August 30, 2011 The Adventures of Clark and Lewis – Prescott, AZ

I didn’t write an actual adventure from Prescott, AZ but we certainly had a good time with our friends, Eileen and Jim. Clark and Lewis did too! They’ve asked me to post a few pictures from our stop there.

Clark and Lewis meet Eileen and Jim

Clark and Lewis pining for their old pond

At the Smoki Museum in Prescott, AZ

Enjoying the view from Eileen and Jim's deck

Naughty duck and frog! Too much partying!

August 28, 2011 Flagstaff, AZ to Prescott, AZ

We are rounding the final bend in our vacation. But there’s still one more important stop, Prescott, AZ. Way back in the 1980’s, John and I moved to Hopkinton, MA. In our little cul-de-sac, there were four houses and all of us in them were about the same age and had kids all about the same age. We became fast friends and the time we spent there was idyllic (and often pretty wild.) Sadly one by one each of us moved away. But I think we all agree that it was some of the best years of our lives. We’ve already been to visit Sophie and Al in North Carolina and today we are off to see Eileen and Jim in Prescott, AZ.

But first a stop at Walnut Canyon National Monument. At the visitor’s center we see a short film about the native people who used to live in the canyon. They hunted and gathered and did some limited farming. Their houses were built into the overhangs in the canyon walls. Their existence reminds us somewhat of the way the ancient people in Font de Gaume, France lived 35,000 years ago.

Dwellings of the Sinagua in the canyon overhangs

We arrive at Eileen and Jim’s around 2 PM. We are so happy to see them.

Eileen and Jim with Clark and Lewis

There are hugs all around.

On Eileen's windy back deck

Jim and John

Jim, who is an expert guitarist, entertains us with some of his greatest hits. His songs are a wry commentary on life in general and politics in the U.S. I would say that he probably wouldn’t be a hit on Fox News. But we enjoy his sense of humor.

Jim playing his latest and greatest

And, of course, under the heading of “Will we ever learn….” we manage to put away a vast quantity of wine. Not our record number of bottles but still quite a few. We vow to not have wine tonight. We’ve decided on margaritas instead!

Cute picture of Eileen and John

August 27, 2011 Flagstaff, AZ

It always seems to happen at the end of a trip. My enthusiasm for compiling the day’s events in my blog starts to wane. Also there is the problem that we haven’t done much since arriving in Flagstaff. That’s probably another indication of vacation burn-out. But we are not done yet and tomorrow we are going to visit our dear friends, Eileen and Jim, in Prescott, AZ. We have had a lot of fun and wild times with them in the past and it always seems like I sign their guestbook with, “Will we ever learn….”

I just finished my last chapter, chapter 33, in the Adventures of Clark and Lewis. It seems rather sad to retire the guys. I think I’ll take them along to Utah at the end of September and then maybe to Italy later this year. Hah, and you thought I was burnt out from vacationing! If I know me, I’ll be hankering to be off somewhere in about three weeks. Might as well do all our traveling while we are still able.

Here in Flagstaff we have taken the opportunity to cook some diet-friendly meals, play some tennis, and do a lot of laundry. We’ve bought some kitchen essentials such as a plastic cutting board, a silicone spatula and wooden spoons that we plan on bequeathing to the condo owners. Luckily we have our knives, knife sharpener and instant probe thermometer with us. So far we’ve made turkey chili and shrimp creole. Tonight is some sort of lentil and turkey sausage concoction. I am afraid that the four pounds that I lost in the first four weeks of the vacation have made a reappearance. I suppose if I maintain my weight loss through seven weeks of vacation that will be a victory.

On to Prescott tomorrow and then home!

Mary with Clark and Lewis in Flagstaff, AZ

John, Clark and Lewis

August 24, 2011 Dallas, TX to Tucumcari, NM

We are up early today. We have about 7 1/2 driving hours to get to Tucumcari. Since we want to beat the rush hour traffic, we manage to get ourselves together and out by 7:15 a.m. The temperature is already 90 degrees. It hasn’t cooled off hardly at all over night.

There’s not much to report. We get in the car and drive. John does most of the driving because of my inability to drive over high places and my desire to nod off after lunch. Most of the places we go through are pretty depressed. A lot of Texas has seemed quite prosperous. The roads are in good shape and there’s lots of new construction around Dallas. But out in the panhandle it’s all kind of sad. Maybe they didn’t vote for G.W.

We get to Tucumcari earlier than expected due to the change to Mountain Time. We are excited to see mesas and buttes again. We love to look at the sky and see the weather for miles.

It's raining somewhere near Tucumcari, NM

I take a picture of a the sky as it might look in an apocalyptic painting. One can imagine the hand of God reaching out of the clouds.

Sky over Tucumcari, NM

We have dinner at the Rockin’ Y’s Roadhouse. It seems the best of a bad lot when we read the reviews. But it actually turns out to be really good. They serve American and Mexican fare. We have tacos and enchiladas and it’s not what I like to call congealed food or “glop.” You know the kind, Mexican food smothered in a melted cheese. The ingredients are fresh and tasty. What a pleasant surprise.

Afterwards we go out seeking good places to take pictures of Clark and Lewis along historic Route 66. Then off to hotel to write the blog and get a good night’s sleep before the long drive tomorrow to Flagstaff.

