Monday, December 23, 2013

2013 retrospective

Grove Park Inn, Asheville

At the end of last year, I said to 2012: Don't let the screen door hit you. Another year has gone by and this year there were even more peaks and valleys. The peaks were AWESOME but the valleys were so deep, I can honestly say it was a year of extremes. Just to be different, I'm going to divide up this entry into the valleys and the peaks, instead of the typical chronological description.

Section 1: We Must Go Through the Valley (not over, around, or under it)

More people I know died this year than any other year I can recall, starting with Aunt Mary Lois on March 20. Aunt ML and I were special buddies when I was growing up because I spent so much time at her house. She was a nurse by profession, a Navy wife, and highly regimented. As a young adult she traveled by car across the USA to California, and her travel stories mesmerized me well into my adult years. It was she who introduced me to National Geographic magazine. When I was a kid, she had every copy of NG going back some twenty years, and yes, they were stacked in order of date on a special shelf in her storage room. We had some good times together. No matter how old she got or how sick, Aunt ML always seemed so happy to see me, and I miss her very much.

Aunt Mary Lois 1923-2013

A few months later on August 28, my last remaining aunt, Aunt Ruth, passed away. Aunt Ruth was also a special lady. She worked as a reading teacher and after she retired from teaching, she worked in the retail industry for many years. She was always smiling, and she loved people -- all people. And she didn't care where they came from, what they looked like, who they loved, or anything else. There were no boundaries with Aunt Ruth when it came to people. I should also insert here that she had a particular fondness for roasted macadamia nuts, which I must have inherited from her. I took this photo in early August, at the time having no idea that she'd be gone within a month. I miss her, too.

Aunt Ruth 1925-2013

Less than a week ago, one of my dearest friends lost a battle with cancer. I'm still processing Karen's passing because I'd had such high hopes of her recovery. Karen was one of the coolest people I've ever known and she had this ability to bring people together, and it just seems to unfair that the Universe had to take her so young (she was 54). I'm trying to keep in mind all the joy she brought into my life (and the lives of everyone she met) instead of being upset. But it's hard. I'm having a hard time with this.

Karen (top right) 1959-2013

I loved them all. May they rest in peace.

Section 2: I'm on the Top of the World Looking Down on Creation

Thankfully 2013 brought had its peaks, too. Peaks typically appear in the form of trips, getaways, and fun diversions -- or other things that provide counterbalance to the valleys. Among 2013's peaks:
  • South Florida trip to visit Karen (February)
  • Iceland vacation (March)
  • Highlands special birthday trip (May)
  • Steve Martin & Edie Brickell (with Steep Canyon Rangers) concert in Greensboro (May)
  • Beech Mountain overnight + day in Boone (July)
  • Seagrove day trip (August)
  • Buddy Guy concert in Charlotte (August)
  • Time Jumpers (with Vince Gill) concert in Nashville (September)
  • Las Vegas/Grand Canyon/Sequoia National Park vacation (September/October)
  • Steep Canyon Rangers concert in Charlotte (November)
  • Asheville weekend at the Grove Park Inn (November)
  • Carolina Chocolate Drops concert in Charlotte (December)
  • Tryon (multiple trips)

Section 3: Maybe I should have done more . . .

For example:
  • I didn't read as many books this year (20 so far) as I did last year (36 in 2012).
  • I didn't blog as much.
  • I didn't have a garden at the farm this year.
NOTE TO SELF: I need to get better at those things in 2014.

Oh, well. Some years are better than others. Ciao, 2013.

Merry Christmas, Happy Boxing Day, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Slovenian Unity & Independence Day, Happy Day of Goodwill, Happy Rizal Day, Happy 2014! Or, to put it more succinctly and accurately because there is more than one event being celebrated in this great big world over the next week or so: HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!! :)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

2013 favorites

For several years now, I've ended the year with a list of my favorite things for that year. Here's my list for 2013.

