The Tiny Yellow Canoe

I glanced into the coffee cup just before I took a sip, and then pulled back.  On the mocha surface was a bright yellow piece of straw, a tiny canoe floating in a sloshing sea.

I had gone down to the barn this morning and taken my coffee cup, placing on the sill of an empty stall while I fed the horses.  The winter morning was quiet; the contented crunching of hay an antidote to the dreary grey winter weather.

My morning barn chores take 20 minutes. I drop pellets of feed into stall bins, dump water buckets and chip out the ice that has formed overnight, then refill them with fresh unfrozen water, and drop large slabs of hay into each stall.  My coffee sits on the sill, cooling down each minute while I pass it by.  About halfway through the chores, I pause to take a sip of the lukewarm caffeine.

When I return to the house, I strip off my many layers of winter coats, boots, hats and gloves. 

The coffee cup waits on a shelf in the mudroom and a few minutes later is heating up in the microwave.

Now I examine the piece of straw in the cup, marooned and lost.  I shrug my shoulders with a half-smile, and lift the cup to sip.  As I tilt the cup, the yellow raft moves from the center of the cup to the far edge, sensing the change in angle.  It seems to know that it does not want to travel down that cavernous mouth that appears at the upper horizon.

Dirt and pieces of the outdoors follow me everywhere.  When I shed barn clothes, debris falls to the mudroom floor.  Green hay, yellow straw, grey powdery dust and small brown mud clods.

When I strip down to take a shower, debris falls to the bathroom floor: more hay, half dead weed pieces, grass clippings, an occasional tiny bug.

When I climb into my pickup truck, more debris follows me: mud, dirt, wood shavings, more grass clippings.

My life is one big dirt fest. Oh, how I long to be clean.

It is said that you should live a clean life.  Is this what they meant? Am I a dirt sinner, rolling myself in the debris of the natural world, giving a finger to what human beings have defined as being human?

By necessity, I am oblivious of germs.  I have often brushed a dusty horse and then eaten a sandwich without washing my hands. Sometimes I rub my hands on my jeans as if this cleans them.   I wipe sweat or spider webs off my face, scratch my arms, or carry around household items without thinking about how many microorganisms are lurking in the tiny wrinkles of my hands. Washing hands is reserved for special times at the end of the day when so much grime has built up that even my dulled sense of cleanliness is awoken.

The tiny yellow canoe in my coffee is right where it should be. It is the debris that belongs to my life, and I do not fight it.  I drink the coffee to the last sip, watching as the straw inches away from my mouth each time I tilt the cup. In the end, I wash the straw down the drain, acknowledging its long journey from field to bale to barn to my hair to my cup.  It has seen the world.

Renewal

As Arnold would say, “I’m Baaack!”

I abandoned this blog a few years ago when life got so complicated that I could hardly think straight. I felt like I was swimming in the ocean and waves kept crashing over me. I’d (figuratively) head for the beach to get out of the waves but the tide kept pulling me out. For a few years I floated around, buffeted by winds and waves.

Even though all the advertisements featuring “seniors” show us happy and vacationing and exercising our trim bodies — Life after retirement holds just as many challenges as life in your 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. We maneuver them the best that we can and realize in our wisdom that we just cannot control everything.

But now, I am ready to get back to this blog and writing. Enjoy my stories, share or comment, or – better yet – start your own blog! Tell your stories and we will listen.

Here is the first post about selling the farm we had lived on for 27 years.

The Hour of Separation

I don’t know when the love affair began to disintegrate.  Was it in the dead of winter when the dark skies and constant cold turned my heart?  Was it in spring, when the promise of new growth filled me with dread?  Was it in the silent white heat of summer when grasses turn brown like a gasp of death?

But the ambiguous anguish which had been circling my heart became clear. I was miserable and bereft.  My heart was abandoning a precious companion; once the abandonment began, I was unable to stop it.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t love you anymore.  We need to separate. I need to begin over again.”

And thus began the withdrawal of my devotion to my Kentucky farm.  The pink sunrises, the emerald spring grass, the black-necklaced Killdeer, nesting in the gravel on large grey spotted eggs, the supple branches of pines praying in the wind.  The images of my past love, now being gently dispatched into a deep corner of my heart.