Clark and Lewis as Tod Stiles and Buz Murdock in "Route 66"

John, Clark and Lewis pose with a mural of "La Bamba"

August 22 & 23, 2011 Dallas, TX

We are up bright and early with plans to go to the Dallas Art Museum and the Nasher Sculpture Center. We go down to the concierge and find out that they are both closed on Monday. Bummer. Okay, we decide to switch our Tuesday plans to Monday and ask her to find us some indoor tennis courts. This is not an easy task. She suggests we go eat lunch while she works on it. In the Conservatory, I have a really good lunch of seared tuna, greens, edamame and daikon radish. I can see that John covets it. Back out to the concierge and, hurrah, she has found indoor tennis at the Four Seasons resort north of the city. We book a court for 3 PM, take our ibuprofen and make our way through Dallas to the resort.

It is really nice. Probably the nicest place we have ever played tennis. If we are ever planning on being in Dallas again when it’s between 105-108 degrees outside, we will definitely stay here. Gotta say I am pretty awesome today tennis-wise. It is a lot of fun. We decide to scrap the museums tomorrow and book a court for Tuesday as well.

John at the Four Seasons, climate controlled indoor courts

We get back to the hotel and get ready for our dinner at Ocean Prime. I am hoping for luscious scallops. But of course someone needs to do more than put a little salt on them and sear them. These come coated with cayenne pepper. I can’t even taste the scallops. John has blackened red fish. He says it is okay. I am sorry to be so picky but when you are paying big bucks for food, it ought to be right.

John at Ocean Prime with Clark peeking

On Wednesday, August 23, we spend the morning hanging around the room. I am supposed to be writing my blog and an adventure of Clark and Lewis but I do neither. Sometimes it’s good just to be lazy. We go back to the Conservatory for lunch where we both get the tuna. Then it is off to the courts where we seem to be different people from yesterday. We both play really badly. Oh well, it is still fun.

Watching tennis is thirsty business!

After coming back to the hotel and cleaning up, we meet our nephew, Andy, and his wife, Valerie, at the Capital Grille. It is great to see them and find out what is happening in their lives. It has been almost three years since we saw them at their wedding. Valerie is a Dallas police officer who is about to start juggling her job and going back to school. Andy works for Texas Instruments. John and he talk about stuff that I have no idea about. It is a marvelous dinner and a great evening.

Having dinner with Andy and Valerie

On Wednesday we are off to Tucumcari, NM on our way to Flagstaff to escape the heat. We have two long driving days but our reward is three days in the same place.

August 21, 2011 Vicksburg, MS to Dallas, TX

Having made the decision to change our itinerary, we get up early to make our way to Dallas. And when I say early, I mean really early. One of the things that I forget to do was to change my PDA’s time zone from Eastern to Central time. So we are greeted with its cheery reveille at 5 a.m.

But first a word about yesterday’s visit to the Lowndes County Interpretive Center. In the spring 0f 1965, African-Americans from Selma were denied the right to march to Montgomery to air their grievances. They were being denied (among other things) the right to vote. Many roadblocks had been put up to keep them from registering. The Selma African-Americans with the support of national black groups and the National Guard finally were able to bring their plight to national attention with the 54 mile march from Selma to Montgomery. The Lowndes County Interpretive Center depicts their struggle. John and I both felt that the movie and exhibits were very moving.

Clark and Lewis at Lowndes County Interpretive Center

Hitting the Selma Library, we change our plans. Libraries, what a resource.

Clark and Lewis at the Selma Library

After a brief stop over night in Vicksburg, MS, we hit the road for Dallas. Motoring across the little piece of Mississippi we have left and across all of Louisiana, we arrive at the Texas welcome center before lunch.

John, Clark, Lewis and Texas

The rest of the day is spent getting to our hotel in Dallas, the Rosewood Crescent, taking a nap, and having dinner at Nobu. We get dressed up (at least for vacation) and go down to the lobby bar for a glass of wine.

Mary at the Crescent Hotel lounge

John, Clark and Lewis enjoy a glass of wine and some snacks

I wish I could say that we enjoy dinner but with the exception of a couple of dishes, it is an ill-conceived way to serve delicate seafood. Too much ponzu, too much salt, too much money. The atmosphere is kind of like a techno tapas bar. The music is blaring and the service is frenetic. Our waiter is relieved of his duties midway through our meal due to a runny nose that he keeps wiping with his hand. Gross. Hopefully our other culinary adventures will be better.

Clark and Lewis watch the sushi chef

Our plans for the rest of the time here in Dallas include art museums, hopefully some indoor tennis and a dinner at the Capital Grille with our nephew, Andy, and his wife, Valerie.

August 20, 2011 Fairburn, GA to Vicksburg, MS

ALERT!!! VACATION UNDER CONSTRUCTION!!!! This song is prompted by spending too many single nights in hotels. I ask all my talented friends (especially you, Jim) to put this to music.

Lord, how many days?
How many days must I stay
Just one night in a hotel?

I am weary
Yes, so weary of the schlepping
Of computers to my room.

Oh, lord, how many days?
How many days must I stay
Just one night in a hotel?

Give me a sign
Please give me a sign that eating
Just shrimp and salad
Has come to an end.

Lord, lord, how many days?
How many days must I stay
Just one night in a hotel?

And then, I had a vision
Yes, a vision of perhaps three days
To rest my head.

And I said, yes, we can do it
If we drive throughout the day
To our goal.

There is a plan
Truly a plan to which we have committed
To lay my burden down.

Lord, how many days?
How many days must I stay just one day
In a hotel?

