Memoir Monday – Remembering Days of Lily-of-the-Valley, Pea Pods and Coal

If, like many bloggers, you have been journaling for a very long time, do you ever wish you could have started much earlier? Like when you were a child?

I’ve been trying to work on my Memoirs. I’d like to start at the beginning, but all I have are old, black and white photographs to spur my memory of those times. Sometimes it’s a long reach back. It’s hard to remember the details, and the pictures often don’t show what I need.

This week two things have brought back some memories of my childhood home – the Lily-of-the-Valley that are coming up nicely in our flower beds here at the condo, and the news from the US that the President is determined to bring back coal production.

A very young me in front of our family home

A very young me in front of our family home

This is the only picture I can find that shows anything of the two-story white clapboard,  house with  black trim, where I grew up. In the background behind me, you can see part of a long verandah. It stretched across three-quarters of one side of the house and around the corner to the front door.

The verandah brought a few memories together.

The Lily-of-the-Valley

In a flower bed that bordered the side length of the verandah, my mother had planted Lily-of-the-Valley. One summer day when they were in full bloom, a bored young me thought it would be fun to climb up onto the verandah railing and jump off to the ground. I don’t know if I was unaware of the work Mom had put into planting the garden, or if I thought I could jump over it.



As I climbed up for the second time, my mother tore through the side door.

“Judy! Get down off of there!”

“But I just want to jump!” I replied.

Needless to say, she was not impressed, especially when she saw the flatten patch of  the green and white perennials.

Pea Pods

Mom picked up a large wooden basket full of green peas still in the pods, and a bowl of from the cupboard.

“Come with me. You can help me shell these peas,” she said, as she nudged me out to the verandah.

We sat side-by-side in the wooden porch chairs, the basket between us, the bowl in her lap and she showed me how to snap open the pod and carefully scrape the peas into the bowl. I don’t remember how long we sat there; I don’t remember any conversation, although being an inquisitive child I’m sure I had lots of questions for her.

Funny, I never liked cooked peas when I was a kid, but I swear I can hear her scolding me for eating more of these peas than I was putting into the bowl!

The Coal

At the front of the house, a heavy trap door in the wooden verandah floor provided access into the basement. I remember a day when a big truck arrived, and a man removed a section of the verandah railing, opened the trap door and set up a chute from the back of the truck to inside the door. I saw him shoveling chunks of black coal onto the chute. I watched it slide down through a cloud of black dust, and disappear below the floor, until my mother hauled me back indoors, out of harms way.

When the delivery man had finished his job, replacing the verandah panel and closing the trap door, I was outside again, watching my mother scrubbing the blackened walls and floor of the verandah with a mop and large bucket of soapy water.

Once winter winds began to howl, my dad would shovel the coal from the basement bin into the coal-fired furnace to provide his family with warmth through the long, cold winter.

One Last Adventure in Arizona – Biosphere2

With our days here dwindling quickly, we went on one last adventure before starting the task of sorting and packing to get ready for our trip back to Ontario. Saturday morning we packed a lunch, and struck out in the car, top down, towards Oracle and Biosphere 2.

An hour later, we stopped for a stretch at a little park that displayed a memorial to Tom Mix, a famous movie cowboy who died in a car accident at the spot in 1940, too long ago for me to know anything about him, but his interesting story was posted.

Tom MixIMG_0965IMG_0963

It was lunch time when we arrived at Biosphere 2, so we sat outside on one of the stone benches and enjoyed our lunch while soaking up the sunny atmosphere. Then we went inside to wait for the tour to begin.

Biosphere 2 contains 5 biomes, including a 900,000-gallon salt water ocean, a rain forest, a desert, agricultural areas and a human habitat, all within the 7,200,000-cubic-foot sealed glass and space-frame structure.


