My senior year college roommates (six of us) were scheduled to meet in Madison, WI for our annual get-together on August 24. Of course, it’s 2020, so lots of things aren’t happening the way we planned them. Instead of an in-person reunion, we had a Zoom reunion today. All six of us were planning to be at the Zoom-union, but two did not join the meeting–not even after we texted a reminder to them. Again, it’s 2020, so who knows what might have prevented them from joining us.

Not surprisingly, we talked about some of our college memories, including the Viet Nam war protests. UW-Madison and UC-Berkley were the two most politically active campuses in the country in the late 1960s. I was actually stopped at the point of a bayonet during one protest, but that’s a different story. (I wasn’t even protesting!) Lin’s, Carol’s, and Barb’s husbands all served in Viet Nam. Lin’s husband was a POW and Barb’s husband was exposed to agent orange and has some serious health problems as a result. We talked about the parallels of that era and the current Black Lives Matter movement.

A happier topic was technology. We graduated in 1969, long before PC’s, internet, cell phones, social media, etc. We did have radio and television (the 1960s weren’t that long ago!), but electric typewriters weren’t common except in businesses. We all agreed we are glad to have the technology to meet in one place today (Zoom) while we are in Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, and Missouri.

It’s been 51 years since we graduated from college, but we’re keeping up with the times and still having fun together.

Thanks to COVID, I’ve now participated in my first drive-by birthday parade. My friend, Cindy, celebrated her 60th birthday with a parade arranged by her husband. My friend, Liz thought it would be a good idea for us to go together in my convertible–top down, of course. Riding together also gave us an opportunity to see each other in person for the first time since January 30.

The parade went around the block twice, honking horns, blowing noisemakers, etc. to celebrate Cindy’s coming of age. Liz is a very creative person and has what I call a “treasure chest” (i.e., closet) full of creative and playful goodies. She scrounged in the treasure chest and found pinwheels that spun as the car moved, plastic hand clappers that we could shake and rattle, a crown with sparkling cutout stars and streamers for Cindy to wear, and posterboard for a birthday sign. I brought a letter about two of my favorite memories of Cindy. I’m not creative like Liz, but I hunted up clipart and added speech balloons to tell the stories, and I put birthday stickers all over the envelope. Woo-eee!

Here’s the dashcam view of Cindy as Liz and I approached her.
Cindy baked and bagged chocolate chip cookies and snickerdoodles and gave each attendee a bag of cookies. That’s her husband behind her. He took a picture of the occupants of each car. If you look closely, you can see the crown Liz brought sparkling on Cindy’s head and streaming down her back.
Some of Cindy’s family members went all-out with costumes. The lady in blue is Cindy’s sister. You can tell them apart by their hair. Cindy’s crown is easier to see in this picture.
This is the sign Liz made for Cindy. In the bottom corner, she signed it “Diane & Liz.”

Today, Tracey and Mark took us sightseeing in their area. We drove to some pretty beaches and ended the morning at Nelson Head Reserve, the highest point (175 feet elevation) at Port Stephens. Because there is such a good view of the surrounding water, this point was chosen for the original (now “heritage”) Port Stephens lighthouse.

In my picture below, taken at the top of Nelson Head, you can see a peninsula jutting into the water. Tracey and Mark live on the facing side of the peninsula very close to its tip. That’s what we walked across last night for dinner. The water beyond and in the port area is the Karua River; the village below is Port Stephens, New South Wales.

Moving to the right from the above photo, the space between the two large rocky hills (ancient volcanoes?–I forgot to ask Mark) is the entrance from Port Stephens to the Pacific Ocean.

After our morning driving tour, we bought lunch at another bakery (aka café) and brought it to Lighthouse Beach (near Port Stephens). We sat at a picnic table overlooking the beach.

It’s another hot day and it’s still summer break from school, so there were a lot of people swimming at the beach. Even though I was sitting in the warm sunlight and watching all those school-age kids swim, I couldn’t wrap my head around “summer in January.” My inner logic says this should be July because January is a cold month.

There were some surfers at the beach as well, but the biggest attraction (available in a number of places in the area) is camel rides. It was fun to watch people mounting the camels and then follow their course around the area.

From the mounting area at the parking lot, the camels slowly (and I do mean slowly) ambled behind some sand dunes, then emerged and headed for the beach. They walked in the shallow water a little way and then turned and made the return trip to the mounting area. It was probably a 30-45 minute ride for those who purchased tickets.

We worked our way back around Port Stephens to Soldiers’ Point (where Mark and Tracey live) and stopped at a post office to purchase train tickets for Ted’s and my trip to the Sydney airport tomorrow. The airport is about a 3.5-hour drive from Soldiers’ Point; the train tickets cost us $20 each, That’s much better than Mark and Tracey driving seven hours round-trip to take us to the airport.

Our final stop of the afternoon was at Mark and Tracey’s bowling club, about two blocks from their home. Both of them participate in lawn bowling leagues, and that’s one of the reasons they selected this place to live when they moved here from Newcastle two years ago. Tracey is pretty good, but Mark is nearly professional grade. He regularly wins high-level championships.

Lawn bowls take about twice the width and at least twice the length of bowling alley lanes, so a number of games can be in progress simultaneously on this field. Under the tented roof, it was surprisingly cool and comfortable, given how high the temperature was (upper 80s?). Mark started by placing a small yellow ball on the far end of the field. He then showed Ted how to roll the red balls.

Ted did a good job for his first time, but it was obvious that he’s more used to lane bowling. Mark (after years of playing) could drop the ball smoothly on the grass; Ted had to fight the urge to give it a good thrust so it would make it across the field. With just a gentle toss, the balls rolled surprisingly far. They also curved easily, which Mark used to his advantage and which made some of Ted’s attempts go where he never intended them to go.

