This is a blog featuring my personal stories of food, gardening, yachting, photography, travel and life. I love it all!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Goodbye FaceBook

A brief explanation for my having left Facebook, in case anyone even noticed. Actually, I haven't really left. I deactivated my page and created another hidden from everyone for one reason. I administrate another FaceBook page for a local organization and to continue administrating that page required that I continue to have a personal FaceBook page. It did not require that my personal page be public, only that it exist.

So, why did I abandon my public page? Good question. FaceBook is a tremendously popular medium for communication between friends, family and especially people you might not hear from at all if it didn't exist.

But I came to believe it also to be addictive and that it has contributed to an unhealthy freedom for folks to speak in ways they would never were they face to face with many of those who read some of their remarks. A lack of awareness of boundaries, of space seems to have disappeared too often in the world and is never more obvious sometimes than in the comments and postings on FaceBook.

Many of my FaceBook friends were students or former students from my elementary school, some as young as 10 years old. It was important to me, as a teacher, to keep the content and discourse on my page civil and safe for those children I knew were watching. Despite my occasional pleas on my page to please think of the children, too often I would discover entries I would need to hide and the habits of some even necessitated I unfriend them.

The last straw was when a "friend" I had asked not to use inappropriate language on my page continued to and I was forced to unfriend him, he began a series of abusive messages which were rude, mean and foul. He was angry that I was attempting to censor people, an accusation that, as far as the content on my page was concerned, was absolutely true. But even more important I was trying to encourage a civil discourse. I did not respond to his venomous comments but they continued. I reported his abuses to the FaceBook authorities but I had had enough.

It was a combination of things really. Everything I have mentioned above plus my concern that I just spent too much time on the site and began to realize that all that time kept me from being more active in other ways arguably more productive. So, the decision.

I am very concerned that some friends, including those I had actually re-discovered on FaceBook, might disappear from my life again. I am not quite sure what to do about that yet. E-mail and the telephone are certainly options. I am encouraging that. I don't know what I'll do exactly yet but I know that reactivating my old account just isn't an option.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

An Okie Returns to Oklahoma--My 48th State!

I dropped Leslie off at the Sheraton Hotel in Dallas, Texas, the site of the 2013 national convention of the American Choral Conductor's Association. She has attended these biennial gatherings for many, many years. I've tagged along on parts of a couple of them over the years, the last being in L.A. where her choir from Western Washington University was invited to sing. It was an incredible experience to sit in an audience of her peers when they gave her and her choir a rousing standing ovation.

But today, I was headed north to visit another state I had never been to--Oklahoma. I am especially interested in visiting Oklahoma because my mother's side of the family left during the Dust Bowl era. My mother was born there and her parents, my grandparents, left there with my infant mother around 1936, having suffered through years of dust storms, loosing their farm and heading to California as a part of the Okie rush to the promised land of California. 

As I crossed the Oklahoma border, I noticed a visitor's center and pulled off I-35 to pick up some brochures and a map. I was greeted by a lovely women who chatted me up. On discovering my family connection to Oklahoma, she said, "welcome home," with an Oklahoma twang reminiscent of my grandma Welch, a voice I hadn't heard in some 30 years. 

She handed me a free map of Oklahoma, invited me to grab some brochures and a cup of coffee. I did as instructed and was soon back in my silver Jeep rental car heading back up I-35 towards Oklahoma City. Along the highway I could see here and there, oil derricks, some still gently rocking up and down pulling oil from the earth. Most sat idle and rusted.

Gene Autry, The singin' Cowboy
A noticed on the map a site for a Gene Autry Museum. It wasn't far off the highway so I made a detour. After about 7 miles a sign looking like Gene Autry pointed down a dirt road. I turned off and watched the red Oklahoma dust kick up behind the car. After another 2 miles another Gene Autry sign pointed to the left and indicated it was only another mile and a half. Feeling a little anxious, I nevertheless pressed on. What could be out here in the middle of nowhere that could have any interest?

