Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Boston, Ho!

Daughter Gillian took me to the Sagamore Bus Stop (Park and Ride, actually) bright and early in the morning so that I could make my way north once again to Boston.  The bus ride is very quick and painless - SO MUCH MORE COMFORTABLE than a commercial flight.  It pains me, a former flight attendant, to write that.  All the bus and train travel I did in my Eastern Seaboard Runaround was perfect.  No lines, no delays, no taking my shoes off in security (I really hate to walk barefoot where thousands or millions have walked barefoot before me; I wonder if they ever vacuum and sanitize that area of airport security?  {Have I now caused more people to have my airport security germ neurosis?})

Back to Boston!  I went downtown once again, this time to do the museum-ing.  Is that a verb?  My return was four days after the Boston Marathon, and I felt very, very safe.  On every street and street corner were Boston Police.  Every subway stop seemed to have two military police standing by.  Black-vested Homeland Security were visible anywhere I turned.  Bomb-sniffing canines were all over.

Off I went, to the Museum of Fine Arts.  I really like this museum.  If you find yourself in Boston with a few hours on your hands, go there!  When I paid for my ticket, the uniformed museum officer said to me, "You can check your backpack right over there."  Well, that was his mistake.  The operative word, I thought, was "can".  He should have said "will" or "need to" or "must".  I opted out on checking my backpack.

A couple of delightful hours into my museum-ing, I rounded a corner and was met by a large lady museum officer, and she BOOMED that I "MUST CHECK THAT BACKPACK!"  Wowee.  Unpleasant way to deal with the public.  I'll give her leaway given that the Marathon bombing was fresh in all security's mind.  But she proceeded to turn the other direction and yell the same thing to a fun grandparent couple who were accompanied by their grandkids.  The grandkids must have thought their grandparents were pegged as art thieves or graffiti artists on the make.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was next on my itinerary.  I walked in the general direction of where I thought the museum would be.  (No, I don't often use maps, and yes, I frequently get lost.)  There was a huge back-up of car traffic, honking angrily at the hold-up.  I found the museum, and as I purchased my ticket, I overheard someone explaining that Michelle Obama was across the street.  I guess it was her security detail that was causing the delay.

The Gardner Museum was beautiful in its architecture.  It had a really nice garden in the center court.  As for the art collections, I found them to be in clusters, with no visual aids on the walls (plaques) to give me the titles and the artists' names.  One could pick up a laminated paper in each area of a room which would give details of that wall, but really, that was like playing I Spy with the myriad paintings on the walls, plus...I don't like to handle anything that other hundreds of people have also handled that day.  I'm beginning to sound like a germ-scaredy-cat, but I really am not.  I don't think.

It was a LONG day of walking for me (and my backpack).  I took several modes of transportation to the hotel I was to overnight (partially, anyway) in, and headed up to my room.  This hotel is near Boston Logan Airport.  I found it online, and had no idea what to expect.  Happily, if one gets happy over non-cookie-cutter experiences, this hotel was originally a Jewish Community Center right on the beach.  My room had its original hardwood floor.  Here are the windows at the front door:
 And that's where I stayed, until 4:00 am...

Cape Cod!

This is Cape Cod:

Daughter Gillian lives in Sandwich, Massachusetts.  This translates into beaches, seafood, lots of maritime and American history, and, in summer, lots and lots of tourists.  I am eager to hear her reports.

The Hoxie House in Sandwich was built in the mid-1600s.  It is a very typical "saltbox" style of New England architecture:

 Gillian and I drove east to Newport, Rhode Island, to tour some of the mansions built during the Gilded Age (late 1800s-1920?).  Families such as the Vanderbilts and Astors made Newport their vacation spot.  We toured five mansions.  (Actually, four, because after standing in two rooms listening to some lady tour guide reciting her blurb, I motioned for Gillian to follow me and we exited the mansion.  I don't "tour" well.  Gillian will have to return to that house on her own.)  The houses are massive, but what was most remarkable (to me) was the craftsmanship and fine art of these old homes. 

We went down to have a look at the fishing boats in Newport:  More lobster pots than you can shake a claw at:


Angry Lobstermen:
 The remainder of my fun, fun Cape Cod week was spent eating fresh seafood, walking on beaches, visiting art galleries and museums, and reading books.  It was a great time!  Thanks, Gill!  

Gillian after a day at work.  What a beautiful workplace!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Light: Up and Down

If you look out on a clear, rural Kansas night, you can see the Milky Way, and the Dippers.  Orion's Belt.  Cassiopeia. You can see a couple of planets.  Satellites loping low along the horizon.  Meteors.  There's a completely different canvas outdoors in rural Kansas, if one looks up in the night.