The goal of the game was to have the red ball stop as closely as possible to the yellow ball. Ted threw the ball in the foreground, then Mark threw the ball that landed on the white line. Good job, Ted. It’s your first try, and you came really close to the champ’s throw.

After bowling, we went back to Mark and Tracey’s home to visit with them and to give Mark a chance to start dinner. (He’s the cook in the family.) He made a pork roast with cracklings. He roasted the meat in a convection oven after rubbing seasoning into the fat on the top side. The oven made the fat brown and crisp. Mark cut it off and broke it into pieces that tasted like thick bacon. I’ve never had cracklings before, but I might have to try to make them sometime.

While the pork roasted, we went to a neighbor’s apartment and enjoyed appetizers with two other couples who were friends of Mark and Tracey. We all had a very enjoyable and relaxing time. One of the things we discussed was Mark and Tracey’s upcoming trip to the U.S. with these two couples. In June, they are flying to Alaska for a cruise that ends in Vancouver. From there, they are going to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, where they will have four days on their own. We’re going to see if it’s possible for Ted and me to join them in Las Vegas, and I’m going to contact Cheryl and Dave to see if they can come too. It would be so much fun for the six of us to reunite as a group this summer!

We enjoyed our last evening together, but it was bittersweet to end our time with our friends. Here’s hoping we can see them again in June.

Author’s note: From the time we arrived in Sydney, Mark, Tracey, and their friends all called me “Di”–a nickname I’ve never used. When I mentioned that, they said the Australians shorten everything, so I paid attention, and it’s true. Tracey was “Trace” to Mark and their friends, and they all called it “San Fran” when discussing their upcoming trip. Lots of other words were similarly shortened. Tracey explained it as “same, same, different.” We all use English, but we have different names for many of the same things. It was fun exchanging some of the differences. Examples: road train = tractor-trailer truck; car park = parking lot; jam = jelly/jam; jelly = jell-o; lollies = candy; queue = line; petrol = gas; windscreen = windshield; thongs = flip-flops (never underwear). See? “Same, same, different.”

On our 2015 Grand European Cruise, Ted and I became good friends with five couples, and we all still keep in touch with each other. In the 2015 photo below, Ted and I are at the far end on the right side of the table. Since that cruise, we’ve exchanged visits (St. Louis and Las Cruces, NM) with Cheryl and Dave. Cheryl is in the center on the right; Dave is across from her in the baseball cap. Cheryl and Dave have visited Tracey and Mark (in the foreground on the right) in Sydney, and today, Ted and I met Tracey and Mark in Sydney. The other two couples are from Tennessee and California.

Our flight from Auckland arrived in Sydney around 6:00 p.m. We weren’t sure where to go to meet Mark and Tracey and didn’t see signs for “Passenger Pick-up,” so we asked two airport workers who were walking down the corridor near us. They were so-o-o friendly. (Author’s comment: Australians and New Zealanders are, beyond a doubt, the most friendly people we’ve met anywhere overseas. Not that the others are unfriendly, but the Down Under folks go all out. Even the customs officials laugh and joke with the people whose passports they’re examining.)

The two men thought we’d most likely need to go to a nearby doorway but, to be sure, they offered to call Tracey to find out where she was. Australians speak English, but they have their own accent and idioms, and they speak very quickly, so I often have to catch the main words and fill in the blanks. Especially for a phone conversation, it was better to have one Aussie speak to another. The man and Tracey had a brief conversation, determined where all of us were, and sent us to the door at which Mark and Tracey arrived simultaneously. Awesome!

Tracey and Mark live almost three hours north of Sydney, so Tracey made a hotel reservation for a two-bedroom / kitchen / living room / balcony suite for all of us in Sydney tonight. The plan was to spend the evening and tomorrow in Sydney, then go to their home in Soldiers Point for the next two days before Ted and I go back to Sydney to fly home. The hotel was right on the Sydney harbor, so the first thing we did was take a selfie of the four of us with the Harbour Bridge in the background.

After that, we had to take a picture of our 26th-story view of the harbor. You can see the Harbour Bridge in the center and the Sydney Opera House to the left of the bridge.

Ted and I ate on the flight, but Tracey brought some fruit, crackers, etc. for snacks, so we snacked a little bit, then took a cab to The Rocks–so named for the sandstone rocks along the Sydney shore. The area has been developed into an entertainment district. It was Sunday night, so there wasn’t much action, but it was a lovely night to take a walk. And there was a great view of the Sydney Opera House at night.

The next morning, Tracey and Mark performed just as Cheryl and Dave promised us–as an outstanding host and hostess. We started by visiting several wharves on some of Sydney’s quays (that’s pronounced keys in Australia). Each one had a variety of museums, restaurants, and entertainment venues. This one is the King Street Wharf.

A highlight for Ted and me was Bondi (pronounced bon’-dye) Beach. It’s a famous and fabulous beach in Sydney. It was a warm day and it’s summer break from school for the kids, so the beach was crowded.

It’s also a scenic beach . . .

. . . and it’s good for surfing.

We had lunch at a bakery. In Australia, bakeries are more like cafés than a place to buy breads and sweet rolls. Ted and I tried beef pepper pasties. I liked it better than Ted because I like pepper more than he does. It was an adventure for me, however. I had trouble figuring out how to open the ketchup packet. There was no little tab on the corner, but there was a raised hump in the top center. I bent the package backward to pop the hump open–and promptly squirted my shirt, my face, and my hair with ketchup! After a good laugh, Tracey told me you need to open them with the hump on the bottom, then squeeze the bubbles to release the ketchup. Lesson learned, although I didn’t encounter any more ketchup packets during our visit.

