Saturday, November 28, 2015


      Our decision to explore the California Gold Country happened a bit by chance. We spent a day exploring Yosemite National Park and then headed west without reservations for the night. (Lodging in Yosemite is booked many months in advance, next time we'll plan ahead.) We drove along the Mariposa Scenic Byway 32 miles to Mariposa (pop. 2100). This is one of the closer towns to the park and happens to sit at the south end of Highway 49, a perfect starting point for a drive north toward Nevada City through the heart of the California Gold Country.
                                                                                * * *
        James Marshall discovered gold in the Sacramento River, and the gold rush began. It was 1849, and the arriving miners, known as the “forty-niners”, were coming to strike it rich. The California Gold Rush was one of the greatest migrations for the search of riches in the history of the world—more than 300,000 men (and a few women) crowded into the wilderness of Sierra Nevada in search of gold. Coming from China, Chile, Europe, Mexico, Canada, Central America, Australia, and the US, it was truly an international event that lasted for ten years. The heart of the gold country, where miners sought their Mother Lode, was along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada foothills. It stretched from Nevada City in the north to Mariposa in the south, which is where our road tour begins.
                                                                            * * *
       We arrived in Mariposa after dark on this cool October and found lodging. I was anxious to head out the next morning for a stroll along the main street of this once-prosperous mining center. A highlight was my stop at the Mariposa Museum and History Center, which contains dozens of reconstructed interiors shown just as they were in the mid-1800s—including a sheriff's office, saloon, piano room, and a miner's cabin. The friendly staff made it all the more informative and fun to visit. I found a locally handmade rag doll in the gift shop for Mila's Xmas stocking. Rag dolls are easily made from scraps of material and are one of the most ancient children's toys in existence.

      While I enjoyed the museum, Ron was happily working and enjoying the best hamburger of the trip at the Happy Burger Diner which was directly across the street.

       After leaving here, we decide to drive north on the steep and windy roads of Highway 49, stopping to explore the dozens of small historic mining towns along the way—many of which have not changed much since the 19th century.
       One of our first stops is ChineseCamp (pop. 126); home to 5,000 Chinese in the 1850s. One of every ten miners was Chinese. After the initial boom had ended, anti-foreign taxes and racist attacks sought to drive out foreigners—especially Chinese and Latin American immigrants. Many gravitated to San Francisco, where one of the largest Chinatowns outside of Asia exists today.

        Next we drive about seven miles north to Jamestown (pop. 3400) in Tuolumne County that offers a restored and picture-perfect main street with many of the false-front buildings still standing. It is in this county that over 350 productions have been filmed including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Gunsmoke, High Noon, and Bonanza. Commercialism has crept in with many restaurants, antique stores, and gift shops. However, you still get a strong sense of the past here—just as you do in all of these small historic towns along Highway 49.

       On the second night, we stayed near Sonora (pop 4800). This is one of the best preserved towns on the route. I picked up a brochure in the tourist office that highlights a walking tour of over 70 historical sites and homes in the town. I spent some time strolling around and tracing history through architecture until they all started looking a bit alike. I then entered the Tuolumne County Museum that was built in 1857 as the old county jail. It was rebuilt in 1866 after a fatal fire set by an inmate and continued to be in use until 1960. It was another well-done museum in this area that provided a private tour of the old jail cell, photograph collections, and a lot of interesting trivia. Before jails were built, there were public lynchings that became major events attended by all the townspeople—sometimes, with all of the drinking going on, even more killings occurred.

