Sunday, January 31, 2010


When television leapt into our living rooms and found a permanent audience, it gradually changed the news as we knew it.
President Eisenhower's every golf stroke was news. We saw him repeatedly, every angle of his bald head, every short walk on the White House lawn; Maime's hats and silver ware. They told us everything but how often he pooped.
It got worse from there.
Being on the road removes you somewhat from the day-to-day, hour-to-hour sensationalism. I can mourn our collectively twisted values from afar-each party racing to see who can raise the most money in the shortest amount of time. It reminds me of kids seeing who can spit the watermelon seeds the farthest. Except, seed spitters do no harm.
Our elected officials probably mean when well when they go to Washington. Then, its the culture of the beltway to lower your degree of intelligence or think of personal gain instead of governance as an honorable institution. The whole media circus disgusts me and our "celebrity" elected officials makes us look cheap in the eyes of the world with their denials, affairs, lies, uncivil manners and serving moneyed interests instead of the people who work and live in this country.
I'm on a rant because I just saw a picture of our wonderful elected officials playing solitaire and getting the latest sports scores on their computers during a presentation on the senate floor. I didn't check it with snopes to be sure the screens weren't altered, but my gut feeling is, that is what they do. If I play solitaire during work hours, I would get fired.

My answer is this poem:

Watch out! We will be heard,
The whole world's in trouble
And you just scratch your beard,
Or play games on your computer
As if you hadn't heard.

Watch out! We're stupid you think?
We scorn the way you use our money,
From hard choices, we do not shrink,
Liars, cheats, corrupted creeps,
Come election, fear US, you prinks.

Watch out! We plan to fight,
We'll force upon you common sense,
Ignore your celebrity crap,
And reverse our convoluted laws,
Until our future again looks right.

Where are you Will Rogers when we need you?

Saturday, January 30, 2010


We spent the night in Luckenbach buffeted by heavy winds and rain. Lightening flashed, the thunder exploded around us til' we wondered if we would be a burned cinder sitting in the middle of a lake in the morning.
Headed for Austin, we pass through the hill country where L.B.J was born, raised and buried on the homestead his grandfather settled in the 1800's . The LBJ ranch is now the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park which sits across the Pedernales River from his grandfather's homestead and the Johnson family home where Ladybird and Lyndon lived and raised their two girls.

This is one of the bridges we tourists cross over. It was just at flood stage and bitterly cold when we arrived at the Visitors Center which had been struck by lightening and had no usable restrooms when we arrived.

But this is the way the Johnson family crossed the river from the ranch to their house, on the underwater road above. Johnson loved taking newsmen and visitors for a ride without warning them they'd be traveling underwater for a short distance.
The woman in his Lincoln appears to be holding on for dear life.
Johnson and Lady Bird in their 1934 Ford Phaeton. The road was actually pretty dry at certain times of year. He also owned a German made Amphicar that you could drive into the water. It had little propellers on it. It is on display along with other Johnson owned cars.

This homely old rocker along with several others for guests, sits on the porch of the Johnson home. Its a modest house, lovingly used and faithfully kept as the Johnson's lived in it. No pictures were allowed inside, but the house exudes warmth, and family, with a lot of snapshots of the kids and grandkids in a big montage, just like you or I might have on our kitchen wall.
The visitor centers shows a film of Johnson giving a tour and history of his beloved ranch for a CBS Documentary. The cane in the case below was made of matchsticks by an inmate in a Tennessee prison. But, the best display had me howling with laughter as I read letters written to the President. Abbreviated samples:

Dear President Johnson-
My husband's roofing busines has gone to pot, the car blew up, the baby's teething, the sitter didn't show, I've got no money for a writing course. I'm sorry to ditch you, but maybe the Republicans might be better when all you do is worry about Fulbright and that measly war...

...Now I ask you Mr. President couldn't you be more considerate? Were all those fireworks for King Faisal necessary when I have 293 kids on a field trip staying at a hotel. How would you like it if 293 kids woke you up?...

Letter writers complained about him interrupting their favorite shows, his misuse of English, his airplane holding up air traffic. But the worst was a beleaugered man who was held up in road traffic because Lady Bird was planting a tree. What a fun visit.

Also on the LBJ homestead is the Western Whitehouse and another old homestead that is being maintained by the park service as a working homestead with docents in period costumes.

Smoking sausage and feeding the kitchen range.

The tour costs a dollar, by the way.

