother’s parents, which gave me my first look at those unknown pieces of my life puzzle.

Here’s my great-grandmother, Ida Mae.  I knew they lived on a farm, but had no clue what it looked like.  Not the painted picture perfect home I had in my mind…Grandma Holt 1IMG_6970Here’s my great-grandfather, Benjamin, working hard in about 1931.

Benjamin Mathew Holt 6 Benjamin Holt cutting woodThese pictures help form the pictures in my story.  It suddenly dawns on me what it really meant for my grandmother to leave the house where she and her many siblings lived and worked so hard to move away to start a new life.  I had pictured all of them standing in the living room of their home while they handed her the flowers.  Now I see what that scene really must have looked like…much sweeter really.

I’d seen statistics on my great-grandparents on my Ancestry.com family tree, slightly wondering why they died in Vinita, a long way from home. My cousin filled in the details for me.  Not long after the photos were taken (and I’ve always wondered who had a camera and who took the pictures out there in the country), my grandparents were taken to the asylum in Vinita, Oklahoma.  They were admitted for exhaustion and dementia.  I don’t know what that meant back then, but can understand the exhaustion.  In 1932, my great-grandmother, the lovely woman in these photos, died and was buried in the asylum cemetery with no marker.  There was no money in those hard years.  My great-grandfather died in 1934.  I’ve seen his place of death listed as Vinita, but my cousin said her father went to get him and he’s buried near them, near home.  My cousin has visited the site in Vinita and seen the records, kept in a box on little cards, which she wasn’t allowed to take or photograph.

This news brought it all home and connected a lot of pieces for me.  I see the women I come from, strong in all that life threw at them.  I’ve written of my father’s family in Kentucky, where my great-grandmother was married to an alcoholic tobacco farmer, blacksmith and died when my grandmother was 12.  I looked for her grave and realized that she must be buried in an unmarked grave either in the Catholic cemetery or on the land where she lived.

I could go on about the lives of the women in my DNA, the stories I’m discovering about the lives they lived before I either knew or discovered them, but we probably all have this in our lives.  There were hard times for all of them, even the ones who had easier lives, just as we have our own brand of hard times in each generation.  I know that what I’ve learned gives me strength and fills in blanks about my parents, my grandparents and those before them.  I doubt they realized their stories would pass on to me and to my children and grandchildren.  While we’re living, we don’t think of ourselves as chapters…do we?  We are…

My ancestors, my family, me.  So many more pieces to find…

Winter evolves into Spring with the most dramatic and the most hopeful of changes.  In the city, there are beautiful flowers and trees, but most of them have been specifically planted for the effect.  Not that I don’t love seeing the gorgeous azaleas and flowering trees and popping flowers.  I love them!

I’ve been through some long sad winters in my life, life changing seasons when I had to trudge through loss and hope I could make it into the next phase.  But Spring always comes along to brighten my outlook.  Always.

This year, I’ve had the lovely experience of driving a state highway at least once a week, making the changes in the countryside even more dramatic.  One week there was snow, the first week in March.  A couple of weeks later, I noticed the trees were fuzzy, small leaves pushing their way out.  By the end of the month, we were having warm days, punctuated with the kind of clouds we watch explode in the sky, the ones that show the atmosphere is in turmoil and we have to watch carefully.  The beauty of the massive clouds can easily turn into dark skies with swirling tornadoes dropping towards earth.  DSC_0344A week after I see the leaves pushing at the ends of branches, I’m overwhelmed by the sense of the baby green colors of the trees around me as plant after plant shows its new colors.

Then the redbuds bloom in the forests, our state tree showing its colors, fuchsia and white, wild along the roadways.

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The ground is turning from brown to green for the babies, calves and colts, that arrive.  I drive into a mass of young green…the lacy profile of the branches from winter is filling in…

DSC_0255We still have wild skies and are enjoying a rainy season, needed for all that grows from the earth…DSC_0333The Cimarron River is filling and the trees along its bluffs are softer…DSC_0256I call this the “Sky Barn,” a place I see from the road at a country intersection.

DSC_0254And then, there was color along the roadsides, Indian Paintbrush starting to bloom.

DSC_0160DSC_0164Over the past two weeks, the flowers are spreading and growing brighter as I suddenly see fields of the wildflowers…

DSC_0162 IMG_6943And other flowers are coming, purples and whites and yellows along the way.

DSC_0168The baby greens of early spring are now lush shades of deep green, the trees full.  And my heart is full of hopeful new feelings.  Welcome Spring!

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The nice thing about Oklahoma is that you never know what the weather’s going to be, so we get to experience a little bit of everything, short of hurricanes.  We opt for tornadoes instead.  We’ve had a mild winter, especially compared to the east coast, so when we get a little snow, it’s mainly an annoyance.

What do you call it when you get a couple of inches of snow and it’s more than a dusting and less than a blanket?

I drove from Tulsa to Stillwater on Highway 51, the old highway I used when I was in college with a few improvements to make it a little safer.  I like the turnpike, but this road has so much nostalgia for me.  I like it.  The roads were clear, but the views were snowy.  I was taken with the tree limbs covered with snow early in the morning.

IMG_6429On the old two lane highway between the Arkansas River and Chandler Park, I drove through snow covered rocks and hills of snow covered trees on one side and an icy river on the other.  I didn’t have my camera, but I had my iPhone, so I would pull over and take pictures as I drove along.  So much for getting to my meeting on time.  I was mesmerized with the beauty of the winter landscape.

Eventually, I pulled into a drive, turned around and was struck by the sun trying to break through the icy sky…

IMG_6426I wish I were the kind of writer who could take you there with wonderful words, but I also believe in the power of photographs.  I’m a fan of both.  Here are some beautiful trees…

IMG_6437And that wonderful sun was still trying to break through…

IMG_6435I turned down a few country roads…just because…  Wonder what critter walked under the barbed wire gate?

IMG_6443The ghost town of Ingalls in the snow…

IMG_6454Something about the tiny general store gets me…

IMG_6455Some unexpected views from the road…IMG_6458IMG_6459A landmark ruin…IMG_6427And black cattle on the white snow.IMG_6467That sun never broke through so the drive back home was cold and frosty, with fog at the end.  I did stop on the bridge to get a shot of the beauty of the Cimarron River.  IMG_6469What can I say?  Sometimes the dreariest days have their own beauty to lift your spirits…