      A modest number of miners were of African ancestry (about 4,000 at most) and came as free men. However, some were brought as slaves. One of the “laws” in prospecting was that the gold belonged to the man who discovered it. This provided a way for slaves to earn money during their off-hours. Many bought their freedom during the gold rush as a result of this policy.
       As we drove further north, we discovered more and more wineries in the historic towns and surrounding countryside. Murphys (pop. 2,213) was established by two Irishmen back in 1848, and its historic Main Street is interspersed with 25 charming tasting rooms. We enjoyed a stop at the Frog's Tooth Winery. Most of the wineries offer free tastings provided you purchase a bottle of wine. Consequently, we arrived home with a half dozen colorfully labeled wine bottles to help us reminisce about our visit to the old west and a step back in time.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015



      It's 8:30 pm on a rather cool Thursday evening in San Diego, and I'm waiting for the return ferry to Coronado. I decide to walk out on the Broadway Pier to help pass the time, and to take a closer look at a stark white ship parked toward the end of the pier. It looks too small to be a cruise ship, and as I get closer I notice a large red cross on the side. A few people are boarding—some with shopping bags from local retailers. I ask the guard about it, and he informs me that it is a Chinese hospital ship called the Ark Peace that is on a mission tour—the only one of its kind in China. He also said that there would be public tours the next morning at 9 a.m.
      I decide to head over the next day, thinking it will probably be my only opportunity to board a Chinese hospital ship. This is the first time, since being commissioned in 2008, that it has stopped in the U.S. mainland and relations between the U.S. and China do not seem to be getting any better.
     When I arrived the next morning, there were about twelve in line to board the ship. We went through security and walked up the plank to an open area where we viewed a ten minute introductory video about the ship's mission and history. Then we walked down the halls where we peered into the labs and state-of-the-art medical facilities. In addition to western medicine, the ship offers the traditional Chinese medicines of acupuncture, massage and cupping therapy. There were posters along the way, in English and Chinese, that explained some of these methods.
Chinese military and medical staff were stationed throughout the tour directing us and providing information. A language barrier prevented any meaningful communication, but everyone was very cordial. Then we took the steep-narrow stairway to another level where there was a large open deck with an armed guard. Here we could get a view of the bay and tour the one Z-8 rescue helicopter that is on board. There was a curtain covering the cockpit and we were told not to look in. The ship has seven stories; we were allowed to visit sections on the bottom two floors.
     The hospital ship Ark Peace is currently on the Mission Harmony 2015 tour that began September 7—making goodwill visits throughout the Pacific Rim and heads to Mexico when it leaves here. While docked in San Diego for five days, the crew members have met with U.S. Navy officials and attended programs and seminars at the Naval Medical Center San Diego and the U.S. floating hospital, USNS Mercy, that is home ported in San Diego. All with the purpose of military medical professionals exchanging ideas and learning from each others experiences. The USNS Mercy is 300 feet longer with about three times more beds and has a sister hospital ship, USNS Comfort, based in Virginia. Only eight countries in the world currently have hospital ships, the U.S. has the two largest.

     The Ark Peace, with its impressive medical facilities and free medical and humanitarian services, provides a common ground where we can still find harmony in the world. Thankfully, we still share the desire for making this a healthier world.

Friday, October 30, 2015


       We arrived at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum on a Saturday morning. This was our first visit to a Presidential Library. Fortunately, we allowed a lot of time for the visit. We didn't realize the magnitude of the place and the amount of information that was available. Exhibits combined fascinating artifacts, historical documents, photographs, films, and dozens of interactive displays that made for a pleasant day of history.

      The tradition of Presidential Libraries began with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was the first to raise private funds to build a library that opened in 1941. It was later given to the U.S. government for operation through the National Archives. Prior to this time, Presidential papers and records were often lost, destroyed, or sold for profit. There are currently 13 presidential libraries located throughout the U.S., each one offering a special place for all to learn about democracy and our nation—without regard to political considerations.

      The Reagan Library, located 45 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, in Simi Valley, CA, is perched on a mountaintop with sweeping views of surrounding mountains and valleys. We entered the grounds on a curving tree-lined mile-long drive with colorful banners with pictures honoring all U.S. Presidents along the way. The library is surrounded by a hundred-acre landscape that includes a full scale replica of the White House Rose Garden, President Reagan's grave site, and a 9 ½ foot-tall, piece of the Berlin Wall that weighs over 6,000 lbs. There are benches and picnic tables—all can be enjoyed without paying the entrance fee that is required for the the library and museum.

