Let’s Start a Productive Conversation


Before we can have a productive conversation, we have to acknowledge that both talking and listening to understand are necessary.

Today I’m doing some mind traveling.  I have a need to write about something that causes pain to my heart, and my body.

Each day, I log onto Facebook knowing that my feed is going to be loaded down with the troubling stories of things going on in the world. Someone told me that they just have happy postings on their feed, things that lift them up. It’s true. I could change my settings, block posts from news outlets and people who repost such things. I could at the very least stop reading the comments. Would that make my heart lighter and my body less tense? For me, the answer is no.

So today I’m speaking out from my heart. I’m not going to tell people they are wrong, or make accusations, or call anyone names, or call for rioting. I’m just going to explain my sadness, frustration and incredulity, and maybe offer a step toward solving at least one problem.

There are many, many things happening around the world that cause these feelings – floods, hurricanes, fires, threats of war. But the most incredible thing in the news this past week is not about these disasters or what can be done to prevent more and what can be done to help all those suffering. No. What is making the biggest headlines, and causing the biggest division among people is an event that took place a year ago. This is the one that I’m going to address now.

A black football player chose to protest the most recent (at the time)unwarranted treatment/death of some other black men, with no consequences to the perpetrators, by quietly kneeling during the opening ceremonies of the football game. Did he choose that moment because he wanted to be noticed? Yes! Did he do it to show disrespect toward the soldiers that fought for his right to free speech; to show that he hated his country? No! My understanding is that he did it in the hope of starting a conversation about the racial discrimination that was putting constant fear into the lives of his fellow man, conversation that could bring people together with a better understanding of each other. His choice of time and venue was to get the attention of many. It did. But instead of the conversation he’d hoped for, it became a conversation about patriotism, the national flag and anthem, ego and hate. This week it was brought into the foreground again in a political speech.

What I find sad, frustrating and completely incredible is the number of people who choose to believe the politician’s reasoning rather than that of the football player. There are some who think that because a black man or woman has the “privilege” of earning a good salary, they forfeit their right to freedom. Some say they are  alright with the protest, but not the time or place. There are even those who declare that “there is no racism in the United States.”

To them I ask, “How many black people have you sat down with and asked to hear their stories? How many have you really listened to, with the objective to understand? How many times have you imagined yourself in their shoes?

I’m a privileged white person, living in a community where there is little cultural diversity, but I’ve listened to some of the history of a black man who was brought to Canada from Africa and adopted by my uncle, who recognized his potential and wanted to give him a chance at a better life. He was a teenager when he arrived. He’d had a good education while in Africa, with the help of my uncle, and despite the prejudice and poor treatment by some, he managed to get a University degree and become successful in his life. His younger adopted brother, who was only five years old, had a much harder time of it.

Quite recently, I’ve heard enough of the story of the only black family who lived in our community when my children were in school, to learn that despite them being an educated, well liked, upstanding family of the community, they too often experienced the discrimination of being suspect because of the colour of their skin. I was surprised.

These stories got me paying attention! Now when I read about the fears of black people, I understand, and my heart aches.

Sure there are many black people who have fought their way through life with violence and crime; who have joined gangs just to belong. But there are just as many, or more, white people in the same situation. They should be afraid of the law.

Then there are the black families who mind their own business, have jobs, take care of their families and friends, and yet live in fear for their lives every day. They know that at any time, for any reason, they could be stopped by the police because they look like someone (black/brown skin, dread locks) who just robbed a bank in the neighbourhood they are driving through, or because they supposedly have a light out on their car, or they are driving an expensive looking car, or a neighbour told the police that a crime suspect had gone into their house. And they know that no matter how they respond, they could end up dead.

How many law-abiding white people, living in the US or Canada, live with these same fears?

Let’s start the conversation right here, right now! Tell your story; explain your fears; ask questions; listen to understand; practice respect; share this post. This is the conversation that needs to go viral!

 

 

Retirement and Getting Lost in History


We’ve been home for a few weeks now, and, after getting caught up on household chores and reconnecting with friends and family, it was my intention to write one or two more blog posts to complete our latest journey.

But last week I’d decided to spend a day sorting through the huge box of photos and memorabilia to see if I could downsize a little more. In so doing, I came across a very old photo of some people that I’m sure could be the grandparents that I never knew. I scanned it, along with many others so that I could look at it more closely later.