Mark and Tracey spent the past week caravaning (“camping with trailers” in the U.S.) with three of their four daughters and sons-in-law and eight of their eleven grandchildren about an hour-and-a-half north of Sydney. The kids were staying for another week, so we stopped to visit with them on our way to Soldiers Point after lunch. (Their fourth daughter’s family lives in the Blue Mountains, about three hours west of Sydney and wasn’t with the group this time.)

Tracey told everyone they needed to talk more slowly so their American friends could understand everyone. They were very hospitable and told the kids (all under 10 years old) that this was a great opportunity to ask us questions about America, so the kids did. Do we have license plates on our cars in America? Does it get cold? Where is St. Louis? After about an hour, one of the daughters said, “I-i-i’ve. Ne-e-ever. Ta-a-alked. Thi-i-is. Slo-o-owly. I-i-in. My-y-y. L-i-i-ife.” and we all laughed–but Ted and I understood every word that everyone said. How gracious and thoughtful of them!

When we arrived at Mark and Tracey’s house, they informed us that they’d invited three couples to join us for dinner at a local restaurant. Soldiers Point is located at the tip of a spit of land that juts into the Karua River. The spit is very narrow, so although Tracey and Mark live on the east side of the little peninsula and the restaurant was on the west side, it was less than a 10-minute walk. We thoroughly enjoyed meeting their friends and we had a delicious dinner and a lovely evening together.

Tracey’s food was so pretty, she wanted a picture of it.

The group eats here regularly, so they generously insisted that Ted and I take the open-air window seats at the table.

There were lots of pelicans in the water.

We watched the sun set while we ate.

The setting became even more romantic when the lights came on.

When we got back to Mark and Tracey’s home, I mentioned that I’d like to see the Southern Cross. We went up to the rooftop patio and Mark pointed it out to me. It’s not as bright as the Big Dipper, but it’s easy to find. Check! And that’s #6 of 6 on my checklist.

I found this in a box of miscellaneous things. Friends and flowers may never fade, but this refrigerator magnet certainly did.

I shared a two-story, three-bedroom house with five other girls during my senior year in college. We had so much fun together back then that we’ve started having occasional reunions. We meet in Madison because it’s central for all of us–especially for Leila, who lives there. Last year, we decided we’re still having so much fun together, we need to meet every year. This year’s date was October 5.

As long as we were going to be in Madison, Ted and I decided to include visits to my Aunt Ruth and Uncle Ken; to Ted’s sister, Mutzie, and his niece and nephew-in-law, Lisa and Doug; and to Kathy and Annette. The most remarkable thing we experienced on this trip was a huge weather shift. Due to a strong cold front, the temperature dropped over 40 degrees between the time we left home and when we arrived at our motel in Beloit, WI seven hours later. I think summer is over.

Most of the trees “up north” were still green, but some were changing to their fall colors. I love all the white paper birch in Wisconsin.

Our first night’s dinner restaurant was the Stone Eagle in Rockford, IL. It was unusual, to say the least. We were attracted to it by the large number of cars in the parking lot and by the sign that declared “This is not a chain restaurant.” Indoors, it looked like someone bought out every flea market in town for a year and found a place for each item in the restaurant. Our server told us they have a guidebook that lists each item with information about it. I felt like we were looking for the hidden pictures, such as “Can you find the money jammed into the ceiling planks?” The food was delicious and we’ll stop in again if we’re in Rockford at mealtime.

The stained glass window sits on the fireplace mantel. The cougar beside it is wearing a safari hat. Don’t overlook the model train that circles the ceiling.
Where do you get a zebra pelt? Does someone here hunt big game? There’s a Harley-Davidson motorcycle hanging on the right wall . . .
. . . and an Indian motorcycle on the opposite wall. Check the monkey’s backside. Gross!

Our first family stop was in Holmen, WI (near LaCrosse) to visit with Ruth and Ken. They just moved into this new house two months ago. The subdivision is so new, the internet cables are not yet laid on Ruth and Ken’s side of the street. Ruth is a big fan of forwarding goofy emails she finds on the internet, so she’s in a bit of withdrawal and has to use her granddaughter’s internet.

Our next destination was Madison for my roommate reunion. Only four of the six of us were able to come. Barb didn’t want to leave her husband alone after his recent surgery and Carol had to be in Illinois this weekend. We had lots of fun–again!–and have already set our date for next year: August 29.

Next stop: Grand Island, NE. Mutzie continues to improve since her fall and serious injuries last April. Physically, she is fine, and her cognitive skills keep improving noticeably as her brain continues to heal. She is better at recognizing faces than remembering names, and she easily participates in conversations.

Mutzie and her little brother, as she calls Ted. (He’s five years younger than she is.)

We took Mutzie out for a full day, including lunch, dinner, and some walking exercise outdoors and in the mall. When we asked if she’d like to go back to her rooms (she has a suite), she said, “Oh, no–let’s sit at your hotel. I see my room all the time.” So we did. I forgot to take a picture the night before when Doug joined us for dinner, so there’s only Ted, me, Lisa, and Mutzie in this photo.

From Grand Island, we headed for Kirksville, MO where we planned to meet Kathy and Annette for dinner before driving home to St. Peters. When we drove home from Grand Island in June, Iowa and Nebraska had standing water everywhere from the over-abundant spring rains. It didn’t look much different this time, except that I-29 was open instead of under the extended Missouri River. These “inland lakes” still cover the farmland along I-29 in northwest Missouri.

The strip of land and trees in the background is a county road–the only area above water as far as we could see.
There were hundreds of white pelicans migrating. They are the only pelicans that migrate through the Midwest, and they nest and raise their young in the upper Midwest and Canada.
The water is deep enough here for whitecaps to form in the wind.