I am 68 and alone after the death of my husband.  To keep the farm would have been an easy choice: care of yard and pastures, planting and weeding, tending to horses, fixing fence boards and cleaning both house and barn. Nothing new or surprising. Nothing mentally or emotionally challenging. I could have continued my routines in this dance of affection, one foot in front of another. Collapsing into bed each night, weary, dirt under my fingernails that would never come clean, sore back and arms from lifting and bending, and thinking of the list of chores for tomorrow.

Do I want to get old hand-in-hand with a small patch of ground I have bowed to for 26 years? My life the price of my servitude.

Today I begin my journey of pulling away.  Today, the Purple Finch echoes a somber elegy:  Farewell, farewell, farewell.

Today I live as if these hours are my last.  Stopping to admire a bent limb stretching towards the ground. Touching delicate new-grown weeds, forgiving them their lowly status. Pausing mid-stream in the creek, amazed at the insistent pull and whirling of the muddy water. Breathing deeply, eyes closed, the musty fragrance of hay and sharp odor of manure in the barn.  Marveling at the night silence, broken only by the soft thud of pinecones dropping on the roof.

I grieve for my farm before I even leave it.

April, 2020

Denver: Rocky Mountain High

Four days in Denver! What to do? This is a long post because we found a bunch to do.

My primary goal was to spend time with son Evan and D-I-L Lauren, who moved from Louisville to Denver 3 years ago to follow jobs. Due to my husband Eric’s illness and then COVID, I had been to Denver just once in those 3 years.

We had 4 days to spend in Denver and all wanted to get to know the area better, so we went to The Denver Aquarium, The Garden of the Gods, Manitou Springs, the Larimer area of Denver (wall murals) and the Colorado Train Museum in Golden. (Plus restaurants,of course, grocery stores, liquor stores and laundromats. We kept busy seeing, eating, drinking, and getting clean clothes)

The Aquarium was interesting and filled with tanks and tanks of fresh water fish, salt water fish, anemones, sharks, snakes and turtles. PLUS 3 tigers in a “rainforest” section. They seemed out of place but did have their own swimming pool.

Then lunch at The Ale House down the street. And no, we didn’t have fish n chips.

The traveling circus, happy with their beer and hard cider. (And food, I almost forgot that)
You’ve got to have a sense of humor at all this COVID frenzy….

That evening, an epicurean adventure; dinner with Evan and Lauren at a Chinese Hot Pot restaurant.

At hot pot restaurants, the heaters are built right into the table and each person gets their own broth (6 kinds to choose from.) Then you order raw ingredients to cook in the broth: meats, noodles, veggies, tofu, herbs, etc. They are served family style as each person creates their own unique Hot Pot.

Day 2 it had gotten colder and there was heavy frost on car windows and plants. We drove south towards Colorado Springs to the Garden of the Gods, majestic sandstone rocks jutting vertically out of the ground. Huge, red and beautiful!

Edith in front of The Three Sisters

Then on to Manitou Springs, a mere 15 min. away, where you could:
a. Hike an “extremely difficult” trail to Pikes Peak, or
b. Shop and eat.
We chose “b”. 😀

We ate at a small Indian/Nepalese restaurant in Manitou Springs. We were a bit chilled by then, so sitting in a warm restaurant eating spicy food helped recapture our Mojo.

Day 3 we joined Evan and Lauren for breakfast at Annie’s, a neighborhood favorite. Of course we over-ate, but who doesn’t like a hardy breakfast with a hot cup of coffee? Then off to the Larimer section of town which has blossomed into the wall mural Capital. Below are just a few of the murals.

Finally it was our last day in Denver but our train didn’t leave til 7:00pm so we hit the road to Golden and visited the Colorado Train Museum. Old trains, new trains (full size cars) and a small museum with a huge miniature train town. And a short ride on a steam engine train around the property.

The visitors train. Wood interior and velveteen seats.

Finally a quick drive through Golden (home to Coors beer.. but it was Sunday so sadly no tours were running.) The snow was coming down harder and the temperature dropping. According to the Weather Channel it was 16 degrees but felt like 2 degrees.

After a prolonged lunch just to stay warm inside, we headed back to the Denver train station, returned the rental car and then waited 3 hours before boarding in the driving snow and wind for our final leg home. We were getting out just in time!

