Archives for category: Travel

On my weekly travels from Tulsa to Stillwater and back, I have certain landmarks I always use to mark my way. There’s something comforting about seeing a familiar place in every season, always there to show me how far I’ve gone. Much more fun than mile markers, don’t you think?

One of my favorites I’ve named The Sky Barn. I can barely spot the roof coming from Tulsa on Highway 51 and have to look back to see it even a little from that direction. It’s at the crossroads of Highway 51 and Highway 18 (also known as Twin Mounds Road at this spot, but that’s another story). When I return from Stillwater, I can see it peeking over the hill as I pull up to the 4-way Stop.DSC_0253See why I call it The Sky Barn? There’s just something about it that intrigues me.DSC_0254Months go by and I always look over at it with a feeling of affection.

A few weeks ago, I decided to explore it more closely.DSC_0006The closer you get, the more you can see why the sky shows through. I ventured onto the property and towards the barn. Nobody came out of the nearby house to ask what I was doing, so I drove in and turned around. Here’s the first side view.DSC_0008Now it’s looking like a piece of folk art. When I got past it and turned around, I got the close up front view, complete with the cool cars rusting in front of it.DSC_0009DSC_0010What can you say? I love it! Next, I drove to the road behind the property…DSC_0011…to get the back view.DSC_0016Now you know my Sky Barn, so full of character. In the city, it would be urban blight. In the country, it’s part of the landscape that fuels my imagination and feeds my heart.

Lucky me! I got a break from my regular life at a time when it was much appreciated and went south to Florida with friends for a few days. For something different, we left the beauty of St. Petersburg and traveled north to Crystal Springs on the Gulf Coast.

Amazingly, it was predicted to hit a low of 30 degrees the morning we wanted to dive with the manatees in the only place you can do so by law, when they head from the colder Gulf waters into the springs with a constant temperature of around 70 degrees. We almost chickened out, discouraged by reports of visitors only lasting a few minutes before leaving with chattering teeth. At 70 years old, you think you’ve learned to be smart enough to know when it’s not going to work out. We considered a kayak to see them from the surface, but that was a 45 minute paddle, which sounded worse. My friend and I are nothing but game when it comes to a fun experience, so we prepped ourselves by worrying about the cold all night, packing up all kinds of non-Florida like things to keep warm.

It was 30 degrees when we walked to the boat at 7:15 am. I’ll be really honest – I was more worried about squeezing into a wet suit than the cold. Not pretty. I wasn’t shivering and I somehow got into the wet suit as several of us helped each other. Our boat was enclosed which helped.
IMG_9664Their slogan was promising a lot of fun ahead.IMG_9665It was the middle of the week, cold, and we lucked out with the last boat, so there were only 6 of us, my friend and me, two older ladies (maybe our age, but who knows) who are sisters-in-law, and a couple in their 50s celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary. He didn’t end up going in but a few minutes at the end because of heart issues. This was on his wife’s bucket list and he was making sure she got to check it off. Captain Ed has been doing this for 27 years, being a guide for 6. We had an extra photographer and another helper, who stayed on the boat and later served us coffee, hot chocolate or Manatee Mocha (a mix of the two). It was looking good.

We watched a video of rules for approaching manatees before we left and Captain Ed gave us more pointers on how to use the snorkel equipment as our boat approached the location. Everyone had their own dive shoes but us, so the worst cold I felt was taking my shoes and socks off on the boat. The water felt warm, there was no wind, and I climbed down the ladder to be met by a curious manatee.


This was a great start. I’ve been on whale watching trips in Alaska and Oregon and swam with stingrays in the Cayman Islands, but this was different. For one thing, manatees are so cute. When the first one you ever see swims over and rubs against you as you tickle its back, you fall in love instantly. They’re called sea cows, but a cow could rush you. There is absolutely nothing to fear with a manatee. Nothing! They eat plants and their only teeth are at the back of their mouth. We didn’t want to disturb them, not for fear of them frightening us but because we didn’t want to bother this endangered species whose greatest enemy is man. One had great slashes along his body from the blades of boats, even though their skin is tough.

Manatees can be as large as 13 feet long and 1300 pounds, but those were mostly sleeping. Ducking under water in my snorkel and mask, I quickly came face to face with some smaller ones. Oh, those faces.



