American Soup

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We canceled our Netflix effective yesterday and will pick up Amazon after our trip down south starting next week to visit friends, family and children.

We don’t watch much commercial TV, so I was watching programs about “American” arts, crafts, etc. on PBS.  

The many cultures that have melded to make America the culturally diverse nation we are have brought many wonderful artistic gifts with them.  I could list them, but to better understand, I recommend looking for the shows.

My point, however, is that all these wonderful cultures have made us rich in beauty.  Rich in music.  Rich in craftsmanship.  These cultures have other distinguishing qualities in common…strong family values and strong cultural values.  Over the centuries they have woven together to make us unique and united and all genuine Americans.  We are not African Americans, French Americans, Irish Americans or Native Americans, we are simply American.  Each culture has enriched our nation with the gifts each nationality brought into the mix.

Think about some of the top three or four events celebrated here annually:  St. Patrick’s Day, Mardi Gras, Chinese New Year, etc.  

I’m saying all this because it struck me as I watched these programs is that 99% of us came for a better life. I’m aware some were brought here by force and some were invaded, but we are all NOW AMERICAN.  We aren’t here to takeover.

Unfortunately, some coming in over the last several decades have come to takeover.  They believe it is their destiny and duty.  That, beloved, is not dramatic news reported by a conspiratorial, radical group.  

We are the United States of America, many colors, many cultures, many hopes for our children.  

We have always taken in the refugees escaping tyrants, and immigrants.  We still do, everyday.  We are, at least, most of us, those very refugees and immigrants.

Let us be good and wise protectors of this wonderful culture soup called America. There are many mindsets ready to destroy this gift we call America.

FEBRUARY BIRTHDAY EXCURSION

We have several family birthdays in February and since all are located in Mississippi and Louisiana we decided to take a trip down south to celebrate with them and get away from yet another snow event here in East Tennessee.  Sweet husband has a birthday tomorrow, but we will celebrate alone together.

STOP ONE: Wilmington, NC to see new friends, Mike and Karen. They live two blocks from the Atlantic, so even with the cold ocean winds, we had to walk down.

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Wilmington is home to Arlie Gardens. 67 acres of paths, lakes, formal gardens, live oaks (one is 500+ years old), 5,000 varieties of camellias, birding trails, thousands of azaleas along with historic, contemporary and primitive garden sculpture. Beautiful even in February.

STOP TWO & THREE: We visited Sweet Husband’s sister and brother-in-law, Martha & Del, in Orlando on our way to stop four and spent a couple of fun days catching up. We also met Del’s sister and husband (Eileen & Stu) in Lakeland for lunch. They are now official Snowbirds from Maine.

Also in Lakeland we toured Florida Southern College designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright. We count his architecture art work and tour each structure when possible.

STOP FOUR: We had met and developed close friendships with several people in Yellowstone with promises to visit; we keep our promises. Couple number one: Rose and Robert live in Cape Coral, Florida. They crammed in island visits, lunch on a fabulous pier and dinner with Robert’s sister and her husband.

STOP FIVE: Navarre Beach, FL to spend two nights with dear friends, Jim & Sharynn Singleton, from Mississippi, now in Florida.

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STOP SIX: Another Yellowstone couple Jerry and Mel. They live in Texas, but were visiting their son in Ocean Springs, MS. We stopped for a great lunch and sweet reunion.

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STOP SEVEN: Super Bowl Sunday in Baton Rouge with my daughter, Trish, and her family. We had two birthdays to celebrate: Nicholas #6 and Aubrey #16, sweet 16. Aubrey and I exchange flamingos from time to time and have since she was about three, so I had a special cake made for her. Our friend from The Rose Parade and co-conspirator, Teegie (who lives in Baton Rouge) joined us for dinner and the celebration the night after the super bowl.

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STOP SEVEN: Jackson, MS. We visited several close friends, John, Curt & Sherry, Kay and her Mom, Gay, my Brother (Bubba) and my sweet son Tony.

Due to circumstances beyond our control we didn’t get to see Leonard’s daughters or precious Grand-Wonder, Liam, for his 3rd birthday, but we left gifts on the porch.

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STOP EIGHT: Didn’t happen. We hoped to spend time with my son, Joe and daughter Lorie and their precious families (no birthdays), but they were all fighting a virus and/or the crud.

FINAL STOP: An evening with Rogers and Hammerstein at the Knoxville Symphony Pops for our valentine gift to each other.

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All this in only two weeks. We are getting good at this.

 

White House Christmas Tour

THE STORY

We were told if we contacted our congressman several months in advance we could apply for tickets to see the White House decorated for Christmas – for FREE. We arranged with our friends who live outside DC, applied and were approved.