Friday, January 29, 2010


Luckenbach, Texas is as 'down home' as you can get in the West. We stopped to hear Jimmy Lee Jones play his guitar and sing for tips in the afternoon. The weather was rain off and on and we wondered whether anyone would show up. I guess we underestimated this bump in the road made famous in song by Waylon Jennings in 1977. Thay do-o-o- come! (I tried to write that with a Texas drawl, but I don't know how to do it.)
Jimmy Lee sang a song called Mary. He told me she lived in California and he was sorry he ever let her go. He left a C.D. with his phone number on it the last time he was in California, but she didn't call. I told him, I would have called. He is quite good, most of his music is original. Willie Nelson calls him Texas' best kept secret. Jimmy calls himself, the no hit singer.
In the evening, Scooter Pierce, a tenor crooned, "oh whiskey you are a friend of mine..." She admitted her voice has been graveled by whiskey and smokes. Her range may have been limited, but she is strong singer, interesting to watch and hear. Connie, the woman on the left, was once a part of the same Gypsy Cowgirls singing group and joined in with and without guitar, whenever she felt inclined, as did a number of other male patrons around the bar. Wanna be pickers and singers jammed with the featured players whenever they felt the notion. There was fun without pretension. No one here is looking for or expecting fame. They just enjoy doing what they like.

The walls around the place are filled with fun stuff. Behind the bar a sign declares If you are drinking to forget, pay in advance.
Luckenbach was founded in 1849. Its just a few buildings with three houses and a combination general store, Post Office and bar. The store still has merchandise from long ago mingling with sunglasses, t-shirts and C.D's. Lots of beer goes through this little bar. And a dance hall on the same property has a dance on Saturday nights. The Post Office officially closed in 1971.

I'm crazy about chickens. I've had chickens for most of my life and this ole' rooster, along with a bunch of others was running around in the yard. I had to take his picture. If I was able to, I'd have taken him home.
We met a guy in the bar named Walt who worked the Saudi oil fields for 26 years. Earned a gob of money. He is a self proclaimed poet and recited several during the afternoon and evening. Fun stuff. He said, he could move anywhere in the world, but he just can't get away from Luckenbach.
Jim doesn't often wear anything but sweats, but I got him in his favorite western gear for Luckenback. Guess we have to come back more often

Thursday, January 28, 2010


You don't have to be in a war to know its grisly. Yesterday, we returned to the Pacific War Museum and spent 4 1/2 hours fighting our country's war with Japan, the most vivid history lesson I've ever experienced.
I don't remember reading who designed and built this superior facility next to the Nimitz building. It is incomparable.
The building holds three full sized planes, a submarine, jeeps, tanks, a Japanese mini-sub, and Japanese weapons as well as our own huge howitzers. It interprets and portrays every battle fought in the pacific from the smallest atoll to the Japanese Mainland. The well prepared Japanese were a formidable enemy fought with troops from all over the world on numerous fronts.

The seeds of war were determined by events in Japan and China and Korea before America ever got involved.
The historical background of China, her failure to move away from old empirical ways, prompted the Japanese to see China as weak-an opportunity for expansion. They took Manchuria, then pushed deep into China. Then Korea, Burma, Thailand, Guam, the Philippines and every Pacific Island within their reach. Weak Americans sitting in Pearl Harbor were in the way of Japanese plans and could not be ignored.

First, the museum educates you with the history of Asian conflicts in three exhibits before you ever enter Pearl Harbor. The names, Corregidor, Bataan, Coral Sea, Midway, Guadalcanal, Aleutian Islands, New Guinea, the Solomons, Marianas, Leyte, Tarawa, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, Okinawa..mostly boys lost their lives on Islands they, nor their parents had ever heard of before. The 33 war rooms are chillingly real.

The rooms hold life sized artifacts with life sized and bigger than life sized pictures on every wall.
The history of each event is pictured and written. The battles are explained by the men who lived to tell them. The tank above has taken a fatal hit. The Austrailian soldier on the screen above explains his escape and that of his buddies. He lost a leg to that strike.
Besides the pictorial explanation, each war room is filled with the sounds of battle from a table sized screen that depicts the strategy of each battle, the movement of ships, the assault on beach heads, the bombers deployed. The various decisions and movements of men from the Japanese Generals and Admirals, sometimes in their own voices, as well as the counter moves and attacks by American Generals and Admirals.
Then when you read the step by step maneuvers on the walls, it is clear and easily understood.