Gene Autry for those of you who don't recognize the name was known as the Singin' Cowboy, hugely popular in America in movies, TV, radio and rodeos in the 30's, 40's and 50's. Check out the links above if you want to learn more about him.

The Gene Autry Baptist Church in Gene Autry, Oklahoma.
I nearly drove passed the little town and museum. I came into what may at one time have been a bit of a settlement but certainly wasn't much now. There was a Gene Autry Baptist Church, a Gene Autry community center and a Gene Autry Oklahoma Museum. It turns out Autry owned 1,200 acres of land around here known as the Flying A Ranch and the town actually changed its name in 1941 to Gene Autry. He visited several times over the years. I can't imagine anyone wanting to spend much time. But you know what they say, everyone has to be from somewhere. I suppose that there is always a draw, even if small, back to your roots. 

I arrived in Oklahoma City and checked into my hotel. Still having the bulk of the day left to explore, I remembered one of the brochures was about Route 66.  It contained a beautiful map and points of interest along the route. My mother and grandparents took this road all the way to California in the 30's. There was no freeway system such as we have today in America. It was a two lane road that stopped at every stop sign in every little town it went through from Chicago to L.A. I wondered if I would be retracing any of my family's steps to California if I drove even a bit of the old "Mother Road"? I decided I needed to take a drive up the old highway.

Old filling station currently housing a motorcycle museum
I headed out of town in the general direction of Tulsa to the northeast since the map in the brochure indicated quite a number of historic buildings and sites from that era along that stretch. It turned out not to be as easy as the brochure showed to even find the old road. I cris-crossed farm roads for nearly an hour before finally stumbling onto the old two-lane. Just up the road a bit I found the first sign I was, indeed on historic route 66--a historic sign marker.  I headed east driving through small, run down communities, past old shacks, ruins of buildings that were probably thriving, well maintained places of business or homes or farms back in the hey day of the highway.

The Lincoln Motel in Chandler. Restored and open for business
Occasionally I slowed down and even pulled off the road to take a photo of a still surviving, or restored building. Many were marked as historic remnants of the era. In Chandler, Oklahoma I hit a gold mine. In this still thriving farm community I found one of the old motels. It had been restored beautifully. It was the Lincoln Motel and was open for business.

Old filling station being restored.
I also found a service station, now a motorcycle museum, a beautiful round barn from that era and several old downtown buildings that had been around in those days. At one end of town I found the old armory had been restored and turned into a very nice little interactive Route 66 museum.   I went inside and was given a brief tour by a lady who then sent me into the main room which was divided up into several places to sit and watch a video about the route.
Interactive museum in chandler, Oklahoma
After finishing in the museum I went into the gift shop to look around. I bought a Route 66 coffee mug and paid my admission fee to the same lady, the only employee.

I drove about 50-60 miles of the route, then turned around and drove slowly back the same way, this time taking it all the way back into Oklahoma City. The route heads straight at the Oklahoma capitol building in the city, then curves around it and heads west into the sunset.

I wonder whether I traveled any of the route my mother and grandparents traveled as they left their home and headed west. I'd like to think I did, that perhaps they stopped at that filling station outside little Chandler for a few cents of gas, or that they, at least, glanced at it. I'll never know of course, but it is a romantic notion to think that I may have retraced a few of their steps.
round barn outside  Chandler, Oklahoma

Back in town I began to wonder why it took them so long to leave this place. Even without the dust storms and tough life on the farm, this town is just ugly.  I went to bed with only one more goal in mind before heading back to Texas--visiting the Oklahoma City National Memorial. 

The next morning, I slept in, had breakfast and headed into town to visit the memorial. At this site, where the Murrah Federal building once stood, an American terrorist blew up much of the building. Today, a beautiful tribute to the victims, men, women and children stands in the building's place. A park, dotted with bronze and glass chairs sit on a grassy area, one for each victim and small ones for each of the child victims.

