Family Visit

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We had the best holiday in a long time, with all our girls coming to Peru. Lillian and Neil came from Champaign, IL, Lyra from Los Angeles, and Amanda and Jim from Los Angeles. It wasn’t as logistically awful as it could have been, with one group arriving on the Friday night before Christmas and the others the next evening. It was the same with their eventual departures, one group leaving at midnight, the other at noon the next day, a couple of days after New Years.

We promised not to make plans and that turned out to be a wise decision. All five have jobs that keep them busy, they would quickly have been exhausted by spending their vacation traveling and sightseeing. We kept the visit local, starting with a visit to the Barranca market for pre-Christmas food shopping. Everyone got to request their favorite Peruvian foods to build menus. We had baby pig on Christmas Eve, beef filet on Christmas Day, and in the following days we ate a big flounder, duck breast, and home made tacu tacu.

Our visitors went out for lunch to taste ceviche up and down the beach, agreeing that El Cangrejo at the far end of the beach had the best. There wasn’t time to visit all the restaurants, during the summer there are a dozen places that open up.

Every day we stroll to the opposite end of the beach and back, taking the dog if there aren’t big crowds, and often one or more of our group would accompany us. It’s a chance to stretch, admire the waves, and chat. A relaxing part of the morning.

Every member of the group cooks, and each one contributed to the menu. In the evenings, all five guests took turns as sous chef with Jonathan, peeling, chopping, and making sauces. On Christmas and New Years some personal specialties emerged, like Lillian’s buche de noel, Neil’s caramelized onions, and Jim’s Vietnamese sauce for pork. When we asked for help making snacks for our New Years Eve gathering on the front porch, Amanda and Lillian made pate a choux (mini creampuffs), and filled some with a savory filling (cream cheese and those caramelized onions) and others with a sweet filling (chocolate mousse). Lyra made way for the others, claiming that despite being an excellent cook (oh, those cupcakes!) in this crowd she was the third-best baker. Jonathan, as the fourth best baker, or maybe the fifth, made pannetone, the best I’ve every eaten, with bits of his home made candied orange peel, dried blueberries and cranberries plumped in rum.

Food wasn’t the only theme, there was the beach and ocean. Some days we set up beach umbrellas and chairs right in front of the house. Other days, just a beach blanket for towels and sandals. Those in the mood would walk straight out to the water. The boogie boards got good use.

We took two field trips to visit other beaches. The Albufera de Medio Mundo is a coastal lagoon less than and hour’s drive south of us that we have visited with the girls regularly since we first discovered it more than ten years ago. Coastal lagoons are uncommon in our area, filled with brackish water, they are home to a variety of shorebirds and are visited by migrating birds all year long. Reeds that grow around the edge of the lagoon are harvested to make mats and baskets, a craft that is at least 5000 years old in this region. The strip of dunes and beach that separates the lagoon from the ocean is where many shorebirds nest. There is often good beach combing along the ocean side of Medio Mundo, too, and we set up our umbrellas and chairs overlooking the ocean. A long stroll in one direction or the other is always a pleasure. Eventually, though, the heat and sun drive us back to the car and home.

The furthest we got from our base in Barranca was Tuquillo Beach, a lovely spot north of Huarmey. It was almost two hours of driving, but the Panamerican highway is relatively empty north of Barranca. Anyone who tolerates reading in the car, or napping, passed the time easily.

Tuquillo is a place where two small bays sit side by side, like two U’s joined in the middle. The car park is in the center. We chose the slightly more exposed, less crowded side, and enjoyed the water and walking along the shore. A spur of headland separates the two bays so Amanda and Jim went off to see what kind of marine creatures could be found sticking to the rocks. When they eventually returned, she brought news that there was an area of beach glass in the gravelly inlets on the edge of the hill. We all went to have a look and each returned with a small handful of beach glass. Most of it ended up in my jewelry workshop.

Amanda surprised me even more when we went to the north end of our beach to look at the sea creatures on the rocks. Not only did we find a lot of sea stars and other critters, we found beach glass. This is just a few hundred yards from home! I realize that I rarely walk that far down the beach onto the rocks. Now I’ll have to make it a regular stop, just to keep up with what has washed up. I found a small piece of blue glass, one of the uncommon colors.

