Postcards from spring and summer

Sometime this spring, my two youngest grand-daughters had a school project to collect a few postcards from other people in the world. I put out the word to my friends and within days we were blessed by dozens of you, my friends, and friends of friends, taking the time to find a card, write a note to Brooklyn and Peyton, and mail them here to Napa CA USA.

The cards were highlighted on the elementary school library wall. One of their classmates exclaimed to me when I was visiting one day,”They have twenty five hundred postcards!” Not quite.image

Amazing. Love and hugs to all the good people out there.

Special thanks to those of you who then passed the word to your own friends. I’ve read each and every one. My heart is touched.

Apologies for taking so long with this thank you. I was traveling the past month, as soon as school was out, and was not home to picture this.

Once again, my faith in the goodness of strangers has landed smack in my lap. I hope to take time to use your addresses and send you some cards of my own.

This next photo is not near complete. Here are a few of my own postcards I wrote up on the road, had stamped in Canada and then, in an exhausted state of being, forgot to post them before crossing the border to the States.

I’m not near on top of things as the rest of you. I guess I’ll restamp them USA and get them off next week!

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It’s the Water!

I never knew I wanted to see Niagara Falls. What was the big deal? Now I know. My recommendation – go there.

After a long and quite eventful day of travel from one country to the other, to “the hat of North America”, Bob and Donna, my couchsurfing hosts and new friends, showed me around their place, giving me the scoop on my sleeping arrangements. I could leave the door open to have the benefit of the air conditioner, and the company of their sweet kitties. “The little black one likes to bite your toes when you sleep, though, just a warning.” It was warm in my room, just the way I like it.

The next morning, Bob was off to his engineering firm, Hamil Machine, designers and manufactures of all kinds of things, including wine barrel racks and conveyer belt automatic wheat grass trimmers. Donna and I went to —IHOP —not IHOB, IHOP. Over easy eggs each of us. I was intrigued by the waitress’s suggestion to order toast for egg dipping, but didn’t ask about it. A couple of days later, on yet another train, I read in my new book, Magpie Murders, that “she was watching her husband dipping a finger of toast in his eggs.” Okay then. Later on, after being home again, my friend pointed out that he dips his toast in his eggs. I’m oblivious.

Traffic was terrible on the second day of Canada Day (this time, Monday, the OFFICIAL day off for Canadians). We decided we’d rather walk and left the car in the IHOP lot. Donna’s sister and daughter met us at the Falls and we all walked and gawked, me the most, at the Falls.

Tickets in hand for three special activities, I went off to do my tourist thing, and they went off on their own, eventually taking a float down some part of the tamer part of a nearby river. Really ice cold water.

The American side of the Falls looked far away and boring. I stayed in Canada. I hopped a bus to walk along the River Walkway, a stretch of river away from the Falls that runs at a class 6 river speed. The power and majesty, the changing colors in the water, the roaring of the river, was as good as it gets. And you know how good that is. I took my time and took it all in, up and down the river and back to the bus through an underground tunnel. I realize it just looks like water, but trust me, the feeling you get as you stand there listening and watching is more than a cold drink of H2O.

Next stop was the Behind the Falls walk, another FAR underground trip, down an elevator and then following along tunnels with lots of other people to stand below and to the side of the Falls. So amazing. Pictures and words can’t tell it all. My crazy writer’s mind wondered if there had ever been a movie made of a disaster in which all the people underground are suddenly thrown into the Falls. The yellow poncho almost made it home with me, but seriously, I had enough to carry around with me. Laptop, books, two kinds of money, snacks and baby wipes.

 

 

Third stop, the Horn Blower. Bob told me later that his company was hired to do some of the reconstruction of the Horn Blower boats when they changed over from the American’s Maid of the Mist.