Denver’s Union Station

From here, I say Adios. We will train thru the night and hopefully arrive in Chicago at about 2 pm tomorrow. Then a mere 6 hour drive back to Kentucky.

(LAST MINUTE NEWS: We stopped in the middle of Iowa to wait for a broken RR tie to be replaced — for 3 hours! New ETA is 5:30pm.
Thanks readers for coming along with us vicariously. We’ve enjoyed the trip but are all looking forward to sleeping in our own beds tonight.

Time to Head Back East Through the Rockies

Before we board the train to head east, there is one more stop in California to tell you about.. The San Gregorio store. A must-do if you are in the San Jose area, this general store has a little bit of everything from books to clothes to food to kitchenware, crafts… all in a relatively small area. Jerry found a top hat:

Jerry with tophat and mask, a COVID picture we will hopefully look back on with relief (that we don’t have to wear masks anymore.)
The cashier section and coffee bar of the San Gregorio store.
The Post office in the San Gregorio building.
Traveling companions at San Gregorio. Jerry, Anne, Edith and Ginny.

It was time to start heading east, via Denver. We left for the Emeryville station at 6AM, returned the rental car, and settled into our two sleeping rooms for the overnight trip.

The initial scenery was pretty boring – eastern California and the tip of Utah – with lots of dry brown low hills covered in sagebrush. In fact, I didn’t even take any pictures! Instead of looking out the train window as we passed the brown hills, I played solitaire or word games on my iPad to pass the time. And we also slept though a lot of that brown scenery that evening.

THEN, suddenly, Colorado and the Rockies. There were almost too many scenes to capture as the train wound through canyons, paralleled the Colorado River, and went in and out of short tunnels.

Aspens

AND… we were shocked to find that we were going right past the huge Cameron fire, which was just over the ridge but gave off huge plumes of smoke. (Note: The day AFTER we rode through the area, that fire increased by six-fold and people were evacuated out of two of the towns we stopped at.). Here are some pics and a video of the smoke…

This was our first peak at the plume – it looks just like a cloud over the horizon.
Smoke in the setting sun.

The trip through the Rockies was the best of the train travel so far; despite the smoke, which – if you forget about the devastating effect on the land – was beautiful in itself.

Our arrival in Denver’s Union Station was at about 7:30PM, and it was COLD, especially to us Kentucky residents who just came from California. AND especially for two of us who left our coats on the train back at the San Jose train exit. BRRRR!

We all piled into an Uber to get to our AirBnB accommodations, and my sone Evan and daughter-in-law Lauren picked me up for a late night drink and snacks.

Next post – our stay in Denver and getting used to both the cold, the elevation, and the extreme fluctuations of Denver weather. Fires, snow, sleet, and sun. You just don’t know what to expect in Denver in the fall.

Do You Know the Way to San Jose?

On Amtrak again as we head from Seattle down through Oregon and into California. It was another single day trip with sleeping in the middle.

I haven’t talked too much about our time on the trail, which has been substantial. We are all finding out that we are not as flexible as we used to be, and climbing into the upper bunk bed is the highlight of the evening.

The upper bunk is narrower than the bottom, has a harder mattress (although we are not sure the Mattress Association of America would agree to call that skinny pad a mattress.). It is also warmer up top, which is good and bad depending on the temperature in the car.

Lower seating area/bed

The bathroom is a combo bathroom/shower, although we have avoided showering in there. There is about 2 square feet to stand in and it’s hard enough just to use the toilet on a moving swaying train… a shower would just be too difficult. We have a tiny sink which is nice for brushing teeth; and SOME of the trains have had hooks to hang things on.

We did make a major mistake when we got off in San Jose…. we thought we had 5 minutes to pull stuff together, then the steward came and said, “You need to get off now, because after you get off, the train has to pull forward to let the coach passengers off.” SO we scurried, grabbed our bags and left. We forgot to check one thing… the rooms have tiny closets which we’ve been hanging our coats in, and — yes you guessed it — we left our coats in the train and didn’t realize it til we were at Susie’s, our host, house.

The infamous coat closet which hid our coats.. Hope it’s not too cold in Denver!