During the times of day we were avoiding the sun everyone had time to read, rest, stretch on the impromptu yoga mats (blankets), or work on a jigsaw puzzle. Amanda received a puzzle of a Frank Stella painting that she and Neil put together in a matter of days. I happened to have a second puzzle that had been sitting around for a long time, probably because it was 2000 pieces. Everyone worked on this big one, and by the time we left for Lima on the homeward trip, there were only a handful of pieces missing. I finished it off the day we returned from sending them off.

Everyone brought their skills to the party, too. Jim nailed the fabric backing onto the loveseat where the tacking was giving out. Neil consulted on the wifi system, though it doesn’t look like we would benefit from a mesh upgrade. Lillian reset our connection to the printer, and fixed Jim’s constant resetting after a messed up update. She also made the Christmas squid. Amanda spent her down time knitting, turning out half a hat while she was with us. Jonathan ordered a pair of throwing axes after seeing pictures of an axe throwing adventure and set up an axe-throwing target in the back yard. Lyra threw axes most every day. The group enjoyed trying it out, but Lyra became a pro.

We found a few other games to try. Beach paddle ball suffered from a dead tennis ball and we’ve yet to replace it. Darts had its moment, though its a good thing the shafts and feathers are easily replaceable. We had a rip roaring game of Yahtzee. It’s become something of a family tradition, full of shouts encouragement and chants of “Yaht-zee, Yaht-zee” on that last roll.

We watched the sunset from the front porch most nights, each person adding a chair as they emerged from the house. Jonathan and I play gin, and we played round robin with each new challenger playing the winner of the previous hand. Neighbors sometimes stopped to say hello and many, many pictures of the sunset were taken.

New Years Eve and New Years Day (see previous post) were followed by one last relaxing day with no new plans or destinations. We left for Lima in two vehicles, loading the luggage in our car with a few passengers and the rest in another car that we rented. We arrived in Lima without trouble and proceeded to the craft market to let the group complete their gift shopping. On the way to the hotel we stopped at the grocery store for candy for office candy dishes, and a few odds and ends.

Jonathan planned a big ending to the visit by booking us a table at Maido, one of Lima’s best restaurants. Our group of seven had to have a private room and we missed the people watching that good restaurants provide, but the food was excellent, start to finish. We began at 7:30pm and might have gone on for dessert had it not been time for Lillian and Neil to head to the airport at 10:00. At least they didn’t need airline food on their overnight flight to Houston.

The next morning, Lyra, Amanda and Jim set off for the airport at 9:00 am, arrived around ten, and by the time they stood in all the lines, they managed to squeeze in five minutes of shopping to use up their last soles before filing right onto the plane to LA. By the end of Saturday, all of our five were home again. (We miss them.) It was a wonderful holiday.

A New Years Day at the beach

Half the world celebrates Christmas and the New Year in the summer, right after the longest day of the year. Here in Barranca, we’re close enough to the equator that the longest day is only about 30 minutes longer than the shortest, and we still celebrate, watching the sunset from the front porch, enjoying the afterglow on the clouds.

Christmas consists of a few decorations and a family dinner, usually timed to allow the family as much time as possible on the beach. Gift-giving is private, and not nearly as extensive or elaborate as in the US. Our great gift was having our children with us. We tried to stick to a humorous gift and a few stocking stuffers. We all had packages to open.

We shared a few Christmas cookies with our neighbors and enjoyed delicious home made peanut butter made by a young relative of our neighbor. We hope she goes into business because we would be regulars. We tasted Spanish wine from our friend who works for Iberia Airlines.

We planned a get together with neighbors on our adjacent front porches and invited everyone we ran into. Not a big party, but fun, a chance to catch up with those recently returned to their summer places as the weather has made the beach attractive.

When we first spent New Year’s Eve in Peru, in 2006, we discovered that most people stay at home until midnight when they step outdoors to light fireworks and start dinner. After that, young people go partying until morning. We prefer to celebrate while trying to stay awake until midnight. This year it was easy, surrounded by family and neighbors. The young boys present had various glowing things, like bracelets, gloves, and sticks. Sparklers came out just before midnight and then fireworks started going off all along the beach.