Our plan now is to jettison Meridian, MS, stay one night in Vicksburg, MS, axe Shreveport, LA and stay three nights in Dallas. Then we will dash across Texas and New Mexico in two days and stay three nights in Flagstaff. Hopefully this is a better plan.

August 19, 2011 (Happy Birthday, Peggy!) Cullowhee, NC to Fairburn, GA

John: This morning we say thank you and goodbye to Sophie, Al, Melissa and Tyler. We have had a wonderful two days but now it’s time to move on to our next destination near Atlanta GA. Al tells us our first few maneuvers and off we go down the other side of the (exceptionally beautiful) mountain. It is very good that Al has done this for us. Missy, our GPS, is in a snit for my having taken her to task in the previous post. She takes her sweet time acquiring her satellites; we are nearly beyond Al’s routing before she decides to share her deliberations with us. Fortunately, we appear all to be on the same page.

Mary: It’s good we have Clark, Lewis and Missy to talk to when we get tired of talking to each other. They’ve all taken on distinct personalities.

Stone Mountain

John: Voila, we are in Georgia. We head down US-23 passing through towns such as Tallulah, which we discover is a Cherokee word. Our destination is Stone Mountain just east of Atlanta. Jonathan has told us about it and encouraged us to see it. For some reason, Missy, who must still plotting revenge, takes us on surface streets from I-85 to Stone Mountain, despite what is obvious from the map is a superior route involving freeways. But we do find the west entrance to the park, pay our $10 for parking, and plan our afternoon. First problem, it’s 98 degrees. And second problem, we are quite sore from having played tennis on a clay court for the first time in a couple of years. So climbing an 800 foot granite dome or traipsing around an amusement park is out of the question.

John at the bottom of the trail not taken

Mary: Like typical Westerners we spend the last 10 miles before reaching Stone Mountain trying to find it. Where’s the mountain? Stupid trees, we can’t see anything. We are practically at the entrance gate before we see it.

John: But wait! We find a visitor center that shows films: one about the role of Atlanta and Georgia during the Civil War, concentrating on Sherman’s March to the Sea and another that describes the on-again off-again design and carving of the Stone Mountain memorial relief of three heroes of the Confederacy: Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson.

Carving exhibit in the museum

John: The films are quite good. But the star of the show, in our eyes, is the geology and ecology exhibit across the hall that describes how the granite dome that we know as Stone Mountain today was formed. We have been to many geological displays before. The one in Denver on this trip was really good. But this one at Stone Mountain is the best we’ve ever seen. Simple enough for kids to grok while packed with enough detail and useful cross-reference to satisfy picky amateur geology buffs (such as ourselves– we’re all about the plate tectonics, you know.)

Clark and Lewis enjoy the hands-on exhibits

Next we go to the Skyride for a short but exciting ride up a cable gondola to the top of Stone Mountain. On the way we get a closer view of the carved relief on the mountainside. It’s big. Three giant figures. What can I say, it’s big.

Mary: This is about the same reaction we had when we saw Mount Rushmore. Kind of like, huh, big, giant heads.

A bad job by Mary trying to get John to look like he is falling off Stone Mountain.

We’ve enjoyed our visit to Stone Mountain and make our way to our hotel south of Atlanta. Tomorrow, we’ll get an early start on our trek through Selma, AL to Meridian, MS…

August 18, 2011 Statesville, NC to Cullowhee, NC

John: We have only good things to say about Statesville, NC based on our brief stay here. This morning we find a public tennis center with 6 hard courts and 4 clay courts, all lighted, that are in pretty good shape. We play on one of the hard court starting at 7am. Only when the staff show up at 8am do we realize we have jumped the gun on starting hours. (Perhaps this is the result of a budget cutback. If you can’t pay staff to supervise until closing time, then you have to leave the courts open. But it’s refreshing to see a good public tennis facility these days– we’ve seen so many that have been in sad shape.)

City Hall, Statesville, NC

We get on the road at 10am, pretty late for us. We are going to see our dear friends Sophie and Al in the North Carolina mountains. We have known them since 1983, when we were all newbies moving in to Hopkinton, MA (where the Boston Marathon starts). Our route today is supposed to take us west on I-40 to Asheville NC, then a lot of twisty federal and state highways to get to there place in Cullowhee (what a great name for a town!). “Supposed” is the operative word in the preceding sentence.

We get to Asheville, do a little shopping, and then try to find lunch. We fail miserably due to every place we consider has a lack of parking or lack of being open. Grumpily we ask Missy our GPS to route us towards our destination, trusting that we will locate some fast food along the way. We had thought that our general direction would be west. But Missy sends us on a road that says it’s eastbound. Nevertheless, we trust her since we don’t really know the roads in this part of the country. After a few miles, we see signs for food, pull off the road, and have lunch.

Stock photo - of course our chicken sandwich was "hold the cheese and mayo" and only eat half the bun

After lunch, we crank up Missy again and get going. But wait! She is now taking us back the way we came! Uh-oh, time for the map. Sure enough, Missy had led us astray earlier. She appears to have changed her mind over lunch. Perhaps she was initially attempting to take us via a different route, which is plausible. But why she should change her mind in this way is puzzling, to say the least. (But then again, this is not the first time Missy has been, shall we say, playful. The first time was four summers ago with what we call the Montpelier Maneuver: after having visited James Madison’s home, Missy had us take a right turn by first turning left, then going 1/4 mile, and finishing with a U-turn.)