On my Eastern Seaboard Runaround, most of my flights were in the dark: before dawn or after dusk.

What did I see?  I was fascinated.  Lights!  Lights!  Lots of humanity on the East Coast!
 So while Earth is lit up on the Eastern Seaboard any given night, rural Kansas is only lit up if one looks upwards to the heavens.

Both scopes are tremendously hypnotizing.  I hope both venues appreciate that.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Eastern Seaboard Runaround: Due North:

After four days of non-stop activity at Hilton Head, the newlyweds and I hopped in their car and headed north, back to Richmond, VA.  The drive "home" didn't seem nearly as fun as the drive down south had been at the start of our long weekend.  Norman Rockwell comes to mind.  No kids in the car...though I felt like the grandmother in the back.  I sure hope I did not look the part!  Instead of kids, we were traveling with four banana trees.  The newlywed daughter takes after her mother, apparently.  The newlywed son-in-law was skeptical about traveling with two females, two bikes and four banana trees in the car, but we assurred him that it could be done.
On the seven-hour drive north, we noticed that the majority of cars and Winnebago-type vehicles came from Canada.  How about that?  Snowbirds to Florida, no doubt.

Jiggety-jig: planting banana trees:

The next morning in the wee hours of predawn, I was delivered to the Richmond airport: headed north to Boston (I thought I was doing the newlyweds a favor by booking my flight before  they were off to work so that they wouldn't have to take time off to take me to the airport, but...it turns out it was Claire's day off, and so she and I arose at 3:30 am to get me to the airport by 4:00 am.  Oops.)

Off to Boston!  Which, if you have been following this trip, you have already read about my Bostonian experience(s):
Just Sadness
Spectating, post-Marathon

And on to Cape Cod, and daughter Gillian...

Beach Birds

Early one morning at Hilton Head, even before sunrise, I went down to the beach with my camera:

Pinkney Island

Pinkney Island, Hilton Head, South Carolina, is a bird sanctuary.  The newlyweds and I went out one afternoon to see what we could see:

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Pelly Day

Wait a minute.  That's not a pelican:

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Some history:

Decades ago, my parents realized how much they enjoyed tennis - playing, and spectating.  One day my mother started poking around the pro circuit schedules, and found a pro tennis tournament at Hilton Head.  Oklahomans who had never been to South Carolina, they made travel arrangements and headed east.  (Does this in ANY WAY explain my wanderlust?)

They loved it.  And my mother (no doubt Dad was in on this) happened onto some art galleries out there.  One in particular struck their fancy, and vice-versa, and my Dad's sculptures were exhibited at this gallery for years (decades?) until the gallery closed.  But another gallery immediately took Dad's pieces, and so the sculpture biz continues on, at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.   

For years and years, my parents have spent weeks of their springtimes out of Oklahoma and onto Hilton Head Island.  Terrific parents that they are, they invited all of us kids, plus the grands, to join them, whenever we could each spring, for however long we could.  And this tradition has been going on and on: strollers, swimsuits, bikes, tennis rackets, kites, running shoes, cameras, Easter weekends, a big sailboat, and more, throughout the years.  What a tradition, let me tell you.  The memories!

This spring was no different.  The newlyweds and I headed south from Richmond in the wee pre-dawn hours, and were walking along low tide by late afternoon.  I had decreed a seafood-only diet for the 4-day weekend, and let me tell you, it was a glorious weekend!

A few photos, and more to come:

The Newlyweds:

Mom & Dad:
(newlyweds, 63 years ago)

And me:

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Eastern Seaboard Runaround

Two weeks ago I flew to Richmond, VA to visit the newlyweds.  This was the beginning of my Eastern Seaboard Runaround:  two weeks of traveling south, north, south, north, all over the place!  Claire & Rich: such a fun, happy couple with a beautiful, comfortable home equipped with two sweet kitties.  Theirs is a place I can walk in and feel right at home. 

I arrived late in the evening, so we didn't visit long.  The next morning the two of them were leaving early for work.  I was on my own for the day.  Well, it didn't take too long for me to decide to take a train two hours up to D.C. to see the cherry blossoms. 

 This man had a bucket-full of crappie after the morning's fishing. He said he would be letting them go, but I doubt that: why would you sit on a bucket of crappie all day and then let them go? I was never a fan of maim and release anyway...

Even though it was a week before the Cherry Blossom Festival, thousands of other cherry blossom-lovers must have had the same idea.  I'm not a statistician, but it seemed like half of the people weaving in and around the cherry trees and the Potomac Basin were speaking Japanese.  Maybe they had come over to check up on their gifts to the U.S.A.