There was a big investment in fireworks, and full size twirling and booming fireworks went off overhead for at least ten minutes. It was a lot of fun to see, first one group, then the next exploding. A champagne toast circulated, we shared good wishes, and by the time the fireworks ended there was nothing left but a few olives and rapidly deflating yellow balloons. Yellow is the color of good luck and the New Year in Peru. We all went home happy and content with the friendship of our neighbors.

A certain amount of noise comes with beachfront living, and though we enjoyed the fireworks on New Year’s Eve, the most sleep-deprived night was Dec. 30, apparently designated Late Party Night. After the fireworks at midnight, the music continued until 6 am, punctuated by the smell of wood smoke from the campfires of those camping on the beach. Neither the camping nor fires are allowed, but the authorities were focused elsewhere, and fortunately for us, most campers were packed up and gone by breakfast time on January first.

Tiny girl fascinated by drummers.

New Year’s morning was a big surprise. We went for a walk just to gawk at the crowds. The beach was more crowded than we’ve ever seen, with every beach umbrella and beach chair that could be packed onto the beach. There were hundreds of umbrellas, right down to the water line and I wondered where everyone would go when the tide came in. People stood in the shallows or swam in the waves. As usual, half the children squealed with delight while the other half tried to stay as far from the water as possible, clinging to their parents to avoid getting dipped.

Hot dogs (perros calientes), food truck, bar, something for everyone.

Every restaurant along the beach was packed, and a few spontaneous storefront dining rooms opened for the day. Traffic was so heavy that turning the street one way wasn’t enough, and the traffic police spent the day sweating under their black uniforms trying to get cars to move. There was nowhere left to park and I was grateful that we didn’t need to go anywhere, since our driveway was blocked by visitors from early morning to evening.

We know there are thousands of people on the beach for New Year’s Day in Lima. Every year it’s on the front page of El Comercio on Jan. 2. We didn’t expect the crowds to grow so big in Barranca. Maybe that’s progress. The trash collectors, street cleaners, and beach cleaners are the unsung heroes of the holidays, making it safe to return to the beach the day after. The cleaners were on duty before dawn on Jan. 1, and spent a long time cleaning up the mess left by revelers, who were busy making a mess all over again by the time the last of the previous day’s leftovers were being swept up.

While all the New Year’s Day beach fun was taking place, we mostly retreated to our patio,

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heading out long enough for a swim, but also sleeping off our late night, playing darts, throwing axes,

and working on the 2000 piece jigsaw puzzle that is virtually complete after this crowd worked it over. I put in the final 30 pieces or so after we returned from dropping our visitors at the airport..

It was quite a holiday.

Holiday Time at the beach

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It’s almost Christmas and we’ve been watching the neighborhood get ready for the holidays. Decorations are not that extensive, though the city has installed a tableau including Santa along one street, and there’s a Christmas tree on the beach. Until the last weekend before Christmas there wasn’t much decoration. On the weekend, though, booths selling toys, panettone, and fruit wine set up along a long stretch of downtown street. On the Monday before Christmas the stalls were in high gear offering everything pink, everything dinosaur and superhero themed. The food market was crowded and the grocery store was mobbed.

Outside the main food market, holiday specialties were on offer, including live guinea pigs, and turkeys, killed and plucked while you wait. We watched a young man try to get a live turkey to stand on a scale so that he could calculate the price (it was 8 kilos at s/. 12 per kilo). The turkey didn’t pay any attention to his entreaties to hold still….

We did our last shopping on the 23rd, enjoying the guy singing in the market, the stalls selling decorations, and the “fair” selling all kinds of toys.

We are enjoying the holiday now that our family has arrived. Yesterday they all went out to eat ceviche at El Cangrejo restaurant, where they found a lady Santa and a Santa Crab. Why not!

It is a lot of fun to have our children around. They are helping make all kinds of delicious things to eat, like the buche de noel that Lillian and I made.

Jonathan baked his own panettone. Though these yeast breads originated in Italy, they are extremely popular in Peru and we have never much liked the flavors. This year Jonathan decided to bake his own and on Christmas Eve we’ll find out whether we like it.

Where to buy the stable for all your Christmas figurines.

I’ve accumulated a lot of Christmas figurines. Technically, these are part of a “nacimiento” or creche, or Nativity scene. I like all the animals, and this year decided to go all out and get a stable to stage my scene. At this time of year there are stores that stock the prefab stables, so I picked out a good one and filled it up right away.

