Category: Choices

WE LOVE LIGHTHOUSES!

WE LOVE LIGHTHOUSES!

What is it about lighthouses? They are a throwback to a quieter time when we had less to worry about and less control over it. But wait. Wouldn’t being dashed to unseen river rocks be a considerable worry?

Enter Fort Gratiot Light. Pronounced Fort grǎ’-chit, this quintessentially iconic lighthouse is the oldest in Michigan (constructed in 1825) that is still in active service.

It stands in the southern portion of Michigan’s Thumb and marks the entrance to the Saint Clair River from Lake Huron.

We visited it on a beautiful day in June and took an hour-long guided tour, which allowed us to climb the 94 (!) steps to the top of the tower.

Can you imagine running up and down these stairs several times daily as a lighthouse keeper? Those days are long gone—modern technology has replaced all the glamorous tasks of the courageous, stalwart keeper.

Bummer.

I like that the light is still in service, though.

And we were so silly to realize Canada is just across from Michigan now. As West Coasters, we haven’t studied our country’s middling geography very well. The bridge you see in the background in this photo from the top of the lighthouse goes from the U.S. to Canada. We felt like we had witnessed the second coming or something!

In closing, I have to tell you this story. One Christmas, maybe thirty or so years ago, my husband and I gave each other the same lighthouse calendar! So, it was a foregone conclusion. We had to drive over an hour to see this lighthouse. And, it was an excellent adventure!

Peonies in Bloom in June

Peonies in Bloom in June

I wondered if people would consider a uniquely colored peony worthy of a travel blog. But then, one person’s peony is another person’s mountain top.  We (my husband and I) planned a few weeks in Michican’s Lake Whitmore to be with the grandkids… but we had time some days to do a little sightseeing. We discovered that peonies were on their way out of their short-lived bloom period, and we didn’t want to miss it. Off to the University of Michigan arboretum we went.

While there were literally dozens (who knew?) of peony varieties, I had to choose one that caught my eye. Isn’t that the way? Whenever you’re traveling, you have to make choices. Where do we go today? Where do we eat? Do we want to drive a lot or walk a lot?

Then, when you get there, do you just see stuff, or do you have to photograph every little thing? Are you really there when you’re snapping the photo, or are you saving the now for a future time when you can relive the experience you missed because you were taking the photo? It’s the perennial travel question. (Wait, are peonies perennials? Yes… actually, they are. Sorry about that.)

For me, a photograph does pull me from the moment, and it lets me save the moment, too. Sigh. Travel is about seeing yourself as much as it is about seeing the world. Isn’t that cool??

A note about timing while we’re here. If we’d been a few days later in our stay, we would have missed the bloom!  In fact, we were told they were on their way down from the height of their beauty. A few of the petals had begun to fall, but many flowers still held that breathtaking “peony-ness.”) Travel timing is another whole post, but I couldn’t ignore the thought of it here.

So, let’s leave it at peonies and the perennial question of photography versus being in the moment.

Sigh.

 

Enjoying the DIA in No-Way…Detroit???

Enjoying the DIA in No-Way…Detroit???

Travelers love to find gems in unexpected places. The DIA, Detroit Institute of the Arts, is one of those.

According to this website, there are 35,000 museums in the United States. They listed the top 30, one of which is the DIA (#13). Yes, it’s in Detroit, Michigan.

A famous installation is that of the Detroit Industry Murals (1932–1933) by Diego Rivera. They are permanent as they were painted directly onto the walls.

I’m looking at one of the smaller frescos, and my husband and I are standing in front of an entire wall of one of the murals.

Rivera’s murals here… “create a tribute to industry and workers. These murals reveal Rivera’s fascination with industrial processes — and his critique of the political and social realities of capitalist enterprise.” (Source: DIA information piece about the murals.)

Tiff Massey

The exhibit (on view through May 2025) that tickled me the most was that of Tiff Massey. I had never heard of her, which is why we go to museums, right?  From her website, we learn “…She was the first Black woman to earn an MFA in metal smithing from the Cranbrook Academy of Art. She draws on 1980s hip-hop culture and her experiences as a Detroit native to examine the concept of adornment as an examination of the African diaspora and contemporary issues of race, class, and popular culture.”

I like her work because she makes statements about the connection of community, jewelry, and large works of art that put her “art in a context” — a theme of the DIA, according to our docent.

I’d like to put all her work here, but a better idea is for you to go to Detroit before May 2025 and see this exciting, inspirational installation. You’ll love it.

By the way, I’m making a general statement here that I hope to repeat as my travel blog grows.