The grounds of the memorial. 
The museum is a moving, wonderful tribute to the victims. It transports the visitor through the events of that day and those following in chronological order. Beginning in a conference room mock up, you hear a recorded meeting of the Oklahoma State Water Board taking place near the federal building.  Suddenly, you hear the actual explosion, the wall in front of you lights up with photos of all the victims and the audible chaos continues. A door opens and you enter into a room where the chaos continues with aerial  film footage of the building and of the injured and the dead being tended to. The museum covers the investigation, the arrest and trial of the perpetrators and the aftermath of the tragedy both locally and nationally. It was a very moving experience and one well worth visiting if you should ever find yourself in Oklahoma City.
Each of these chairs represents a victim and where they were found

After my visit I headed back south the way I'd come. I arrived back in Dallas in the late afternoon and got the key Leslie had left to her room.

The next morning I decided to visit the one place I knew I had to see when I got to Dallas. I was only just 10 years old but this event had probably the strongest impact on the early lives of the kids of my generation. We all know where we were when this tragedy took place and it was super imprinted onto our consciousness due to the massive coverage it received on television and endless replay of certain key moments in the events that followed.
The old Texas Book Depository Building. The 6th floor
corner window above the entrance
was where the shots were fired.

I speak, of course, of the assassination of President John Kennedy. He was the first president of which I had any conscious knowledge. His  assassination shocked our nation, sent it into a period of mourning that left it reeling into a historic period of violence in our nation. We truly believed we could do anything. After that we descending into years of killing our leaders, race riots, cities being burned and, of course, there was that war over in Vietnam. I believe it also marked the apex of our country's confidence in itself.  It was a terrible, depressing era.

The grassy knoll. In the street is an X marking the first shot
that hit the president.
I parked the car and walked the few blocks over to the the site of the tragedy--Dealey Plaza. I turned the corner and there in front of me was the old Texas School Book Depository Building. My mind had always seen this place in black and white because that was how we saw it on TV at the time. Now, it suddenly shifted into living color. My eyes knew just where to move their gaze. The 6th floor, corner window. It was slightly open, just as it has been on that November day in 1963. I froze staring up at that window, then my gaze shifted to the left. There was the grassy knoll and the street down which the president's limousine slowly moved, with the president and Jackie in the back seat smiling and waving to their adoring fans.

The memorial to the president sits in Dealey Plaza.
Around me, tourists, parents with ill-behaving children running and screaming stood snapping photos and tried to explain to their bored children why this was such an important place.  Others looked around for the building, then tried to figure out which window it was. Another women asked me where the "X" was? "The X," I asked? "You know, where Kennedy got shot?" "Oh," I said, "that would be down the street that way." I pointed gesturing with my hand. I knew exactly where everything was. It was so indelibly etched in my mind 50 years ago.

I crossed the street and walked down the hill down which the president's limo had traveled and there in the middle of the street was--The "X." I stared at it, then up at the window, back up the street and saw the whole thing happen again in my mind. Across the street the grassy knoll stretched up to the same fence and parking lot, the overpass below where the president's limo sped him to the hospital with the secret service agent climbing over the back trunk of the car to get to the president's slumping body, the onlookers standing along the street wondering what was happening as the first shock settled in that some of them had just seen the president shot.  One of them, a Mr. Zappruder, had even taken film of that moment.

I couldn't bring myself to go into the Depository building. There was a museum, The 6th Floor Museum and they would take you up to that 6th floor. I just couldn't do it.

Out on the street I became aware of the circus-like atmosphere. Hawkers were selling souvenir newspapers. The worst offender was a guy who stood right in front of the depository building selling videos and books and lecturing the crowd gathered around him on the morbid details of entry and exit wounds and encouraging the old conspiracy theories.  It didn't seem to me at all appropriate. But our society does believe in the freedom of speech with little emphasis on any of the responsibilities that go along with it. Of course, a capitalist society shouldn't expect anything less, should it?

I walked away back to the spot across the street where I'd first laid eyes on the colorized version of this scene, turned and looked back one last time. The event played in my head once more. I lowered my eyes, turned and walked away.

I returned a couple of days later, this time with Leslie who hadn't seen the site and needed too.