Having made up her mind, Missy guides us on the path of righteousness to Cullowhee NC, home of Western Carolina University. We arrive at Sophie and Al’s around 3pm after driving through some beautiful country.

Mary: I am so happy to see my dear friend, Sophie. It’s been two years since we’ve been together and, as you can see from the picture, we are all smiles.

Mary and Sophie

We are also glad to see their daughter, Melissa, who was Sarah’s best friend when we lived in Massachusetts. She has an adorable baby boy, Tyler, who is very sweet and smily.

We spend the evening drinking wine and talking over old times, new times, and plans for the future.

August 16, 2011 Suffolk, VA to Statesville, NC

Mary: Oh, the nostalgia! Today John and I head into North Carolina and back to where we spent almost nine years in the late 70’s and 80’s. They were such good years and as I see the rolling hills of the Piedmont, I am carried back to an earlier time.

But first things first. John and I get up early in Suffolk and find the tennis center which has 10 very nice courts. We are the only ones out at 7 AM. We’ve decided to try to play every morning before we start off for the day. It helps with the diet and is a good addition to sitting in the car all day.

Then on to North Carolina. Our first stop is at Duke University’s Nasher Museum. It’s fairly small which gives us a chance to spend more time looking at art that we often bypass. For instance, we look at the Greek pottery, the red pottery with black figures. The ones they have are from the fourth century B.C.E. and I am taken by the detail in the designs. These are everyday objects and yet these ancient people cared enough to decorate them elaborately. We also see modern works by Picasso and others.

Picasso portrait of a woman

It’s pretty much a jumble of things. There’s also an exhibition called the Body of Christ, some gory, some poignant. And a photography display of African people as they have become dispersed around the world. In a more prosaic vein, I buy an especially cute purse at the gift shop.

From the Body of Christ exhibit, a sculpture by Javier Perez. Is it man becoming a tree or a tree becoming a man?

John: After the art museum, we visit my old stomping ground, the EMC (originally Data General) R&D center in Research Triangle Park, NC. We moved to North Carolina from Massachusetts to be one of the founders of that facility in 1977, and did another tour there in the early 1990s. Many of my former colleagues are still working there. It’s great to see them. It has been nearly 9 years since our last visit in 2002.

John out front of EMC

L to R: Dennis Duprey, Andy Huber, John Pilat, Tom Sheffield and Dan Oldman

We head west on I-40, past Chapel Hill, past Greensboro and Winston-Salem, and arrive in Statesville NC just after 6pm. In planning dinner, we decide to be brave and find some local Italian restaurant. We are craving red. Mary and John do not live by shrimp alone! We decide to try Mezzaluna II downtown.

It appears as if Statesville is getting a downtown makeover. We think it will be very nice when it’s done. There are some great old buildings in multiple styles, just the kind of urban landscape we enjoy. But we cannot tarry; we are hungry!

In short, dinner is great. We start with a sauteed mushroom and spinach appetizer, and have chicken arrabiata for entrees. It’s all good, fresh ingredients, nicely cooked. Even the spinach salad is spot-on. We choose a red wine from Puglia that’s a blend of Nero Amaro, Primitivo and Cabernet grapes. It goes beautifully with everything. Happiness reigns, especially given some of our less-than-perfect experiments on this trip. Clark and Lewis concur.

Clark and Lewis consider licking the plate

As we’re getting ready to leave, we compliment the chef/owner on the dinner. He asks us if we’re from Statesville. We say no, we’re from California. He beams and remarks: “You know food.” Gotta confess, we feel smug.

Tomorrow we hope to play some more tennis early and then see our dear friends Sophie and Al in the North Carolina mountains.

August 15, 2011 Grasonville, MD to Suffolk, VA

John: Westward Ho! This morning we bid farewell to Peg and Ted. We have had a great time on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Thank you, P & T, for being such wonderful hosts! But before we head west, we must head south down the Delmarva peninsula. For the longest time, I had no clue as to why this piece of land had such a funny name. I felt kind of silly when someone explained it to me. But today we only have to visit Marva.

Mary: Looking at the map it seems to me that the whole thing should just be Delaware. Perhaps all the states wanted to have some coastline.

John: It’s slow going down US-50 and then US-13. Most of the speed limits are 55 and 60, with the occasional 45 mph thrown in for safety, to say nothing of the state troopers and sheriff’s deputies out there protecting and serving. The upside is that our Nissan Murano gets 28 miles per gallon!

We head towards the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. We have taken it twice before, but only in the northbound direction. The is the first time southbound. We get to the bridge and notice there are TWO of them! We are puzzled. We can only remember a single bridge with one lane in each direction. What gives?

We emerge from the final tunnel section and pull off into Virginia Originals restaurant / gift shop / fishing pier / viewpoint / interpretive center. We have very good fresh tuna steaks (cooked rare) and locally-sourced salad for lunch. Yay!

Mary: Note about the lunch. I tell John that what I want for lunch is a salad with a piece of fish on it. In order to accomplish this we must order a small tossed salad and a tuna burger. The burger which is not chopped up but a whole piece of tuna, arrives on a bun with a piece of American cheese on it. Quick! Remove the cheese before it totally melts! Then get rid of the bun, the coleslaw, and the tartar sauce. Chop up the lettuce, tomato, and pickle and add them to the salad (after first removing the croutons.) And there you have it one plate of salad with tuna and one plate of fatty castoffs.

