Thursday, May 26, 2011

Aunt Adventuresome

Yesterday I flew with my niece Colleen and her 12-year-old son Ben from Seattle to San Jose to see a Glee concert. I'm a fan of Glee. I love the singing and dancing and the campy story line. I'm especially impressed with the positive role model the kids have become for their real-life counterparts in middle and high school, where kids are ridiculed mercilessly for any deviation from the perceived behavioral norm.

In addition to Colleen, my husband Art has 15 other nieces and nephews. Usually I see them only at family gatherings, where there may be 50-plus people in attendance. This is my second marriage, so most of the nieces and nephews were around before I was. I came later to the party, so to speak.

Of all these nieces and nephews, Colleen is the only one I really know. We meet for coffee every few months and enjoy the camaraderie and the conversation. Since we're both Glee fans, we decided to splurge on the plane fare and the concert tickets as part of celebrating Ben's birthday.

We flew to San Jose at 7 a.m. yesterday and spent parts of the day with Colleen's college friend Emily and with Colleen's brother Adam. We chatted about my recent trip and discussed the pros and cons of home exchanging and couch surfing. While they went off to a museum, I took a nap. Then the concert in the evening.

I'd say 15,000 people attended the concert. Lots of preteens and their parents. Lots of screaming soprano voices in the audience, excellent show on the stage. As we joined the throng streaming out of the HP Pavilion at the conclusion of the show, I could tell adrenaline was running high for many of the kids. Ben was hoarse from screaming and as we walked to the car he revisited his many favorite parts - they were all "amazing", it seemed.

After a short night's sleep we flew home this morning. I commented to Colleen that it feels odd to be part of the "older generation" now. She said, "Linda, I don't think of you as older. And my brother Adam texted me yesterday and said, 'Wow. Linda is really adventuresome, isn't she?' He had never talked to you outside the family gatherings. " We talked about stereotypes and how different people sometimes turn out to be when you talk to them one on one.

So I'm adventuresome! I may need a nap this afternoon, though, to recover from Glee.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Road Trip Reflections

Here's some of what I learned on our three-week road trip to the Midwest:

1. I can coexist easily and happily with my husband when we're not driving in traffic. There wasn't any except entering and departing from large cities (Seattle and Omaha).

2. There's a lot of drilling for oil and gas, and mining for minerals, in southern Wyoming. Some of it is being done by a company called Halliburton.

3. In some midwest restaurants, there's not much menu space given to fresh vegetables or healthy entrees.

4. Iowa is mostly hilly and Nebraska is mostly not. Iowa mostly doesn't need to have farmland irrigated and Nebraska mostly does. At least the parts we saw.

5. People in small towns are usually friendly and helpful, at least to us.

6. It's economical to spend the night in someone's home (via or, but it requires the energy and interest in conversation with newly-met people. Sometimes a motel room is easier after a long day's drive.

7. Sometimes it's a good idea to travel with a group, especially when you need a knowledgeable guide to cover an area (like the Black Hills in South Dakota).

8. Warren Buffett is an interesting rich guy and a good teacher.

9. Long days of sitting in a car or on a bus can result in lumbar strain which may require multiple trips to the chiropractor after arriving home.

10. It's wonderful to sleep again in your own bed - even if you catch a virus three days after you get back.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Our week in South Dakota

Tomorrow morning we leave the Black Hills. It's been a busy, interesting five days. Sometimes we travel with a group because we need the knowledge of a guide. This Road Scholar tour was just what we were looking for.

Here's what we saw: Tatanka, Deadwood, the Homestake Gold Mine, Custer State Park, Crazy Horse mountain carving, Mount Rushmore (including the lowering of the colors at dusk, which Art helped with because he's a vet), the Badlands, and Wall Drug. Through the places we visited and the guide's talks, I've gotten a better understanding of the relationship between the Native Americans and the pioneers, and it's not pretty.

The scenery was beautiful, the company reasonably good - though we didn't make any friends on this trip we'll keep in touch with, which usually happens.

It will take us three days to get home. Tomorrow night we'll be in Billings, Montana and Sunday we'll stay in Post Falls, Idaho. I'm ready! My SI joint protested today when I sat down for breakfast, and we had to forego a steam train ride to visit a chiropractor in Rapid City. I'm better now, but not up to commenting much about this week. I hope the pictures and the brief summary are sufficient.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Emerging from the Midwest

We stayed an extra day on the farm in Iowa. I'd finished my family research and we had a day to spare. We felt so comfortable interacting with the host family and the workers, we weren't ready to leave. Art loves to cook for people he cares about, so he took over Stacy's kitchen and made spaghetti, Italian bread, his special salad, and biscotti for the meal to take to the workers.

Stacy and I served the dinner out of the back of her Suburban at three farm sites. We even had a teenager say he liked spaghetti - for the first time in his life! Maybe it was the sausage in the sauce rather than ground beef.

On Wednesday we started driving west. We took backroads most of the way. There was no traffic on the roads - no competion from the 18 wheelers that ply the interstate. We spent the night in Pierce, Nebraska, in a comfortable but elaborately decorated B&B two miles out of town on a dirt road.