I spent the day walking.  Claire had warned me that it would be hot.  Hot in my vocabulary is 75ยบ.  It was H.O.T.  Walk, walk, walk, for hours, looking at sculptures and memorials and people.  I wonder what I look like, people-watching.  In rural Kansas one sees more wildlife than human life.  I can (and did) watch people for hours.

In the late afternoon, I hopped on a train headed south, back to Richmond.  It was a busy evening for the three of us.  At 4:30 am the following day we were headed south again: Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.  

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Spectating, Post-Marathon

Today, Thursday, I returned to Boston - three days after the horrific explosions of the 2013 Boston Marathon.

I had a glorious day, Monday, watching these amazing athletes.  I was one of thousands on the sidelines, smiling and clapping and cheering them on - the runners who can do so much more than us fair-weather run/walkers.

Let me start from my day's beginning: a few weeks ago, soon after I made flight reservations to visit our daughters in Richmond, VA and Sandwich, MA, I realized I would be landing in Boston on Marathon Monday, precisely the minute when the marathon would be starting, 26 miles away from downtown Boston.  I spent the next couple of weeks researching and asking questions: how could I get to see the Marathon in a timely manner?

Finally, after traveling up and down the Eastern Seaboard for two weeks (more posts on that to come...), I landed in Boston on Monday morning, 9:20 am, and knew I had to try to see some running.  As I walked down the jetway from the plane, I saw a sign:  (literally, not figuratively):  "Free rides to Downtown: Silverline"

I found the Silverline bus, and took it.  It was sort of remindful of Alice in Wonderland's "Eat me" and "Drink me" signs.  but I am an adventurer, and so there I went: Silverline.

Silverline took me to the subway, the "T", in Boston-speak.  But....where to go from there, I knew not.  But wait!! Suddenly, a high school cross country team appeared before me, amongst the throngs of Marathon spectators, and their coaches wore Boston Marathon jackets.  Ha ha - MORE Alice in Wonderland antics!  The "T" was so, so packed with Boston Marathon humanity, I cannot describe my discomfort.  Nevertheless, I followed (ran!) after this high school team, knowing that they would lead me in the direction I wanted to go.  I had no clue, no clue at all, what that direction might be, but I just knew I needed to follow them.

Happily, this lemming had a happy trip to the outer region of the Boston Marathon.  The subway/train trip to the outskirts of Boston lent itself to a myriad of conversations to be had and to be eavesdropped upon.  The fun part was that everyone was happy, upbeat, very, very proud of their runner(s), and just thrilled to be a part of the Marathon day.   

There was a father with his two young boys, maybe eight and ten. He was telling his boys about what they could expect to see: their mother was running that morning.  The boys were smiling and enthusiastic to see runners.

On one train a British mother held a small bouquet of helium balloons, to give to her daughter at the end of her run.  The mother and her husband had come over specifically for her daughter's marathon.

It seemed like any "T" rider had a Marathon story to share, and each of us were happily entertained to hear such.    

From my initial vantage point, about ten miles out from the Finish Line, I hopped and skipped from one train/subway stop to another, stepping out to see runners and embrace the atmosphere.  And then, on to the next stop.  Finally, about 1:30, I found myself at Boyleston/Hereford streets. Half-mile from the finish line.  I stopped here because, like Biblical Zaccheus, I knew I would need a tree in order to see the runners at the finish line - I was too short for the crowds.  I cheered on the runners, some of whom I recognized from earlier stops.  I grabbed a sandwich from the Trident Booksellers, and sought directions to South Station, to head towards Cape Cod and daughter Gillian.  I stood outside the "T" station (subway), watching some police officers dealing with a passed out homeless man.  I appreciated their gentleness with the poor man.  I returned back to Hereford street twice, because it was so fun to watch the runners, and finally, I retreated underground to the "T", and to the trip to Cape Cod. 2:15 pm....

That Spouse o' Mine called me shortly after: Where are you?!
30 seconds later, my Mom called from Hilton Head, SC: Where are you?! 
Not a minute later, my son-in-law called:  Are you OK?!
Maybe 30 seconds later: a call from daughter Gillian:  Where are you?!
And then, daughter Claire in Virginia called: Where are you?!

I had no idea about the tragedy happening behind me, and when I was told, I was...

Sad, to be sure.
Depressed, in an inexplicably fatigued and odd mood.
I went to bed that night, somber and subdued.  I refused to turn on TV, and I refused to look online at maps, news, anything related to the here-and-now that would ruin the day I had celebrated, along with so many other innocent, happy, athletically-inclined  people.   

The next morning, my very first thought upon waking was the 8-year-old boy who was killed in one of the blasts.  I am haunted, even now.  To lose one's precious, precocious eight-year old boy.  Unbearable.

