Monday, October 4, 2010

Visiting the Lower 48

For the past month I've been visiting family and because they're pretty well scattered geographically I've been hop-scotching around the U.S. I started out in Eugene, Oregon, on September 1 and I'm back there now as I write this. It's a short hop from here to LA which is where my flight to Bangkok originates on October 5th. And then too, Harper, my youngest grandson, lives here. I missed out on being near my other grandkids when they were Harper's age due to the fact that I was working full time and we're separated by huge distances. I'm determined not to miss out on his childhood.

Harper at the playground (age 20 months)

I have a few photos, of interest mostly to family members, that I'll include here. Usually you can click on any of these images to see them at full size but Blogger currently has a bug that prevents that from happening. Maybe someone over at Google can fix this issue, maybe not.

I spent a week with Tuli, Shannon and Harper, then flew to Kernersville, North Carolina, to hang out with my daughter Carin and her family. Here's a shot of Carin and my granddaughter Kaiyah cleaning leaves from their backyard pool.
Poolside at Carin's
Carin and me

Sandy with wine and roses
From Carin's I went to Buffalo to see my mom, sister and brother. I stayed with my sister Sandy at her place on Lake Ontario. She also has a pool but it was covered for the winter even though the weather was still very mild. Here she is sniffing the last of the roses as we head out to the lake shore on the north edge of her property for a drink at sunset.

So as it turns out both my daughter and my sister have heated, in ground swimming pools. And my brother Dale has a huge pond with hand built waterfalls upon which he is just putting the finishing touches. He is a crazed DIYer and loves working on his house, a house he built essentially himself. And I have a tiny rented cabin with no pool, not even running water. What's up with that? Below is a photo of my bro' and his pond, complete with carved bears and tons of rocks that he brought in from the driveway in a wheelbarrow ;-)
Dale with his handiwork - he wheelbarrowed all those rocks in from his driveway

 My mom will turn 94 this November. Last May she finally left her home of almost 60 years. Early this spring she told my sister, "I'm tired of cooking and cleaning. And I'm tired of being alone." I never entertained the notion that my mom would ever not want to cook but I could well understand her feeling of not wanting to be alone. Of all the relatives, all the neighbors, and all her friends, she's practically the last one left alive. My dad passed away over 30 years ago, her brothers and sisters, all five of them, are long gone. My resourceful sister found the perfect assisted living facility in nearby Lockport and mom absolutely loves it. She's hardly ever in her room. She loves to walk and she loves Buffalo sports, the Bills and the Sabres. Doesn't miss a game. The home is a lovely old converted mansion with high ceilings and fireplaces, now non-functioning, in every room and is staffed by some incredible people. She has more closet space in her quarters there than she had in the entire house she left behind last May.

It's football season so we watched the Bills play one Sunday afternoon. They lost but we enjoyed pizza and "wings", a Buffalo specialty and favorite snack food.
Mom watching the game

"Get going you bums!"
Mom doesn't drink these days but enjoys a non-alcoholic beer now and then. Especially with pizza and football.

I spent a couple of fun days with my college friend Carm and his wife Kim and attended a high school reunion that just happened to be taking place during the week I was in town. It was bizarre to see people that I hadn't laid eyes on for almost 50 years. I reconnected with one old buddy but unfortunately most of my closest friends from that time are dead already. While it was interesting and fun, the few people I ran into had been only casual acquaintances in 1961. And everyone I met was very politically conservative -- I felt a bit like a fish out of water at this gathering. It's weird to consider how far to the left I am politically from almost everyone that stayed in Buffalo, including most of my family. When I visit Buffalo I mostly avoid talking politics. It's easier for everyone that way.

We visited Beaver Island State Park, a regular Sunday family destination for many years
After returning to Eugene I rented a car so I could drive up to Portland for a few days. Ive been wanting to see Portland for quite a while. I keep hearing wonderful things about it and, of course, I'm trying to check out places I might want to live given that I can ever summon the courage to leave Alaska after 28 years. I Couchsurfed with a person that I only knew from our online email exchanges. Cadence was a wonderful host and showed me some of the best Portland has to offer in the limited time available. I was suitably impressed. But it is a huge city and the traffic and crowds were, I don't know, difficult to enjoy. Maybe I've changed too much during the time I've spent in rural, unspoiled Alaska to return to an urban life. As I've said before, I loved Boston when I lived there and Boston is bigger and surlier than Portland. But that was a long time ago.

Like all my other Couchsurfing experiences, this one was special. And in the same way -- I will definitely be visiting Cadence again. We're politically aligned, we both love to talk, she's a Portland booster, and a great cook. I met one other Couchsurfing acquaintance in Portland. Zoe and I shared travel gossip and a meal in Jake's Grill. Zoe has a son who lives part time in Thailand, another in Hong Kong, and she lives part time in Mexico so she's a traveler who moves around and like me, jumps from family member to family member in those travels. Except her kids are rather more far flung and have settled in more exotic locales than mine. I think there's an excellent chance we'll meet up again.

Cadence and I drove the scenic Columbia River Hwy to the Columbia Gorge and visited a few of the numerous waterfalls along the way. I had heard of Multnomah Falls a long time ago so please bear with me -- they warrant inclusion here although I'm sure there are literally thousands of pictures of them on the web.
The Columbia River Gorge looking east toward Bonneville Dam
Multnomah Falls

The next day we went to the famous Japanese Gardens in Washington Park. I had seen photos of this magical place before too but in any event it is a photographer's dream. Cadence told me the best time to visit is a bit later in the year when the maples have turned but I liked it nonetheless.
Maple tree

Maple tree

Even the spider webs at the Japanese Gardens were fantastical.

Last but not least we walked across the street to check out the Rose Garden. The roses, unlike the maples, were a bit past their prime, like me, but also like me, offered a bit of color and vitality despite that fact.

Faded rose
White rose
Red rose

Back in Eugene I caught this photo of Tuli and Shannon roughing up the Doodle. He was laughing and yelling my name (actually his pronunciation of grandpa), bampa, bampa, bampa,  as though to have me rescue him but you can see he was enjoying the attention.

I've been spending many hours with Harper each and every day, taking him for walks, reading and rereading books he loves, singing nursery songs over and over, putting him to bed at night, bonding with him. It's been a fabulous experience. Being with him constantly reminds me of the time when Tuli was a youngster; those were some of the best years of my life. I kick myself mentally for not having been the same sort of totally committed parent to my older kids. I guess at the time I just didn't have the maturity. Sure, I read books to them and sang songs, and played with them like the loving father that I was, but I practically deserted them when their mother and I divorced. That is really the only regret I have in how I've lived my life up to now. It's too bad we learn the important things so slowly or sometimes not at all.

I'll be leaving here for LA and Bangkok late on Tuesday. Nut will meet me in Bangkok and we'll travel together for a month or so. Having been a hard working single parent for many years, she has never been to any of the island resorts for which Thailand is famous so we have plans to visit Koh Tao and maybe Phuket or Koh Phi Phi. Stay tuned....