We had seen manatees mating, thrashing around near us, as we approached our site. As the captain said, they’re trying to keep from becoming extinct. We also were so thrilled to see a baby nursing at its mother’s side below us.


In the springs we visited, there were homes around and the waterway was only 8 feet deep at the deepest. Most of the time, I could stand up if I wanted to stop my floating. We were there almost two hours, petting the cuties we met, watching them roll over in delight with our tickles.



There were some areas we couldn’t enter, full of large manatees resting.DSC_0081

I can’t exaggerate how very peaceful these funny creatures are.


When you have a chance to spend time with creatures who are so innocent and passive, you have to compare them to every other person or animal you’ve encountered in your life. I don’t know what their purpose is in our ecological system, but maybe it’s to remind us that it’s sometimes enough to get along with everyone, accepting them without qualm. These aren’t stupid beasts as they are compared to the very intelligent dolphin in many ways. They are gentle in the best kind of way. I felt so special to be in their presence.


At the end of the trip, I knew I’d had a unique experience. Captain Ed said you’re never going to get as much love as we did that cold January morning in the warm Florida spring water. In the end, we never were cold and had almost missed the adventure of a lifetime over nothing. A friend looked at this picture of me and said my expression was different, the glow of the morning showing in my smile. I know the magic of the manatees had rubbed off on me. I’m very lucky!



Wherever you live, there is beauty all around you, history to learn, and good food to eat. To a traveler, ordinary things seem exotic or, at the very least, different from what you see at home. The comparisons are good and the differences delight. When I go to Oregon, I absolutely immerse myself in everything that is coastal and part of Oregon so I can take that back to Oklahoma to absorb into my existence there, enriching my life with the comparisons and the vast diversity of our country.

More reflections on my latest visit to the Pacific Northwest…

They have signs we don’t have or need…DSC_0409 DSC_0693 DSC_0510This one made me wince. Isn’t that common sense? I guess not since I’ve seen people do crazy things to get a photo or to see a view. I’m overly cautious myself and that toddler would be on a leash.
DSC_0406And there are the people who disregard the signs – same as everywhere. Really! You think your climb for the view is more important than the wildlife?DSC_0682When I’m on the coast, I can’t get enough seafood because, well because it’s right there and it’s delicious. This is a trash can in downtown Astoria.DSC_0058

This is Mo’s where the clam chowder and garlic bread are delicious and they still have film?IMG_8152

And Fresh means Fresh. This fishing family brings in their own.IMG_8354

And you can watch them steam your crab while you wait. Again – right from the crabbers.IMG_8460In Oregon, I can watch the ships come in, wondering what wondrous cargo they contain.DSC_0047

These boxes are in Newport and I love the colors. I have no idea what they’re for. DSC_0393I don’t have to worry about tsunamis in Oklahoma. In Oregon, I stay on a tsunami evacuation route and have a tsunami alarm right outside the condo. DSC_0648This sign is down the street and kind of sums of my plan.DSC_0755The wildlife is definitely different in Oregon. They have whales that I can watch from my window…DSC_0523DSC_0555
Harbor seals down the street…DSC_0351and loud California sea lions I can watch while I eat in Newport.DSC_0371This year, the sea lions frolicked in the port, doing some kind of synchronized swimming and leaping in the air for fun.DSC_0389When you live in a comparatively new state like Oklahoma, the history of the coasts puts time in a better perspective. This trip, I visited the Maritime Museum in Garibaldi, where I learned about Robert Gray, who discovered the Columbia River from the Pacific side, making it easier for the United States to stake a claim after Lewis & Clark made their reports. DSC_0241In Garibaldi, I also got up close and personal with the Oregon lumber industry. Here’s an old smokestack which kept the smoke from the townspeople in its day.DSC_0297DSC_0287DSC_0288Reminded me of the pines in southeast Oklahoma. Bet some of you didn’t know we have pine forests, too.  We don’t have the lush ferns and moss in our woods that I enjoy in Oregon.IMG_8052DSC_0896The crops in Oregon are bountiful with fruits and vegetables and grapes for wine…DSC_0758 and hazelnuts (filberts)…DSC_0839DSC_0823There were seagulls on oysters shell hills that I don’t see at home…DSC_0303And lighthouses up and down the coast. IMG_8255On a glorious day at Yaquina Head, I went down (and back up – pant, pant) these steps to the cobble beach (rough walking) and the tidal pools.DSC_0426DSC_0429
DSC_0431I can never get enough ocean sunsets..    DSC_0439