We arrived in Kirksville about an hour earlier than we’d planned, so Kathy and Annette were still at work. After driving so many hours, Ted and I were ready for some exercise and decided to take a walk. We’ve never walked to the A. T. Still University campus where Kathy works, so we headed that way. We had no idea which building Kathy works in, but just when we reached the point at which we’d decided to turn back, Kathy emerged from the building in front of us, ready to walk home. Instead, she gave us a tour of her workplace and introduced us to several co-workers who were still present. Now we can picture her setting when she talks about work and some of the people who work with her. Every one of the people we met raved to us about how much they like Kathy and what a great job she does with the Student Patient (SP) program. That’s just what proud parents love to hear.

Here’s a typical room in which one of Kathy’s SPs presents a health care issue (pre-assigned by Kathy) to an aspiring student doctor. The student doctor is then evaluated on his work (demeanor, examination, diagnosis, and prescribed treatment) with the “patient.”
Here’s Kathy’s workstation. The monitors on the right are used by observers who watch the SP/doctor interactions for evaluation.
We could only look through the window in the door of Kathy’s office because the offices were already locked. I recognize her sweater hanging over the chair.

After dinner with Kathy and Annette, Ted and I drove home. We had a week of good times with friends and family members.

The next day, I hung a decorative quilt on our bedroom wall. It was a gift from Mutzie, the Quilting Queen, through her daughter Lisa during our visit to Grand Island.

My birthday party continues. On March 21, one of my friends took me out to lunch at the Walnut Grill. To help us digest our food, she treated us to a one-hour reflexology session. OMG! We felt so-o-o-o good afterward, that we kept telling each other how good we felt.

On Sunday, March 24, Kari’s family joined Ted and me for a family birthday dinner. Naturally, it featured my favorite birthday cake–Vienna Torte–for which I discovered the bakers’ secret last spring.

I gave Dylan a box of candles and told him to go crazy putting them on the cake. He went for seven candles at full height and one candle at 0.2 height. Result: 7.2 decades. Einstein has nothing on Dylan’s math!

You might be able to tell that the candle flames match the colors of the individual candles. (It was a little easier to see in person.) I didn’t get the candles blown out in a single try, but I made a really good wish, so I hope it comes true anyway.

Kari’s family gave me a bag of Easter pastel m&ms (my favorite m&ms), a beautiful bouquet of spring flowers, and a gift certificate for a mom-daughter lunch with Kari. (It’s behind the photo of tulips.) Awesome!

On Thursday, March 28, I went out with two of my former college staff members, Jeanette and Gail, and they treated me to lunch. We went to Lewis & Clark’s restaurant in Historic St. Charles and had a wonderful time together.

It’s only March 30 today, so the celebration isn’t over yet. Stay tuned for birthday season update(s).

Last week I had a holiday lunch date with four retired women friends from the college.  Today, I had a lunch date with two other retired women friends from the college.  These two were both on my staff.

Jeanette was the first person I hired to help with the administrative work in my department.  Until then, the Adult Education and Literacy (AEL) program was a one-woman show presided over by me.  Over the years, Jeanette and I became close friends.  We work in such similar ways and think along such similar lines that other people sometimes said Jeanette and I shared a brain.

As time went on, the AEL program grew in size and, several years after I hired Jeanette, I hired Gail to work as a lead GED teacher.  She and I share an almost identical teaching philosophy, based mainly on “What’s the best thing to do to benefit the students?”  We always worked well together and, in addition to being co-workers, we, too, became very good friends over the years.

The three of us enjoy getting together regularly for lunch and have been doing so for several years.  This time, before we left the restaurant, Jeanette said, “We need a picture,” so we did the selfie thing.  Here we are:  three good friends.

L->R:  Jeanette, me, Gail

During my recent hospital stay, my friend Liz sent me a pot of mums to cheer me up.  It worked!  They are beautiful in our kitchen bay window.

During my senior year in college, I shared a house with five other women.  Four of us met each other in the dorm where we lived during our freshman and sophomore years; the other two were friends from outside the dorm.  The six of us had a blast!

I’ve seen Eileen and Leila several times over the years, and the three of us had a roommate reunion in Madison with Lin in 2014.  It was so much fun, we had another one today.  In the past year, Eileen “found” Carol and might have found Barb–we’re still waiting to hear if her message went to the right Barb.  Today’s lunch was even more fun than our 2014 get-together, so we decided to make this an annual event.  I hope next year, there will be six of us at the lunch table.

Fall 1968–dinner in our Orchard Street kitchen.  L>R:  Lin, Leila, Eileen, me.  Carol took the picture.  Aren’t we the healthy Dairyland girls–all drinking milk for dinner.

 

Christmas, 1968.  We put up a tree in the living room.  Look how happy we are to be together!  L>R:  Leila, Carol, Eileen, Lin.  It was my turn to take the picture.

 

June 1969–graduation day at the University of Wisconsin.  L>R:  Eileen, me, Kathy, Lin.  When Barb got married during our senior year, Kathy took her place in the house.  She was already a registered nurse, and didn’t attend UW.  Leila got married two days before graduation, so she wasn’t at the commencement ceremony.  (I got married five days after graduation.)  I don’t remember why Carol isn’t in the picture.

 

Zoom forward to September 2018–49 years after we graduated, and still having fun together.  Back row L>R:  Eileen, me, Carol.  Front row L>R:  Lin, Leila.

Last night’s free outdoor concert featured the St. Charles Municipal Band in Frontier Park on the Missouri River.  It was another beautiful evening to be outdoors listening to music.  Ted and I noticed, however, that the concert skies are getting dark earlier as the season gets later.

