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.

 

The Revenant & Yellowstone National Park

Yesterday sweet husband and I took in an afternoon movie; The Revenant featuring Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass (c. 1780 – 1833). Based on true events, Glass was an American frontiersman, fur trapper, and explorer of the watershed of the Upper Missouri River in present-day Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and the Platte River area of Nebraska.

Although it was never stated where these events took place, there was one mention that someone was last spotted near the “yellow stone”. Yellowstone is called Yellowstone because the river flows through a yellow stoned canyon.

As you know by now, we spent the summer in Wyoming and Montana, therefore, from the scenery, I believe this part of the story of his life took place in that area; perhaps what is now the Chief Joseph Highway area?

I’m not a movie critic, but the cinematography was academy award quality.

Seeing this movie, which is extremely rough, took me back to Wyoming and Montana; it has haunted me all day.

It started with Glass walking through an overflowing creek in the middle of a forest. The first sounds were of an Elk Stagg trumpet. It is an unmistakable, loud and wonderful sound. One can actually go to YouTube and type in, “Elk Sound”, to hear it, you will never forget it – please do.

There was only one scene involving Bison, but they were stampeding away from a pack of wolves. The Bison’s trumpet or groaning sounds more like a lion. The rocks, cliffs, Lodge Pole Pines, rivers and waterfalls took me “home” to Yellowstone.

This 144 year old national park is located primarily in the state of Wyoming, although it also extends into Montana and Idaho and oh how I love it and miss it.

The stats:

  • It spans an area of 3,468.4 square miles comprising lakes, canyons, rivers and mountain ranges.
  • Yellowstone Lake is one of the largest high-elevation lakes in North America and is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest super volcano on the continent.
  • This lake has MORE thermal features under water than in the entire rest of the park.
  • The caldera is considered an active volcano. It has erupted with tremendous force several times in the last two million years.
  • Half of the WORLD’S geothermal features are in Yellowstone, fueled by this ongoing volcanism.
  • Lava flows and rocks from volcanic eruptions cover most of the land area of Yellowstone.
  • The park is the centerpiece of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the largest remaining nearly-intact ecosystem in the Earth’s northern temperate zone.
  • If you work in the park, naturally you live in the park. If you need something as simple as a haircut you will need to drive an hour and half, in good traffic (which is rare), one way.
  • They do have general stores and small health clinics in each village within the park.

One clear evening in August we drove up to Hayden Valley to hopefully see the asteroid events and the Milky Way and, of course try to hear the Elk and Bison trumpet and groan. We were successful on all counts.

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We made friends easily with several of our co-workers and hope to see five of them in the next couple of weeks.

I will not be working there again even thought we had probably the best store manager and cafeteria manager in the entire park. We won’t for three good reasons: (1) it is a long, long drive from Tennessee to Wyoming and (2) my body doesn’t do changing shift work very well and (3) Yellowstone had in excess of 4 million visitors this year; a record. Sadly the company we worked for did not or could not supply our general store with enough help. Oh, my heart will miss it, to be sure.

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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.

 

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK – Part one of ?

Here is how it works.  There are big corporations who bid on concession contracts with the National Park Service to run the retail, lodging, restaurants and entertainment in the National Parks.  We found this out by visiting several national and state parks last year while we were “Living In Our Minivan”.  Once this information was obtained, we discussed it, picked a park, applied, were hired and we reported for work on June 8, 2015.  To protect the innocent the company name will remain anonymous.  We were really lucky, as the other company in the park was huge, impersonal and had very low dress standards (just an observation).

We agreed on jobs, were assigned a nice dorm room, were given our uniform t-shirts and directed to the EDR (employee dining room).  The EDR fed us very well.  A portion of our salary was deducted for room and board.  Our room was like a Days Inn room:  Sink, closet, private bath and good-size bedroom.  We also had a (free) laundry room on the basement floor where the only TV lived.  We had no Wi-Fi and very poor to no cell coverage.  The public areas of the dorm were kept OCD clean.  We were responsible for our space (not OCD).

NOW FOR THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE WONDERFUL:

GOOD:  There were three age groups (1) college age (2) retired and (3) middle-aged teachers off for the summer.  Most of the college age are from foreign countries (?), this company seems to have a hard time getting American students who want to work for them in the summer.  The retired (us and a few others) are here because we cannot sit on the couch any longer and because they, like us, want to see these parks.  These are all really wonderful people to work with, we all became friends and formed a tight team.  We spent time out in the park together or visiting in our rooms, playing cards or pool in the TV room.

Brandon, Robert and Rose

Brandon, Robert and Rose

Brandon, Lily, Teegie and Grace

Brandon, Lily, Teegie and Grace

Rose, Robert and me

Rose, Robert and me

Teegie, Grace and Mel

Teegie, Grace and Mel

BAD:  We worked for a very large, privately owned corporation with juvenile rules that had to be upheld by our manager, who obviously didn’t always agree with them, because she was normal and human.  We had to “clock-in” and couldn’t do it two minutes early, even if we were just standing there.  The General Store was open 14 hours per day, seven days a week.  We alternated shifts each week, (hard to get used to).  We stayed short staffed all summer and HR either would not or could not get us the proper help.  My assumption, from years of working is, the smaller the payroll, the larger the profit.  This MAY be the reason American college students won’t come to work for them – their reputation proceeds them.  This was real work, standing/walking 7+ hours per day.  The poor customers had to pay the high price by waiting in long lines.  This was especially hard on them because Yellowstone is huge and moving from one area of the park to another takes a very long time.  They were tired, but they didn’t take it out on us (much).  I don’t have a picture of the dorm, but I do have a couple critters who came to visit us at our dorm.  Sweet husband purchased bear spray after one of these visits.

Black Bear next to our dorm

Black Bear next to our dorm

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WONDERFUL:  Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding areas.  Teton National Park, Cody, WY, The Bear Tooth Highway, Mesa Falls in Idaho, The local live theater in West Yellowstone and so much more.  I will have details in the following posts.

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More later…