In the ocean room you are warned the doors will not reopen for 9 minutes as they close behind you. You are facing a submarine with lighting that gives the affect of being underwater making me feel disoriented and unsteady on my feet. Four screens, two on either side of the sub's cone, make you part of the drama as the sub prepares to drop depth charges and sustains attacks from above. Newsreels report the progress of the war. When the lights go back on, you can read the walls. It gave me the chills.
All through the war, the other world events, the time line for Germany's Invasion of Europe, Amelia Earharts fatal flight, the importation of Bracero's to work the fields while women went to work in the factories, rationing, the amazing increase in shipbuilding, inventing better rubber, and so on were incorporated into the events. The picture above was the first published image of American dead. Previously, photos and news reels were censored.
The heart rending story of the Sullivan Brothers; the Sullivan daughter reading her mother's letter to President Roosevelt to comfirm whether the rumors of the death of her five sons was true or not. The army held off as long as possible, hoping to find one of them a survivor. It was not to be.
The changes that took place in American life as everyone hooked into the war effort. In some cases tent cities housed some of the 1/2 million people who moved from farms and small towns to cities for work in the war industry.

Women smashed lights in Seattle when businesses failed to obey a blackout; women wrapped bandages to send to our boys; black men and women got decent jobs for the first time and still, they had to tolerate getting paid less than their white counterparts. (Harry Truman integrated the armed services, a move that helped inch Civil Rights along.)

The assault on Japan's Mainland, the decision to use the atom bomb...all vividly real. The emotional moment of the Japanese signing an unconditional surrender. You step back out into the real world in awe of what you just witnessed. This is a living museum.
Don't miss it. Fredricksburg is located about 90 miles west of Austin.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


In war, ordinary men become heroes. To give your life for your country, to put yourself in harms way for others, is heroic.
We find ourselves in Fredricksburg, Texas where one of the best WWII Museums in the U.S. surrounds the accomplishments of Admiral Nimitz who was born here. He was a modest man, from a small community who gave up his high school education to study for entrance into Annapolis. He rose to great heights in the Navy and was admired by his peers and the enlisted men as well. He was against the bomb; he always wanted peace before killing.
He refused lucrative jobs after his retirement from the Navy and chose to serve his country in other ways. Alameda County, CA has a freeway named for him and I always wondered about this man's accomplishments. Now I know.
This unusual looking building was the Nimitz family hotel that is now part of the National WWII Museum complex. This is a thorough and excellent presentation of his career and the war. He was raised here by his mother and grandparents. His father died when he was 5 months old. It takes about 5 hours to get through the exhibits in the 33,000 square foot complex.
Early in his career, midshipmen Nimitz met Heihachiro Togo and was very impressed with the Japanese leader. In the end, he was part of the surrender group and signed the papers with the Japanese on behalf of the United States.
In the Presidents Plaza, I couldn't help but admire Dwight Eisenhower's statement about war: "I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its stupidity." It is an ugly truth that the past indicates war is a constant among tribes, communities and nations and always will be.
Nimitz instructed that all men who served under him and gave their lives for us be remembered on this memory wall. It is in reality many walls that stretch for a block. It also encloses a peace garden built by the Japanese after the war.
The town is historic and quaint with many wonderful old buildings and shops. We found people here friendly and fun. Today we expect to taste some authentic, old style German food at Lindenbaums.
They have a brewpub here where I got to sip my favorite porter while Jim tasted that weak looking little glass of "horse piss." Well, not everyone is perfect.


Hanging in my memory are vague stories I read about Judge Roy Bean, the Hanging Judge of Texas. As we pulled the motor home into Langtry, Texas, (iffen ya all don't know,) that's Bean country. Jim remarked, "Now if ole' Roy was alive, we wouldn't even be allowed to enter this town."

Langtry is just a fallen down spot along the highway, except for the legend of Roy Bean. Larger than life, he has kept this place going long after his death in 1903. A beautiful new building, his preserved house and saloon, a botanical garden and windmill pull in such as we to enjoy one of the wild west's enduring characters. Roy was actually a Justice of the Peace in this lawless area. An ad writer from San Antonio sensationalized the job for his readers even then. Roy was the law by fear as much as anything else. He often threatened to hang people, but never did. The old hanging tree in the middle of town, dead now, was really the spot where the law breaker was tied up.

Bean proclaimed himself the only law West of the Pecos and he was for many miles around.
He held court in this saloon. If enough men were around, the fine might include a round of drinks for all present. Since there was no jail in Langtry, which Bean claimed he named after the famous English singing beauty Lillie Langtry, all culprits were tied to a tree until their "trial". All miscreants were fined since he couldn't sentence them to jail.