Our tickets were for entrance at 11:00 a.m. Tuesday, December 8th, so after contemplating the traffic from Virginia to DC, in rush hour, we took the train (a very pleasant experience). We arrived in time for an hour’s visit to the White House Visitors Center, two blocks from the tour entrance at Hamilton and 15th Streets. The “Visitor’s Center” was just ok, in my opinion.  Union Station was WONDERFUL!

The day before Toby had gone to see his doctor for a cardiac stress test. This requires an IV shot of some type of radiation. Naturally, at the White House we had to go through four security stations. The first was simply to check our IDs to see if we were on the approved list. The second was when the alarms started going off. The Secret Service agent holding the dosimeter was freaking out and made everyone stop. When she finally took the meter over to Toby – bingo he was pulled aside. They took him in a private room to test him for dose levels. He told them about the test the previous day and the meter confirmed he had indeed only a small, medical dose. They released him, but failed to give him a “PASS”, so the next two entrances through

Kay & Toby with The Willard Hotel behind them.

Kay & Toby with The Willard Hotel behind them.

two different security checks caused the alarms to trigger. Poor Toby was mortified, to say the least, but it was surely the most exciting part for the day for the Secret Service.

Some of the people who were entering with us looked suspiciously at Toby for the balance of the tour. We, instead, had a big laugh.

THE TOUR

Before we entered our tour, I showed Kay & Toby the Willard Hotel, which is just across 15th Street from the White House. As the story goes, every afternoon President Wilson walked to the coffee shop at the Willard. If anyone needed to talk to him or intercede for a favor they would wait for his arrival in the lobby. This is where we eventually got our “Lobbyist”.

We entered the East Visitor Entrance, on the ground floor guarded by large penguins and a glorious, multi-sized, silver ball ornament garland which lead us down to the East Colonnade and East Garden Room. The colonnade’s ceiling was covered in hundreds of dangling snowflakes intermingled with one large flake for each State, Territory and Commonwealth. As you walked through the Colonnade you could look out on the Ease Garden filled with merry snowmen.

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At the end of the colonnade was a room dedicated to the White House’s current furry inhabitants – Bo and Sunny (Portuguese Water Dogs) and tennis ball trees. The same room held a small gift ship, beautiful tree and a bust of Mr. Lincoln.

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Continuing on the lower level we visited the White House Library, The Vermeil Room and The China Room. All were smaller than expected.  They are, however used for small meetings and receptions by the First Lady and all tastefully decorated.  The Vermeil Room had portraits of several of the recent first ladies.

The China room displays the various official china including the new service chosen by Michelle Obama.  Not every new administration chooses new china.

We went up one level to the Green Room, the Blue Room, The Red Room, The State Dining Room, The East Room, The Grand Foyer and Cross Hall.

The Green Room was brilliantly decorated in exotic peacocks and the colors of sparkling gems, teal and feathers in the garlands, the trees and wreaths accented the colors of the room. The wall were covered in emerald silk.

The next level up we entered the historic East Room under a canopy of sparkling icicles and glimmering silver spheres, we were awed by a multitude of white, silver and champagne tones. Four grand trees covered in ornate decorations of iridescent pearls, frosty icicles, vintage jewels, and delicate buttons trim the largest room in the White House  

The White House crèche graces this room. The nativity scene made of terra cotta and intricately carved wood was fashioned in Naples, Italy in the eighteenth century. Donated to the White House in the 1960s, this piece has sat in the east room for the holidays for more than forty-five years, spanning nine administrations.

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I have not mentioned the draperies, the rugs and the chandeliers, but they are of the finest I have seen and we have visited more mansions in our great nation that I can count. These pictures will not do them justice. It is, after all, our White House and should be the most outstanding of all our homes…and in my opinion, it is.

The Blue Room had the grandest and most patriotic room of decorations. This room is dedicated to our Nation’s service members, veterans, and their families. The whole room is decorated in red, white, blue and golden stars. The tree sits in the center of the room in from of a double door facing the Grand Foyer, the entrance to The White House. The doors in the foyer are flanked by our flags and the Presidential Seal.

The Red Room was once First Lady Dolley Madison’s famous salon. This room customarily glistens with cranberries during the holidays. The two trees in the parlor emit a warm crimson glow.

The State Dining room was decorated for children of every age with giant nutcrackers, teddy bears, a giant gumball machine and trees on the grand table all made of real candy. This is a tradition started by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy who announced her first theme would be Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite.  This is also the room where the Ginger Bread White house is displayed. This year was covered in milk chocolate.

The Grand Foyer and Cross Halls are the graceful entrance of all Guests and dignitaries to White House events. Today it had a grand piano and chairs set up for a string quartet for an upcoming reception. The room is most impressive and inviting with marble flooring and steps up to the open double doors inviting you straight in to gather in the Blue room or to the State Dining room on the left or the grand East Room to the right. This was our point of exit.