The bandstand is on the left and the Missouri River is visible in the upper right.

The crowd was smaller than others we’ve seen and there was hardly anyone younger than 50 except that girl in the lower right.  She probably came with her grandparents.  The red arrow shows Ted; the blue one indicates Kilwin’s.  Read on.

 

To be truthful, the band wasn’t that good, although there were moments when I thought the band members might have more ability than the music director / conductor gave them credit for.  For starters, his tempos were the pace of a Missouri Synod Lutheran church organist.  The musicians had plenty of time to read their music.  No one danced.  Frankly, I think the Oostburg High School band (an annual first place winner in AA state competitions back in my day) was better.  Still, it was enjoyable to sit and listen.

During the slow times, we could watch the planes land at Lambert Field in St. Louis.  (Look above the bandstand.)

I also had time to notice that, beneath the American flag, the small, dark, fluttering object was not a wind sock, but a tiny Missouri state flag.  They couldn’t find anything bigger??!!

Ted and I were happily surprised to see that a former neighbor of ours plays clarinet in the band, and has done so for 35 years.

Ruth (our former neighbor) was one of the soloists during the Dixieland selections.  After the concert, Ted and I played “groupies” and went up to the bandstand for a brief exchange of family news–hers and ours.

 

The “concert hostess” who introduced each selection informed the audience that Kilwin’s is a sponsor of the band and if we wanted some ice cream after the concert, Kilwin’s could provide it.  (See the blue arrow in the crowd picture above.)

Ice cream sounded good and we’ve never been to Kilwin’s, so we stopped in after the concert.

It was a good night to join other after-concert ice cream fans on Kilwin’s outdoor patio.  The ice cream was outstanding!  We’ll be back for more.

 

It was a lovely night on the river banks.  Did I mention that the band’s encore piece was “Down by the Riverside”?

Jeanette was the first office staff member I hired when the Adult Education and Literacy program grew too big for me to manage by myself.  She was a treasure as an employee and became a treasure as a friend.  Although I’m blonde and she’s Hispanic, we often showed up in the office wearing the same colors on the same day–kind of surprising, given the difference in our coloring.  Jeanette and I think along the same tracks.  We could easily find each other’s files, because we filed in the same kinds of categories.  People in the office used to tease us about sharing a brain.  Jeanette retired from SCC last week, and I went to her retirement party.

Once again, Jeanette and I showed up in the same colors.

There were decorations, food, and a slide show.  Since Jeanette and I worked together for 11 years, I showed up in quite a few of the slides.  (I’m in white-and-purple in the middle; Jeanette is wearing the long purple dress.  We wore the same color again!)  That’s Jeanette and her husband watching the slide show.

The roses on the tables were pretty.  This is Jeanette’s husband, niece, and sister.

Naturally, there were gifts.  Mandy (she has my old position) presented Jeanette with a gift from the office staff–a music box that plays “Remember.”

I gave Jeanette a cut glass “window” to hang in her window.

 

I knew everyone at the retirement party–DESE staff from Jeff City, Jeanette’s family, and AEL teachers and staff–so it was a wonderful opportunity for me to catch up with lots of people I don’t see regularly since I retired.  Not surprisingly, I set up three future lunch dates with friends at the party.  We’re still having fun together.

This morning, Cheryl and Dave took us for a hike on the Dripping Springs Trail in Organ Pipe National Monument.  Dave knew a lot about the geology of the area, but I don’t remember the details.  Basically, this part of the National Monument is volcanic lava that hardened in a unique way.  The peaks rise to 9,000 feet and are called the Organs because their steep spires resemble the pipes of an organ.  The walls in this part of the area “weep,” so the trail is called Dripping Springs.  It was a beautiful hike.

 

Yesterday, while we were driving, I thought I saw a huge circle on a mountainside.  A circle seemed geologically improbable, so I decided it must have been a shadow effect from the rocks and plants.  Today, Dave showed us that there really are circles in these mountains.  The lava that spewed out of the volcanoes was liquid, but hard “chunks” also spewed into the air.  The soft lava hardened around the chunks and, when it eroded, the chunks appeared as circles in the rock.

This is a small chunk of rock surrounded by hardened lava.

According to Dave, Native Americans living in the area long ago would cut the chunk out of the rock.  This left a rounded hole that could be used as a mortar and pestle.

Here is a larger embedded chunk of rock.

We saw a small cave along the trail.  It was higher inside–maybe 10 feet high, 40 feet wide, and 20 feet deep.  The ceiling was covered with soot from fires made by people who sheltered in the cave.

 

Our hike was followed by lunch, and then it was time to say good-bye to Dave and Cheryl.  All of us wished our visit could have been longer, so we’ll plan more time together the next time we meet–either in St. Peters or in Las Cruces.

While driving to White Sands yesterday, and again west of Las Cruces today, we experienced something that doesn’t happen in Missouri:  border patrol.  A dog sniffed each vehicle and the guards looked inside.  Yesterday, the guards asked if we are United States citizens.  Dave was driving, so he answered “yes” for all of us.  That was the end of the patrol portion of the program.  Today, the guard simply waved Ted and me by without a word to us.  Dare I use the words “racial profiling”?

 

All along I-10 on our way to Arizona, we repeatedly saw signs warning us of possible dust storms.  At one point, we saw a dust devil.

 

We arrived in Green Valley, AZ mid-afternoon and began our visit with Dan and Vernie (Ted’s brother and sister-in-law) with some catching up time and dinner.  We haven’t seen them for five years, so it’s good to be together.  They have a full day planned for us tomorrow, and we’re all looking forward to it.