Our family Christmas scene

We bought a Norfolk pine for a Christmas tree because we have two of these in the back yard already. After the holidays we will plant it. It’s on the skinny side, and doesn’t matter very much that decorations are scanty.

We are ready for the holidays! Happy Winter Solstice, Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy New Year!

Change is coming to the Beach

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Christmas is not just a major holiday in Peru, it kicks off the summer vacation season. Schools let out the week before Christmas and stay closed until March first. Families take beach holidays. Seaside businesses make most of their annual income between Christmas and Easter. This week we started to see the build-up in expectation of holiday visitors. The weather is gradually changing too, with more days of blue sky and bright sun.

No one starts preparing for the holidays too soon. The city is repainting the lines along streets and sidewalks. They repainted one of the big streetside flower pots, too, with just a bit of over-spraying. The city is rebuilding the sidewalk around a small park at the end of the street. I should be happy that it is being done, but of all the civic projects I could think of, this one is at the bottom of my list.

One problem is that all of the houses on the right side of the street are abandoned. Maybe this will encourage someone to buy the vacant properties and redevelop them.

Vendors have started to set up every weekend. This couple has been awaiting visitors every Thursday through Sunday since early November. He tells me they have a business renting small carnival rides to local fairs during the winter (April-November). Business hasn’t been very good, so they decided to come to the beach early.

We are looking forward to the new restaurant that is scheduled to open soon. Since the Las Gaviotas restaurant adjacent to our house closed two years ago, we’ve been waiting for something new. There are lots of restaurants along the beach, but none of them has taken the place of Gaviotas. The new one (no name as of yet) is on the terrace and in the lobby area of what was the Hostal Casa Blanca. The lodging closed a couple of years ago when the city tightened oversight and the owners received a long list of repairs and changes required to be recertified as a hotel. They decided it wasn’t worth the cost. The new restaurant could revive the property.

From this post you can see that we are involved in small town life in our corner of the beach. Neighbors are building new apartments next door, and all along the beach people are cleaning up, replacing the woven mats that are used in sun shades, and painting facades and walls along the street. By the time Christmas arrives, the beach will be looking its best, waiting for visitors to celebrate the holidays.

Other changes are afoot that will take a bit longer to be completed. Some properties are for sale, waiting to be taken over and repurposed like this failed dance hall.

Two houses down from us is an old house, designed and built in the 1940s by an agronomist as the summer house for his family, while he worked on a sugar hacienda in one of the nearby valleys. The family moved to Lima after land reform in the 1960s ended the hacienda system, but they kept the house for the summers. Many years later, the family has decided to sell the property. There is a large undeveloped area behind the existing house and the banner proposes sixteen luxury condominiums, pool, garages, and green space. I will be very interested to see this development take shape, though I’ll miss the distinctive facade of the old house. It’s one of the last of the old houses to come down. Our house is nearly the last one left.

River of Birds

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It’s migration season and over the past few days there have been birds flying south along the coast. Overhead there is a constant line or V- or swarm of gulls, terns, pelicans, and other birds making their way past us. Yesterday, we were amazed by the sheer number of birds flying overhead.

At one point, the birds began to fly in circles forming a whirlpool of wings, dipping down to the water. I looked with my binoculars and could see many were diving into the water, fishing. There was a school of anchovies beneath the surface, and the birds were taking advantage to feed. The pelicans were particularly thick over the fishing zone.

If you don’t look carefully, the birds can be nearly invisible, tiny dots in the sky. Watching for a few minutes, you realize there must have been more than 100,000 birds pass by over the past three days, as every hour, thousands of birds fly by.

Market Day

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it’s a quiet month here in Barranca. We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Peru, making this another stress-free week. Our daily routine of walking to the far end of the beach and back continues to let us monitor all the species of shore birds that are here, as well as the ebb and flow of neighborhood life. The hotel that closed is opening a restaurant on their ground floor. Since our next door neighbor Gaim died and his restaurant, Gaviotas, closed, there hasn’t been a place where people in the neighborhood meet over lunch. This could be the new hangout.