Thursday we stopped at Ashfall State Park. I'd read about this place in a Bill Bryson book called "A Short History of Nearly Everything." About 12 million years ago there was a volcanic eruption in what is now southern Idaho, from the same hotspot that now generates the activity at Yellowstone. The ash cloud spread across the continent. At a certain point the ash fell. At that time the area that's now Nebraska was a savannah. Animals at a watering hole breathed the ash and died - first the birds and small animals, then the larger animals. They died in the watering hole, and the ash covered them before scavengers could scatter their bones.

Then, in 1971, a paleontologist was doing some surveying on a farm, and he found, at the edge of a small ravine, the intact skull of a baby rhinoceros. He came back with a crew to explore further, and they found dozens of intact (articulated) skeletons. They've been digging ever since. In a covered area called the Rhino Barn, we can see the results of their dig on display. Mother rhinos lying next to babies. Completely intact birds. Fascinating!

On Friday we arrived in Gordon, Nebraska, where my great grandparents Samuel and Mary Catherine Wallace are buried. I found them in the cemetery on the hill right away. I was surprised to find myself close to tears, standing there looking at the evidence of my connection to past generations. The cemetery is irrigated, and the minerals from the hard water have tarnished the stones. I asked Art if we could try to clean up the headstone while we were in town, and he agreed.

I was in Gordon to gather more information about my mother's family. Everyone I met, I told my story. The first night, after we got back from dinner, the hotel clerk's husband gave me a name and phone number - Harlen Wheeler, the local historian, was expecting my call!

At breakfast the next morning, the restaurant owner referred me to Kim at the city office. I went there and talked to her, as well as to Frank, the city manager, and Mike, the city guy responsible for the cemetery. He drove out there with us and tried using a fine-grain sandpaper on the tombstone, which worked. Mike told us some of the history of the city and showed us the snowy owl babies in the big fir tree. Then I talked to Charlotte, who does genealogical research as her hobby and church calling.

At the cemetery I found the graves of my great uncle Edward and his wife Annie, and my great aunt Lutie and her five year old daughter Dorothy Grace, whom I'd never known about. We drove to Rushville, the county seat, and I went through my great grandfather's probate papers. There I found the married name of another great aunt, Vene, and the description of the land my great grandfather bequeathed to his six children - confirming that he'd obtained 160 acres as a homestead when he arrived in Nebraska in 1885. This morning I met Harlen, the historian and storyteller, at the local museum, and found a picture of my great grandfather, taken with a group of Civil War veterans, and one of my great aunt Vene at her 10-year high school reunion.

In all my Gordon explorations, the people of the town were friendly and eager to help me. They gave suggestions: try the city library, go over to the American Legion hall and see if there are any records, check out the rural cemetery rolls and see if any of Samuel and Mary Catherine's four other children are buried someplace else. I did all those things. Everyone I talked to was helpful and supportive. It was a wonderful example of small town hospitality.

Today we bought sandpaper at the True Value hardware store. Both of us worked on my great grandparents' tombstone and it took about two hours. Very tiring for 60-something arm muscles! But we were happy with the result, and I expect the spirits of Samuel and Mary Catherine felt the same way.

Tomorrow morning we leave for our weeklong tour in South Dakota. This has been a grand week!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Busy days in the Iowa countryside

We've been staying in a farmhouse B&B four miles north of Montezuma, Iowa. I spent yesterday morning in Toledo, about 30 miles north of here, doing research in the genealogy library. It's a labor of love for the the dedicated volunteers. One of them, Carline, opened up the library especially for us. I had my iPad with all the information I have on my great grandparents, Samuel Wallace and Mary Catherine Moore, who married in 1867 and lived in the area until 1886. I wasn't able to find anything new on them except to learn that numerous Moore families had settled in the area. So I suspect the names I got from the court records - James Moore, Ezra Moore, J.S. Moore and others - may yield Mary Catherine as a relative when I look for them them on We're leaving for western Nebraska tomorrow, to explore the town Samuel and Marty Catherine lived in from 1885 until her death in1894 and his death in 1921. They're both buried in Gordon, Nebraska, so I'm hopeful I'll find an obituary that will help me track down Mary Catherine's family. As with other thing in life, though, I believe making the effort is as important as actually succeeding; "Life is a journey, not a destination."

We're having a fabulous experience at the English Valley B&B - - for the last two days. We're staying in the Heritage Room. In the yard outside were 15 cats, two
miniature horses, three horses, a couple of bottle-fed calves and a friendly chocolate lab named Cocoa. Another guest arrived with her schnauzer, Dandy Girl, who delightedly chased all the cats. We all laughed watching the streaking cats, who leaped atop farm machinery wheels and fenceposts and then hissed at the dog from their safe perches.

Doug and Stacy farm close to 5,000 acres on several farms in the area. Both of them were math teachers but decided to farm; they're third-generation farmers so they know what they're doing. Stacy says a successful farmer has a sense for business and marketing. He has to be personable, she says, so he can acquire land and also develop relationships with people and companies to buy his products - soybeans and corn. At dinnertime we all got in Stacy's Suburban and took hamburgers out to the men working in the fields. We drove right over the plowed field and then ate our dinner out of the back of the Suburban while Art got in the enormous planter Stacy's husband Doug and made a round. The planter is GPS equipped and can drive itself.

Back at the farm, we walked to the pond and Art did a little fishing, but all he caught was moss. Stacy built the first campfire of the season.

We'll be staying one more day here before we head to western Nebraska to look for Samuel and Mary Catherine.