As Ted and I were driving south on I-25 to visit our friends, Dave and Cheryl, guess what we passed.

It’s the Oscar Mayer wienermobile!  Wouldn’t this be fun to drive?  It would make everyone look and smile.

 

New Mexico has very Southwestern-styled rest stops.  They are designed simply:  a small building with men’s toilets on one half and women’s on the other, plus 6-8 picnic shelters, and rock landscaping with no grass to mow.

Most of the rest stops we’ve seen have been constructed of red adobe, but this one was more colorful.  These are some of the picnic shelters.

 

We found Dave and Cheryl’s Las Cruces home without any problems and had a happy reunion with them.  The four of us met on our 2015 Grand European Cruise and have stayed in touch ever since.  Dave told us they take all their visitors to nearby White Sands National Monument, and that was a perfect plan for us, because we wanted to see it.

As we drove to the park, I noticed that the dirt in the ditches gave way to white sand in the ditches.  Before long, we were at the park and saw white sand everywhere.  Dave said the ridge road in the mountains to the east of White Sands provides a beautiful view of the white landscape from above.  I hope we’ll have time to see that on our next visit.

 

In addition to sightseeing, we took time to play in the sand.  Dave and Cheryl brought along their snow saucer, so Ted and I took some rides down a dune.  Whee!

Here goes Ted . . .

. . . and here I come.

 

The sand dunes are constantly moving with the wind, so plants have found ways to survive the shifting of the dunes.

As the wind blows around the plant, it begins to dig a circle around the base.  The plant adapts to the shifting dune by growing increasingly deeper roots.

When the dune has completely moved away from the plant, the deep roots help the plant survive for a period of time, but it eventually dies from a lack of water.

This plant has died, but you can see the remaining stump of its roots.

 

We drove the loop road around the park and stopped at a boardwalk, where we walked to the end for a view of the dunes.

 

When we got to the end of the boardwalk, the blue of the distant mountains reminded me of views on Lake Michigan beaches, with the blue of the mountains substituting for the blue of the lake water.

 

Just before leaving the park, we asked a fellow visitor to take a picture of the four of us.

 

In the evening, Dave and Cheryl took us for a walk in historic downtown Las Cruces and then we went out for dinner and spent the rest of the evening catching up with each other.  There is less light pollution at Dave and Cheryl’s house than at ours, so we spent some pleasant time star-gazing and identifying constellations.  Dave showed me how to recognize the Summer Triangle and the Northern Cross of stars, so that’s two more groups for me to look for the next time Ted and I see dark night skies.

While I was out with Kari last week, I was excited about meeting one of my friends instead of one or more or her friends as we usually do.  Today was was another good day for meeting friends.  Ted and I went out to lunch and we saw Cy and his wife, Pat, in the restaurant.  Cy used to be a volunteer tutor in my Adult Education and Literacy program.  We were both waiting for a table, so we decided to share a single table instead.  It was so much fun spending time together unexpectedly.  We both admitted that we often go to this restaurant for lunch, so there’s a good chance we’ll see each other again, especially since we met them there once before.  Last time, however, Ted and I were leaving when Cy and Pat arrived.  I hope that, next time, our timing works out like it did today.

Friends are fun.

Yesterday, Kari took me out to lunch for my birthday.  Yes, my birthday was in March, but we’ve both been busy, and waiting until yesterday gave us something to look forward to.  Besides, this might have provided me with a record for the Longest Birthday Celebration.  My first birthday lunch with a friend was on March 2 because she wanted to get it in before Ted and I left on our trip to the southeastern U.S. on March 9.  From March 2 until July 25 is a 21-week birthday event.  Awesome!  Kari and I had a wonderful time and sat in the restaurant for over three hours, then talked for another half hour at her house.

The most amazing part of the lunch was that, while we were eating, one of my friends came into the restaurant and exchanged a few words with me.  That never happens!!!!  Most of the time when I go somewhere with Kari, we run into at least one of her friends.  Even when we took her to New Orleans to check out a possible college for her, we met one of her high school friends in the French Quarter.

I couldn’t believe it:  We met one of my friends instead of Kari’s.  It’s never happened before and probably never will again.  This really has been my best birthday ever.

Today is International Women’s Day.  To recognize this day, I’m sharing a picture of some of my favorite and most respected women.  These women worked in a broad spectrum of departments at SCC.  We are all retired now and we get together for lunch every two months.  Each of these women worked to make a difference in the lives of the people served by the college and in the community.  They are smart, interesting, and fun.  I’m honored and fortunate to call all of them my good friends.

Left -> right, back row:  Me–adult education; Amy–not an SCC woman, but making a difference as a caregiver for Barb; Liz–business and industry.

Left -> right, front row:  Barb–academic success center (she has Alzheimer’s, so Amy brings her to our lunches); Terri–finance; Elaine–president’s office; Cindy–math instructor; Yvonne–continuing education.

Absent:  Barbara–science and technology.

Every now and then, when Ted and I go out to lunch, we meet someone we know in the restaurant.  Yesterday, we selected the same restaurant as one of the 70 volunteers I used to supervise.  It was fun to see Cy (Cyril) again and to catch up with him for a few minutes.

This is usually the end of the story, but the weather was crummy, so Ted and I decided to walk our three miles in the mall.  Who else do you think decided to walk the mall after lunch?  Right.  Cy.  Two meetings in two venues in less than an hour after several years of not seeing each other deserved a photo memory, so Ted took pictures with Cy’s and my phones.

cy-and-i

One of the questions I asked Ted yesterday was who I’d be with if I called to tell him I was in trouble.  He quickly replied, “Liz.”  That reminded me of a sign I saw in a store window several years ago.  I immediately thought of Liz when I saw the sign.  I guess Ted knows me (and Liz) pretty well.

great-friend

Note:  Liz and I have never been in trouble–or in jail.  Yet.