A Little History

Biosphere 2 was a Space Biospheres Venture project that began in 1984 with the purchase of the property near Oracle Arizona that had previously been the site of a conference centre for Motorola, and then the University of Arizona. Two years later an iconic facility was constructed with $150 million in funding from Texas oil magnate Edward Bass. It was designed as an airtight replica of Earth’s environment (Biosphere 1).

Some of the early designers and managers were interested in space travel and the possibility of colonizing the Moon or Mars.  With the hope of learning what problems would arise from living in a closed system, in 1991 a colony of eight people were sealed inside Biosphere 2 for two years. Six months later another crew of seven entered Biosphere 2, but after a number of physical and social problems developed these experiments were suspended in 1994.

In the years following, the facility was managed by Decisions Investment Corporation and Columbia University until 2007 when CDO Ranching and Development bought it. The University of Arizona assumed management, and was then gifted the facility in 2011. It has been a state-of-the art research laboratory for students of science ever since, with tourism providing some extra funding.

After a five-minute video that highlighted some of the things we would see, our tour began. I can’t remember the tour guide’s name because he was not a memorable soul and brought no life to the tour. It seemed like he didn’t have enough to tell us and was always checking his watch and then saying, “So I’ll give you a minute or two to stand here and look around” as if he was killing time. That was disappointing.

We saw banana and eucalyptus trees in the rainforest, and a little experiment in progress that some school children had set up. It was a several-tiered vegetable garden that was being nourished with the run-off water from a Koi fish pond at the top level. We walked through the mangrove marsh and the desert.

There are two “lungs”, white domes that are variable air-volume control devices. Our guide took us through a tunnel, into the South Lung and explained a little bit about how it works.


Inside the “lung”


I think with a more enthusiastic guide, the hour and a half long tour would have been very interesting, but as it was, we were glad when it was over.

Then we were allowed to do self-guided tours of the Ocean from below, through a windowed tunnel, but some sections were under repair or construction, so there really wasn’t much to see. We decided to skip the self-guided tour of the Upper Habitat, where the crews had lived in 1991 to 1994, since we’d been given views of it in the video, and we were ready to continue on to Globe for dinner.

Although the history of the Biosphere 2 is interesting, I felt that today it would be far more enticing to spend some time there as a science student or researcher, living in one of the adobe apartments and making use of the facility for experiments and further knowledge. Summer programs are offered to young students as well.

To learn more about Biosphere2 check out these websites:

A Cruise on the Dolly Steamboat and New Views of Superstition Mountain

As many times as we’ve driven up to and around Superstition Mountain, we’d not taken a trip on the Steamboat that we often saw when we skirted Canyon Lake so this year we decided this would be one of the highlights when Jim’s daughter Karen was here. Two old friends and two new friends joined us.

After lunch at Tortilla Flat, we drove back down the road to the Dolly Steamboat Boarding Area and waited in line to pick up our boarding passes. We’d reserved our spots online a week or more earlier, which was a good thing because tickets were sold out.



The day was perfect. We were too far back in the line to get seats on the upper deck, but there were plenty of opportunities to duck outside to the open bow and stern decks to capture some of the natural wonders hiding in the 1300 foot cliffs around us. The captain, using a PA system, let us know where to look for things he knew would be of particular interest.


Long-horn Sheep roaming the cliffs


Bald Eagle Nest – some were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the eagle


J. S. Bach gave us a performance (with the help of the captain and PA system)

Because spring has come early to the area this year, we saw a whole new version of Superstition Mountain. Instead of the various shades of browns, grays and reddish rocks that were in all our previous photos, this time there were the yellows and reds and greens of the flowering trees and cacti, and mosses and lichens. Everything was in bloom!



We also managed to find views without hydro wires, after the cruise was done and we were on our way back down to Apache Junction.

Wishing Everyone a Happy Easter!