John: We then head out to the interpretive displays. Whaddya know, in 1999 a second bridge was added parallel to the original! Mystery solved. Much safer this new way.

Mary: And a lot less freaky on the high parts with more lanes!

John: We (Clark, Lewis, Mary and I) look at the big ships going in and out of the Bay. We learn about the 1781 Revolutionary War naval battle between British and French fleets that effectively penned up the British land forces at Yorktown leading to the ultimate American victory.

Clark and Lewis scan the horizon for ships

John: We also learn about the 1861 Civil War encounter between the Confederate ironclad Virginia and the Union ironclad Monitor that ushered in the new age of naval warfare.

Finally, we see the US Navy destroyer Bulkeley (DDG-84) heading out to sea. This warship has recently participated in anti-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa, most recently liberating a Japanese tanker from Somali pirates. It looks formidable.

U.S. Destroyer Bulkeley

John: We make our way across the last stretch of bridge and finally turn west. We get to our destination, Suffolk, VA and check in to our hotel. We choose to eat at a downtown restaurant, the Plaid Turnip (no kidding). The experience can only be described as Pythonesque. We order a glass of wine- they are out of that wine. We order scallops- there are no scallops. We ask about the fish of the day- it’s the null fish. Needless to say, there are no turnips, either. We do not bother asking about cheese.

But there is that most Eastern of Eastern icons, the iceberg lettuce wedge salad.

The iconic Eastern salad

John: (Note to self and others: We all may love Old Bay seasoning, but we need to aware that it is in large measure SALT. This is the case tonight. Our shrimp are incredibly salty due to the application of both salt and Old Bay. Too bad, because they seemed to be good product and cooked properly.)

Mary: Many thanks again to John who wrote the bulk of this post. The internet at the hotel is so slow that between writing the blog and the Adventures of Clark and Lewis plus uploading the pictures, it would have taken me until the morning.

August 9 – 14, 2011 Grasonville, MD

We are at Peg and Ted’s all week. It is great to be with them and also to have a break from being on the go all the time. We will be sad to leave on the 15th.

Some of the things we have done this week are:
*A big birthday party for Peggy’s 66th birthday.
We make lots of hors d’oeuvres and have wine and drinks. Lots of her friends come to the party. Peggy is a very fun and sociable person and makes friends easily. (Unlike her sister.)

Warming up for the party

Each candle represents 11 years!

Group shot!

*Jazz concert
Peg gets tickets for Grammy nominated Oran Etkin. He is an Israeli woodwindist and plays in a combo with a bass and two guys from Mali who play traditional instruments. So the music is kind of a fusion of Jewish and African music. We really enjoy it.

Before the concert

Peg and Ted in their front yard

*At the marina pool
Casting all inhibitions aside, I actually wear a bathing suit in public. Peg and I drift around on noodles in the pool. It’s a beautiful day and even Clark and Lewis enjoy the sun.

John at the pool with Clark and Lewis

*Queen Anne’s County Fair
Peg has a quilt in the competition at the fair so we go over to see whether she has won a ribbon. This is her first time exhibiting any of her work so she is fairly pessimistic. But, yay! Peg takes third place in her division and wins a check for $3.00! Her quilt is quite contemporary with a musical theme. She calls it “All That Jazz.” We also see some bull riding and the infamous goat house where a goat sneaks up while I am petting another goat and bites me in the ass. Luckily the bite turns out to be just a pinch bruise and I will not catch hoof and mouth disease.

Bad goat!

Peg's ribbon at the fair

In addition to all these things, we also go shopping, play tennis, fix yummy dinners using really good corn and tomatoes, and, of course, do a lot of sisterly talking. But we can’t let the grass grow too long under our feet and we are off tomorrow to seek new adventures! Many, many thanks to Peg and Ted for a fabulous week on the Eastern Shore.

August 9, 2011 Washington, D.C. to Grasonville, MD

This morning we get up early and play tennis on a derelict court in Beltsville, MD. I guess cities just don’t have the money for upkeep anymore. The net is sagging, there’s grass in the cracks, someone has ripped off both the gates and the nearby geese walk in and use one of the courts as their personal restroom. But one court is at least playable and we play for an hour or so until the humidity gets the better of us.

We depart the hotel around noon and head towards Grasonville on the eastern shore of Maryland. It’s where my sister lives. We are so excited to see one another. Peg suggests margaritas and how can I refuse. She has bought Patron tequila. It’s really good.

Mary and Peggy introduce Clark and Lewis to the evils of margaritas

And this is before we even drank the margaritas

We have a great dinner and finalize plans for her birthday party tomorrow. She has asked quite a few of her friends and we are trying to figure out what to serve without blowing our diets. (I weighed myself for the first time since we left Pleasanton and after almost a month on vacation I can report that I’ve lost and additional 4 lbs. Not bad for vacation!)

Of course we have to introduce Clark and Lewis to Peg’s cats. Here they are having a sit on Tiger.

Poor Tiger

August 8, 2011 Washington, D.C.

John: After breakfast, Clark and Lewis remind us that we have promised them an amazing Beeba-led tour of the National Gallery. We tell them not to expect much in the way of frog or duck pictures; they seem to realize that there are not too many frog and duck genre painters. Back on the Metro we travel.

"She looks a little froggy to me, Lewis."

John: We intend to be selective and focus only on 13th-16th century Italian and 16th and 17th century Flemish and Dutch. Almost immediately, we fail miserably in that objective. We notice a special exhibition: “Impressionism to Modernism: the Chester Dale collection”, and head right in with our audio guides in hand.