“Always take a guided tour of any place you can when traveling. It helps you know what you want to see and see what you’d like to know.” — Kathryn Atkins, Blogger, “Gone on an Adventure

And speaking of curation (we weren’t but I wanted to see if you were paying attention), the museum houses 65,000 separate pieces of artwork. At any one time, they exhibit about 10% of them, sometimes because the artwork is too fragile to the light and other times because the featured work does have to be rotated so we get to see it all eventually. As in, “keep coming back!”

We will. 🙂

A Deep Dive into US History in Boston

A Deep Dive into US History in Boston

I often feel like I should be paid for how much I “advertise” for Road Scholar. Like similar travel companies, the company has created the best of both worlds for people of a certain age and income. That is, they set about making traveling easy and educational at reasonable prices for experiences (three for us so far) that will remain in our hearts and minds as we travel this thing called life.

I need to talk about their six-day Boston trip in particular because it was all about the founding of our great country, the United States of America. Every morning, our group would listen to a lecture by Charles Bahne, a noted historian specializing in the American Revolution, that detailed different aspects of the times, the people, and even the buildings in place during our march to independence!

What I got out of the lectures was exactly how much of our country’s founding relied on lots of luck (besides the blood and fighting, of course.) That these particular men lived in this part of our country at exactly that time was a star-crossed, magical intertwining of events that defies imagination. What chances did these scruffy, determined misfits and miscreants have against an established world conqueror like England? The scrappy colonists were, at the same time, highly-regarded members of the 1760s society and sly, under-the-table, blackened-faced tea hurlers who were the Boston Tea Party celebrants. During that Tea Party morning lecture, we were there with the colonists, slinging tea. And we were all but “sitting with them” the next morning, happy as heck with innocent inside smiles hidden beneath quiet smugness. “We got ‘em.”

Stupid England

The English puffed themselves up in their stuffy egotistic Red Coats, blinded to the quest for freedom that gave our United States ruffians the power to overcome mighty England. And King George? Ha. He was a puffball of the highest order. Remember the play Hamilton? The song runs through my head now as it does yours if you’ve seen the musical. Dah da da dah dah, da da da da da da da, dah da dah. All right, then. It’s stuck in your mind now, isn’t it?

Bricks!

I am not sure anything says bricks like Boston. We saw bricks here, there, and everywhere,

Bricks and Barrels

Brick-y patterns define walls, walkways, and courtyards on campuses and around homes, government buildings, and parks.

We like clinker bricks, too!! We loved those rascally, uneven, wavy, and often blackened bricks that give chimneys and walls even more character.

On many tours, the spirits of Paul Revere, George Washington, Sam Adams, and Ben Franklin all but walked among us. We went to the churches, battlefields, and homes where history dripped off the walls or reached out from balconies and balustrades, farmhouses, and bridges. We closed our eyes to “hear” fevered speeches that started our patriotic blood stirring. Don’t you just love the United States? Well, if you don’t, you’re probably not an American. If you love America, you’d love the Boston story. It’s a good one, and I believe traveling in the United States can be just as exciting as other countries across the seas. Maybe more so.

 

Deep-Dive Traveling

You know, we’ve been on many of the types of tours that say, “If this is Tuesday, it must be Belgium.” Those are fun too, for you get to see a lot of countries and cities in a one- or two-week span. However, six days in one city touches all your senses — the smell of the harbor, the feel of the bricks beneath your feet, the sights of battles and buildings, the taste of real Boston clam chowder, and the sounds of the wind rustling in trees that may well have been tiny saplings at the very spot you’re standing. Isn’t that cool?

If You Go

Don’t forget the cannoli! These sweet, filled pastries have people lined up around the block. It’s a good thing we walked a lot on the trip! And do try to catch a guided tour for part of your stay—even if you don’t go with a tour company. You’ll learn so much!

 

 

 

Gone on an Adventure — In Cambria, California

Gone on an Adventure — In Cambria, California

Sparkling lights danced around the fantasy garden in Cambria, California. They were like teeny fairies, distant relatives of Tinkerbell, perhaps, but these were very real in this verdant oasis plopped in the middle of the downtown off the eastern end of Cambria’s Main Street. Wait… doesn’t almost every city have a Main Street? There’s a calming consistency in that. Parades go down Main Street, and retailers vie for a Main Street storefront, which might be an argument for going off the main drag. You might be missing some treasures!

As for our fairy garden, it is not on the main drag. It’s hidden. Of course, it’s hidden!  This is why travelers want to ask the locals (and fellow tourists) where the good stuff is: unknown killer restaurants, hole-in-the-wall, don’t-miss bars, out-of-the-way private beaches, and the very things that make traveling a richer experience.