Johnstons

Then, after I got into bed, I got thinking about it, and wondering who these people could be. I had some ideas, but needed to check out some dates on the Family Tree.  So, instead of getting to travel writing in the morning, I logged into Ancestry.ca and looked for clues to solve the mystery.  Most of my ideas were eliminated by date discrepancies, but while searching some people, I discovered other hints for other family members, and then I was gone.  To me, researching family history is like a big jigsaw puzzle. Once I find one piece, I can’t stop. I’m drawn to find more. Before I knew it, three hours had passed and I hadn’t even started to write! But I have no regrets. Genealogy is just another one of my passions. I actually created another blog about it a few years ago, but then posted only twice, and never made it known.

I took a break to make some lunch, and as I worked, I thought of the long To-do list that I always have running through my mind:

Write travel blog posts

Update/improve my website, monetize it perhaps

Write memoirs

Research family

Edit photos

Make photo books

Develop new blog: Unfolding Our Past

Then I asked myself, “Why do I put these burdens upon myself?” What difference will it make if I do none of them? I don’t expect to earn a living from any of them, because technically I’m retired. So why can’t I just relax and enjoyment retirement? But then, what does retirement mean? It should mean having the freedom to do whatever you want, right? For some, that might mean reading a book, watching TV, playing games or doing nothing at all, but for others, like me, it means having the time to pursue passions that keep the mind and body active, that give pleasure. That’s why I want to do these things, and more.

What does retirement mean to you? Do artists ever retire?

Announcing a Book Launch


Today my post is  about another side of my writing. If you check out the other tabs on this site, you’ll see that I’ve done more than just travel blogging, but not so much lately. Now I’m excited to share this news with you.

This past summer I won a competition, at WomensMemoirs.com.

My story is one of the 81 winning stories that have been published in a two-volume anthology series entitled TALES OF OUR LIVES (Fork in the Road and Reflection Pond.) Mine, Seeking a Diagnosis,  is in TALES OF OUR LIVES: REFLECTION POND*.  Each volume is available on Amazon in Kindle e-book format, but you don’t need to have an e-reader or tablet to get them.  When you click on the link to purchase the books, you will find an option to download the free Kindle App for either your PC or MAC.

Book cover2

Beginning today, January 8 at 8 am (PST), and over the next few days, there will be special discount pricing for some countries, including the US, so if you  are interested in grabbing a copy, today and tomorrow might  get you a deal! Unfortunately Amazon doesn’t  allow these discounts in Canada, but even if you can’t get the special pricing, the full list price is quite reasonable–$5.22 in CA.)

Below are links to the books for Canada and the US. If  you would like the links for other countries, let me know and I’ll get them for you.

Seasons of Our Lives: Fork in the Road (Canada) amzn.to/1SyPM5q

*Seasons of Our Lives: Reflection Pond (Canada) amzn.to/1mEVE0s

Seasons of Our Lives: Fork in the Road (US) amzn.to/20VYNJq

*Seasons of Our Lives: Reflection Pond (US)amzn.to/1MQGKdk

For the writer within you, the editor has included the introduction to her new writing methodology (Writing Alchemy). If you’re thinking of writing about your life or the lives of others in your family, then you’ll want to read that chapter. She also begins each section with a series of prompts that will help you to think about your own life stories — stories you may want to share with your family.  These two writing tools help make these volumes even more than a good read. You get 81 powerful stories and 98 prompts.

And after you’ve read the stories (all 81 intriguing ones if you can), I hope you’ll feel inspired to post a comment, and write a review on Amazon.  I, and my co-authors would all appreciate it.

I just got word that Tales of Our Lives is already an award winning anthology, New England Book Festival, Honourable Mention!

Click on the tab Writing/Books to see other books, and Awards and Reviews.

Tonto National Monument Cliff Dwellings


It’s snowing here today, in Ontario, Canada – not the usual weather for this time of year. It’s a perfect day for doing some mind travel, back to the Superstition Mountains of Arizona.

Jim, Karen and I set off in the morning for our final adventure of the season. Our primary destination was to climb to the cliff dwellings in Tonto National Forest, in the Superstition Mountains. It was already noon when we reached the entrance to Monument Park where the caves were located. Unfortunately we hadn’t packed a lunch. We had expected to find a restaurant or at least a snack bar somewhere close by, but there was nothing. The small visitors centre offered only a few types of energy bars at $4.00 a piece and a water fountain. Outside there was a vending machine that provided only pop.

There are two areas of cliff dwellings – the Lower is a half mile hike away, the Upper a mile and a half hike up the mountain. It was the Upper Cliff Dwelling that we wanted to see. Knowing that we would find it difficult to make the climb without some food in our stomachs, we purchased some bars, Jim and Karen got pop and I refilled my water bottle at the fountain before heading to the trail. There is usually a $3.00 fee (good for seven days) requested for the tours and reservations are needed. But, since this day was National Heritage Day, there was a free open house, and self-guided tours were permitted to both the Upper and Lower Dwellings.