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Standing in the Grand Foyer with the State Dining Room behind us.

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Walking out that door you knew you had been a part of a great historical experience. Every room we went through had portraits of past presidents and First Ladies. When you step out the door the grand light above and the ornate front door with the imposing Washington Monument in the distance was beyond words. This time of year stationed between the White House and the Washington Monument is the National Christmas Tree, surrounded by a tree from each state and territory.

We walked down to see the National Tree and found, by accident, the oldest and most famous restaurant and bar, The Ebbit Grill. Great food, great service, wonderful ambiance at the most reasonable of prices.

 

National Museum of Wildlife Art

This lovely museum is located on a hill overlooking the National Elk Refuge (picture of a portion of the refuge meadow below) in Jackson Hole, WY.

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After all the art museums sweet husband and I have visited (and they are legion) we have learned that the landscaping, setting and building foretell the beauty within. This is no exception. It is small in comparison to some we have seen, but the building, landscaping, setting and included works rate a ten-plus.

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The building is designed to blend into the hillside with native rocks. Each door handle is made of giant Elk antlers. The form is of ancient, western architecture. It is surrounded by a sculpture trail designed by renowned landscape architect Walter J. Hood. The sculpture trail introduces fine art sculpture into the fabric of Jackson Hole’s incomparable landscape. Sculptures of wood, granite and bronze play with light and the different seasons offering an ever-changing view of art in the wild. There are over sixteen different sculptures on this exterior trail. I have pictured only a few.

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The interior features art of wildlife by American and European artist of the last two centuries. Again, I have included only a sampling of the many great works.

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If you find yourself in this area, make a point of driving up the hill, past the Elk Stampede. After viewing the sculpture garden and the gallery, exit the front to enjoy a breathtaking view of the surrounding refuge from their shaded terrace.

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San Diego

Every good thing you have ever heard about San Diego is true, I can testify.  They were having an odd cold snap while we were visiting, but the days turned out to be warm with sunshine.  Only the nights and early mornings were cold.

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Balboa Park is a 1,200-acre urban cultural park in San Diego. In addition to open space areas, natural vegetation zones, green belts, gardens, and walking paths, it contains museums, several theaters, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. There are also many recreational facilities and several gift shops and restaurants within the boundaries of the park. Placed in reserve in 1835, the park’s site is one of the oldest in the United States dedicated to public recreational use.  Naturally, we went to the art museum.

balboaFirst day in San Diego was Christmas eve.  We had planned to be in the zoo from opening bell to closing bell.  Unfortunately, the zoo closed at 5pm because it was Christmas eve (naturally).  Sweet husband was upset because the website said it closed at 9pm.  However, by 4:30 p.m. he was ready to call it a day.  The zoo is a combination zoo and botanical garden.  There is a bus tour and an overhead gondola lift to move you from one end of the park to another, quickly.  It is truly wonderful.

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I was most impressed that the zoo had a Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species (CRES).  This was founded in 1975 at the urging of Kurt Benirschke, who became its first director. CRES was renamed the division of Conservation and Research for Endangered Species in 2005 to better reflect its mission.

The day after Christmas we drove out to del Coronado Hotel on Coronado island.  Hotel del Coronado (also known as The Del and Hotel Del) is a beachfront luxury hotel.  It is one of the few surviving examples of an American architectural genre: the wooden Victorian beach resort. It is the second largest wooden structure in the United States and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977 and a California Historical Landmark in 1970.  It opened in 1888, and at the time was the largest resort hotel in the world. It has hosted presidents, royalty, and celebrities through the years. The hotel has been featured in numerous movies and books.

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Christmas day we went for Christmas services at a nice Methodist church near our hotel.  It was a sweet, sacred celebration complete with a wonderful Christmas choir and communion.  This was the event that made me KNOW, beyond a shadow of a doubt, we were in California – they had communion with gluten free bread.  Enough said.  That afternoon we went for the first day release of Unbroken.  The movie based on the book by the same name about Louis Zamperini and directed by Angelia Jolie.  The book and the movie were both excellent.

That week we also received news of the loss of our sweet friend, Lexie.  She was a faithful companion, friend and playmate for 15 wonderful years.  That day I stayed alone at the hotel while Sweet husband, sister-in-law and brother-in-law went back to Balboa Park for the day.

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The Tournament of Roses Parade

Sweet husband and his sweet sister planned this trip for us at least two years ago. We joined an educational tour group called Road Scholar so we could get the full-meal-deal out of the trip. Believe me we did. I am not a parade person, I am, however, a hands-on person and that is exactly what I got. The group price was really reasonable, we all stayed together in a hotel near Pasadena, transportation to all events were provided as well as all meals. Just show up when and where they tell you…EASY!