We didn’t know the garden existed until we happened to chat with a couple from a town near our home (of course). They said they never miss going to the fairyland behind the little shop named Spellound that will forever more be our gotta-visit spot too. Had we been in a hurry and not met and talked with this sharing couple, we would not have experienced this adventure.

What’s Cambria like, you ask? Besides the little garden, Cambria offers a dramatic coastline, walkable beaches (“Moonstone Beach” is popular), and windswept, tell-me-a-story Cypress trees that remind me of Monterey and Carmel. Cambria is a less expensive option to those two towns and has a ruggedness to it that invites jeans and flip flops, plus ridiculously talented artists of all kinds.

Where to stay? We found a cozy, inexpensive “Bluebird Inn” on, yes, Main Street, making it walking distance to all manner of local haunts. We like the antique shops, restaurants (like Linn’s for their Ollalyberry, blue cheese, arugula, bacon, and red onion hamburger), and the French Corner Bakery for great coffee and sugar-high pastries. We’ve also stayed out near Moonstone Beach, where several hotels offer walking across the street to the ocean and lazy Adirondack chairs to just sit as the ocean’s calm washes away all of life’s troubles.

We like Cambria. The weather’s good most of the year (it’s Southern California!), and the town is laid-back, but it has an old elegance that makes it a great getaway from Los Angeles. Wineries are nearby, and Hearst Castle is down the road a bit. Next time I may have gone on an adventure, you might find me in Cambria–in the Spellbound garden, hanging out with the fairies and Alice.

 

Feeling All the Feels

Poet imageIt’s a scary place to go–down there in the dark with no net of busyness to protect us from falling into the pool below, where feeling all the feels is worse than the bottom of a wishing well where we keep throwing pennies, hoping for whatever.

We don’t dare lower ourselves in the bucket to pick them back out because we may have to act on the wishes and, oh heck…feel all the feels. The truth is in the mirror at the bottom of the well, right above the pile of pennies. And so it’s easier not to go there at all. Or is it?

 

Food Waste, Insecurity, Expiration Dates & Climate Change

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration[1] estimates that food waste is 30 to 40% of the U.S. Food supply. Meanwhile, the Economic Research Service (ERS) study dated September 2022 (the latest report) finds that 10.2 percent of all U.S. households were food insecure. The term refers to “households that had some difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members because of lack of resources.” Food insecurity and low food security are used interchangeably. From the same ERS study, the report states, “In 2021, 3.8 percent of U.S. households had a very low food security.”

The USDA graph shows that food insecurity statistics have stayed pretty much the same over the last 20 years, so Covid was not the culprit.

Why not use the wasted food to feed the food insecure?

It’s not simple. Overproduction of agricultural outputs, for instance, cannot always be moved to  fill food insecurities because it spoils. Even if it could be put into a can, the canning plants could be at capacity. Work stoppages occur from time to time. Import and export snafus affect supplies over and under to cause surpluses and shortages.

Weather happens. Agricultural underproduction can result from droughts as well as flooding. Distribution channels are sticky. Over-production of bread from the local bakery may or may not have available transportation to the community food bank. Once at the food bank, there may be no staff to unload it and either distribute it directly or pass it on to more remote areas where people can get it.

  • Is it an infrastructure problem?
  • Is it a volunteer shortage?
  • Is it a lack of innovation?
  • An absence of motivation?
  • A failing of education

How can the food waste be decreased in the first place?

A September 9-10, 2023, Wall Street Journal article by Josh Zumbrun suggests food expiration dates are part of the cause of food waste and food shortage! And the well-respected non-profit Refed.org does an excellent job of identifying food waste causes. One of the causes is at the consumer level. Few people know what the used by, best by, enjoy by, or any of the other “by’s” or “until’s” mean on food labels. It’s more surprising to know that these dates are not federally regulated! Retailers are also guilty of throwing food out that may or may not be bad, but do they dare sell anything “past the date”? Probably not. It is time to look at food date labels.

What does food waste have to do with climate change?

It’s one word: Landfill. For all the food dumped into landfill, landfill gas (LFG) is a natural byproduct of the decomposition of organic material in those landfills. LFG is about 50% methane, and methane is “a potent greenhouse gas at least 28 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere over a 100-year period.”[2] Per the World Economic Forum, tackling methane is one of the quickest ways to slow climate change.

Source: US EPA

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Many people are hungry. Many people are throwing away perfectly good food. Many dates on our food labels are unnecessary and mostly misunderstood.