My advisor, mentor, friend, and India training partner is awesome.  I introduced John Henschke in an earlier post and included some of his zillion+ accomplishments.  As soon as I knew John was going to be my training partner, I knew I would be working with the best and could set aside my worries about messing up my first overseas teacher trainings.

Today, I learned that John has yet another achievement to add to his resumé.  On November 14, he will be in Orlando, FL for his induction into the International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame.  What an honor!

Every so often, I hear that John is retiring.  When I ask him about it, he paraphrases Mark Twain and says, “The rumors of my retirement are greatly exaggerated.”  When I spoke with John last week, he told me he is retiring December 31.  I had to ask if this is the real retirement, or one more in his string of exaggerated rumored retirements.  This is the real one.

So what will John do in his retirement?  Since he won’t be teaching university classes after this semester, he sees retirement as an opportunity to have a more open calendar to schedule trainings and other activities.  He’ll be training adult educators in New Mexico the first week of December, in Tennessee the second week of January, and in India in February with me.

The best part of all is that not only do I count John as my friend and partner, but that he also counts me as a friend and partner.

Image result for john a henschke photo

My friend and partner, the awesome and world-renowned adult educator, John Henschke.

My friend, Liz, included me on the guest list for the birthday party her daughter and son-in-law hosted on Saturday night.  It was a happy group of about twenty people with delicious food prepared by Janelle (the daughter).  Hilarious stories about Liz provided lots of laughter, and a good time was had by all.

Liz and I have been friends for over twenty years.  I hope we have many, many more years of friendship.  Happy birthday, good friend.

Liz is the one with the party hat.

Liz is the one with the party hat.  That’s her four-year-old grandson photobombing our picture.

Ted and I have been to 47 states.  We are missing Hawai’i, New Mexico, and North Dakota.  We seriously considered extending our recent visit to Ted’s sister in Nebraska by continuing north to North Dakota and checking that state off our Missing States List.  Ted researched places of interest but couldn’t really find anything that sounded worth the extra time and travel.  In fact, when we were on our 2015 European cruise, we met a lady from North Dakota.  When we asked her for ideas of things to do and/or places to visit in North Dakota, she thought about it for a few seconds and then responded by saying, “I actually think South Dakota is more interesting.”  We decided that we might have to settle for visiting 49 states, offering the excuse that we just couldn’t find a reason to visit North Dakota.

While we were discussing our travels during Dave and Cheryl’s visit, we mentioned our North Dakota dilemma.  Dave and Cheryl are making a circuit from New Mexico through Missouri, into Wisconsin, then west through Minnesota, etc.  On Saturday, I received a postcard from Dave from North Dakota.  Today, I got two more postcards in the mail.  Dave is tempting me.  Ted and I might have to go to North Dakota after all.

Yes, it says "legendary" North Dakota.

Yes, it says “legendary” North Dakota.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2016-10-ND-postcards-2-2133x1600.jpg

Two weeks ago, our New Mexico friends, Cheryl and Dave, made a second stop at our house.  In August, they stopped here on the way from their home in New Mexico to their daughter’s home in North Carolina.  (Their other daughter lives in Hawai’i.  How’s that for being spread out?)  This time they were on their way to Cheryl’s college class reunion in Chicago.  We started having fun by having lunch, soon after their arrival.

D and C lunch

It was a rainy day, but we capitalized on a break in the showers to visit the Historic Main Street district of St. Charles.  Dave likes to geocache and had identified four caches in the heart of the area, so we looked for them as we walked along the street.  Clues for the first geocache indicated that the first map of St. Charles was a part of it.  I remembered seeing something about the first map when we were visiting Main Street with Julian last summer.  We were right in front of the First State Capitol/Missouri Historical Society building, so I went in to ask one of the workers about the map, only to discover all of the employees gathered around a table in the back room celebrating a birthday.  (They offered me a piece of cake.)

When I inquired about the map, one of the men asked, “Are you geocaching?”  I said no, I was helping a friend.  The man pointed to the map behind the party table and said, “There it is.  And the next one is the Peck Brothers sign next door.”  Wow!  Am I good or what?!  I’ve never geocached before and I found two before Dave did!  I shared the information with Dave and he duly recorded the finds.  We continued our walking tour of the district and then meandered down to the riverfront path where Dave identified another geocache location.  He found it without too much trouble and we continued walking.  We arrived at the final geocache location a little later but, even with all four of us looking, we couldn’t find it.

Geocache find: the Peck Bros. sign

Geocache find:  the Peck Bros. sign

Our dry weather window was closing and it was starting to sprinkle a little, so we decided to reverse our direction and circle back toward the car.  On the way, Cheryl and I went into the Little Hills Winery shop where we each bought a bottle of wine, making it a good day of shopping.

In the evening, Ted and I planned to take Dave and Cheryl to The Hill in St. Louis for an Italian dinner.  It’s well known that there is no bad food on The Hill, but when we left, there was a strong thunderstorm passing over.  We decided to eat closer to home and headed for one of our favorite local Italian restaurants, Fratelli’s.  The food and wine were delicious and the conversation was even better.  The scotcheroos at home were pretty good too.  Cheryl asked for the recipe.