At the base of the trail a few native American artisans displayed their craft and demonstrated dance and costumes; some birds and other wildlife were on display.

Native Dance

Native Dance

Young Grey Horned Owl

Elf Owl

Red tailed Hawk

Red tailed Hawk

The day was comfortably warm and breezy. The terrain was rugged. We took our time, stopping often to photograph or just catch our breath. The dwelling looked a very long ways up; however, switchbacks made the climb relatively easy even for those of us who aren’t accustomed to frequent climbing.

Hikers at Tonto Monument

Other hikers up above us

Part way up we were warned by the Park Ranger that it would get very windy the higher we climbed. We made use of the ties on our Tilley hats, and sometimes thought that if the wind had been blowing in the opposite direction, it might have swept us over the edge of the cliff.

enduring the wind

Karen and Jim enduring the wind

It was all worth the effort though.

The views became more and more awesome as we climbed.

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View of the Valley

Views of the Valley from part way up

The soft melody of a flute could be heard in the distance.

In just over an hour we reached the remains of the 40-room Upper Cliff Dwelling. Situated in the northeastern part of the Sonoran Desert, these well-preserved cliff dwellings were occupied during the 13th, 14th, and early 15th centuries. There are many theories as to why the Salado people began building here. Protection from the elements is one possibility as the cave is dry even during the worst weather, and receives the full benefit of the morning sun in winter and cooling shade in summer.

We spent a half hour wandering through the eight accessible rooms. Some reinforcement restorations have taken place to allow public visits to continue, but a Park Ranger was there to insure that no one sat or walked on the ancient and now delicate walls. The source of the flute music turned out to be a young native playing softly in the highest of rooms. A feeling of amazement and peace encompassed us as we stood there on the side of the cliff.

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Looking out through a "window"

Looking out through a “window”

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Cliff Dwellings

Upper Level Cliff Dwellings

The hike down was a little quicker than going up. Upon our descent we got back into the car and continued on around the mountains. We stopped to look at Roosevelt Dam.

 

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Roosevelt Dam

Roosevelt Dam

About Roosevelt DamOnce past the dam, the road narrowed, twisted and the pavement disappeared.We held our breath as we hung on the side of cliffs on the now very rough road, and we sighed with relief when we reached pavement once more.

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Rough and Windy Road

We enjoyed dinner at Tortilla Flat, and indulged in one last Prickly Pear ice cream cone before winding our way back down to Mesa and home.

Tortilla Flat

Karen in front of the wall of money

 

A View of Superstition Mountains from the Back of the Boulevard


After ukulele lessons, lunch at the Cactus Grill, and a visit to Verizon to purchase some more internet data, we decided it was time for a ride on the motorcycle. We did part of the trip up the Apache Trail, in the Superstition Mountains, that we’d done in December on the Jeep Tour. It was a different perspective from the back of the Boulevard and before long I was busily snapping pictures. Sometimes they turn out; sometimes they don’t. But that’s the beauty of the digital age.

The road is a popular one for motorcyclists, with all of its twists and turns.

Bikers' Twists and Turns

Bikers’ Twists and Turns

One lane bridge around the bend

One lane bridge around the bend

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Being late in the afternoon, it was a perfect time for capturing the scenic mountains and lakes.

Apache Trail

Apache Trail Vistas

IMG_3345 IMG_3368 IMG_3395 IMG_3402 IMG_3403We made a stop in Tortilla Flat for another taste of Prickly Pear Ice Cream.

Tortilla Flat

Tortilla Flat in the Valley. Great Prickly Pear Ice Cream found there.

IMG_3424 IMG_3428By the time we were heading back down, the sun was setting, dusting the rocks with gold, before becoming a blazing red aura around the peaks.

Sunset on the Apache Trail

Sunset on the Apache Trail

IMG_3441 IMG_3460 IMG_3471Another glorious day in Paradise.

A Weekend of Music and Entertainment in Phoenix Area


It all began on a Friday night when our new friend, Mary Lee, took us to The Arizona Opry, which is located east of Mesa near the community of Apache Junction. We were ushered into a large hall lined with rows of long tables, clothed and set for the chicken dinner that was to come. On stage was a huge array of musical instruments, including strings, brass and percussions, which would be played for our entertainment when dinner was over.