Climate change could be lessened if more people knew what happens to food in our landfills. One great way to start is to educate ourselves; and an excellent way to do that is through the Carbon Almanac.

It’s. Not. Too. Late… to save our planet.

[1] https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/food-loss-and-waste

[2] https://www.epa.gov/lmop/basic-information-about-landfill-gas#methane

Hidden Not-For-Everyone Society

A man and his girlfriend hiking in the mountains purposefully ignore the trail signs to find a private place where no one would disturb them.

“We might get lost,” the woman says.

“I’m hoping we do,” he says, winking.

In exactly five more steps behind a rock that does not appear to have space behind it, they find themselves looking down onto a small city, almost like one of those planned community architectural model towns. The homes are neatly laid out on a grid of clean and orderly streets. The couple sees no cars. Bicycles come and go. Tiny people (from their vantage point) walk with purpose but do not seem to be rushed.

“Where are we again?” the woman says. Her name is Cynthia.

“I am not sure. I didn’t think there were any cities in this area. There weren’t any on Google Maps,” he says. His name is Joel.

“This doesn’t look right. I think we should turn around and try to find our way back. It’s getting late,” Cynthia says.

Joel looks over the rock to his left. The city spreads about a mile west, with small buildings that might be an industrial area of sorts. “I want to see it. Don’t you?”

“No,” Cynthia says, unhappy that this place didn’t appear on a map. What is it? A government testing place like Area 51? Or is it a bomb manufacturing city or an experimental site for crazy people that the government doesn’t want anybody to know about? “I’d rather go home.”

“Fine. I’ll get you back to the trail, and you can follow the signs. The paths back to the trailhead are very clearly marked. You still have hours of light left. And we saw people along the way. You’ll be fine.”

Cynthia is a bookkeeper. Her gift is her attention to detail and unfailing willingness to follow the rules, stay within the coloring lines, and have all her companies’ accounts balanced at the end of each day. It also means that hiking alone scares the lavender drops out of her deodorized panty liners. “I’ll come with you.”

After thirty minutes of switchback paths down to the little city, Joel and Cynthia are making their way down what looks like the main street in the town. “The people here are weird,” Cynthia says quietly to Joel as they walk. “I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone or something. They’re staring at us, and no one is smiling. It’s like they’re afraid of us.”

“Yeah. We’ll just grab something to eat and drink and leave. Here,” Joel says, opening the swinging door to a small mom-and-pop type café that looks like something out of the 1950s.

They sit down at a booth.

“Can we see a menu, please?”

“We don’t have printed menus. But I can tell you what we have for lunch today,” the waitress says. She seems a little distant as she takes their order for burgers and fries, one of the two blue-plate specials for the day. “Oh, about your drinks? We don’t carry sodas,” she adds. “I can bring you some ice water.”

“That’s fine.”

As Joel scans the café, he notices it is more like a meeting place than a coffee shop. Some of the tables have blackboards and chalk. One wall is covered by a whiteboard with an odd list like the following, of which there are several.

Manufacturing – Bob B.

Farming – Sandie S.

Baking – David A.

Technology – Alayna R.

Teaching – All

Clothing – All

 

“Look at those,” Joel says, also remarking to himself that they are the only customers in the coffee shop.

“Yes. I wonder what it means,” Cynthia says, also noting the emptiness.

The waitress approaches the table and puts down the burgers, fries, and waters.

“We’re in a hurry,” Joel says. “I hope this covers it. Keep the change,” he adds magnanimously.

She looks down at the $20 bill Joel left on the table “Sir. We don’t accept cash here.”

“Oh. Here’s my card,” he says.

“No, sir, we operate on credits. But since it’s clear you’re from out of town, we will ask you to leave something of yours that we can use.”

“Huh? Like what?” Joel says.

“Like a book or some paper or clothes. We can use almost anything. A pen. A water bottle. Sunglasses. A hat. Anything.”

“Wait,” Joel says. “Are we in the United States of America?”

“Yes. Geographically, but philosophically, we differ from all that has come to represent America and the economy.”

“Joel,” Cynthia says, “I have a book in my backpack.” I can leave it here and get another one when we return.” She tugs her backpack zipper open and pulls out the novel she was reading before they left on their hike. “Here you go, Miss.”

“No, Cyn. Don’t leave it. I want to see what happens if we don’t leave anything. Will they arrest us?”

The waitress turns and walks to the door of the café, looks up the street, and sees one of the other townspeople. “Please find Zen or Steve.”

She returns to the couple and says, “You’re free to do what you’d like. We will not arrest you. But we will ask that you not mention this visit to anyone back where you live.”

“And if I do?”