We stayed at the Sheraton here in downtown Dallas. She was ungraded to an executive suite, an amazing room! It is understandable that you would stay in a downtown hotel since the convention is here and you want to be in the proximity of events. Beyond that it would seem it is nearly always a bad idea to stay in a high-end hotel.

As one example, I am sitting here in the hotel restaurant having lunch, if you can call it that. There is very little within easy walking distance of the hotel so I came downstairs to eat here. $18 for lunch. For that I am sitting in a spacious dining room, well decorated, with ambivalent service and looking out a window onto a patio area currently being used for storage. One item just blew over into the landscaping. Lovely view. The floor has not been swept for quite a while. There are bits of food here and there under tables.

The food? Terrible! The salad is lifeless, the sandwich has obviously being sitting around too long. No presentation. I could expect better in a Denny's for less than half the price.

Everything in these "high end" hotels costs at least twice as much as you'd pay if you simply drove a ways or stayed in one of the less expensive hotel chains.

I have mentioned before that we normally stay in a Choice Hotel property when traveling. Free breakfast, free wi-fi, free parking, free use of the hotel facilities and the price is half or even a third what you pay in these high end hotels. Yes, there is the convenience in this case to be near where the events are happening. But I have no wi-fi access without paying a high price per day. I am paying $21 per day to park.

Last night I accompanied Leslie down to the sports bar for a quick dinner, where they had a buffet for $14. The food was the same as they give away at most bar's happy hours--pizza, chicken wings, etc.

So think twice before choosing one of those fancy hotels. Think about the hidden costs?  We stay out on the edge of town. Even with paying for public parking when we drive in to see the sites, we don't come even remotely close to what we pay when staying in these big fancy places.

We'll be home for only four days before heading out again, this time to Europe. The choir from WWU will head to Venice for a concert in Saint Marks, then by bus through Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. It'll be a whirlwind tour by previous standards--only 12 days, but it will take us through territory we've never been. Three new countries!

Stay tuned for my blog report about our experiences there.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Texas Hill Country

We have spent the last couple of days in and around San Antonio, Texas. We've walked the river walk, eaten some Tex-Mex style food and taken an open-air boat up the San Antonio River passed the shops and restaurants that line the river.

But today we left San Antoio and headed into the famous hill country, New Braunfels Luling, Buda, Lockhart, Seguin, San Marcos to name but a few of the little communities that dot this part of Texas.

We'd done some serious research before heading into this region because we knew it was famous for mostly one thing--BBQ. Texas style BBQ that is. Not the same as BBQ in other parts of the country. Every region has its own way of treating beef and pork and Texas is no different. Yet it still takes one unmistakable, fundamental thing to make truly great BBQ. Treat the meat right and that means low and slow! Low temperatures, slow, long roasting times. Then it is a matter of what kind of wood you will use and what you'll put on the meat while it cooks.

Here it is kept pretty simple. Wood fires, mesquite wood or oak,  slow cooking to get that red smoke ring as deep into the meat as you can. Then, sit back and wait. And wait...and wait.

When it is done those hours of waiting are so worth it.. The meat is tender, moist, smoky and melts in your mouth. When eating it you may add some sauce or not. Hot sauce like Crystal hot sauce or, better, give the locally made option a try, if there is one.

The City Market Sanctuary--The pit room!
Our first stop was at the City Market downtown Luling. A hole in the wall, it looked and smelled like the real thing. Its a place that has been here a long time. Even before walking inside the first thing you notice is the overwhelming smell of the BBQ. Heavenly! The walls were of knotty pine and seemed to retain a sheen of the years of BBQ build up. Long tables sat in rows with locals sitting around nawing on ribs and placing little squares of American cheese into a "samich" of brisket and thin slices of white bread.

A counter near the front sold the available sides--pinto beans, dill pickles, potato salad, cole slaw and drinks. But did I mention, we were after the BBQ?

Downtown Luring, Texas, home of the best BBQ we ate!
There, in the back corner of the main dining room was the pit room door. A line of about 20 folks stood waiting their turn to enter the sanctuary. There were two doors. one marked enter on the right and the other, the exit. Only a few at a time could fit into the pit room. Others must wait until someone exited. An ancient looking sign nearly unreadable hung in the smoke covered window.