Mary: I’m “okay, it’s a special exhibition. I’ll look at it.” I have to give John a crumb occasionally.

John: Loyal followers will know that Impressionism isn’t our first love. I think it’s Renoir that leaves us a bit flat. But wait! We’re liking some of these a lot. There’s even one with a bit of an edge! (What, Renoir edgy?). Encouraged, we proceed. The usual Impressionist suspects are well-represented: Renoir, Degas, Cezanne, Pissaro, Manet and of course Monet. But also some works by Mary Cassatt and one by Nebraskan Robert Henri (we learn it’s pronounced HEN-rye, having driven all across Nebraska saying it wrong– there’s a museum devoted to him outside Kearney. For some reason, he painted a lot of New York City snow scenes.)

Mary: Interestingly the first photo I take is of a Renoir, “Girl With a Watering Can.” What? I am being seduced by soft colors and pretty children. Get a grip, Mary. And then a Degas of four dancers. I’ve always thought of Degas as a little bent what with his creeping around backstage painting girls dancing. But I like the analysis of the painting that perhaps it’s not four dancers but one dancer in four positions. It reminds me of early Renaissance paintings where different scenes of the same story are on one canvas.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir - "Girl With a Watering Can"

Edgar Degas - "Four Dancers"

John: We stop and see a short film about Chester Dale and his collection. This guy Dale and his wife really knew how to collect. Without his collection the National Gallery would be much less than it is. Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Dale.

The exhibition segues into Modernism. The Dales were early collectors of Picasso, Braque, Dali and Matisse. They also acquired a very large number of Modigliani paintings, which we find we really like.

Pablo Picasso - "The Lovers"

John: This exhibition is just the right size. We enjoy it greatly. But wait! We have not made even a slight dent on our objectives for the day. We must refuel. We have lunch at the museum cafe and plan our next campaign.

After lunch, we attack the early Italian rooms. Mary loves decoding the iconography (our favorite is St. Anthony the Abbot identified by the devilish little pig at his feet.) I get photographed standing between two saints (one is St. John, no relation) and I take Mary’s picture with an early Mary (also, no relation). We polish off the Italian Gothic and Renaissance and then go Dutch.

Mary: Much as I love early Renaissance painting, I think I love it because it shows how painting developed from static to plastic. I think maybe today I am liking the Impressionist stuff because I can see the change as it develops into post-Impressionism and then into Expressionism etc. I have to think about this more.

John and the saints

Mary, Mary

John: We are running out of steam. So are Clark and Lewis. Much as we love the details of Dutch genre painting, we must go for the gusto. We contemplate the Rembrandts (especially the self-portrait), and then zero in on the Vermeers. In the 90s, Mary and Sarah were able to see a special exhibition of Vermeers in the Hague. (I was working, I am still jealous). They were hooked and they got me hooked later. We try and view Vermeer paintings wherever they are appearing, such as in Bilbao this past December.

The Woman with a Balance and the Girl with the Red Hat are extraordinary. Period.

Mary: Vermeer paints with such precision. It all looks so photographic. Up close, though, you see the liberties he takes with the paint. Certainly not like Rembrandt but he does let the paint speak.

Vermeer - "Woman Holding a Balance"

John: We have had another great day here in DC, despite the heat and humidity. Tomorrow we hope to play some tennis early and then head to Peg and Ted’s on the Eastern Shore.

Mary: I am very excited to see my sister. We are having a big party this week for her birthday!

August 7, 2011 Washington, D.C.

John: We’re in Washington DC and heading in to see the Newseum, a relatively new museum about the history of the press and other media. With Clark and Lewis in tow, we board the Metro. Even with it being Sunday, we want to avoid DC traffic and parking.

On the Metro, Clark sits with Mary

and Lewis sits with John

John: The Newseum is right on Pennsylavania Avenue, somewhat closer to the Capitol than to the White House. It’s just a short walk from the Archives Metro stop. Good thing, too. It’s already really hot and humid at 10:30am. Oh, yeah, that’s the way it was in 1800 also. Other than the fact that it sits on the border between Virginia (the South) and Maryland (the North, sort of), why did they put our nation’s capital here? Nonetheless, it’s a really beautiful and interesting city despite the oppressive summer heat and humidity.

Mary: Let’s see, John, maybe they put it there because no one other than native Americans and the Spanish were living in California! But it is a beautiful city and fun to visit.

John with the Capitol in the background

and Mary with the Capitol in the background

John: The Newseum is a relatively recent addition to the museum roster of the District. It’s about the history and craft of journalism, reporting and the press in general. A special emphasis is placed on the role of the five First Amendment freedoms (religion, speech, press, assembly and petition).

[Side note: only 3% of Americans can name these five freedoms; a whopping 25% can name the five Simpsons: Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie. We are not surprised.]

Mary: Even John, my enormous information universe, admits he would have forgotten the right to petition. I remembered the same four that he did but cannot not name all the Simpsons.

No freedoms - a piece of the Berlin Wall

John: Other than the “I-Witness 4-D” movie, which is too short on content and too long on extreme production values, we find the museum fascinating. If only all of today’s journalism (and for that matter, political discourse) were as “fair and balanced” as this museum, maybe our country would be in less of a pickle. The USA is the country that gave the world the Bill of Rights, investigative journalism, Murrow, and Cronkite. I come away angry that we are screwing this up! As Pogo said “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Mary: The fourth “D” of the movie were the chairs that bumped when there was some sort of explosion on screen. We have run into this in other places. Except for the first time you are bumped and it is surprising, the whole effect is stupid.