Managing our time, we only go to the market twice a week. It gives us a chance to buy fresh fish along with our fruit and veg. Jonathan is known to the people who sell fish. They call out the species he likes when they see him coming, hoping to sell him a chubby grouper, or a sole as large as a serving platter. It’s best not to look down, as the fish aisle usually has a thin layer of unsavory origins underfoot, but the fish is right off the boats, often still alive or in rigor.

If I am looking for jewelry supplies, elastic, watch batteries, or baskets, I go to those vendors while Jonathan buys meat and veg. I saw a woman with outrageous hair chatting with a friend, and when they’d finished, I asked if I could take a photo. What a look!

Jonathan continued from fish to Adele the olive lady, and back to our favorite fruit stand, across from Pollos Don Goyo, run by our friend Lilliam and her husband. I accepted the gift of a tangerine from our vendor, and we headed out of the market. This year we’ve really become locals, buying a rolling cart to pull along rather than lugging straw baskets of supplies. Now that the grocery store charges for plastic bags, we use our baskets for groceries.

It’s election season in Peru. The president, Martin Vizcarra, dismissed the parliament for corruption, and ordered new elections at the end of January. Candidates have just finished getting their names on the rolls and campaigning is gearing up. Outside Lima, this means lots of new paint on walls. Traditionally, candidates offer to paint large walls with their names and party affiliation. The owner gets the wall painted at no charge, as long as they aren’t sensitive to what the color scheme and logo look like.

Our weekly achievement around the house could be the flowers planted around the trees in the patio.

Airport Lost and Found

Update: One week later

At the end of this post about how to navigate airport lost and found, I recommend asking for a refund if you inadvertently pay for a lost and found search service, like Instafile, as I did. I contacted Instafile, putting a request for a refund. After a couple of days, my request was denied. I wrote again, pointing out that the Seattle airport, where I left my jacket, has no relationship with any service, and therefore they had no standing to act on my behalf there. Since they were offering a service they had no right to offer, it sounded like a scam to me. I received a cheerful reply pointing out that they had filed a report on my behalf–I do not believe this–and also said they would give me a refund. Today I was notified that the refund is being processed. It took a couple of emails to get my $29.99 back, but I recommend that you don’t let these people keep your money for nothing if you make the same mistake I did.

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My recent experience trying to get back a jacket left at a TSA screening station provided several useful pointers that I want to share. We all hope that we won’t lose anything during our travels, but I can attest to the fact that it’s almost impossible to keep everything in order all the time. Sometimes things get lost. I’ve had good luck getting items returned, though every time it happens I am more and more surprised to get my lost item back.

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On Oct. 27, I got to the Seattle-Tacoma airport with plenty of time before my flight to LA. I got in the line for TSA pre-check, and it was pretty short. However, it required going through the scanner, and a TSA staff member offered to take my jacket, which apparently you can’t wear through the scanner even if you have pre-check. I never got it back, but I also never thought about it, because it wasn’t cold and I didn’t need it. While waiting for my luggage in LA, I finally realized my jacket was missing. I was only in town overnight before my flight to Lima, so I didn’t act on my missing item until the next morning at LAX while waiting for my flight to be called.

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At that time, I found a website called Instafile.com that claims to locate items lost in airports all over the US. The site claims to have the cooperation of many airports. They don’t. It’s a scam. I didn’t figure this out until several days after I paid $29.99 to Intafile Reporting. I received a cheery email from “agent232@instafilereporting. com, with additional “updates” telling me hard they were working, and asking me to advise them if I got word of my missing item via one of their partner agencies.

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I looked at contacting TSA, since that’s where I lost my jacket. TSA will hold on to your keys, cell phone, or electronics for a minimum of 30 days, though in some airports, items left at checkpoints are turned over to the airport lost and found at the end of each day. https://www.tsa.gov/contact/lost-and-found

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TSA works with another website that claims to help people collect their lost items from airports (Rejjee.com). Their service was free, but they did suggest that I prepay $39.99, for the return of my jacket, because it would be a lower rate that the charge after my jacket was found. I don’t know whether they are legit or not, but I had my doubts. I did more web-surfing and found that Seattle-Tacoma airport doesn’t partner with any organization, they have their own lost and found, complete with website and phone number. I started over. I filed a report online with a description of my jacket. I even found a photo of me wearing it. By this time, it was four days since I’d left Sea-TAC, and I didn’t really have any hope, but why not?