“We hope you don’t,” a woman says, coming in the door with a man who might look like Jesus, depending on whose picture one believes.

Joel is even more curious. “What the heck is this place? Are we still in the United States?” he asks the new people, as he had before.

“Yes. We have taken ourselves out of the latest problems and found solutions by creating a society where everyone contributes. There are no handouts, and where we minimize our carbon footprint in every way we can.”

Joel’s eyes drift to the whiteboard to see the lists again, and then he refocuses on the man and woman.

“My name is Steve,” the man says. “This is my partner, Zen.”

“I’m Cynthia, but you can call me Cyn. This is Joel,” she says.

“And my name is Zila,” the waitress says. “But most folks call me Zee.”

“But how do you manage without cars and fuel and lights?” Joel says.

“We use the sun for our electricity; we have bicycles. Our warmth comes from the stored sun, and we eat off the land. Whatever we can grow, we eat. Whatever we cannot grow, we don’t eat. It’s pretty simple.”

“What if no one is a farmer?”

“We generally invite people here that are excited to learn new trades and want to live a simple, unencumbered, creative life. Many people enjoy applying their old knowledge to something new. An electrical engineer tries their hand at baking. If they like it, they stick with it. If they don’t, they move on, and we see if someone else wants to try it. No one is forced to do something that doesn’t fulfill them. Life is too short.”

“That’s crazy good,” Cynthia says. “I’m a bookkeeper and like it, but I’m getting tired of it.” She thinks for a minute. “I’ve always wanted to try my hand at beekeeping.”

Zen smiles. “We have a beekeeper here, but she’s interested in trying something new. She’d be happy to teach you her trade and move on to something else. No one is stuck in their choices.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Joel says. “You have to do something for a long time before you’re any good at it.”

“Not necessarily. The wealth of knowledge in this little town makes it so there is usually someone who can help if you get stuck. And if you make a mistake, you learn something, as does the entire community. Mistakes are growth opportunities.”

Joel doesn’t believe it. He stands abruptly and walks past the couple to open the door. He looks up and down the street. People come and go, waving, nodding, pushing baby carriages, or walking dogs and kids here and there.

“Where is the school?” he says.

“There’s a building that serves as a school, but for the most part, kids teach themselves with the proper guidance.”

“That’s ridiculous!”

“I’ve read about that,” Cynthia says. “The kids are allowed to follow their curiosity to learn what they want. They are allowed to participate in experiments and real-life situations that teach them math and physics, for instance.”

“Not every kid wants to learn that stuff,” Joel says.

“No, but every economy needs tradesmen – builders, electricians, leather workers, and plumbers that don’t have medical aptitude, but can contribute plenty to the society.” Cynthia reads widely, listens to podcasts on her walks, and belongs to several nonprofit groups that seek to preserve the earth, celebrate people’s gifts, and maximize developmental collaborations.

Joel regards Cynthia, seeing a new side of her. Mild-mannered bookkeeper becomes cutting-edge eco-scientist. “What the fuck, Cyn?”

“I’d like to stay,” she says to Zen and Steve. The waitress Zee shakes her head imperceptibly.

“We appreciate your enthusiasm,” Zen says. “But we are a real democracy. We will vote. Everyone sixteen and above votes. Then, you will have a trial period because you may decide it’s not right for you and you’re not right for us. You understand, don’t you?”

“Yes, absolutely.”

“But, what about me?” Joel says.

“You drank some of our water with your burgers and fries. We will get you back to the trail where you found us, but just about the time you arrive there, you will forget everything you saw, including any memory of Cynthia.”

Joel grabs Cynthia’s wrist, yelling, “We’re leaving. They can’t…”

But they do.

And Cynthia stays a long time trying her hand at beekeeping, baking, and beer brewing. She’s found her happy place.

OMG… GTD Quotes — Day Three

Poet image

 

“The one important thing I have learned over the years is the difference between taking one’s work seriously and taking one’s self seriously. The first is imperative and the second is disastrous.” ~ Margot Fonteyn

A corollary is “Life is too important to be taken seriously.” ~ Oscar Wilde. (Note some sources say it’s not his quote, but it’s close.

From playwrights in the 1800s (Wilde) to ballerinas in the 1900s ( Fonteyn), there is agreement on not taking life or ourselves too seriously.

I say, we aren’t as important as we think we are.

I can hear you saying, “What? That’s not true! I’m very important.”

Okay. But I like when I have the clarity to realize I’m overindulging in my own importance. I’m much better off if I can tap into “the wisdom to know the difference” about the things I can and can’t control. THAT’s from the Serenity Prayer–another favorite.

Some days are better than others.