By dint of his personality, he kept a semblance of control over a lawless area during the building of the railroads at the confluence of the Rio Grande and Pecos Rivers. And his control wasn't exactly the type written in the law books, though he patted down an old law book now and again and claimed it would make a good fire starter.
One dead man was brought to him after being shot. Bean emptied his pockets of a knife and $41 dollars and proclaimed, that his crime was carrying a concealed weapon and he fined him $41. He confiscated the knife and the money on the spot.
A ranger brought him a couple of guys for stealing. Bean ordered him to let them go proclaiming they're both broke and no good to us anyway.
In another instance, a man sat before Bean with a lawyer. He said, "In a minute I'm going to find this man guilty and have him hung." He turned to his bartender and said, "If I order you to hang this man would you do it?" The bartender said he would. Then, he asked, "If I order you to hang his lawyer too, would you do it?" The bartender agreed he would. "Now, lets get on with this case." They left town as fast as they could.
He often ignored the law because it was impossible to enforce it in the wilds of Texas.
His love for Lillie Langtry was another story. Guess ya all gotta visit the Texas Visitors Center at Langtry. Its well worth the stop.

Monday, January 25, 2010


We rode through 150 miles of repetitive Texas, with
three small desert towns, Marfa, Presidio and Lajitas. There was nothing between them but an occasional falling down shack and cactus. In that last stretch, we saw naught but an unmanned satellite blimp, tethered to a building watching for illegals. I was tempted to get up on a tall cactus and pirouette just to change their scene.
Here people are rich in solitude. And tough. You had to be tough to survive. Many didn't.
From the park entrance it was yet another 35 to the Cottonwood Campground nearest the great Elena Canyon scoured by millions of years of the mighty Rio Grande, pushing its way south through the cracks in the fortress known as the Chisos Mountains.

Its winter here and our first day was 83 degrees, most likely unusual weather. We watched the javalinas play, and did some bird watching. Many northern birds winter here. It seemed out of place to see cardinals, their red feathers flashing, in the dry river rushes.

This coyote was unafraid of humans.
The following day, cooler at 67, we hiked the Elena Canyon to a point where no passage was possible.

The sheer, 1500 foot walls, stretch on either side of this gap for miles between the U.S. side and Mexico.
Our hike began up this switchback cemented path that quickly changed to natural rock at about the half way mark.
We stopped to rest and I had to wiggle my toes in the great Rio Grande.

This vast park, contains 800,000 acres and stretches over two time zones. Sheer river canyons, rushing wild rivers, breathtaking mountain vistas, sculpted mesas and desert lowlands comprise this unique wilderness that borders Mexico.

We also hiked to a special place on the river bank to look at the Mexican town of Santa Elena, across from us. From his last visit in 1997, Jim remembered this friendly border crossing, where no customs or immigration services were necessary. You hiked to the bank and for a couple of dollars a Mexican with a row boat would take you to Santa Elena where you could have lunch, or frequent a cantina for a couple hours of drinks and music, then be rowed back to the park. That charming experience was forever lost after 911.

We drove East out of the park for more views, but it really begs a week, at minimum, to appreciate what this special park has to offer.

Friday, January 22, 2010


I've been in the jaws of the West Texas desert visiting Big Bend National Park. Forgive my lack of continuity as I back step to show you this wonderful picture Simcha Saul took of the alms giving that takes place every morning in Thailand. I must correct the age of a starting Buddha apprentice from age 10 to age 8.

Our visit is ending; we fly from Chaing Mai and return to Krung Thep Mahanakon, the City of Angels, or Bangkok as it is now known.
Images of elephants drum through my head as we visit the Grand Palace in this Capital City. Here the doorways are high enough to admit both king and beast. An elephant house sits on the grounds for the cleaning and preparation of the Kings ride, or, in the old days, a call to war. In one battle, the king was being bested and his Queen, astride her own elephant, intervened and was killed by the enemy king from his elephant. He was so demoralized by what he had done, he conceded the war to Thailand.
Here mom Susan and daughter Sheila pose before the giant golden Cheji in the distance on the grounds of the Grand Palace.
One of many guardians seen at temples. This fellow guards the Emerald Buddha Monastery which is now the permanent place for the most revered Buddha in Thailand. (No photos allowed.) The Buddha was found in a Stupa covered in plaster, long after a war, where it was hidden from the looting enemy. It is really carved of jade, but the abbot who found it thought it was emerald and so it is still named. It was taken to Laos by a king who returned to his former country to follow his royal Laotian father. It remained outside the country for 226 years before the Thais got it back in about 1778. This garden appeared to be one of giant bonsai, of course, an impossibility.

What can one say of such beauty? Above, a close up of the palace roof with all its glitter and bling.
On the grounds is a complete yard sized replica of Ankor Wat; a weapons and crown museum; a repository for royals ashes, other than kings. Building after building beguiles and blinds you with its beauty and history.