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I received “still looking” updates on Oct. 31 and Nov. 4 from all three groups. On Nov. 11, my file Instafile case was archived without any result. that same day I received a note from “noreply@lostandfoundsoftware.com” that asked for my email address. I almost deleted it, but went ahead and put in my email address and got a message that my jacket was found by the Seattle airport lost and found. After double checking that the phone number provided was actually the number for the Sea-Tac lost and found, I called and arranged to have my jacket shipped to my daughter in the US. The fedex shipping cost was $26.99, less than Rejjee.com’s “bargain” $39.99 shipping.

I hope I never ever leave anything behind in an airport again, but now I have learned a few things.

  • Keep track of your stuff. Try not to hand things off quickly, even when people are trying to help.
  • If you lose something, follow up as soon as possible, especially if you are still in the airport. If you have lounge access, ask for help there. Four years ago, I was reunited with a brand new tablet I left in my seat back due to the quick intervention of an American Airlines lounge agent. It was delivered to me onboard just before my connecting flight departed.
  • No longer in the airport? Figure out who to contact before you act. TSA has their own lost items page where you can file a report. They suggest using Rejjee.com, but I’m not sure I’d recommend that. Don’t do what I did and pay the first website that offers to help.
  • Contact the airport lost and found, even if your item was left at a TSA checkpoint. Though I could provide the exact checkpoint and time where I left it, my jacket ended up in the airport’s general lost and found.
  • Don’t pay anyone to look for your item, they are mostly scams.
  • PS. The woman at the Sea-Tac lost and found strongly suggested I contact the Instafile people and ask for a refund. She says most people brush off the $29.99 as not worth the effort, but she believes such scams won’t be curtailed if people just pay. Think how much money they make every day from a few automatically generated “we can help” emails.

Peru Again

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I’m back in Peru after a full year on the road, eight months south of the equator and four in the US. Where has the time gone! I am happy to be back and settled for the winter. There have been some changes in the past year, though most are slight. I do notice the continued prosperity of Peru that stands in marked contrast to the civil unrest in neighboring Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, and Venezuela. Despite troubles elsewhere in Latin America, and Peru’s recent political turmoil that resulted in the Congress being dismissed, people are going about their lives, building another story on their home, shopping in the outdoor market and at the supermarket. Shops are busy, construction is underway at several places along the beach, and life is generally bustling. There’s a new Barranca sign on the hillside!

Jonathan has already been here for a month, and has reestablished contact with our friends and neighbors. We had a surprise visit from our colleague Alvaro Ruiz. It was good to catch up a bit. Jonathan has hosted Saturday lunch gatherings with local friends. It’s a chance to sit down and talk in addition to the occasional exchange of greetings in the street. There is always gossip, who is building what, whose family is coming to visit, who is in Lima, how everyone’s children are doing, new grandchildren born this year. So much news to keep up with.

Our annual round of home improvements has begun, with new plants in the patio and our pillow covers from New Zealand and Australia stuffed and deployed. We’re creating a system to circulate water from the well through the yard to fill the small pools and waterfalls that have been dry for several years. By recirculating the water we will be able to make the garden greener without letting any of the water get away. It’s a precious commodity here. Other plans are percolating as we gear up for the visit of our daughters and their spouses/fiancés over the holidays.

Friends and Family–Part 2

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The last part of my friends and family tour of the US took me to Los Angeles and Seattle. In Los Angeles, I stayed a couple of nights with daughter Lyra and another few at the home of my daughter Amanda’s future mother-in-law, Connie. Amanda and Jim live there, too, making it an excellent base of operations on this side of Los Angeles. An episode of Homeland had just finished filming a scene at the neighbor’s. Then they filmed a scene inside Connie’s! (I wasn’t there yet.) In Los Angeles, unusual things happen all the time.

The next day I met up with my sister Sheila and her husband. They live in Hesperia, and since I usually stay in Los Angeles we meet at a halfway point, the huge Victoria Gardens mall in Rancho Cucamonga. The drive is opposite traffic and the sky gets deeper and deeper blue as you drive away from the city. The three of us dawdled over lunch and caught up with family news. We headed our opposite directions before rush hour got going, and the drive back was painless.

