My daughter and I, with Wee Jamie in tow, had to make a road trip to California earlier this month to pay a final visit to my mother. We knew that it would be a difficult visit, saying goodbye to her. We also knew that we couldn’t stay long as my sister’s house is small, and her life is complicated enough. And that we have clients, projects and pets at home, so that we ought to keep the visit brief. My daughter suggested that we come home to Texas by way of I-40, which follows the old transcontinental Route 66, famed in song, story, TV series and all. At any rate, my daughter insisted – it would be more interesting a journey than the 20-plus hour drive through desert, desert and more desert on IH-10. She was very tired of driving or riding the train along the same route and seeing the same old ugly desert for miles and miles. Good enough reason to drive along another route, enlivened every fifty or so miles with another small town, or interesting city … and then she suggested that we make a side trip to see the Grand Canyon, arguing that it would be a while before we were in that part of the country again, we would only be an hour drive out of our way to see the Grand Canyon … so why not? It had been a long time since we had a road trip adventure, she argued.

Why, yes – it had been a long time … and after I thought about it, I agreed. And it would be a chance to check out the splendid Fred Harvey establishment – the hotel that the company built at the edge of the Grand Canyon – El Tovar, which hosted kings and presidents and celebrities of every kind since being built more than a century ago. Maybe, if the lunch menu wasn’t that excessive and they didn’t require reservations, we could have a meal in the restaurant … just like my daughter and I had tea at the Brenner’s Park Hotel  in Baden-Baden, when she was only a year and a bit older than Wee Jamie. My only worries concerned how Wee Jamie would handle hours in a car, and the usual road hazards when it comes to long hours on the highways.

So – that’s how we came to be driving away from Flagstaff very early on a Saturday morning; it was cool among the pines at such a high altitude. We had nearly forgotten what pine trees and tall jagged mountains even look like. There was still snow on some of the highest crags – but in the space of half an hour  we dropped out of the pine forests and back into high desert. There were two or three cars in line at the front gates to the South Rim. My daughter flashed her ID and her veteran’s national park pass, and there we were in the park, following the directions on her phone’s GPS program to the visitor venter in Grand Canyon Village. It was still so early in the day that there were empty places in the visitor center parking lot. Got out the lightweight umbrella stroller that we keep in the car (because the regular stroller takes up too much room in Thing the Versa’s trunk) and walked up to the wall by the path which leads along the rim …oh, my.

I think it was a bit like walking into a holy place – vast and hushed. So deep. Banded with color, tones of rust red, dark pink, sand, dark grey. Fringed with dark grey-green vegetation, cracked and creviced, jagged peaks and crevices, and away down, down at the very bottom, a little patch of glass-green water. We walked along the paved trail, pushing Jamie in the stroller; a different vista around every bend. My daughter laughed – here we were, with our cheap Cocomelon stroller, walking among all those hikers with serious boots, packs, staffs and water bottles. Jamie stayed strapped into his stroller all the way; it made us a trifle nervous, as there were no barriers along the cliff edge, nothing to block the incredible view around every turn. And nothing much to stop anyone falling for about half a mile, too. Wild horses would not have moved either of us off that path, or onto the Bright Angel trail, which zig-zags all the way down to the bottom of the Canyon, not even to take a heart-stopping picture. This did not stop other people from doing so, which made my skin crawl to see. No, I so do not do heights. Not so much the heights – but the likelihood of falling from them which distresses. We did encounter a park ranger there, and I asked him straight-out how many times they had to peel idiot tourists off the cliffs, to which he sighed and replied, “Too many times!”

At the Yavapai Point vista there is a tiny stone structure with windows all along the front aspect – it was agreed by experts a hundred years ago that the very best view of the Canyon was at that place. There were exhibits along the opposite wall, outlining how the land evolved – millions of years of sediment, a vast lake, upthrust of the continent and finally how the Colorado River carved the canyon. The river is no larger now than it ever was, so the exhibit informed us. But the Canyon itself … it was so vast, and the way down so rough that it was a barrier to travelers and explorers crossing the American desert for decades. I’d be willing to bet that the unofficial and unrecorded reaction of the first non-native travelers to the Canyon were something along the lines of “Oh, f**k, no, we’ll never be able to cross THAT!”

We checked out the Hopi House, now a gift shop and art gallery, wishing that we could have afforded some of the genuine black-on-black Santa Clara pottery. That would have done us as a souvenir; my daughter has noted how many cheaper souvenirs of a vacation or a visit have turned up at yard sales or in thrift stores. We also wondered how often visitors taller than ourselves near-to-concussed themselves on low doorways within that very authentic building.  Alas, reservations were necessary for lunch at El Tovar, and the sample lunch menu was pretty pricy, although I am certain that the elkburger was awesomely tasty. We left the park, noting that the line of cars waiting at the gates was now at least  half a mile long, suggesting to us that we were leaving at a good time. We snagged lunch at a sandwich place on our way back to IH-40 and didn’t get to Albuquerque until nearly seven that evening. But Jamie was a magnificent traveler for all that – I assume that he derived a great deal of amusement and distraction at watching the scenery flash past at 70 MPH.