In the train room there is also a single chair, fold-down table (18” x 18”) plus the lower bunk which is like a futon. Use it as a sofa during the day and a bed at night.

Our table complete with figs

Now back to our San Jose visit. We rented a car and drove to Susie Dorsey’s 60-acre horse farm in redwood country. She lives on a ridge back a 3.5 mile winding narrow road, surrounded on both sides by redwoods. She has a few neighbors on that road but most everything is set back so you don’t see the houses. Amazingly she drives a truck and trailer out that road when going to horse events, but she did say that you had to really inch through a few curves with huge trees on each side of the road.

The farm next to hers belongs to Neil Young. Actually Neil Young’s daughter now, Neil has moved back to LA area. (Apparently married Darryl Hannah, but I don’t stay up on those kinds of things)

Back to some pictures – arriving in San Jose.

Our train at the San Jose station
Palm Trees! Yes, we are in California.

Now for some scenes from Suzie’s farm, named “Fogbound”. It has been super dry here so grass is brown and although in normal weather she can see the ocean, now it is shrouded in fog/mist, which she takes as a good sign that some rain might be coming.

View from the Driveway
Paddock with a view.
Susie’s driveway (which is a 1/2 mile long and at the end of a 3 mile narrow road).
Chest Handle

A trip to Cally would not complete without a trip to a winery. And so we reluctantly agreed to go taste wine for an afternoon. It’s a difficult job but someone has to do it.

A unique orange wine they make there.
Left to right: Jerry, Susie, Anne and Ginny with our wine smiles.

I’m going to end here, but one stop we made on the way to the winery – to the San Gregorio General store – I’ll cover in the next post. VERY COOL STORE!

As for now, we are on our way to Denver, making many stops along the way. But we are tucked into our room with embroidery projects (Edith) and books (me), so we’re not in a big rush. We arrive in Denver at 6:30 tomorrow evening.

Seattle, Land of Waterways and Conifers

This was our first sight of the Puget Sound; a wonderful dark cloud spitting rain but clear sky on the horizon.

We boarded the train at Glacier Park just 24 hours after we arrived, it was much too short a visit. I hope to come back and stay a week and there. But onward to Seattle.

As we travelled up the Sound, it got lighter.
I thought this was a cruise ship but upon further study, realized it was a car ferry.
Close-up of the ferry.
Just a refresher for our readers who don’t remember the topography of the Seattle area. LOTS of waterways and shoreline. I think the train came from the east at about Bellingham, then tracked along the water’s edge to Seattle.

We disembarked at the main Seattle station and were met by good friend Lin Wilson, who had rented a van so all of us could fit in. After a much welcome snack/lunch at a popular restaurant across the street, I parted company with my traveling companions and was picked up by Kathy Young, a friend I met through Back Country Horseman.

Kathy and I planned to spend a day and a half looking at the areas outside of Seattle, where my daughter Kristin (currently in San Diego) hopes to move. The others went downtown to Pike Place Market and Pioneer Square, then to dinner at Cutters. Kathy and I drove through a number of small towns southeast of Seattle.

My “Tiny House” AirBnB outside Seattle. (Reston). It was so cute and rustic, with a lake behind it and surrounded by towering firs.

I spent the evening in my tiny house on Zillow, looking for both houses and land to drive by the next day, just to get a feel for prices and locations. It was well worth the trip, and Kathy was generous with her time to show me all around. The nice thing about Seattle is that just 45 min out of downtown (unless it’s rush hour) you can be in very rural areas. There are a lot of small towns surrounded by farms (and LOADS of horses!). At the end of the day, after lunch at an old interesting restaurant in Tacoma, she drove me down to Olympia to meet up again with the traveling folks.
While I was “ real estating” that day, the others had headed for the beach…

Jerry Husted ( left) and our hosts, John and Lin Wilson ( right).
Anne Husted ( far left), John and Lin ( center), and Jerry (right)

Our time with John and Lin was fun; lots of conversations and good food (almost too much!) Their 10 acre farm is lovely and backs onto the huge Capital State Forest with lots of trails. They have horses and three personality-loaded Springer Spaniels.

Paddocks

The next day (Thursday) we went to Mt. St. Helens — but more about that tomorrow. To end today’s post, here’s a peek at where all these pictures and words are cobbled together…Blog Central.