San Antonio, Texas

When we left New Orleans we headed in the direction of San Antonio, Texas. Traveling along Hwy 90 was the worst road we’ve ever been on. It is made of concrete slabs and they have all heaved just enough to cause the RV to thump over the uneven seams with each set of axles. Dishes rattled, doors and drawers that we thought were secured banged open and closed. My body began to ache and my head began to pound. At one point we turned off it to take the much smoother service road that ran alongside it, until that took a turn north before meeting up with 90 several miles later. It was 4:45 pm when we crossed the border into Texas and were back on I-10.

Jim takes a break under the Texas Star

Jim takes a break under the Texas Star

At 6:30 we stopped for dinner at a Cracker Barrel near Houston and called it a day. Most Cracker Barrel Restaurants have parking spots at the back just for RVs and as long as there is space, they are welcome to stay for the night. Of course it’s good for business because we always return for breakfast.

By 2:00 pm the next day we were entrenched in the San Antonio KOA. We unloaded the bike and rode downtown. After finding a spot in a nearby parking lot, we walked to The Alamo and did the tour with headsets that told us the history. It’s an interesting story.

Alamo Alamo5And the gardens around it are beautiful.

Alamo Gardens

Alamo Gardens

Alamo GardensThe sun was hot, so the cooler air that enveloped us after we descended  the stairs to the River Walk was a welcome relief. We strolled on the walkway beside the river banks, and checked out the many restaurants before settling on an outdoor café that featured polish sausages, sauerkraut (or potato salad) and fresh baked pretzels.

Yummy Sausage, pretzel and German Potato Salad

Yummy Sausage, pretzel and German Potato Salad

While we ate we were entertained by two fellows dressed in German-style knickers, vests and hats. One played an accordion, the other a lap drum kit; both sang and told jokes. They quit about the time we were finished eating.


Sign on bucket: “All Donations Benefit the Home for One-armed Accordion Players”

We climbed back up the stairs to the hot pavement, returned to the bike and attempted to find our way back to the campground. We needed a little help from a traffic cop who allowed us to make a U-turn after he told us we were going in the wrong direction. Following his directions we found a much easier route back than the one we’d taken to get there, one that we would use again the next day.

After breakfast we returned to the same parking lot and made our way back to the River Walk. This time we took the hour long boat cruise through all the branches of the river while our captain told us of the history of the building of the River Walk, its main purpose being to prevent flooding. Over time the building of a multitude of restaurants, a shopping plaza, convention centre and two towering hotels has turned it into a major tourist attraction. We spent the rest of the day enjoying the atmosphere, listening to the music being played on the terrace of the plaza, and ending our visit with a fine dinner at The County Line BBQ, after waiting in line for twenty minutes. We were disappointed to see that not all of the lights along the walk had been turned on, but it was a lovely evening just the same.

River Walk

River Walk

River Walk

River Walk Tour Boat

Five & Dime

A good place to purchase t-shirts and other souvenirs

River Walk

The birds found a good place to eat, but we couldn’t get a seat here.

The next morning we were on our way again.

New Orleans – Music, History and Architecture

After we left Memphis we took a little detour into Arkansas to fill up the gas tank, just so we could say we’d been there and could fill in another state on our map. Perhaps another time we’ll visit longer. Back on the I-55 we turned south into Mississippi. By 6:00 pm we were still in Mississippi, but had had enough driving for one day. We found an accommodating Wal-Mart parking lot in Brookhaven, where we joined a few other motor homes and several semis.

At noon the next day we pulled into The KOA French Quarter RV Resort in New Orleans, and I thought “I want to stay here for the winter!” This is a resort indeed, with inter-locking brick streets and RV lots. Each lot is extra wide and has a furnished, screened, wooden gazebo. There are also all the other necessities such as a laundry, pool and hot tub, all housed in a beautiful southern style brick complex. There is even an outdoor ice machine to aid with your refreshments. Sounds rather expensive, right? Well, it definitely isn’t a place that we could stay long term, or return to often. The normal rate to rent a spot is $99 a night. Unfortunately, there were no KOA owned lots available at the time, but there were privately owned ones which go for $114 per night. That’s more than double what we would normally be willing to pay. But it was worth it for a couple of nights for the convenience. It’s situated right on the edge of The French Quarter, within walking distance of all the activity, and we were more than happy to not have to take the bike into the crowded streets or find a safe place to park it.