John: Go see this place. Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, it’s organized in a somewhat confusing fashion. Yes, the Wolfgang Puck-catered food service needs some work. But the Newseum is special: immerse yourself in the details. We had planned to spend a couple of hours and then head over to the National Gallery nearby. Instead, we stayed until closing time.

[The tiles in the rest rooms are decorated with famous press bloopers, typos and double meanings. We search in vain for our favorite of all time: “NATO Fans Out Over Bosnia”.]

News junkies Mary, John, Clark and Lewis head home after a fine visit. Tomorrow we all will tackle the National Gallery!

Mary: For no reason except that I enjoy the movie, Sleeper, here is a shot of the leader’s nose taken while we were watching a short movie about the responsibility of the press to “get it right.”

The leader's nose

August 5, 2011 Dayton, OH to Cumberland, MD

Not much to report today. Basically we drive. Actually John does most of the driving because I am afraid there may be some sort of bridge or high overpass. He is so nice about this. Instead of admonishing me to “get over it,” he takes care that I don’t have to confront uncomfortable situations – such a great guy! Anyway, we get to Cumberland, Maryland where there seems to be some sort of downtown event called Friday Afer Five! and also a biker get-together. I am a victim of some jostling with red wine.

Cumberland Friday After Five!

Downtown buildings

Red wine victim

Clark and Lewis are in a snit because we don’t take them to the downtown event. They are pouting and refuse to have their pictures taken.

August 4, 2011 Dayton, OH

John: Today is planned as a total immersion aviation day. But first, some tennis. We go back to the courts we found yesterday, glad that they are dry. They are, however, in pretty tough shape. We choose the one court that doesn’t have tufts of weed grass poking up into the playing surface. Many creative bounces, to put it kindly.

Mary: As usual, the bounces are kindlier to John. Or so it seems. I will never get to the point where I can be competitive. And I am nothing if not competitive.

John: On to aviation, more stops on the Dayton Aviation Trail.

Mary: I wish I were more enthusiastic about seeing airplanes again today.

John: First we visit the Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretive Center and Wright Brothers Memorial, near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. We see a film about Dayton’s contribution to aeronautical engineering and examine some exhibits about the various technologies developed by the Wright Brothers and others. Clark and Lewis charm the park rangers with stories of our trip. We take the obligatory set of pictures and head off in search of lunch.

Clark and Lewis charm the Park Ranger

John: After lunch, we head to the National Museum of the Air Force and Aviation Hall of Fame on the grounds of Wright-Patterson AFB.

Mary: One word about lunch – after telling the server no cheese, no croutons, no dressing on the salad and no mayo on the half turkey sandwich, she bring us a half sandwich where the bread has been dipped in some sort of grease and grilled on the flattop. I am exhausted with trying to get people not to add extra fat.

John: The museum, thankfully indoors, houses about 400 military planes from pre-WWI through today. It is amazing to see just how small the early fighters were compared to today’s versions, which seem even bigger than some WWII bombers! (I seek out full-size versions of all the plastic models of aircraft I built as a kid. I was an aviation junkie then; I confess I still am.)

Mary: I am getting really tired. I am seeking out videos where I can sit. The museum is three giant hangar type structures with add-ons.

Mary in front of some WWII airplane

John: A sobering moment comes when we reach the display of the B-29 Superfortress nicknamed “Bockscar”. This was the WWII plane that dropped the second atomic bomb, the one on Nagasaki, three days after its sister ship, the “Enola Gay” dropped the first bomb on Hiroshima. As we approach the 66th anniversary of these events, we can only hope that humanity never again makes use of this destructive power.

Plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki

F-16 fighter

John: Mary and I, along with our little buddies Clark and Lewis, are full of aviation facts and tired feet. We take off for our hotel.

Later, we find a McCormick and Schmick’s for dinner and have a wonderful meal. Yum, scallops.

Mary: Double yum, scallops!

John: We’ve enjoyed our stay in Dayton. Tomorrow, we start our journey to DC and Maryland Eastern Shore!

Mary: I am so looking forward to seeing my sister, Peggy, and her husband, Ted. Big birthday celebration for Peg next week! And thanks again to John for writing most of the blog tonight. Going out to dinner, watching SYTYCD, and writing the Adventures of Clark and Lewis left me scant time tonight to get everything done.

August 3, 2011 Springfield, IL to Dayton, OH and Dayton 1st day

John: We’re here in Dayton, OH. Nothing to report from yesterday. We leave Springfield, detour through the heart of Indianapolis to avoid massive construction on the beltway (but see the gigantic Speedway along the route), feel sorry for the drivers stuck in the massive westbound traffic jam just east of the city, lunch at a Subway, and barely avoid another jam on I-75 east of Dayton. We get to the Residence Inn in Beavercreek and, surprise, surprise, do our laundry. We cook dinner in the room and just relax after a long driving day.

Mary: Only excitement from yesterday is that Clark and Lewis are annoyed to get another vegetarian sandwich. Where’s the bugs?!

Disgruntled Clark and Lewis

John: Today we plan to play tennis in the early AM. We locate tennis courts just up the road. Unfortunately, it rained last night and the courts are not playable. But we have learned their location! We resolve to play tomorrow instead.