This is Blog Central, in the observation car of the train (when we have cell signal anyway)

Glacier National Park

Sunday Oct .11

(Cell and internet service continues to be challenging, so these posts are a few days behind.)

Today we are at the northern border of the U.S….. close to our good neighbor, Canada.

In the dark of night, we arrived at Glacier National Park, at the Essex train station. The Superliner came to a slow, clackety stop, and we disembarked to find a warm van from the Isaak Walton lodge waiting for us. The lodge was a mere 300 yards from the train tracks, but it would have been a cold, dark long 300 yards. Rain was spitting down, the road was dirt, and there were no lights.

We were happy to see the warm lights of the lodge awaiting us. It’s a historic building which was originally built for railroad workers when the tracks were laid through the area. The whole property is all about trains, including the authentic caboose cabins you can reserve for lodging. And (for $400 a night) an elegantly remodeled train engine suite.

Unloading at the Isaak Walton Lodge
Izaak Walton Lobby

The next day we rented a car and drove around the Park. It reminded me of when my daughter Kristin and I drove the Pacific Coast Highway. I’d say “OOH OOH STOP, this must be the prettiest place and I need a picture.” And then we’d round the corner and there was another gorgeous view and around the corner another one… This was how Glacier National Park was.

It did start out a little dreary due to morning rain, but then the sun broke through and the views were astounding. Huge snow covered mountains, blue lakes, rushing streams, even a rainbow. Here are just a few of the pictures…

Behind those clouds is a mountain.
First sneaker in snow for 2020

Oh and one more thing about Glacier: they really like their bears.

And their moose.

Jerry particularly like this moose…
A touristy picture just to prove I was there. You’ll have to take my word about Edith, Anne and Jerry!

I haven’t mentioned the fun conversations and laughter all four of us have had together throughout the trip. Complaints turn into jokes, and stories keep us sitting long over meals. The company is good and the travel and sights are memorable. After many long months of being cooped up because of COVID, this almost feels like normal again.. What more could one ask for?

More tomorrow about our trip into Seattle.

Never-ending Plains, waiting for the Mountains

With absolutely no intent to diss North Dakota, I simply present some pictures of the scenery. Those of us used to mountains or even slight hills will not feel at home here. Flat. Very flat. And LOTS of corn and wheat. Maybe soybeans. Lots of BIG farm equipment. Trees only where there is a house that needs shade. A very different world.

Here’s North Dakotan farms
Here are North Dakota fields
Here are North Dakota grain silos

But we were lucky to stop in Minot (pronounced MY-KNOT), Which some said was the coldest place in the continental U.S. No one competes with Alaska on coldness so we do need to stick to the continental U.S.

However, upon further study (thank you, Wikipedia) it turns out there are other places – mostly in Montana and Idaho, which get colder. BUT. (Big BUT here) North Dakota IS the coldest state in the lower 48.

I knew you would want some cocktail party trivia, so there is it.

Anyway, if cold is what you want, move to North Dakota.

We were waiting for Montana, and without even realizing it, we crossed the state line into Montana. And what did we see?

Yes, this is Montana.

Looks amazingly like North Dakota, except the sun had come out by then.

“WHAT??” I exclaimed… “This is Montana??” Yup, apparently geological features like flat land don’t know anything about state borders, so eastern Montana was like the side yard of North Dakota.

Then, after about an hour of the Plains, we saw our first “kind of like a mountain” mountain.

A tease of a mountain.

Ah-Ha! I said.

This is where Montana mountains start.

The baby mountain grew slowly as we cruised past on our railway.

But first – a fall thunderstorm across the plains.

Then the bumps that wanted to be mountains.
And they grew and grew….
Til they turned into the peaks of Glacier National Park. (This was actually taken the next day, more about that later.)

We ended our day in the dark, getting off at Glacier National Park for a one-day stay at the Isaak Walton Inn.

And that’s tomorrow’s story!

Beer Capital and West

Sunday Oct.11

The post below was written 2 days ago, but we’ve not had WiFi in train or Glacier Nat Park, and almost no cell signal. So blogging everyday may not happen! Here’s the two-day old post!