      The 100,000 square-foot Reagan Museum consists of 24 galleries including a full-scale reproduction of the Oval Office as it appeared during the Reagan Presidency—inclusive of a painting of his hero, President Andrew Jackson, bronze saddles, a jar of jelly beans and plaque, sitting on his desk, that reads: “It CAN by done.”

      On display throughout the museum are hundreds of gifts President and Mrs. Reagan received from world leaders, visiting dignitaries and others. There are lovely photos of these visits, and I especially enjoyed looking at the interesting clothing and styles of the time. There were displays of dresses worn by Nancy Reagan in one of the galleries that was devoted entirely to the First Lady.

      Air Force One, that served seven U.S. Presidents and carried Ronald Reagan more than 660,000 miles, is on display and available for boarding. The press, who had to pay their own fare, rode in the rear of the aircraft—the President enjoyed comfortable seating and working arrangements in the front section. Also, located in the Pavilion is the Ronald Reagan Pub which contains original contents from a pub that was named in his honor in Ballyporeen, Ireland—his ancestral homeland. The President would often say “John Kennedy got an airport, Lyndon Johnson got a space center, but I got a pub named after me.” The pub also served as a good place for our much needed coffee break.
      Ronald Reagan wrote his thoughts and observations in his personal diary virtually every day during his eight years as president. The Reagan diaries are on display and they can be viewed digitally by date. Throughout all the galleries one can find his personal notes, including love notes to Nancy. He was referred to as the great communicator and famous for his many quotations.

       Ronald Reagan was born in Tampico, IL in 1911. His family moved around the midwest until they finally settled in Dixon, IL when Ronald was seven years old. He served as the 40th president of the from January 20, 1981 to January 20, 1989. He suffered from Alzheimer's disease during his last years of life and died in 2004 at the age of 93.

      “I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.”             Announcement of Alzheimer's Diagnosis
                                                                                                       November 5, 1994




Thursday, October 1, 2015



It's 5:30 a.m. at the San Diego International Airport; I still have an hour to wait for my early morning flight. I happen to notice the West Gallery near my gate. I decide to enter the peaceful glassed-in room to find out more about the artwork on the walls. They are original works by Peruvian-born Guillermo Acevedo, who has received honors for his work in illustrating and documenting San Diego's neighborhoods and landmarks. I then sit on a gallery bench to enjoy a five-minute historical video about Balboa Park.

This is my initial introduction to the over 30 displays throughout the airport celebrating the 100th anniversary of the San DiegoPanama-California Exposition that opened in Balboa Park in January 1915. It seems fitting that this airport, with thousands of visitors passing through every day, would participate in a celebration of an event that attracted 3.8 million people from all over the world—long before jet planes were on the drawing board.

This is a time when a small town of 38,000 manages to convert a city park in a desert into an oasis of lush gardens and exquisitely designed buildings of Spanish Colonial Revival and related architecture. The Panama Canal is complete, and San Diego is the first American port-of-call on the Pacific Coast. A group of San Diego citizens decide this is worthy of an exhibition that will place San Diego on the map for its architecture, landscape, and quality of life. It is done in style and lead by local architect Bertrand Goodhue and others who had the courage to follow their dreams, despite the doubters.

When I return to the airport a week later, and with time to wait before Ron can pick me up, I decide to look around for some of the other displays. It's mid-day on a Wednesday and the airport is relatively quiet. I find a Starbuck's for coffee and then the search begins to find works of art by local artists, reproductions of historical photographs and postcards, murals, and other artifacts from the 1915 Balboa Park Exposition. Immediately, I notice some great colorful banners honoring the Exposition along the corridor leading to the gates.

I pick up one of the brochures, Balboa Park & the City, that are available throughout the airport. This is my guide to the Contemporary Perspectives portion of the exhibit featuring ten local artists and organizations. I am intrigued by a location in the airport called Sunset Cove where two of the works can be found. I manage to find it, and now I know that it is the name for the new circular section overlooking the airport in Terminal 2. This is home to a food court with the Bubbles wine bar in the center that offers $22 glasses of champagne. I stop at the Red Mango kiosk to make my own yogurt sundae with fresh fruit. I pay by the ounce and the bill is $4.11—it is just what I want and not a bad price for airport food. I also enjoy local photographer Lee Sie's dramatic images of Balboa Park and San Diego cityscapes that are on display at the entry.