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The red poncho did indeed keep my camera and my phone and my passport in my wallet nice and dry. Sailing from the dry hot deck to just the outside edge of all that falling water was for lack of a better word, amazing and again, breath-taking. The water splashing over me on that hot day was invigorating. I tell you, it was all I could do to stop saying wow, amazing, oh my gosh, all day long.

My trip was filled here and there with friends and family, and I was also to spend a lot of time – surrounded by people – and alone with my thoughts. That’s where I was those hours on the water, processing the wonders of the world, my own feelings, and listening to the little voice in my heart. The water does that for me.

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I met up again near the Falls with Donna and Bob, my awesome couchsurfing hosts and new friends and we walked into the Niagara Falls streets filled with things you’d see in Coney Island or the Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk. And more. Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Wax Museums, a giant water park in the top of a hotel, miniature race car tracks, dancing in the streets (that was Donna!) and one of the finest burgers I’ve ever had, I think it was at The Works if I remember correctly. I was barely able to finish my meal, but I did. I think Bob had ice cream later. Another shower, another re-packing and I was ready for a good sleep.

Bob was at work the next morning when I awoke. Donna and I thought we’d just eat at home. I had my little packets of oatmeal; I could just throw it in a bowl with some milk and water and microwave it. And then it exploded all over the microwave, so I got to clean up my mess and start over as we downed a few cups of very tasty McCafe coffee she’d French roasted for us, while Donna intermitently sprayed that little black cat with a water bottle each time he braved jumping up onto the table.

Donna dropped me off at the Greyhound station that soon enough delivered me to Toronto where another incredible journey and more amazing and funny people were waiting to meet me.

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“Bye Grandma! We’ll miss you!”

Leaving New York, after a short sweet visit with Erin, Chris, Jack, Molly and Ryan, Melissa and little Mac was a bit sad, tinged with so much happiness. I couldn’t get Erin’s first words out of my mind when I arrived a few days earlier in Port Jeff to visit. “I’m so excited to have my hippie Aunt Kathy here!”

Amtrak New York City to Niagara Falls – another beautiful segment on another hot summer day. Take time to overlook the trash, junkyards, industrial zones of American commerce and other eyesores. Doesn’t’ matter which city or country. The #281 (train talk) follows the Hudson River and other water ways much of the journey. No, I don’t know all their names. I can tell you that its incredibly easy for me to sit and watch the scenery go by all day long. Every other look up is a reason to focus my camera, noting the spot on the window that’s the cleanest, with little or no glare to mess up my shot. I try to catch the little things, the curve of the hillside, angles of a barn and a fleeting waterfowl when lucky.

As the heat index went up outside, our train car started heating up on the inside. I don’t know if I mentioned before, but the air conditioning on the trains is usually too much for this Cali girl. It’s COLD in the coach and usually colder in the snack and observation and bar cars. Layered fashionista. In a summer of sandals and flipflops, most of my time is in sneakers and socks.

The car I was seated in started heating up as a result of some malfunction or other. Some fancy piece of equipment I don’t remember the name of. As the car ahead of mine slowly emptied passengers to their destinations along the way, the conductor announced that anyone in our car who wanted to, could move ahead to the next car that was cooler. Most everyone got up – it was rush hour – grabbing their cameras, blankets, electronics and pillows. I got up and moved from a cramped aisle seat with practically no view, to a window seat AND an aisle. Warm, plenty of room to stretch out and no more “it’s too hot” whiners in the wind. 

The real fun began when I arrived in Niagara Falls. The plan was to meet up with Bob and Donna, my new, and amazing Couchsurfing friends. They live in Niagara Falls, Canada. As an aside, all my Couchsurfing friends have proven to be amazing. 

Anyway, I called Bob and told him I was at the Amtrak train station. I could hear the Falls in the distance – sounded like the roar of the ocean. “We’re right here – we don’t see you!” I was looking around and didn’t see them either. One of us eventually asked what side of the border I was on. Laughing ensued. I didn’t know there was an Amtrak feeder station in Niagara Falls CANADA (where they thought I was). I was at the main station in Niagara Falls USA.