After we returned from the Grand Palace, Adria and I spent our afternoon "free time" at a fish spa. Having our feet nibbled by tiny fish, one of my most memorable experiences from Thailand, and Adria's too, we questioned later whether it was a healthy thing to do or not? The fish eat the dead skin off your feet and legs. We had a manicure, pedicure and then Adria treated herself to a final foot massage. She raved about it. The Thais are experts when it comes to massage.

And later that evening, our farewell cruise aboard a beautiful wooden rice barge. Each of us wore something we'd gotten in Thailand.

And Simcha gifted us with this last view of the Grand Palace from our rice barge as we floated together down the river for the last time.


After last nights magic, sending our balloons aloft to wish away bad luck, we got up before dawn to take part in an alms giving ceremony that occurs every day.
Panu told us some of the many, (over 200) rules a monk must obey to become a monk. He may learn them all but to stay a monk and remember them all is...well, its a mystery. And their clothing is a mystery, too. Just a thin looking wrap?
He explained that monks cannot cook, they must not keep leftover food, and they cannot ask for food. What they do is set out in the early morning with their brass pots and walk (barefoot) a certain route of about two miles. They do not solicit or beg. They may not make eye contact. But if someone calls to them, they may stop and allow food to be placed in their pot. It seems strange to us but it is the inscrutable, mellow, Thai way of Buddha. There is a lot of wais, as food changes hands.
The Thai take care of their monks and the monks engage the people to a better life through Buddha. A fair exchange. A young boy may be an apprentice at age 10. He gets three meals a day. The adult monks eat two. At the end of the day, any leftover food is given to whoever comes to the temple and is hungry. The poor and the indigent are fed. Its a type of social welfare system in a sense.
As a women, I know that if I even brush up against his clothing he must do three days worth of penance, so, of course, we women keep our distance.
After the giving of alms, the mystery unfolded as this monk consented to have a chat with us. He showed us how his clothing was wrapped. He wears a simple one piece "gym" suit of yellow, with a pocket in it, under his saffron robe.
He demonstrates the folding of this garment so that it can be loose when it is hot, and cover up to the neck when it is cold.
Simcha shot this photo of a forest monk walking down the street. They dress in brown and sage. He can change and become a city monk if there is room at a city temple for his services.

After our visit with the monk and his library, the bus took us up a steep and winding road to the top of a distant mountain where a very famous temple, Wat Phratat Doe Suthep sits. As we were unloading from the bus to take the funnicular to the temple, the bus began rolling down the steep hill. We watched helplessly as the attendant attempted to jump back onto the bus with the driver. Then a curve...we could hear the screams of people in the path of the bus but see nothing.
My grandson, Mason, Wendy Aisley, Roberta Berman and Sy Shames were still on board. In fact, Wendy had gotten off the bus and jumped back on because she had forgotten something.
We stayed, fretting, worried about the worst possible event, that of the bus crashing headlong down the mountain and over the edge.
Its hard to judge how long before we got word that all were safe. When our shaken friends were at last with us, we learned that the brakes had failed. Wirach, the attendant, managed to get aboard the run-away bus on his second attempt and held Wendy, preventing her from falling out the open door of the bus. Chai, the driver had two options, two places to turn. The street was filled with people. The first turn-off was loaded with other tourists. The second lot, his last chance, he deliberately hit parked motorcycles and cars, coming to a stop on top of a car that then crashed into a second car. The bus nearly tipped twice before he brought the run-away to a stop. No one was injured...badly. Wendy, with adrenaline running, insisted her ankle was fine. It wasn't until the next day that her ankles swelled and she had to be looked at by a doctor.
The door was completely ripped off.
The bus came to rest on this car. The woman driving it accepted a ride home from us in the new bus the company delivered to the mountain top. (The bus company is contracted by OAT.) We explained that the bus driver and attendant were heroes. Our plucky friends were shaken but quite calm and brave about their scare.
We joined the multitudes as they burned incense and rang the bells of every tone. But somehow, our heart wasn't into the rest of the tour. We calmed down enough have tea and cookies at a famous jade place. Back at our hotel, the executives of OAT listened to our story of the events. And, late, we went in two vans to our home hosted dinner.

But, we know, it would have been worse if we hadn't sent our bad luck aloft, aloft, aloft and far away in the magical balloon.

(NOTE: Jim and I are in the vast, south west desert area of Texas, headed for Big Bend National Park, and our signal is unreliable. In fact, I'm expecting more pictures from Simca, all of the above are his, and I've been unable to get in all of my emails today.)