Next, I discover numerous displays of antique lighting fixtures secured in showcases that are copies of original 1935 chandeliers designed by Richard Requa and constructed from compressed paper for the House of Hospitality in Balboa Park. The new creations are done by Gibson & Gibson Antique Lighting.

If you are traveling through airport Terminal 2 with children, don't miss the impressive floor to ceiling wall panels of artwork from the 2013 children's picture book, The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins and illustrated by Jill McElmurry. (Lucky Mila is getting this one for Xmas.) The book tells the story of horticulturist KateSessions' life and ambitions to turn the dusty hills of Balboa Park into a garden worthy of the 1915 Exposition. Sessions, who is referred to as the “Mother of Balboa Park,” made a deal with the city in 1892 to lease 30 acres of land for her nursery with a promise to plant 100 trees a year in Balboa Park and 300 trees in other parts of San Diego.

An impressive bronze statue of Kate Sessions (1857-1940) stands near the Sixth Avenue entrance to the park; it is often adorned with flowers placed in her memory by those passing by.


Directly above the baggage carousels are mannequins adorned in elegant vintage clothing. The dresses and suits are on loan from the Old Globe Theater's costume collection for production set between 1900 and 1920. They are a sharp contrast to the casual wear we see at the airport today and a reminder of how the world has changed.

I then notice some display cases with old memorabilia near the Terminal 2 baggage area that include an official daily program, advertising signs, books, and jewelry from the event.

Outside the Terminal 1, there is a large official Seal from the Exposition that depicts a ship going through the Panama Canal. It's a beautiful design. However, my favorites are the large murals of actual scenes from the event showing the ornate Spanish architecture and lush gardens—many still standing today. This quote is posted on the wall next to the murals:

     It is so beautiful that I wish to make an earnest plea...I hope that
     not only will you keep these buildings running for another year
     but you will keep these buildings of rare phenomenal taste and
     beauty permanently.              -Theodore Roosevelt, 1915

PAGE FROM THE TREE LADY: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever 

Saturday, August 29, 2015


A person is only forgotten when his or her name is forgotten.”                                                                              -the Talmud

     Our friend, Dave, heard that we were going to Germany and asked if we were familiar with stolpersteines (stumbling blocks). We had never heard of them, but his description was fascinating. The project was started by artist Gunter Demnig in 1994. It commemorates victims of Nazi persecution with brass-plated plaques. They are placed in front of each individuals last chosen place of residence or employment.

     We planned to spend the last three days of our spring European trip in Constance, Germany. This sounded like a good opportunity to search for them.
On our first day in Constance, we headed out to explore the city and casually looked for the stones with no luck. That night I searched the internet and found a “List of Stolpersteines in Konstanz.” It included all 138 plaques located here along with the address, name, inscription and a photo—just as they appear on the street where they are placed. This made the search a lot easier. We discovered that they are quite small (3.9 inches x 3.9 inches) and blend in with the other cobblestones in such a way that they are not particularly noticeable, especially if you are not looking for them. Many of the residences had more than one stone in front to represent each of the family members that occupied the home.
Hier lived, Helmut Spiegel, Born 1909
Deported 1940 Gurs (internment camp in southern France)
Murdered in Auschwitz

     Each epitaph begins with the words: HIER WOHNTE (here lived), followed by details of the individual: their name, year of birth and fate, which often involved the dates of deportation and death. To read the inscription and see the last place someone lived a normal life before persecution makes this sad time in history more memorable. Some indicated that a child escaped safely to another country and the parents and other siblings were later deported.

     Since 1996, over 48,000 stolpersteines have been laid in 18 countries in Europe, making the project the world's largest memorial. The majority commemorate Jewish victims of the Holocaust—however, others have been placed for gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, black people, and Christians opposed to the Nazis.