I still want to go back to Grand Canyon, though – my dream now is to spend a few days at El Tovar, and see the Canyon at sunset and under a moonlit sky.

25. May 2024 · 1 comment · Categories: Domestic

I will be out of pocket for about a week, as my daughter and I with Wee Jamie must make a fast road trip to California. We have been notified by one of my brothers that my mother has been put into hospice care, and that she wants to see the three of us, one more time. So, pack up the car, and hit the road – back next  week. We’re planning to return by way of 40, or the new version of Highway 66, and stop off to see the Grand Canyon, as we will be out that way, and my daughter insists that we are overdue for an adventure, and when will we be out that way again?


Circa 1966 – me, baby brother Sander, JP, Mom and Pip.

This is the picture that I used for the cover of my very first book – the family memoir cobbled together from posts on the original milblog in 2002-2004, which everyone found so terribly amusing and insisted, solo and chorus, that I collect them all in a book. Mom always said that in it I made her and my father sound much more amusing than she thought they really were.


12. May 2024 · 4 comments · Categories: Domestic

It’s one of those things that came upon us in the last few years – what with periods of erratic employment, residence in Utah where the LDS practice is to keep a couple of years supply of foodstuffs on hand, the occasional natural disaster, the Covidiocy and the Great Texas Snowmagedden, and a certain primal fear that I don’t know where it came from – we have kept an insanely well-stocked pantry, and a full-to the brim freezer in the garage. For emergencies, you know. My daughter cannot turn down a tempting bargain on the ‘remainder’ shelves at the local grocery store, and I have memories of being overseas at the end of a very long resupply chain. I certainly didn’t grow up with this; Mom routinely finished out the day of Dad’s paycheck being deposited with a couple of cans of tuna and a half-empty bottle of Worcestershire Sauce in the pantry. Although the paternal grandparents did have several years’ worth of canned goods in their garage, and vivid memories of the Depression and WWII rationing… so maybe this impulse skipped a generation.

My daughter and I both dream mad dreams of a walk-in pantry, with floor to ceiling shelves, drawers and bins, all neatly organized, and all the foodstuffs in air-tight containers and neatly labeled, readily accessible. My daughter may yet achieve this dream, but at the moment, the pantry is a small square closet about the size of an old-fashioned telephone booth – that, and the front hall closet, which is about the same dimensions. Both are stacked to the brim with canned goods and shelf-stable things like canned tomatoes and tomato sauce, rice, dried beans, flour, sugar and pastas. One is fitted out with shelves (all densely packed), the other is stacked with tubs. So, today we tackled the closet with tubs. The tubs had been packed rather randomly; a lot of stuff jumbled together. Today, we repacked the tubs: all the rice in one, dried beans in another, assorted pastas in a third, flour, sugar and semolina in a fourth, and all the tomato and tomato sauce in one on top of the Tetris-style stack. We had kind of forgotten how many packages of spaghetti we had stashed away – much of it the really good, imported stuff. (Bought on sale, of course. What, do we look like we are related to the Rockefellers or the Gettys?) You see, an important element in keeping a full pantry is to rotate stuff, not stash it away for years and forget about it all. I’m pretty certain that the oldest stuff in the grandparent’s garage had to be thrown away, through being dangerously outdated. At least now, I can look at the tubs in the closet, and know what is there …

We really ought to start eating those Corsicana fruitcakes, though. Bought at half price, after last Christmas.

We LIKE fruitcake. Got a problem with that?

… so far from God, as the saying went – so close to the United States. Mexico was very close to us, when I was growing up in suburban Los Angeles in the 1960s and early 70s. My elementary school had us study Mexican history in the 6th grade – if I remember correctly, that was part of the unified school district curriculum. We did a field trip to Olvera St., in the old part of downtown, at least three of the old Spanish missions were within a short drive from our various homes, and we weren’t allowed to forget that Los Angeles itself had Spanish origins and Mexican governance for decades before American statehood. For Southern California, Mexico was just a hop, skip, and a jump away – just as it is for South Texas.

A day trip to Tijuana when I would have been about thirteen or fourteen was my first trip to a foreign country. Dad took JP, Pip, and I with him on a trip to could get a new headliner installed in the ’52 Plymouth station wagon which was our family’s main ride. I don’t know why Tijuana, or how Dad located a workshop there that could do the work – but he did, and we spent a whole day there. I guess they could do it in Tijuana for a fraction of the cost of having it done anywhere closer to home. We drove down from Los Angeles, crossed the border, dropped off the car, and spent the hours until it was ready wandering through nearby shops catering to the tourist trade; folk art, hand-blown glass, and Mexican-style furniture. We watched some glassblowers at work, which was pretty interesting, looked at the finished glass menageries, walked by the bull ring and looked at the posters – but as it was a weekday, there was no bullfight scheduled, which was mildly disappointing. We went to a grocery store were Dad bought fresh rolls, cheese and soft drinks for lunch … and in the afternoon, we collected the station wagon and drove home.

