Road scene
Somewhere in northern Arizona.

I like road trips in the U.S.   It’s fun to see new places, visit old friends and learn about life in different parts of the country.  Earlier this month my husband and I traveled to Tucson to visit our friends Judy and Clint and then continued north to the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell and the slot canyons near Page, Arizona.

Multi-colored shot
Sunset at the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon was not on my list of places-to-see-before-I-can’t.  I have seen so many pictures of it, I felt like I’d already been there.  Well, let me tell you:  it is more than Grand.  It’s amazing–immense, multi-colored, ever-changing.  I am so glad I got to see it in person.  A slot canyon is pretty much what it sounds like:  a narrow slot in sandstone formations, big enough to walk through and open at the top so the sun filters through.  Like the Grand Canyon, slot canyons have to be seen to be fully appreciated. 

We spent a couple of nights in Page, Arizona a town founded to house workers and their families during construction of the Glen Canyon Dam.  The dam across the Colorado River created Lake Powell, a reservoir, and in the process destroyed one of the most beautiful canyons in the U.S.  Before the trip, we reserved a room at the  Lake View Best Western.  Upon our arrival, we discovered that there was a lake view–if you happened to bring a very powerful telescope.  Worse, the Lake View Best Western was right across the street from the Best Western Plus.  When I asked what the difference was, the desk clerk replied, “The other one’s fancier.”  

I like Best Western hotels. We often stay at them on road trips because they are clean, comfortable and have excellent staffs.  All of this held true for the Not-Much-of-a-Lake View Best Western. But every time we drove past the Best Western Plus, I wondered what fanciness we were missing.  It reminded me of the scene from Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories, in which Woody looks through the window of his dark, dingy train full of unhappy, depressed-looking people into a car on the adjoining track where there is a brightly lit party in progress, complete with beautiful women in cocktail dresses, laughing and clinking champagne glasses with handsome men.  I have remembered that scene for 40 years because it perfectly depicted how I have felt at times.  Haven’t we all?  But then there were the stunning canyons, the birds of prey and endless vistas.  A good road trip is the perfect reminder of the fanciness available to all of us.

Photos by moi.

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Home…is where the heart is. (Pliny the Elder)h

Home…is the nicest word there is.  (Laura Ingalls Wilder)

There’s no place like…home. (Dorothy of Oz)

Okay, so I fudged a little on the last quote. 

Home and feeling at home are often on my mind. Bill and I travel a lot, trying to find out as much about the wider world as we can.  The best part for me is seeing how people live in other countries—what kind of shelter they inhabit, what they eat, how they treat each other. 

Here are some unedited photos from our trip to Vietnam.

Four generations of one family at Horizon Bungalows in Tam Coc. The young man in the white shirt owns the lovely small hotel. The baby is his youngest son, nicknamed “Sumo.” Every morning his father (left) and grandfather (right) come by for breakfast.
Two men at home in a floating village in Ha Long Bay.

This is a collection of photos of people at their homes in Vietnam.  The shots are from Hanoi, Tam Coc, Bac Liu and Ha Long Bay.
Heading home at dusk, Ha Long Bay
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Bill's autumn pic
Autumn leaves, Simsbury, Connecticut*

My friend Norm Benjamin died last week. I didn’t get to say goodbye to him.  He was one of the first people I met when we moved to Simsbury, Connecticut 22 years ago.  Norm was a husband, father, church sexton, owner of Cobblestone Landscaping and all-around good, kind person.  I thought he would live well into his eighties, as his father did, but he died at age 67–too soon.  It’s hard to believe.

His friendship meant a lot to me, and I wrote about him a few years ago in my blog about “Autumn Leaves and Leaving:” An excerpt:

In the autumn of 1996, Norm appeared at my kitchen door and told me he had come to say “goodbye.” Our family had moved to Connecticut from California six months earlier and Norm was one of my few friends. We had worked together fashioning a garden around the newly built house, planted trees, installed a raised bed for growing vegetables. It was Norm who taught me about frost heaves, the mud season, hardy perennials and Swamp Yankees—all new concepts for a West Coast native—and he was a good friend, besides, so I was distressed at his leaving.