     The project is not without criticism. Munich has rejected stolpersteines, following objections raised by Munich's Jewish Community's president Charlotte Knobloch. Her argument is that no respectful memorial can be placed on the ground where it can be walked on or easily vandalized. In other cities, permission was preceded by long, sometimes emotional discussions. I found it interesting that when I had asked at the Constance tourist office for help in finding the stones, they didn't have any information on them.

     The cost of the stolpersteines is covered by donations, collections, individual citizens, contemporary witnesses, school classes, or communities. The blocks are still made by hand in Demnig's Cologne studio which produces 450 per month. He still installs many of them himself. For 120 anyone can sponsor a stone, however, there is at least a six-month waiting list.

Escaped 1938 Argentina, Survived

Constance, Germany

Constance, Germany




Wednesday, August 19, 2015




       “Come on in. The earth, like the sun, like the air, belongs to everyone – and no one.”

                                                                                -Edward Abbey, The Journey Home

It's August 1st and the first day of our road trip to Utah. It also happens to be my mother's birthday—she would be 105 today. Thank heavens for moms—they live in our hearts forever.

There is a little drama on our drive to Nevada when the traffic slows on Hwy 15, and we see flames in the distance from a forest fire. We see helicopters overhead and dozens of firefighters along the road as we pass. Fortunately, it is brought under control, and we slowly move through the area.

After visiting relatives in Salt Lake City, Ron and I head to south-central Utah to enjoy some of the best scenery anywhere. It's about a three-hour drive south to Torrey, Utah (elev. 6,830 feet) which is close to the entrance of Capitol Reef National Park, and the location of a studio apartment we rented for the night.

Our arrival at the rental is a little bit concerning when we turn on to a dirt road and then drive up a steep hill with large potholes. We were warned about this and were even informed that it might not be passable in rain. Fortunately it was not raining, and our van made it up the hill with no problem. We find parking, however, we aren't quite sure where to enter, and the surroundings look a bit unfinished and overgrown with plants and grass.

The owner, Bob, finally appears on the scene; his pleasant and comfortable manner changes everything. He shows us the unit—it's beautiful, just like the photos. It overlooks colorful canyons and ridges that date back 65 million years, and is one of the more unusual airbnb rentals we have encountered. It feels like we are right in the midst of the park with a panoramic view of the red rock layered cliffs and the desert sky. The refrigerator is full of breakfast food for the next morning and the homemade cookies are scrumptious.

One of the special things about using airbnb is that the owners are often friendly and informative. Bob, who owns this place, is no exception. With a passion for Triassic paleontology, he has an impressive collection of fossilized dinosaur dung or “coprolites,” bones and dinosaur teeth—all from the nearby canyons.” His enthusiasm for the area and knowledge of fossils is one of the highlights of the trip. I leave with a much greater appreciation of geology and the millions of years that preceded us—I can almost envision dinosaurs walking around.

With fewer visitors, Capitol Reef provides more solitude than many of the other national parks. We tour and hike in the evening, when it is cool and quiet. The park offers 15 well-marked hiking trails as well as numerous backpacking opportunities. There are colorful cliffs, massive domes, soaring spires and twisting canyons along the way. The park is 100 miles long and narrow with the waterpocket fold down the center that exhibits the earth's many diverse geological layers.

A special place in this park, is the historical fruit orchard where you can help yourself to an apple, apricot, cherry, peach, or pear when in season. This is part of the Fruita Historic District, a Mormon settlement dating from the late 1800s. The last private resident left in 1968, and it is now maintained by the park service. Also, in this area is the popular 71-site Fruita campground surrounded by willow and cottonwood trees and the nearby Fremont River.

Nearby, and easily accessible from the road, is a walkway to view petroglyphs that were etched onto the rock walls by early native inhabitants. Most are attributed to the Fremont Culture, which existed in areas of Utah from approximately 600 to 1300 AD.

After leaving the park, we drive on the Scenic Byway 12 and through the rugged and spectacular Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The drive, with all of its points of interests and backways, ends 124 miles later, near Bryce Canyon National Park. We continue on to Brian Head (elev. 9,800 feet), the “Highest Resort Town” in America, stopping at spectacular vista points along the way.