The day after the explosions, I remembered a fun conversation on the "T" with a father very close to my own age.  His daughter, and I could easily feel this father's pride for his daughter, from Dallas, was going to run the Marathon with her fiance.  At Mile 13, she was to be handed a bouquet of flowers, with which she would run the remainder of her marathon.  At Mile 26, the Finish Line, she and her fiance were to be married.  Her father held in his hand, a top hat for the ceremony. 

I am sorry to say that I have not  seen anything more regarding this happy couple and their father.

(NOTE: Daughter Gillian and niece-in-law Katie sent me good news: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2013/04/boston-marathon-couple-say-i-do-despite-bombings/)

Today, Thursday, Boston is most likely the safest USA city to visit.  Multiple police on every corner, multiple military police in every subway station, multiple Homeland security all over the place, many, many bomb/whatever canines all over the place.   President and Mrs. Obama came to town, and so that added the security of the Secret Service.

Bostonians I have spoken to are sad, yet resilient.  And this, I believe, is what makes us Americans strong.  Let's hold strong.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Just Sadness

What had been a glorious day today, spectating at the Boston Marathon with thousands of other sports enthusiasts, will never play in my memory that way. Prayers for all the families affected by this tragedy.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Cycling Season!

What a difference a week makes.  Last week I received an email from our university's cycling team: Would we Armstrongs consider housing the officials for the upcoming K-State Collegiate races?  This is something that we have enjoyed doing on an annual basis, either housing the race officials (read: mature adults) or one of the out-of-state cycling teams (read: really, really fun college kids!).    I consulted that Spouse o' Mine, and was not surprised when he suggested we sit out this year.  We have a busy week coming up, and this would be "just one more thing".  And so I sent our regrets.

This morning, I got a call from that Spouse o' Mine from his office.  The K-State cycling team was  in real need of more homestays; he thought maybe we should go ahead and open our home.  I was all for it - I love these weekends!  And so I sent an email and...

We are now housing the Iowa State University cycling team - ten cyclists.

It's gonna be a fun, fun weekend!

Monday, April 01, 2013

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday: that Spouse o' Mine and I decided, instead of driving into town and joining hundreds of other Lutherans at our church for one of two services, to walk - yes, walk down our road to the tiny little neighborhood church for Easter service.   Beecher Bible and Rifle Church was at near capacity itself: between 30 and 40 people joined in our tiny community for worship.  I think we sang six hymns, all verses and in 4-part harmony.  The 85-year old pastor was good.  I liked how he summed things up:  "Well, God gave us life, and when we made a mess of that, he sent us Jesus to make things right."  There was also an old fellow spending time both at the piano and the little organ up front.  He was pretty good, too.  There was one lily up at the tiny altar.  After church we all filed out of the Civil War era church, and someone was ringing the church bells as we walked back down the road to home.

It was a good Easter morning.

On another subject: Memory.  Memorization.
Sometimes I do very, very well at memorization.  Sometimes I do fairly poorly on memory.  I tend to memorize phone numbers instead of putting them in my phone.  I memorize things like Schedule B numbers (if you have to ship something internationally), and credit card numbers. I forget to stop by the gas station on my way home, I forget my sunglasses, I forget THINGS and have to make daily lists on index cards to remind me of what I am forgetting.  Sometimes I don't mean to memorize something but it happens anyway.  I sang with the church choir for Good Friday service.  We sang one song.  All day Saturday, "'Tis Finished" ran through my mind, over and over and over again.  It is a very dreary song, (Good Friday and all...), and that's NOT what I wanted playing in my head all day.  But it was stuck there.

And here's a memory:  Our Armstrong Easter Egg hunts were always great fun.  Now the kids are grown and gone.  In our backyard we have an overlooked, plastic Easter egg growing in the crook of one of our oak trees.  We would line our kids up at the door, youngest to oldest.  Now, our kids are only four years apart, but College Boy Graham was really slow to cotton to the concept of hunting Easter Eggs.  He walked.  And gazed.  And meandered.  So Slow Boy was allowed 60 seconds of hunting before his wild and competitive older sisters were allowed out the door. The Easter eggs were real, and plastic ones filled with candy or pennies.  Maybe a dollar bill in a few.  As the kids got older, the Easter Egg hunts became more challenging.  No mowing the lawns before Easter.  (That Spouse o' Mine really disliked that rule.)  The Easter Egg hunt in the dark, with flashlights.  It was forecast to snow this weekend.  I thought to myself, If the kids were home and it snowed on Easter, I would throw white duck eggs out in the snow for the annual Easter Egg hunt.  Ha!  What fun!

But no kids, and no snow, either.
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