Are you moving away?” I asked.

He shook his head. I recognized the incredulity with which most locals greeted my cluelessness. “No. It’s the end of October. I’ll see you when winter’s over.”

Time passes, life changes. We sold the Simsbury house with its beautiful gardens that Norm and his wife, Pam, planned for and with me. Pam and I have sustained our friendship through various moves within the East Coast and then to California but it’s hard to keep up from long distance.  I thought that everything was fine until I learned that Norm was very ill and then, only days later, that he died. Norm won’t be back when winter’s done.  A modest man, I’m sure he had no idea how much he will be missed. 

Goodbye, good friend.

  *Photo by William C. Popik, MD

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You Must Remember This

There will be a memory test at the end of this blog.

I have an increased risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. This doesn’t mean I am certain to get it, but my risk is greater than that of most people.  My father had significant memory loss and, when he died at age 88, had been showing signs of Alzheimer’s for about 15 years.  That would make him exactly my age when his condition was noticeable.

I am significantly healthier than my dad was and….so far so good.  I haven’t been stashing my wallet in the refrigerator.  I can find my way home.  I’m not so good at finding my car in parking lots but I never have been.  I ace those tests all Medicare patients get when they visit the doctor–I can draw a fabulous clock face.  Some of my friends are worrying about losing their memories, too. We compare symptoms:  “I lost my car keys twice today;”  “I forgot my next door neighbor’s name;”  “What’s the name of that thingy that…does that stuff…you know.” Or my personal favorite:  “What were we just talking about?” And neither of us can remember. 

To date, there isn’t much to be done to stop progressive memory loss so, besides keeping up with the literature and participating in medical studies, what is to be done?  I figure the best approach is to appreciate what we have while we have it.  And deal with the problem if it presents itself.  

Memory Test

Do you remember that pathetic indoor lemon tree I thought was dead a few years ago (see blog of May 16, 2016). The photo at the top of this pages shows it as it is now, in our garden in California, flourishing with age!

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Hoi An storefront.

We have just returned from a month in Vietnam.  Despite all assurances from friends to the contrary, I was concerned that Americans would not be welcome there after the long, bitter war that divided both our countries.  Boy, was I wrong!  For one thing, 70% of the population wasn’t born until after the war ended, so they have no memory of it and no more interested in talking about the Vietnam War than my adult children are.  The economy is on the upswing and, though Vietnam has a communist system of government, it surely has an entrepreneurial, capitalist spirit.  I will write more on this subject in the next few blogs, but meanwhile, here are some photos I took as we made our way around the country.

Hanoi child
Hanoi toddler

I was surprised, after two weeks in the south, to find that the weather up north in Hanoi was so chilly. Though it looks as if a concerned parent has overdressed this little person, I resorted to wearing several layers myself to deal with the chill.

This is a lucky shot with a good camera, catching
the exuberance
of these kids in a Hanoi park.

And no city photos would be complete without the obligatory rooftop alley cat. I don’t know why this kitty looks so sad.

Have a good week!

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I was forewarned that traffic in Vietnam, especially in the cities, is chaotic. And yes, it is, though it’s organized chaos. Somehow it works. Buses, taxis and thousands of motorbikes carrying unimaginable loads maneuver beside and around each other like schools of fish. There is a lot of honking, to be sure, but I have not seen a single accident in the week we’ve been here.

The elderly do not seem to drive motorbikes but are often passengers. It isn’t as frightening to see a Vietnamese grandma clinging to her adult son’s back as it is to see entire families, including babies, zig-zagging along. Here are some photos taken by me and my friends.

Some people don’t mind the traffic at all.

For others, it’s a daily commute.

Family on motorcycle
This family is motoring along the main road through the Mekong Delta. That’s a baby, not a doll lying on the woman’s lap.

Courage AND style!
Let’s not forget the egg delivery man….
(Photo by Joakim Wedjemar)
Or the box guy…but wait! There’s more!
guy on bike
And the granddaddy of them all–mattresses on the back and bedding on his lap.
(Photo by Darcey Quinn)


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One of hundreds of stalls at the Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City

We are on a photo tour of Vietnam for the next several weeks so I will be posting from the road (depending on internet connections, of course). Judging from all the changes to this fascinating city, I doubt I will have any trouble with connectivity in most places in the country. So I’ll “see” you next week!