Stuff I read

Favorite book of the year . . .  The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

General fiction . . . The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak

Crime thriller . . . Silenced by Kristina Ohlsson

New-to-me author . . .  Elif Shafak

Nonfiction  . . .  Nom Nom Paleo by Michelle Tam and Henry Fong

Music I listened to

Band . . . Steep Canyon Rangers

Artist . . . Rhiannon Giddens

Album . . . (tie) The Civil Wars by The Civil Wars and Paradise Valley by John Mayer

Song . . .  Because The Night by Garbage (featuring Melissa Paternoster of Screaming Females)

Artist Discovery . . . Shovels and Rope

Local (North Carolina) music . . . Steep Canyon Rangers

Song rediscovery . . . Stuck by Norah Jones

Things I watched

TV show . . . Nashville

New TV show . . . Masters of Sex

Miscellaneous things I liked or enjoyed

Game . . . Bookworm

Social Network . . . Twitter (second year in a row)

Vacation . . . Iceland

Weekend Getaway . . . South Florida

Food . . . Eastern NC BBQ

Restaurant . . . New South Kitchen

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Desert, mountains, huge trees

After seeing the marvelous Grand Canyon, we drove a very long 9 hours or so to our next destination: the town of Three Rivers, California. In order to get there, we had to go through the Mojave Desert. It was my second time driving that stretch of I-40 through Needles, but the first time for everyone else. Guess what? The desert looks exactly the same as it did when I drove through in 1990. :)

A few miles from Three Rivers, we passed an overlook where the scenery was so pretty, we had to pull over and take some photos . . .

We went to Three Rivers because it's the town on the edge of Sequoia National Park and Forest and near Kings Canyon National Park.

The redwoods and sequoia trees are AMAZING!!! There's nothing else like them in the world. The giant sequoia called General Sherman is one of the largest living trees in the world. It's over 80 meters tall (approximately 275 feet) and over 2,000 years old!!!

We put a lot of miles on our rented Ford Explorer and we saw all kinds of landscapes. It was great that Mom & Dad got to see these places since they'd never been before. And now Dad can say he's been to California. I think he might be ready to go back, maybe to Yosemite next time. :)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

It's Grand

Have I really not written since August? Well, gosh. Time flies when you're having fun, I guess. Perhaps I should start by getting caught up.

In September, S & I took my parental units on a trip Out West. So here's the deal. My Dad turned 80 this year, and my Mom turned 75. I really wanted to do something to celebrate their milestones. It had been a while since we'd done a trip together (actually, the last time I did any significant travel with my parents was in 1995 when I took them on a road trip to New England and Quebec). Anyway, it was time.

We asked them where they wanted to go. At first, they said Maine. But something kept bugging me: I knew that Dad had never been west of El Paso, Texas. It took some convincing since Dad doesn't like to fly, but finally, he agreed to my proposal. We flew out to Las Vegas, then rented a car and spent a week on the road. Our first major stop was the Grand Canyon in Arizona. (Our first actual stop was Hoover Dam, but we were only there for about an hour.)

I wish you could've seen the look on their faces when they saw the Grand Canyon for the first time. We arrived at the South Rim a few minutes before sunset, so they got a peek of its largeness before the explosion of colors took place. Mom just stopped a few feet away from the railing, her mouth agape. It was much bigger than she ever expected, she said.

Dad couldn't quite make himself get too close. He has vertigo and I think his head must have been spinning just walking on the sidewalk with the huge canyon at his side.

S & I returned early the next morning with the hopes of seeing the sun rise over the canyon. Lucky us! This photo was taken just moments after. We were really surprised with the number of people who joined us. Lots of Japanese tourists, and plenty of German speakers, as well! A very international experience.

Later that same day we returned with Mom and Dad. We drove to the east side of the canyon, where we had a completely different view . . . it's amazing how the geography and flora are so different just a few miles away. We had dinner at El Tovar and watched the sunset again, and then we said goodbye to the Grand Canyon.

I'll reveal our next major stop in my next post.