No problem, says Bob, just catch a cab over and we’ll meet you on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. Okay, I say. The last cab-van was just pulling away from the station as the sun was setting. 

I sprinted over to the cabby and asked if there was room to join in the ride. He asked where I wanted to go. Inside was family of our – two kids, 8 and 10-ish, Mom and Dad. The mom told me in her fine Australian voice to jump in. As we’re driving to the bridge, the driver asks where we’re staying. Whoops. I didn’t know the address of where I was staying and the border people always ask that. I just knew I was meeting up with Bob and Donna. 

The Mom next to me pipes up – “Grandma! You’re staying with us.” My new family and I are laughing and Dad chimes in with the Hotel name to the driver, saying to his wife, “Jumping right to Grandma is a little rough, isn’t it?” I told him that was exactly the right thing! We were all cracking up. I told them how excited I was to be spending my vacation with them and hoped they’d gotten me a suite of my own. More laughter. After crossing the border and retrieving my passport from the driver, I hopped out and waited for the driver to get my suitcase from the luggage area. The kids in the back seat yelled out, “Bye Grandma, we’ll miss you!”

The driver made out on that 5-minute ride. $25 US dollars from me and another $45 Canadian from my family on their way to the hotel. Never to be seen again.

Bob and Donna and I, through a series of brief phone calls, finally met up and were immediately best of friends. It was Sunday – Canada Day! The three of us chatted it up making our way to the Falls that were lit up in the dark night with red and blue hues  to wait for even more excitement. The roads and sidewalks and lawns of the park were packed with revelers. Noisy and wonderful. Fireworks started out on the American side of the Falls and soon enough were echoed by the Canadians.

What a fine welcome to Canada! So much more to come!

 

Da Train, Da Train!

Woke in the middle of my last night in Richmond, hours before boarding my next rail car, to the distant whistle of a train skipping through town. Now that made me smile. The #94 north to New York from Richmond has just left the station, only an hour behind schedule And this time, for the first time, I have the opportunity to enjoy the Quiet Car. And it’s quiet. Quiet enough for a nap.

The last few days have been full with Cristy and Kelly time, dear friends since the late 70’s. As Cristy likes to tell her Richmond friends, she knew me before she knew Kelly. I was also lucky enough to catch up with two of their four sons. Tom (who was born a day after my own son Russell), his wife and new baby were over for pizza and Pineapple Cake night, and Barry, his wife and their bouncy one year old were over last night for Australian Meat Pie night.

Heading into Richmond a few days ago, I chatted up a couple of Amtrak employees in the snack car. The ass’t conductor, James, introduced me to the conductor, Meredith. I told them I’m a writer, gave them my card and invited them to share stories with me anytime. A while later, I was still sitting in the snack car (where I can usually be found) when James stopped and said he had his favorite story to share with me. He sat down across the table.

“I’ve got a lot of stories, some you just wouldn’t believe. But this here’s my favorite. I was sitting at a table just like this one and a bunch of women boarded and sat across there.” He nodded across the aisle. He got quite chummy with one of them – who gave him his card. She was a “Businesswoman”. He was impressed; he didn’t think a successful businesswoman would ever be interested in HIM. After some conversation about work and life, he quipped to her, “Well, listen here young lady, when we get married, there’ll be no pre-nup!”

A week or so went by, he took that card out of his pocket, figuring, what the hell, all she could do is say no. She gave him the card. So he called her and they set up a date to meet halfway between both the towns they then lived in. “I arrived right on time at the meet place. She never showed.” He was really, really angry. Really angry. After a bit of tracking her down, he reached her on the phone. Still really angry, he says to me.