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The theme this year was, “Inspiring Stories”. Local son and hero, Louis Zamperini was asked to be the Grand Marshall. Unfortunately he passed away this past summer, but his family represented him along with a horse without a rider. His inspiring story was told by Laura Hillenbrand in her book, “Unbroken”, which was made into a movie, directed by Angelina Jolie. I highly recommend the book, it is one of the best I have read in years.

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Speaking of horses, they have been a constant companion to the parade from the first year and they presented some magnificent horses and riders for this year’s event.

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First day we were taken to this enormous warehouse facility owned by Phoenix (a company who actually designs and builds some of the corporate floats). The volunteers are all managed by The Kiwanis Club. Here we received our work orders for the day. We were assigned to decorate the Princess Cruise Line Float in the morning and cut roses all afternoon.

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THINGS I LEARNED:

  • 55 million watch this parade worldwide
  • The cost of a float is between $50,000 and $200,000
  • They paint a pink line in the middle of the street, all the way down the 5 mile route so the drivers (who are inside) can see where to go.  There is someone on the float or walking beside it telling the driver when to stop and when to go forward.
  • All the bands are high school bands with the exception of the Pasadena Community College Band and the two college bands representing the two teams planning in the Rose Bowl.
  • The royal court is chosen from among the exceptional young women from the local high schools.
  • There are only three judges and 24 prizes.
  • There are between 2 and 3 million roses grown for and flown in for this parade.
  • There is nothing dyed and every item on the float is organic:  flowers, dried flowers, fruit, grains, bark, vegetables, sea weed, etc.

Besides decorating the float we had the opportunity to attend classes lead by people who have held different positions for this event. We went to Pasadena Community College to hear the marching bands. We were also taken to the Getty Museum for one afternoon. The weather was spectacular as were the building and grounds. Naturally the art was spectacular, as well.  We have seen many art museums over the past several months and I am always impressed by the architure; the Getty was no exception.  It is perched on a mountain overlooking Los Angeles on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other.

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We learned that the bands had to raise their own money to attend and perform. Plus, they actually played songs during the full five mile route. I have seen many bands in parades and they just mostly marched and beat the drums to the time of the march. These kids worked very hard…makes you proud.

We were taken to see the floats on display the day after the parade (we were allowed in before the general public went in) Pictures of finished floats below.  I hope you can see the details.

I was skeptical about this event going in, but I would do it again and recommend it to any Rose Parade lovers. The only negative was the weather on the day we viewed the bands (rain, lots of it). California needs it so we didn’t gripe. It was also the coldest Parade on record – who would have guessed in sunny California.

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Fatigue. . .

We have been on the road in our minivan since May.  I have pretty much covered our driving through New Mexico…then we got busy(er) and busy(er), it seems.   We have been overwhelmed by the beauty and enormity of what we have seen and done daily.  We literally fall asleep by 8:30 each night and sleep until 7:00 the next morning (unless there was a football game that Sweet Husband needed to see-I can actually through them).

Sweet Husband and I are over 60.  I know, I know. . . I’m shocked, too!  We are like toddlers we get really tired and grumpy w/o a nap.  We do not get naps, there is no time, which is why I haven’t posted on the following as yet.

Here is a list of the amazing places I will still report on (I promise):

  1. Sedona, AZ (3 nights)
  2. Las Vegas, NV (2 nights)
  3. Ronald Regan Library (one night & one FULL day)
  4. John Paul Getty Museum (1/2 day…not enough)
  5. San Diego, CA (5 nights)
  6. The Tournament Of Roses Parade (Pasadena, CA—4 nights)
  7. Continue up Hwy 1 to Big Sur, Pebble Beach, Pacific Grove, Monterey, San Francisco, Muir Forest, the Avenue of the Giants and Yosemite (weather permitting)  [Many nights]
  8. Then we head back to our neck of the woods (I’m assuming)
  9. Big Sur (to me) is the closest thing to heaven here on earth!  REALLY

Pictures below, to tease you, from each location. . .

Ragged Point (South end of Big Sur)

Ragged Point (South end of Big Sur)

Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle

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La Bra Tar Pit

La Bra Tar Pit

Van Gogh @ Getty

Van Gogh @ Getty

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Roman Bath, Hearst Castle

Roman Bath, Hearst Castle

Pacific

Pacific

Getty Museum

Getty Museum

Princess Float

Princess Float

Coronado Hotel

Coronado Hotel

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Regan's Oval Office

Regan’s Oval Office

What happens in Vegas . . .

What happens in Vegas . . .

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Sedona, AZ

Sedona, AZ

Painted Desert, AZ

Painted Desert, AZ