And I can never ever ever get enough pounding waves. My place in the universe is put into perspective with the power and beauty.DSC_0600 DSC_0717 DSC_0272 DSC_0626 DSC_0702 DSC_0728 DSC_0591 DSC_0178 DSC_0697 DSC_0717 DSC_0103 IMG_8410

My visits to the coast always restore my soul, widen my perspective and bring me pride in this great land. I’m excited to go and excited to be back home. Isn’t that always the way?DSC_0264

I’m back from my fourth consecutive fall visit to Oregon. Like anyplace you’re revisiting, you return to some of the places you love and you find new adventures. And you learn, you always learn.

This was actually my fifth trip along the coast so I was constantly remembering, comparing, absorbing the differences. Before I left on the trip, I read the most frightening article in the New York Times on the Pacific Northwest being 100 years overdue for the plates to shift and the whole coast to fall into the ocean. Well, I summarize my horror to the extreme, but it did give me room for pause. Was I ready to be wiped off the earth on vacation? I took a deep breath and pushed on. Don’t laugh – it’s true and frightening, but I guess we all live with possible end of our world visions, no matter where we live. The earth may revolt and take us all, according to scientists, epic movies and all the predictors of the end who went before us. Oh well, can’t sit home and wait for it – must venture out there before we’re all gone.

Here are some of the things I spotted this time…

We took the long way, going along the northern coast. Our first stop was after we crossed the Lewis & Clark Bridge in Longview, Washington to catch the view of the mighty Columbia River with all its ships and ports, winding west to the Pacific.

DSC_0046DSC_0044 DSC_0042The last times I’d been this way, my views had been limited by rain and this time, the rain stopped for us to get our first view of the river. We wound along Highway 30, noting that there was more fall color in the forests than we’d seen before at this time of year. The drought was taking its toll. Our first place to visit was the town of Astoria, one of the most charming cities ever, even if it’s built on hills that rival Seattle and San Francisco and make me wonder what kind of mountain goat ancestors we had to pioneer this country.DSC_0059We ate a splendid lunch of Salmon fish & chips by the docks, then drove around town, admiring some of the wonderful buildings, including this beautiful old theatre. I love the old theaters I see around the country, imagining them when they were movie palaces unlike the commercial boxes we have today.DSC_0060I had to revisit the Astoria Column, which I’m glad I saw last year since it’s under renovation this year. Here are the two years…DSC_1416DSC_0062The scaffolding was impressive and the views as incredible as I remembered. DSC_0063DSC_0070I can only marvel at Lewis & Clark hugging the Washington side of the Columbia in their little boats while I’m watching huge freighters that look like toy boats today. Someday I want to do a whole Lewis & Clark trip in this area with so much to learn and see. Here’s information on the column to ponder.IMG_8098We had to move along this time, so we hurried on down Highway 101, which is a joke because it’s a narrow road that twists and turns and was busy on Friday afternoon. Our next must stop was Cannon Beach because I absolutely cannot get enough of this beautiful place. Some natives say it is too commercial now because they remember being able to drive right onto the beach not so long ago and now it’s lined with homes and rental properties. It still amazes and the homes don’t bother me. It’s an amazing beach in a coast of amazing beaches. DSC_0092Our next stop was in Tillamook, which we reached right before Tillamook Cheese Factory closed, just in time to grab some wonderful Tillamook ice cream. I had Oregon Hazelnut & Salted Carmel, which was as good as it sounds and as creamy as the wonderful ice cream is. The town is surrounded by the dairy farms that are part of the coop and I began to call the cows my ice cream cows even though they also deliver the wonderful cheeses I also enjoy.DSC_1389IMG_8239The town of Tillamook has also embraced the quilt trail idea and is home to 100 quilt squares, found on buildings in town and surrounding farms. Another thing to do next time is take the Tillamook Quilt Trail. So much to do. DSC_0115I’ve been both north and south on Highway 101 and I notice different things as I go different directions. This made me smile out in the middle of nowhere in particular.IMG_8245Sometimes you have a moment of deja vu. We pulled over in a scenic outlook and I realized I had stopped here in 2009, my first trip up this coast. This rock wall triggered the memory. DSC_0113Enough travels for today, ending with the sign by the wall. Hmmm.DSC_0108

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…


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


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


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


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.







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



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.


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.


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?


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…