Later, when Dad got interested in dune buggies and off-roading, he built a custom dune buggy on the chassis, transmission and engine of a VW bug – they were favored for their low profile and disinclination to roll over on steep inclines, which couldn’t be said of jeeps. Dad welded a custom body out of tube steel lengths, and sourced seats, dash, windshield, and enormous-capacity gas tanks from his favorite junkyards. The resulting junk-parts vehicle looked pretty much like something out of the Mad Max franchise. Over the Easter week holiday break, Dad would take my brothers P.J. and Sander in that dune buggy and go on an extended off-road camping trip to Baja California. They’d camp out in the desert, or on the beaches, eat beanie-weenies out of the can, forgo washing … and have a glorious time of it, all week long. (Meanwhile, Mom and Pip and I would go shopping, see a movie or go to the theater, and elegantly lunch in restaurants … and towards the end of the week, get ready for Easter; each of us had a glorious time over the Easter week break, partaking in those activities which engaged us the most. Pip and I would have been miserable, dragged on such a road trip; Dad, JP and Sander would have hated the ladies-who-lunch routine. To each, their own, and we were much happier for it.)  

What brought all this on was this horrifying story – of three surfing tourists turning up dead – murdered on their dream surfing trip to Baja. Not just the violence, robbery, murder and all – but that it all happened in a place that Dad and my brothers used to frequent, without any shred of concern about danger on visiting. Dad had no worries taking two kids through Baha, no more than any other place north of the border. He possessed a sidearm and was a good  shot with it; I do not know if he took it with him on those trips for personal projection; likely not, as that was frowned upon by Mexican authorities even then. The small towns and the open country along the length of Baha California seemed as safe as any place north of the border. Baja, Ensenada, Rosarita Beach … all those places named in the news stories are familiar. Ensenada and Rosarita just an easy day trip over the border, for the beaches, the bars and restaurants serving excellent and comparatively inexpensive local seafood cooked with Mexican flair.

But that was then, this is now – and another horrible reminder that places which once were fun and safe to visit are not safe now.


28. February 2024 · Comments Off on In the Garden – Spring 2024 · Categories: Domestic

So I am going to try again in the garden this year, since I have the greenhouse that I purchased and assembled last year – too late in the year to do vegetable starts from seeds in a sheltered environment, but this year in the nick of time. The last predicted freeze in this part of Texas is for mid-March, and I have a whole specialty scrapbook of seed packets assembled from various sources. The last couple of winters – cold, frozen and miserable – and summers (boiling hot and dry) have done a number on a lot of gardens. I think my back-yard Santa Rosa plum is entirely dead, and so are all three of the potted citrus plants. But this year, the local HEB chain has favored us with a nice assortment of roots for things like rhubarb, potatoes and onion, so I am having a go at the first two. I may go back and try a crop of onions – the trouble is that onions are so very inexpensive that it’s hardly worth the hassle of making garden space for them.

Rhubarb, on the other hand … I love fresh green beans and peas, garden cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers of various sorts. And I’ve had excellent luck getting them started from seed, as well as herbs of every description. Nothing beats having fresh basil, thyme, sage, parsley, chives, and cilantro instantly on hand. When I was just newly established in San Antonio, I regularly went to the yearly Herb Festival, when it was set up at a local park pavilion and bought a small potted bay tree one year. That sprig in a small pot graduated to larger and larger pots, until I finally planted it in the ground out in the front yard – to my recollection, I have not bought dried bay leaves in years. Neither, I don’t believe, have any of my neighbors. The tree itself got to be thirty feet tall, until nipped by Snowmagedden – but it bounced back and now is about fifteen feet and densely packed with leaves. The birds love it, for the shelter thus provided. As for other herbs, I once had a parsley plant establish itself so firmly that the stem became the size of a small pinecone. The pot of chives comes back, year after year – maybe the thyme will. If not, I have seeds for it, and for sage.

On the other hand, depressingly – growing zucchini escapes me entirely. Which is exasperating, because that is one of those vegetable garden plants which is legendarily supposed to over-produce, to the point of stories of gardeners abandoning sacks of zucchini bounty on the doorsteps of strangers, ringing the bell and running away. But I am going to try it anyway. Costco had super-big bags of raised-bed/container garden soil at a very reasonable price, and I bought two of them. I’d have been out planting zucchini, cabbage and squash seeds today, but I had to spend some time securing and closing up a gap in a corner of the Amazing Catio, where a large racoon was getting in and raiding the cat’s food dispenser – a gap about six inches wide near the eaves, where the bugger was getting in, and sending Benji the dog absolutely spastic in the middle of the night. Sigh. Renovation of the house three doors down has been going on for nearly a week, now, and a whole colony of racoons and other rodents were evicted from those premises – and obviously, they are now looking for alternate digs.

And there are no citrus plants anywhere but Costco, and those are big ones, at a price that I am reluctant to pay, especially as none of them were lemons or limes, which is what I really, really want, in order to replace the ones killed by winter. Sigh – perhaps a visit to a local nursery – but they might be even more expensive there. I swear that Snowmagedden a couple of years ago must have demolished the plant nursery business the length and breadth of South Texas, and prices for potted plants almost immediately doubled – well ahead of the price of everything else doubling as well.