It's hard to envision the magnitude and beauty of the lands that are owned by the American people and managed by federal and state agencies. In Utah alone there are 2.3 million acres of public land—40% of the state. It is also home to five national parks, all within close proximity. There are 59 national parks across the US. If I had a bucket list, they would all be on it.

The park system offers a $10 Senior Pass for citizens 62 and older. It includes free entry for life to all of the national parks as well as other recreation sites managed by federal agencies.






Friday, July 24, 2015


First of all, I need to brag about this girl. She is a delight to take to Balboa Park. She sits up in her stroller and looks at everything. I think it's the eyes and the cute pudgy cheeks that cause dozens of “how cute she is” comments from passers-by. She takes everything in and is clearly having a good time.
On this visit, the first stop is the rose garden that happens to be at its peak on this 23rd day of March. I don't think this is her favorite event for the day, but she is content looking around while I thoroughly enjoy the spectacular Inez Grant Parker MemorialRose Garden at its best. With more than 1,600 roses and 130 varieties, it is easy to see why the display has been the recipient of many awards, including the Great Rosarians of the World Rose Garden Hall of Fame in 2014.
Next, we meander over to the Prado restaurant where I decide to take a chance on the table at the entrance so there will be lots of activity for Mila to observe. I am a little uneasy about putting her in the highchair and trying to enjoy a meal with her in this restaurant, but it turns out fine. My salad comes quickly and she is intrigued by the ice that I put on the table (this was suggested by another customer as she walked by). Thank you, lady, whoever you were.
Black doll Exhibit
The Mingei International Museum is featuring an exhibition called: Black Dolls—From the Collection of Deborah Neff. I have been looking forward to seeing it with Mila and this seems like a good day to give it a try. There are 125 handmade dolls on display and I'm not sure what Mila thinks about them, but her eyes are big and it's fun to be with her. I hope she enjoys playing with her dolls as much as I did when growing up. I heard that little girls aren't playing with them as much as they used to. (This exhibition has ended, however, there is an interesting book featuring the collection entitled: Black Dolls: Unique African American Dolls, 1850-1930 from the Collection of Deborah Neff.)
The volunteer guard at the exhibit said that he enjoys his grandchildren too. He said that he enjoys them more than his own children.
I agreed, it is quite different. I told him that I hope I did ok, because I can't remember that much about raising my own kids.
He said his turned out well so he must of done a good job.
I guess I will have to settle for that because mine are doing well too. I told him that when I am with my granddaughter I totally focus on her—that is different than with my own, when there was always something else that needed to be done at the same time. Grandchildren and children are a blessing.
I stop for a coffee-to-go and the young man comments that Mila looks like she is a fun child to be with and he is right on. She just enjoys everything. He asks how old she is (nine months), and said that he finds it interesting to think about the new generation and what their future might be. We agree that there will be some good and bad that she will have to deal with. I guess that is about as optimistic as anyone can be about the future of this world.
Fortunately, Mila fell asleep in the stroller for her much needed afternoon nap. It also gives me a chance to read and relax in the park.
                          * * * * *
It's July, and I am still bringing Mila to the park on Tuesdays. Things have changed now that she is walking and is not always content to sit in her stroller. I guess you could say it's a little more exhausting. She moves fast and I have to hold on to her. However, when she walks and waves at people along the way it's precious. She doesn't discriminate—everyone is her friend, including the dogs.
On other visits we've watched the Merry-go-Round, however, today I decide it's time to take her for a ride. We ride on one of the horses together, and I hold her tightly on my lap. Around we go.It makes me dizzy, but she has fun.                                         
There is always someone singing or playing an instrument in the park, which is another great source of entertainment for Mila. Today she sees another little girl standing up and dancing to the music so she decides to join her.

We sometimes visit the WorldBeat Center, and today there happens to be a children's summer camp going on. Watching all those kids drumming, chanting and moving is probably the highlight of Mila's day.
She doesn't fall asleep in the stroller like she used to. Instead she falls asleep in the car seat on the way home. Then I relax in the parked car outside her home while she finishes the nap.