French Quarter RV Resort

French Quarter RV Resort

French Quarter RV Resort

The first thing we did was book a tour and by 2:00 pm we were on a mini-bus with Sam, a very animated tour guide, easing through the streets of the French Quarter and the various historical districts and parks that make up this interesting city.

We drove by Jackson Square, originally known in the 18th century as “Place d’Armes,” and later renamed in honor of the Battle of New Orleans hero Andrew Jackson. Later we would stroll through it, listening to some of the buskers who try to make a living there, and browse the many artist stalls and shops.

Statue of General Andrew Jackson

Statue of General Andrew Jackson

The unique architecture of the French Quarter caught my eye with it’s many wrought iron balconies and gingerbread scroll work.

French Quarter

French Quarter Architecture



Sam pointed out “shot gun” houses, very long houses with narrow street frontage. Some were single; some were double; most were wood clapboard. We passed Dillard University and were told that it was the very first university built exclusively for the newly-freed blacks in the area. We drove past the new musicians homes, built by Brad Pitt and Habitat for Humanity after Hurricane Katrina, and we saw damaged homes that remain abandoned. We made a stop at the home of one retired musician who has turned it into a shrine in memory of the devastation of Katrina. The tour was to end at 5:00 pm but at 5:30 we were stuck in traffic just a couple of blocks from the restaurants of the French Quarter. We opted to get out and walk there in search of dinner. We found Deanie’s, one recommended by the staff at the RV Resort. We weren’t disappointed. The garlic buttered butterfly shrimp and the baked catfish were cooked to perfection and tasty enough to have us licking our fingers. We were curious about the “appetizer”, a bowl of small red potatoes cooked until just tender and lightly salted on the inside. When questioned, our waitress told us that they had been boiled in sea food seasoning. We had to resist eating them all or we’d have had no room for our entrée!

After returning to the RV for a quick change of clothes, as it was cooler after the sun went down, we spent a few hours walking up and down Bourbon Street, listening to impromptu jazz bands on the street and more soul music drifting from the bars. Young boys danced on the pavement, the metal bottle lids attached to the soles of their shoes clicking out the rhythm. We stopped to watch and a young performer held out his hand for payment. Jim had no small bills so emptied his pocket of change. As we walked away he noticed the lad throw it onto the street! Guess he didn’t need money that badly. When we finally returned home, I was over-tired and over-stimulated. I found it difficult to get to sleep. So it was during the night that I wrote and posted my last blog entry.

The next morning saw us walking the five or six blocks to the French Market where we had lunch while observing the architecture and people, then strolled through the many vendor booths, resisting making purchases. The motor home already seemed to be bulging. The sun was again very hot and I was beginning to fade, but we walked a few more blocks until we found the St. Charles Street trolley line. A $3.00 pass let us ride and get off and on for the rest of the day. We took it to the end of the line in the Upper Gardens District. I admit that my eyes closed and my head bobbed a few times along the way. We admired the elegant colonial homes and gardens, for some of which we had been given the history while on the tour bus. By 4:00 I was really dragging and in need of coffee if I was going to make it home.   We switched to the returning trolley and went back a few stops. We decided we might as well have an early dinner and after a delicious plate of sea food and a cup of coffee at O’Henry’s I felt slightly revived.

Wedding Venue

Wedding Venue

Not enough, however, for the energy that was required to get off the trolley again further down the line to take a closer look at the homes on 4th Street, but I did it anyway. From the street we watched a wedding taking place in the garden of one on the original mansions that can now be rented for such occasions. Back in the French Quarter we spent a couple more hours strolling Bourbon Street before finding our way home. It had been a good day, but I was wiped and my body was reminding me that it won’t be pushed so hard. I was gone the minute my head hit the pillow.