No cell phones back then. She told him she’d left a message on his message machine. And yes, indeed, she had. It so happened, it was just minutes after he walked out the door. In the message, she apologized, said she had to wait for the masonry guy who was working on her home remodel. He got over his anger. They set a new time. They started seeing each other and three years later, they were married. Twenty years ago. She’s still in business and he’s still on the train.

Cristy and Kelly and their kids lived in Richmond long ago when I did, when Howie and Russell were little tykes. Mollie was born here. It was fun to be back. Cristy and I tearfully recalled the sad, sad day I left to take my little kids out to California to live. It turned out to be a very, very good choice.

The perfect artsy-fartsy couple, Cristy and Kelly have not only created amazing works of art personally, their home is a gallery of collected pieces and work their sons have done. Cristy let me go with her to her own workshop, and she and Kelly took the time to fill me in on most of their collections. Amazing stuff.

While Kelly worked and had his meetings at VCU and other work places the past few days, Cristy and I made time to visit the Napoleon exhibit “Power and Splendor” at the Richmond Museum of Fine Arts Richmond Museum of Fine Arts – Napoleon. Napoleon and his mates and underlings (I guess they were all his underlings) were all about marketing his perceived good looks, strength and power. Struck a contemporary note as well.

We roamed around the Richmond Institute of Contemporary Art. Thought provoking (and weird) stuff in there. We had a grand time of it before a tasty, tasty lunch at Can Can Restaurant, sitting outside in the warm humidity, followed by a short shopping trip in the Love of Chocolate shop, an amazing candy shop with the nicest candy shop owner, who knows the answer to any question you can ask about candy.

 

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Piece o’ cake

It’s so easy to lose track of time, what day it is, the day of the month, when I’m coming and where I’m going. Somewhere. Check my written itinerary for assurance.

The family and friend visits are the cake, the train is the icing. Put it together, a bite at a time, I’m a happy camper.

I started out on the #4 from Albuquerque to Chicago. My first sleeping night to get into my routine. Wait for the sun to go down, grab my sleeping shirts and leggings, my silk overthrow, brush my teeth and try to settle in for some sleep. That first night was terribly fitful, with my legs resting on the legrest, my feet on the foot rest, and I still couldn’t get comfortable. Since that night, I’ve learned to disregard those so-called helps. Much more comfortable, for me, to just keep my shoes on, untied, feet on the floor, get as warm as possible and relax. Amtrak really does believe in air conditioning.

At some time between 9 or 10 pm (I think), the conductor, or conductor assistant, or car attendant walks through, turns down the overhead lights, asks people to use earphones on their devices and keep the noise to a minimum. I’m floored at the conversations some people carry on – health issues, money problems, man problems. Really, the rest of us don’t want to hear that. Unless we’re taking it and writing about it! LIke the conversation this morning with the crew in the snack bar car where I sit most of the days. Big windows, smooth conversation, lots of time to think and while away the hours.

“My wife, she sees these names in my phone and doesn’t know who they are. She asks me about all these women’s names. I tell her, we’re like family here, we’re a big extended family – we have each others’ backs. She doesn’t undertand.”
Nodding and smiles all around.
“We see each other every day. That’s who we are.”
“Does she believe you yet?”
Laughter rings out. And then the singing starts, happy birthday to one of the car attendants!

Last night was my 1st overnight on the train after a few days off visiting my brother Mike and sister-in-law Lynn in Florida. What a great visit we had. Time to sit and catch up with each other, just the three of us. Then an amazing day at Epcot after a brief drive to Orlando. I got to meet some of their hilarious friends, danced with Springsteen Karoake “Dancing in the Dark”, and joined in the singing of David Allan Coe’s You Never Even Call Me By My Name. Look it up. Wait for the last verse!

And on we roll to Richmond Virginia, 9 am until noon (or so – trains do tend to arrive late, but not always) to meet up with Cristy and Kelly, friends since the late 70’s, the wild and crazy political campaign we worked. Or worked around the pinball machines.

Hear the train whistle? the Choo Choo? That’s me.

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