After about 15 minutes our turn came and we swung open the door. A sign said, "please keep the door closed." We hurried in and shut it behind us. Oh, my god! The aroma!  A rotund, friendly gentleman with a deep Texas drawl greeted us. As if we needed to, we expressed our apologies saying this was our first time here. Without skipping a beat he guided us through our choices, answered our questions and set to work on our order as soon as we'd given it.

"A third pound of brisket, a third pound of pork ribs and a sausage ring, please."

City Market BBQ! Oh, yes!
3-4 pieces of a purplish butcher paper were quickly ripped off the roll and placed one on top of the other. Then another guy behind him made quick work of a couple of pork ribs, scooped them up and plopped them on the paper. Next, the beef brisket, blackened and glistening with moistness was sliced into a half dozen 1/4 inch slices. The red smoke ring was evident as these slices were slapped onto the paper. A quick movement brought our sausage ring into the growing pile. Finally, his request..."bread?"  "Sure, 2-3 slices would be fine."

He wrapped the edges of our package in toward the center and gently placed it into my waiting arms. Leslie paid the man about $20 and we exited the pit room. Glancimg around the dining room, we found a long table and took a seat. Leslie located a bottle of the house-made sauce.

I carefully unwrapped the purple packaging as if it were the Christmas gift I had wished for all my life. There, sitting atop a growing greasey spot on the paper was our first Texas BBQ. The first bite I took was of the beef brisket. Oh my! My eyes closed, my chewing slowed and I just savored the experience. A smile spread across Leslie's face as she watched me. "Oh, taste this!" I reached across the table and gentley placed a piece of brisket on her tongue. It was as if I were looking at my own expression in a mirror.

Wish I had smellivision!
How can any of the other places we intended to visit today and tomorrow possibly be any better than this? I couldn't imagine they were.

Before the day was out we'd also tried the brisket, ribs, sausage ring and prime rib at what was widely touted as one of the top two or three BBQ places in Texas--Kreuz (pronounced like bright) Market in Lockhart, Texas. The best part of this place was the prime rib. Unbelievable. Beyond that, we preferred our little hole in the wall in Luring. Kreuz was once a little hole in the wall, too, but is now in a huge barn-like structure (the biggest barn I've ever seen) and the pit room has over a dozen pits, most of them idle the day we were there. I can imagine the stadium-sized parking lot being filled with tour buses and all the pits running full blast. It has sadly become a factory. Then there was the BBQ. It was so salty and dry. Not like the moist meat at the City Market in Luring.

Leslie enjoying her rib!
The exception at Kreuz Market was their prime rib. This was amazing. The best prime rib I have ever tasted. Smoky, not overly salty as the other meats were and so moist. We got the end piece, too, and it was crunchy as well as moist. Amazing!

As if we hadn't had enough already, we had packaged up part of the Kreuz Market meat, we stopped in little Kyle, Texas along I-35 where we'd heard about the amazing things done with pie at the Texas Pie Company. The delightfully friendly owner greeted us and we chose a small piece of the Almond Joy pie and the Lemon Chess pie. We were only able to eat half so we wrapped the rest and hopped back in the car. Only another 15-20 minutes on up I-35 and we'd arrived at our hotel for the night. Sadly, we hadn't been told by our Choice hotel chain that the hotel had been bought out by Best Western, but they honored our reservation and we checked in. It was a completely refurbished hotel so our room was beautiful and clean.

Leslie, feeling restless, found us a movie to go see--Bless Me, Ultima. It was a beautiful story based on a young teen level book about a Mexican family and their community in New Mexico. Beautifully filmed, it told the story of a young boy growing up in a tight knit family being pulled apart after WW II. It also tells a second, more important story of the mysticism and understanding of native cures and how this is woven into their Catholicism.

Tomorrow we head north toward Dallas, but on the way we will drive around a bit of Austin, then head out into the country-side for more BBQ and a visit to Waco and the headquarters of Dr. Pepper.