I was in Los Angeles to see my sister, my daughters and also to attend a wedding. I’ve known Linda since we were both sixteen–and her daughter’s wedding was another milestone in life that needed celebrating. Lyra went with me to all the wedding events (Thanks, Lyra!)

The wedding events were very enjoyable, and the ceremony was lovely, full of heartfelt vows. We were outdoors at Descanso Gardens in Pasadena at sunset, and the weather was perfect. The bride’s dress was a beautiful column of white, her flowers were white, cream, and deep burgundy roses. We had a delicious dinner and chatted with people from all over the country. Ceremonies like these renew my faith in the future.

I did my good deed of the trip the next day and helped Lyra hang paintings in her new apartment. She moved just a few weeks ago, and managed to get move all the furniture and boxes over a weekend, but then work intervened, and she still had art stacked against the walls.

In a hour, we managed to get most things where she wanted them and her place looks much more settled.

After a quick dinner, we walked to the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills to hear Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin speak. What a pair they are! Jane Fonda led with an impassioned plea for action to halt climate change by phasing out fossil fuels and plastic bags, pointing out that oil companies like Exxon knew thirty years ago that their products could irreparably damage the environment. The audience was full of fans who, like us, have watched every episode of Grace and Frankie. We laughed at all their jokes while the moderator tried his best to keep them on topic. It was a lot of fun.

Packing in just a few more activities, I drove to Pasadena on Monday morning and visited the Norton Simon Museum with Amanda. She’s familiar with the exhibits from being at every opening with her fiance Jim, who is a preparator there. We particularly liked the William Crutchfield exhibit, though it was fun to walk around while Amanda showed me her favorite pieces throughout the museum.

In the afternoon, Linda came by and took me to Koi, a boutique in Highland Park. She has gotten to know the owner, another Linda, and the sales manager, Brenda. We chatted about jewelry and looked over some of the necklaces I’ve made, and some gorgeous things that Brenda makes. Everyone had good suggestions. With a few improvements, some of my pieces will be for sale in Koi in the new year. I am delighted.

A last dinner with Amanda, Jim, and Connie, and I was off to Seattle to stay a few days with Larry and Sharon. Larry and I were undergraduates together at Harvard, and see each other every five years at reunions. I have read some of his books, and he has given me some very helpful comments on the mystery I eventually plan to complete. Sharon and I met in Melbourne last year. Their daughters and grandchildren live in Melbourne, so they now spend half the year there.

Seattle was unusually cooperative, providing day after day of sunny weather. We visited Snoqualmie Falls, standing in the mist while the falls thundered into the river below.

We had a great tour of some of the city’s icons. The troll under the bridge is a fanciful landmark that should have everyone who visits rushing home to read a fairy tale.

Just down the street is a huge statue of Lenin leaning into the intersection. The tale of how this huge relic of Soviet history made its way from a scrapyard in Czechoslovakia to a street corner in Seattle is a testament to people’s pig-headed desires to do things that make no sense to anyone but them. How Lenin got to Seattle.

We visited the Chihuly Gardens, a gorgeous display of oversized glass plant life. After seeing the amazing, massive glass structures emerging from the ground, we watched a pair of glass-blowers from the Community Hot Shop (glass blowing furnaces and ovens in a converted Airstream trailer) make a vase. These bowls and vases are sold at the Space Needle gift shop, so we had to go have a look. They are not terribly expensive ($45-$65) and would make a distinctive gift from Seattle.

We rode the monorail from the Space Needle to the Pike Place market. Even mid-afternoon, there were rows of dungeness crab, clams, shrimp, tuna, and more varieties of fish than I could name. Fruit and vegetables, and stalls selling hundreds of things that you need and don’t need. (We failed to locate the wall of chewed gum–I’m not sure I regret missing it.) We returned home after this, and ended the day with dinner at the Carnation Cafe, an excellent restaurant near Larry and Sharon’s. The desserts, all made in-house, were really, really delicious.

Having seen so much in such a short time, I took a day to walk around the local area, making my way down to the bridge across the Snoqualmie and Tolt Rivers. It was a beautiful afternoon, the sun making the trees blaze with color. For about three minutes, though, it rained, and the bouncing raindrops turned out to be hail. I sheltered under a fir tree to avoid the hail and in another five minutes the rain stopped, the sun came out, and I walked home. A beautiful end to this adventure.