So yesterday’s (Saturday’s) post had “Beer Capital” in the title — but I never got to it. Right now (Sunday at 10:30am CST) we are in North Dakota, but that will be another post! For the courageous readers who can read two posts in one day, or who want to know more about North Dakota.

Our second stop after leaving Chicago yesterday was Milwaukee. I didn’t get many good pictures, just one below. I would like to say it’s because we had too many “Milwaukee’s Best”’s, but we were tee-totaling until dinner. But – Full Disclosure – I was taking a nap.

Milwaukee River. Cheese Curd factory nearby (I’m sure)

After leaving Milwaukee, we headed further north in Wisconsin and into the country. The colors here are much further along. Getting a good photo from a train going 80mph is challenging, so here’s the best I could do with brilliant trees we passed close to the train:

Golds, yellows and reds in Wisconsin




MORE ABOUT OUR TRAIN. We are on the sleeping car which is the LAST one on a long train. The good and the bad news is that we have a LONG walk to the Dining Car. This may be the only exercise we get, however. Past the coach cars (Get out of our way, plebeians!), through the Lounge Car (no Lounge Lizards here) I call it the Observation car because it has windows both side and top.

Lounge car with people lounging

The staff is absolutely Army-strict about COVID rules. One announcement said if you don’t wear a mask, you will be “removed from” the train (along with the smokers.). I wonder if they stop the train first before they throw you off?

Luckily, since we have private sleeping rooms, we can remove our masks in there. WHEW! Here are pictures of our tiny room (Those of you who want to live in a Tiny House, try an Amtrak sleeping room before you plunk down your deposit!) One bed is the lower “couch” and the second bed drops down from above. The porters get it all set up for you. We have had wonderful, helpful porters. Courtney and O.C.

Sink area with mirrors..
Seating area on left. Lower is one bed and above this (out of picture) is second bed that drops down.

Finally, here are some pics of our train, a SUPERLINER (woo woo!) which is 2 levels and we are on the top level.

Jerry chatting with our concierge, Courtney

The route we are on is called the Empire Builder. I’m not sure of the connection of that name to our route; perhaps because it was oe of the first routes to carry railroad workers to build the connecting lines to the West Coast? But I don’t know that.. haven’t done my research!

We haven’t hit the high points yet…

OK, that’s all for now.

Next post – North Dakota!!! You’ll be thrilled, trust me. (I’ve got some swamp land in Florida to sell too, while you are in the trusting state of mind.)

The Most Exotic Train Trip

(aka the Marigold Hotel for those movie buffs)

Chicago River with kayakers

This is my first entry for our train trip from Chicago to Glacier Nat Park to Seattle to San Francisco to Denver and back. WHEW!

CAVEAT ON BLOGGING THIS TRIP: cell and WiFi on the train are spotty and slow! So posts may come late, or with a few days rolled together

Travelers on the trip: Edith Conyers, her sister Anne and Anne’s husband Jerry. And me.

2:15 Saturday October 10th. We’re catching our Amtrak train in Chicago, a 6 hour drive from Kentucky. We arrived yesterday so we had time this morning to explore the COVID19-impaired city.
Restaurants closed, masks worn outside as well as inside, not much traffic – well not much on Saturday, but coming in Friday afternoon on the freeways was challenging.

Breakfast options were limited, and this is where we ended up. Do you recognize the pink and white wrappers? Yup, good ol’ Dunkin Donuts.

But it got much better. Seriously. The day was sunny and warm, so Jerry , Edith and I headed for Lake Michigan while Anne relaxed in the hotel room.

We went through Millenium Park and then headed for the Lake. Pretty with sapphire green water and LOTS of boats.

Mango & Lime Marguerita…,




We then veered away from the lake onto the River Trail… lots of families and runners on the “trail” (a wide concrete walkway right along the river with eateries and a few shops.)

But it was hot and we had walked a long way, so we stopped for something to drink.


And it sure was good we had had an adult beverage because right around the corner was…

In all its glory…..

(no it’s not a campaign sign)

More Trump… best ever building in the world in all of history forever and forever (tweeted by His Majesty of course)

OK I’m going to stop for now. Tomorrow we have all of Wisconsin to cover and probably a little Montana as our silver chariot races through the darkness westward.

Here are a few more city pictures:

View from our hotel room
There’s Jerry on the right.