Mary: If I’m getting up again at 6 AM (5 AM Central time), it better not be raining again tomorrow.

John: We head into Dayton to the Art Institute. We (or more properly, our GPS, Missy) gets us there with no problem. We start with the Institute’s wing of European painting progressing from the 14th to the 20th century. I am intrigued by the focus on the Counter-Reformation, during which the Catholic Church made extensive use of art to make its case for souls against the forces of the Protestant Reformation. I found the explanations of the interplay of art and political geography very helpful.

Oddly enough, I find one of the high points of this wing to be a small 1903 Monet painting of water lilies. Astute followers will have noticed that we focus much more on pre-Renaissance and Renaissance art, but this one got my attention for two reasons: 1) it was in Dayton through an interesting donation, and 2) it dates to the same year that the Wright Brothers first flew at Kitty Hawk.

Mary: Really, Monet?

John: PS: We are freezing. Fortunately, we have brought our sweaters. We cannot fathom why Nebraskans, Illinoisans and Ohioans keep their establishments so cold! Maybe if you are cold most of the year, you need to keep it that way?

Mary: Brrrrrrrr….

John at the Art Institute of Dayton

John: After lunch in the museum cafe, we tackle the American painting wing. It covers Colonial through post-1970s (although we do it backwards). It’s a really excellent collection and narrative, explaining the various movements and influences throughout the centuries. The juxtaposition of Abstract Impressionism and American Realism (including a truly compelling Edward Hopper work) is eye-opening.

All in all, a very good (and just big enough) museum with a definite point of view.

Mary: I like this pre-Columbian funerary jug (and the Edward Hopper.)

Pre-Columbian funerary container

John: Next we head down to the riverfront for the Dayton Inventor’s River Walk. It’s not just the Wright Brothers, people! Charles Kettering of the automatic car starter, John Patterson of the cash register, Ermal Fraze of the pop-top can, and more.

Homage to the pop-top can

John: But the invention closest to my heart is the Search Engine. We now take it for granted in its Google-y incarnation for the internet as a whole, but the pioneers were names like LexisNexis (earlier Mead Data Central, before that Data Corporation, now part of Reed Elsevier). They took the state of the art from just searching for words to searching for words and phrases and combining them using AND, OR, NOT and especially NEAR. The first such offering was produced for the Ohio Bar Association to assist with legal search, and it continues as the field’s premier service today. We stop at the Search Engine Monument, explain the significance to our little buddies Clark and Lewis, and take pictures. I am really glad and proud that this has been recognized.

My own enormous information universe

John: We proceed along the very pretty riverfront, also seeing a display about the 1905 Wright Flyer, the first practical flying machine. Clark and Lewis soak it all in.

Orville looks up to Wilbur while posing with Mary, Clark and Lewis

John: Having some time on our hands, and being in the downtown area, we visit the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park, where we learn a bunch more about the Wright Brothers, but also learn about Paul Laurence Dunbar, an African-American poet who lived from 1872 to 1906, and a classmate and friend of Wilbur Wright. We are motivated to read his works and to learn more about him. For example, we now know that the title of Maya Angelou’s autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is taken directly from a Dunbar poem.

Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park

Mary: It’s been a really interesting day. I am saddened by the apparent state of Dayton’s economy. Many storefronts are empty and there is a feeling of hopelessness as we see many residents on the streets in desperate shape.

Also, many thanks to John who wrote nearly all this entry today.

John and Mary: So the end of a very full day. Tomorrow, hopefully tennis, and definitely more aviation!

August 1, 2011 Springfield, IL

Hello from the hot and humid land of Lincoln. We are staying in the State House Inn which is about a block from the Capitol building. We have a little apartment here – kitchenette (no cooktop), living room, dining room, bedroom and bath. It’s probably the most space we’ve had on our trip.

A sacred ritual - cup of tea and a puzzle

John multi-tasking

Our plan today is to walk to the Lincoln Museum taking in the historic sites along the way. One of the first things we see is the place where Lincoln and Mary Todd spent their honeymoon. Well, maybe not the actual place. It seems that although this site is plaque-worthy, it has been turned into a parking lot.

Romantic parking lot

Then we pass the Old Capitol Building which I have just learned while doing research for my blog entry is not “old” at all. It is a reconstruction from the 1960’s of the building which was used by the Illinois legislature from 1839-1876. Hmmpf. Better than a parking lot, though.

Reproduction Capitol

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library is great even though they won’t let us take Clark and Lewis in – NO backpacks allowed! There are many interactive displays and we learn stuff we didn’t know. For instance, I didn’t know that seven states seceded during Buchanan’s administration. This happened right after Lincoln was elected but at that time the inauguration was not unitl March, a long lame duck period for the outgoing President. We learn not only about political maneuvering but also Lincoln’s personal life. Both he and Mary Todd Lincoln were terribly distraught over the death of their son, Willie, while Lincoln was President. Only one of their children, Robert, lived past 18.

The Lincoln family

Since we were not allowed to take pictures inside most of the exhibits and since Clark and Lewis weren’t allowed in at all, we found some statues by the train station to pose by. I cannot even begin to tell you how hot the bench was. I opted for standing up and not actually touching Lincoln’s shoulder. Clark and Lewis didn’t seem to mind at all.

Lincoln's hot!

Finally here’s the new State Capitol actually built way before the reconstruction of the “old” Capitol. It was started in 1869 and completed in 1889. It’s in the French Renaissance style.

Old new Capitol building