We started the following cool morning with a warm beverage from Starbuck’s, then headed for the Arch.  Ted and I have lived in this area for 43 years and have never gone to the Arch in October.  It’s unlike any previous experience we’ve had.  Our skip-the-line tickets were for 11:00 a.m. and we arrived at 10:40, ready to ride but prepared to spend the usual recommended hour getting up, looking around, and coming down.  We were down by 11:05.  With no lines, we presented our tickets, walked directly to the tram cars, waited for the tram to arrive, got on, and took the six-minute ride up.  Unbelievable!  We spent some time in the tram car taking pictures.  Cheryl and I took turns so we’d all get into a picture.

Cheryl's turn with the camera

Cheryl’s turn with the camera

My turn with the camera

My turn with the camera

Of course, there was the obligatory photo at the top to be taken, so we asked a nearby person to take our picture.  He said he’d be glad to and asked where we’re from.  Ted and I said “St. Louis” and Cheryl and Dave said “New Mexico.”  “Where in New Mexico?” asked the man.  “Las Cruces,” replied Cheryl and Dave.  What are the odds that this man’s son, daughter-in-law, and two granddaughters had just moved to St. Louis from Las Cruces and were standing right there?  It is definitely a very small world.

D and C all arch

Photo by the father of the Las Cruces family

After we were back at ground level, it was time for Cheryl and Dave to head for Chicago.  We slowly worked our way back to the parking garage, took a few pictures of the Arch from the ground, exchanged hugs and good wishes, and went in different directions.

Today’s mail brought me a postcard from Dave, sent from North Dakota on their way home.  He knows Ted and I are looking for a reason to go to North Dakota because it’s one of only three states we haven’t visited.  He noted on the postcard that he wishes I were there and he thinks I probably wish the same.  New Mexico is another of the three states we haven’t visited.  Ted and I are looking forward to our Southwest U.S. vacation in October 2017 when we plan to attend the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and to visit Cheryl and Dave in Las Cruces.

Parting shot of the Arch

Parting shot of the Arch. Today is the 50th anniversary of setting the keystone piece into the Arch.

Today, Ted and I went back to our school volunteer duties.  He is working with the same teacher as last year and has two new second graders who need to improve their reading skills.  He said they are great kids and are very excited about reading with him.

The secretary and several of the teachers were so happy to have me back, they hugged me when I arrived at the Success School.  I worked with three students today and had a good time.  Ted, my student from last year, has decided to take the GED Options class.  I’m so glad!  He has several more failed classes to repeat, and will have a much better chance of graduating with his class if he spends the year preparing for his GED.

The classroom in which I tutored a few times last year got a facelift over the summer.  The washer and dryer are still there, but all the miscellaneous junk has been moved to a far corner in the “L” of the room and has been replaced with tables and chairs.  The ceiling-hung electric cords for the power tools have been replaced with arts and crafts-style colorful felt parrots hanging from the ceiling.  (I wonder who came up with the parrot theme.)  The room is now used for the daily opening assembly, among other things, and looks pretty good.

Best of all, I had a happy surprise.  As I walked toward the office between classes, I recognized the woman coming out.  It was Cat, one of my former GED teachers.  I knew she was working for the St. Charles School District, but I didn’t know she was working with the Success School kids.  We had a brief and happy reunion.  She was a very good GED teacher and, for her masters thesis, she put together a How to Get Your GED in 60 Days book with a study curriculum for each day.  Another one of my former GED teachers works as a part-time counselor at the Success School.  We GED teachers love to help the underdogs in academia.  It’s a small world, for sure, to have three of us from the SCC GED program all working with the same kids now.

A quick between-classes picture of Cat and me.

A quick between-classes picture of Cat and me.

My brother Tom’s son, Brandon, was married in Dyer, Indiana last week, and we attended the wedding.  It was fun to get together with family and to catch up with each other.

"L-

The wedding was at Meyers Castle and it was very nice.  The bride and groom were going to make a last-minute indoor/outdoor decision, based on the skies.  Based on conversation among the guests waiting with us for chairs to be dried off, the wedding party were apparently some of the few who did not look at the radar before making the decision.  A huge area of heavy rain was just outside the town at the time of the ceremony, but the call was for an outdoor wedding.  We were sprinkled on a little bit, but everyone was inside before the deluge hit.  The pastor did a world-class job of including all the important information, as well as some pleasantries, while keeping the service moving along ahead of the rain.

During the ceremony, Brandon made promises to Damon (his soon-to-be-adopted son) to always care for him.

During the ceremony, Brandon made promises to Damon (his soon-to-be-adopted son) to always care for him.

You may kiss your bride.

You may kiss your bride.

"L-

R: Brandon, Maddie, JoEllen, Tom” width=”800″ height=”600″> L–>R:  Brandon, Maddy, JoEllen, TomAnd then it was time to party!

The venue was beautiful and romantic.

The venue was beautiful and romantic.

Damon dancing with his grandma.

Damon dancing with his grandma.The winner for "most unusual wedding cake topper."

The winner for “most unusual wedding cake topper.”Ted and I had a good time, and we wish Brandon and Maddy many happy years together.

Brandon and Maddie forever

Brandon and Maddy forever

We had a wonderful time this afternoon and evening visiting with our friends, Cheryl and Dave.  We met them on our European river cruise last summer.  They live in New Mexico and are on their way to North Carolina to visit their daughter and grandson, with lots of interesting stops along the way to geocache.

It was great to talk about our families and to exchange travel adventures with them.  They went to Australia in January and spent some time with another couple we met on the river cruise, Tracey and Mark.  We hope to visit Cheryl and Dave in Fall 2017 when we go to the balloon race in Albuquerque, and we want to see Tracey and Mark when we go to Australia–maybe in 2018.

What a pleasure it is to travel, make new friends, and then spend time with them again.  Thanks for including us in your travel plans, Dave and Cheryl.

This is the picture

I forgot to have our

dinner waitress take

of Cheryl, Dave,

Ted, and me.