Rocking With The King

That’s all right, Mamma, that’s all right with me…Elvis music played in my head for the next two days after our arrival in Memphis on Monday. We were able to snag a campsite at Graceland RV Park, situated right behind Heart Break Hotel, at the end of Lonely Street. The start of the Graceland Tour is just a short walk through the parking lot next door. Because of that, the RV Park is well secured 24/7 and everything is very well organized. Since it was mid-afternoon when we arrived, we opted to take the Boulevard into downtown Memphis, just twenty-minutes away, to check out the action and have dinner.



Being a Monday night, things were rather quiet. Some of the restaurants had entertainment, and staff on the street urging us in. We decided on the Jerry Lee Lewis Cafe where we stuffed ourselves with southern-style BBQ ribs, baked potatoes, coleslaw, and beans while enjoying the performance of an Elvis impersonator. He was one of the best we’d ever seen, sounding very much like the King. He switched gears for one song and brought Johnny Cash to life.

Jerry Lee Lewis Grill

Jerry Lee Lewis Cafe

Yummy Ribs

Yummy Ribs




At intermission we wandered down the street and poked into a couple of shops then headed back to camp. I wanted to take advantage of the good WiFi connection to get some blogging done.

Tuesday morning was devoted to the mundane domestic tasks that we could put off no longer, such as laundry, but the afternoon was spent doing the Graceland Tour. It’s pricey, and the last part of it, the little museums on a strip across the road from Graceland, all led us through gift shops, but Graceland itself was far from the tacky display that I’d envisioned. The house is grand, but not huge. It displays a simpler side of Elvis than the flashy one that appeared on stage. The main floor is tastefully decorated in the era of Elvis’s life and death, including dark wooden cupboards and harvest gold appliances in the kitchen. The lower level is, well, maybe a little eclectic.



Media Room

Lower level Media Room

Pool Room Ceiling

Pool Room Ceiling, folded fabric

Some things I learned about Elvis that I didn’t know before:

  1. He loved horses as much as he loved his cars. A couple of horses still graze in the pasture.
  2. He had quietly donated several million dollars to a large number of charities over the years, many of which helped improve the lives of his friends and family in his home town of Tupelo, Mississippi.
  3. He loved to play racquet ball.
  4. He had a beautiful Meditation Garden built at Graceland in 1960. It has since become the burial site for his mother, father, grandmother and himself, and a memorial for his twin brother who died at birth.
Meditation Garden

Meditation Garden

We walked away without souvenirs, not being Elvis fanatics, but we enjoyed the visit. It’s worth seeing once.

More excellent ribs for dinner at Marlowe’s down Elvis Presley Drive brought our stay in Tennessee to an end. The next morning we were back on I-55 in the direction of New Orleans.

Desert Botanical Gardens Not to Be Missed

Botanical Gardens in the desert are certainly different than what we see at home. This time of year especially, there isn’t much colour as most plants are finished flowering until spring. But, the varieties of plants and species are fascinating, and at the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix, until February 28th, the addition of colourful glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly spread among the cacti makes up for the lack of flower blossoms.

Desert Botanical Gardens

Desert Botanical Gardens and Chihuly Glass Art

Desert Botanical Gardens

Agave scabra

Agave scabra, main ingredient for Tequila

Desert Botanical Gardens and Chihuly Glass Art

Desert Botanical Gardens and Chihuly Glass Art

Desert Botanical Gardens and Chihuly Glass Art

Desert Botanical Gardens and Chihuly Glass Art

Chainfruit Cholla

Chainfruit Cholla


We were lucky to see a few of these as well.


Butterfly found a blossom

Cotton Tail Rabbit

Cotton Tail Rabbit

Tomorrow we’re pulling up stakes temporarily for a trip to Lake Havasu and then to Quartzsite. We’ll be without amenities so I’ll save my stories until we return in a few days.