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New Year’s Resolutions 2019

1.  Take the time to find out if it’s “New Years,” “New Year’s,” or “New Year.”

Family around the table.

2. Spend more time with family and friends.

3.  Call people instead of texting.

4.  Learn to use the TV controls.

5.  Stop worrying about my adult children.  They have made it this far ignoring my advice.

6.  Teach husband how to find lost items.

7.  Give up kissing the cat.  He doesn’t like it and never will.

8.  Write more.

9.  Fret less.

10.  Take it easy, but take it.

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Uploaded to Creative Commons by badstar91

Are you a BAD MOM if you let your kids watch The Ladies Man on Christmas Eve? I’m afraid I may be, at least by local standards.

Our family’s move from loosey goosey California to traditional New England twenty years ago opened up a whole new world of occasions for guilt and shame. That first December, everything looked like a print by Currier and Ives. Beautiful as it was, I couldn’t get a grasp on all the traditions. It seemed as if everyone decorated for Christmas the weekend after Thanksgiving, my favorite weekend for doing nothing. There were unconfirmed rumors that families wore matching PJs when they opened Christmas presents. One of my good friends had beautiful decorations handed down for generations, and she put them in the same place every year. I, on the other hand, could barely remember what we had for decorations, much less where I placed them in years past.

The most memorable Christmas in those early years was when friends let Eric, their teenage son, come to our house for Christmas. Eric’s Jewish parents agreed that our house seemed like a good place to go because we celebrate both Christmas and Chanukah. Our teenage sons rented a video to watch before dinner. We all settled down and the boys turned on The Ladies Man. It was clear from the beginning that this film was not going to be a cozy Christmas story. For starters, it had nothing to do with Christmas. But Tim Meadows and Will Ferrell were funny even though the humor was raunchy—really, really raunchy. While the three boys choked with laughter, I started worrying that Eric’s parents would think we were horrible people. We watched the whole thing.

That was long ago. Now we have our own traditions. I put up the tree and all the other decorations whenever and wherever I please. Our granddaughter chases the cats around the house and the kitties stay under the beds for a week. We eat roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and pop those ridiculous British Christmas Crackers.  We celebrate on whatever day near December 25th we can all be together. And we always watch The Ladies Man.

Credit:  Upload of photo to Creative Commons by badstar91

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Hedgehog with crown

Baby hedgehog getting ready to party.

Friends are always sending me links to cute animal videos.  I am quite aware of all the time it is possible to waste in a day, so I try to avoid watching them before I sit down to write.  Unfortunately, once I begin watching the clips, it’s difficult to stop.

The videos are often on YouTube.  There is a series on The Dodo called “Little But Fierce.”  In just two weeks I have received from friends clips about a tiny armadillo who “likes to snuggle” and rolls around in a bathtub filled with water and the story of  a “tiny pink blob” who “grew up into a hedgehog.” [Note:  it was an hedgehog blob–what else would it grow up to be?]

If you watch enough of these videos you will discover that they all have a common story line.  Because the animals are “rescued” there is an element of suspense:  will they make it?  And how do the human rescuers know what to do?  In the case of the snuggly armadillo, there was a point at which its little heart failed and the rescuer did CPR on him for an hour and 45 minutes. And it worked!  The baby hedgehog’s chances of survival were very slim but with constant feeding and a heating pad, he (she?) gained weight and, of course, became very snuggly.  The rescued animals are often “tiny fighters” with “huge personalities.”  I have a lot of admiration for a person who would take in a baby armadillo, but what on earth will she do with it when it’s full grown? It’s one thing to hire a cat sitter if you are going away; it’s an entirely different matter to find someone to babysit a 15-pound adult armadillo.

But then again, maybe it will provide inspiration for writing:   Lonely Housesitter Befriends Adult Armadillo….could be a story….

Have a Good Week!

Photo by Liudmyla Denysiu via Unsplash

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