The month of friends and family-Part 1

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This month is full of visits to family and friends. From Charleston, I stopped a few days in Grand Rapids, MI with my sister Catherine. The weather was rainy but we entertained ourselves by getting haircuts. We did a decluttering sweep of a sitting room, cut one huge piece of fabric for curtains, repaired an existing linen duvet cover, and then cut deep green fabric for a new duvet cover.

We managed to sneak in lunch with a few of Catherine’s friends who I met on a trip to Italy several years ago. Another highlight was dinner with an old friend from our hometown of Thornwood, NY. I wouldn’t have recognized Dennis Flint, but Catherine found him through the magic of Facebook and we had dinner with him on his way through Grand Rapids on business. We laughed about growing up in Thornwood, with a lot of what-ever-happened-to, and swapped stories about our kids.

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After just a few days enjoying Grand Rapids, I spent a day trying to get to Syracuse to see my mom. It took three flights, but by the end of the day, I made it. As annoying as the trip was, our visit was very low key and relaxing. That’s all to the good considering mom is 94. We took a field trip to Otisco Lake where my brother and sister-in-law live. After admiring their recently renovated lake house, we visited a new farmer’s market/craft sales complex called Willowdale Bend. I carefully toured the barn full of antiques, but didn’t find anything I loved enough to add to my overstuffed suitcase. On the way home we stopped and picked a quart of red raspberries ($4) at Berdock’s berries. They were delicious!

I took a walk in the neighborhood one afternoon and found a long-abandoned road through the trees from the watertower behind my mom’s home down toward the road. I figure it was used long ago before highways connected the towns around Syracuse with the city.

Another evening we had dinner at the Lakeside Vista restaurant overlooking Otisco Lake. The building is unprepossessing but the deck outside is perfect for warm weather and the food was very good. This area is gradually shifting from predominantly summer homes to year-round residences and the success of Lakeside Vista will mean there is a good restaurant in the neighborhood. We hope they’ll stay.

My week in Syracuse ended with a visit to plant a chrysanthemum by my dad’s grave. I have done a spring or fall planting with my mom a few times, as my visits often land in April or September. We admire the graves that have been decorated and planted, chat with my dad, and then head back home.

I flew from Syracuse to Chicago, picked up a car and got to Wheaton before sunset. I stay with my good friend Peggy, who is one of the world’s great hostesses. We saw the new movie Judy, then went to AAUW film night to discuss it, and we had dinner with a different friend every night.

On Sunday, I drove to Champaign, IL to visit my daughter Lillian and son in law Neil. They are settling in to the house they bought in the spring, and I love seeing their progress from visit to visit. We took a walk around the neighborhood enjoying the gorgeous cool, clear day and ran some errands. There was no need to undertake a big event, we just enjoyed being together.

I arrived back in Chicago in time to have dinner with Peggy and one last friend before my trip ended. In the morning, I crept off to the airport, making a stop at the storage unit to toss in a few items that I didn’t want to carry around. I had already picked up a second suitcase to take to Peru. Navigating from Chicago’s car rental center onto the bus and off at the terminal was challenging. I only had to wrangle my two suitcases, carry-on, and handbag as far as the check-in counter. It was a relief to drop them off.

Onward to Portland and my sister Paula, who scooped me up at the airport, saving me hauling my bags more than a few steps. My visit here was perfectly timed to overlap with that of my nephew Brian, his wife Emily, and their darling 13 month-old Eliza, who I had not met in person. She is a charmer, of course, with a huge smile and slightly wobbly legs. She’ll be walking before Christmas. We’ve enjoyed taking Eliza for walks, and catching up on family news. One night I was able to accompany Paula to the rehearsal of the Oregon Repertory Singers. What wonderful music! Their next concert includes a piece where the sound washes over you in undulating waves and makes you close your eyes just to enjoy it.

http://www.orsingers.org/

A big family dinner was the final event of my Portland visit. Eleven of us forgot about the drizzle outside as we dug in to braised beef, roast vegetables, salad, and apple-blueberry crisp, with Oregon wines, of course. After a memorable evening, I packed up and headed for my last stop, Los Angeles.