Arizona Opry Stage

Arizona Opry Stage

Jim, Judy, Mary Lee at Opry

Jim, Judy, Mary Lee at Opry

At precisely 6:30 pm trays of filled dinner plates began to appear, and within thirty-five minutes all 508 guests were served a sumptuous meal of roasted chicken breast, baked potatoes, vegetables and rolls. The “Opry chocolate cake” that was already on the tables when we arrived completed (or started) the repast. Coffee and lemonade were constantly available from the moment we sat down. By 7:30 the tables were cleared, chairs were turned toward the stage, and the music got our feet tapping. The Barleen Family and Guests perform and choreograph fourteen different shows throughout the year. This night was a Variety Show displaying a multitude of talent and unbelievable energy. When the “Arizona Champion Guitar Picker” was introduced as the evening’s guest performer, he seemed familiar. Sure enough, it was Ryan Martin whom we’d first heard picking and strumming back in 2010 in Cody, Wyoming. What a pleasant surprise.

If you ever find yourself in this area of Arizona, be sure to pay a visit to Barleens Arizona Opry Dinner Theatre. You won’t be disappointed.

On Saturday we rode the bike to the North West side of Phoenix to check another item off our Bucket List – a visit to the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM). Little did we know that one day would never be enough time! It happened that that particular weekend was a special one at MIM, with a Carnival Theme. That meant the price of admission included not only the chance to tour the gallery and listen to samples of many types of music and instruments in the process, but we could choose to experience the spirit of Caribbean cultures by attending workshops, listening to live music in the courtyard, watching dancing and observing the colourful costumes. We could have had our pictures taken wearing some of these costumes, but we ran out of time! There was so much going on that we had time to tour only two rooms of the gallery, between taking in a steel pan making workshop given by master steel drum maker, Ancliff “Ansel” Joseph, and eating lunch while enjoying the courtyard entertainment.

Steel Pan Maker

Tuning a Steel Pan (drum)

Steel Pan Maker

Steel Drum Band Performing

Steel Drum Band Performing

Stilt Walker

Stilt Walker

We were given headsets for the self-guided gallery tour. Once we clipped them onto our pockets, we didn’t need to touch them again. Sensors placed at the front of each display connected with the headsets as we approached, providing us with the music and dialogue for each station, in whatever order we chose to travel.  We oohed over the beautiful guitars and music boxes, and found it difficult not to dance along with the music.

Guitars

Guitars

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Music Boxes

Music Boxes

We left at closing time, with a second-day pass in our pockets. We would return on Thursday to finish our tour, because on Sunday we wanted to experience the annual Renaissance Festival and Artisan Marketplace.

Sunday morning was a little overcast and therefore cooler, but by the time we’d reached the gates of the Renaissance Festival the clouds had moved off and we had to shed the extra layers of clothing we’d donned for the bike ride there. After maneuvering through the long but quickly moving ticket line, we were greeted at the gates by wenches, peasants, monks and lords. Inside we were invited to sit with the “Queen” and her court.

Entering through gates

Entering through gates

Received by Royalty

Received by Royalty

Besides all of the employed character actors in costumes, we were surprised to see so many visitors who melted into the theme with their own costumes. In fact there was a costume rental facility at the gate, and inside there was a store where beautiful costumes costing hundreds of dollars could be purchased for every member of the family. We strolled through the park, listening to buskers performing on renaissance era instruments, watched a stilt walker wander through the crowd with ease, and a vendor selling baked pretzels from a wooden rack.

Lunch

Lunch

We shared a huge turkey leg for lunch, watched a glass blower, and chuckled at the results of hypnotic suggestion at a Hypnotist’s Show.

Harpsichord Player

Harpsichord Player

Street Musicians

Street Musicians

We were amused by the variations on modern day carnival games – axe throw, star throw. We visited the vendors of jewelry, leather, feather and metal crafts. The pretty princess head dresses and skirts, hair braiding and pirate paraphernalia made us think of how much our grandchildren would enjoy this fair.

Then there was the King’s Jousting Tournament! We found ourselves joining hundreds of people in bleachers overlooking the ring. There were to be three competing knights and the crowd was divided into three cheering sections. Our knight was Sir Maximilian. He won many of the challenges, but was defeated in the end.

Maximillian

Maximilian

A personal challenge was issued for a fight later in the day. We didn’t return to find out the results. By 5:00 we were hot and tired and ready to ride home. It had been another amazing weekend.

Thursday we finished our tour of MIM, when we saw some very interesting instruments. I was especially amused by these bagpipes!

Bagpipes

Hmm. These bagpipes might be a challenge to play.

Bagpipes

BagpipesWe also saw how Martin Guitars and Steinway Pianos are made.

Martin Guitar in Making

Martin Guitar in Making

The parts of a Steinway

The parts of a Steinway

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

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

Butterfly

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.