Mix and Match Bling

August 18, 2014

I have a necklace made  shell that dates from a vacation to the Caribbean, probably 30 years ago.  I don’t often wear the necklace, because I don’t have other shell jewelry to match, but about two years ago I needed something pink and summery and wore it.

My friend Mae promptly complimented me on it, and mentioned that she had a bracelet that was similar and which she would like to give me. She explained that she never wore it because she didn’t have any other jewelry to match it.  I laughed, explained that I was in the same predicament, offered to give her my necklace so that she would have the two pieces, but she had offered first and won the contest — and I acquired the bracelet, which was really much nicer than the necklace.

I’ve worn the two pieces a lot this summer, but of course I don’t have earrings to match.

Then, my aunt saw the bling, and brought out shell earrings that had been her sister’s.  She said she never wore them because, you guessed it, she didn’t have any other pieces to match.  She gave the earrings to me, and really, they are nicer quality than either the bracelet or the original necklace.

So now I have a complete set!

Anyone have a shell ring out there they never wear because it’s not part of a set?

Death Valley

August 16, 2014

IMG_4605Indians had lived here for centuries, but they knew how.  The first white people who entered the valley were settlers looking for a shortcut between Las Vegas and the gold fields, and oops, they nearly didn’t make it out alive.

Death Valley is the driest and also lowest place in North America, with an average rainfall of less than  2 inches per annum and Badwater at 270 feet below sea level.  August is no time to visit — it’s hot! It’s been 120 degrees in the daytime, getting down to 90 or so at night.  I guess I’m glad that our rental shows the temp in Celsius, because I can always think I can’t translate properly  into Fahrenheit.

The Valley is also beautiful.  The rocks look like something out of Georgia O’Keefe’s palette (or is it the other way around?) and the shadows are constantly moving and changing the rocks.

August is not the correct month to come to Death Valley, but it’s the month we had.  I was last here 50 (!) years ago during spring vacation, when the desert was in bloom and the heat was more tolerable.  But August is what we had, so here we are.

And practically the only English speakers around. The place is swarming with Europeans, particularly French and German.  They are all here to get a postmark from the Death Valley Post Office, to see the sights, and to go back home to boast.  Isn’t that what tourism is all about?

Actually, after those ill-fated settlers, mining companies came into the Valley, to mine for borax and make the 20 Mule Team famous.  When the mines started to play out, someone got the bright idea to introduce tourism to the area.  Air conditioning helped.

We woke up early to watch the sunrise, and we drove to the lowest point in North America.  We enjoyed the immensity and the grandeur of the Valley.  It really is the other side of the moon — or at least what we think that looks like.  And then we hurried south to I-15 and civilization.

A Land of Contrasts

August 14, 2014

IMG_4523We woke up again listening to the Merced River, and after breakfast climbed 2000 feet back up the river to the start of Yosemite Valley, then turned north to take the highland route to Tuolumne Meadows.  Back in high school, I had backpacked in these mountains, and the terrain reminded me of those experiences:  On the top of the world, with polished granite and tall trees and impossibly blue skies.  We stopped at an overlook for a last glimpse of Half Dome, far in the distance overlooking the valley below, and then continued west.  Tuolumne Meadows itself was impossible to stop at — too many cars, too much traffic, not at all the wilderness experience it is supposed to be.  And we pressed on, because we knew we were leaving the crowds behind.

IMG_4540Well, not quite. The Pass on the eastern edge of Yosemite is over 9000 feet.  These Sierras are geographically just like their more western neighbors, but the rain doesn’t get here, so they are hot, dry stone — very little vegetation. Then down, down, down to about 6000 feet, and Mono Lake lay before us, the water looking impossibly green in the noonday sun.

Mono Lake is a famous rallying point for the intersection of water and environment.  The City of Las Angeles was siphoning off the water for municipal use, and the Lake had dribbled to about half its previous level, exposing limestone-tufa towers from underwater and threatening the bird sanctuaries.  Then local people and environmentalists intervened, and eventually won in court — the Lake was court ordered to return to about three-quarters of its original size (not that lakes have original sizes, of course; they are constantly in flux).

IMG_4551The return has a way to go, not helped by the last three years of drought.  The tufa towers stand tall, surrounded by sagebrush, since the water has receded so far.

We worked our way down to the beach and tasted the water — it’s as salty as the Great Salt Lake, it’s neighbor to the east — about 2.5 times the saltiness of the ocean.  Then it was back to the car and to turn on the air conditioning, and to pick up some speed as we headed south.

IMG_4572Our next stop was Manzanar. the detention center that was home to about 10,000 people of Japanese descent — most of them American citizens — from 1942 to 1945.  It’s an extraordinary — and evocative — place.  In the desert, under the shadow of Mt. Whitney, and the plan shows miles of dormitories, with no privacy and little in the way of community comforts.  A watchtower stands empty now, ghostly sentinel over the exhibits and a time when American passions and fears ran roughshod over civil rights and our value system.   May we always remember that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.

And then, we drove over the Panamint Range and dropped into Death Valley.


In the Land of Giants

August 13, 2014

IMG_4429My Dad spent his career in the Coast Guard.  He had the marvelous ability to get transferred from right coast to left coast and back again, and so, every few years we would pick up and plan a travel trailer camping trip across the US from old assignment to new one.  Each time, Dad took 30 days’ leave; each time we spent a week in Denver, where he grew up and his parents lived, but other than that, each trip was designed with input from us kids and was, therefore, age appropriate.

I saw Yellowstone when I was seven; Hannibal, MO in high school,  and Yosemite Valley when I was in middle school.

There were five such cross-country trips from age two through high school.  I remember crossing pre-Interstate, believe if or not.

IMG_4435These trips were a highlight of my upbringing and I will be eternally grateful to my parents for sharing this incredible country with my siblings and me before we ever traveled elsewhere.  It is a grounding that has lasted through my life. (It is also a check-off list:  I’d visited about 35 of the 40 states through all those trips, and since adulthood I’ve been working on the rest.  I’ve hit 49 of the 50:  Still haven’t been to Arkansas.  To quote my mother:  “You haven’t missed much.”  Ouch.

All that is to say that here we are, 45 years later, and Frank and I spent yesterday in Yosemite Valley.  It’s always hard to separate from what I remember and what I know from postcards, of course.  Yosemite is truly the land of giants — giant trees,  giant walls of rock rising a half-mile up above the valley floor.   It’s hard to comprehend — and impossible to capture in photos.

IMG_4468Yosemite is also being loved to death.  We quickly ditched the car and took the bus that circumnavigates the Valley floor.  It comes frequently — but long lines to get on.  And that assumes one finds a parking space for the car.  At first I was surprised by the number of foreigners here — but it is August, and Europeans who come to America’s west go to Grand Canyon and Yosemite.  This must be so awesome to European sensibilities, where everything is so small.

It’s also the third year of a drought.  There was little snow melt this spring, and already, Yosemite Falls is dry as a bone.  Bridal Veil falls had a trickle coming over it, but Mirror Lake looked more like a Japanese rock garden.  Plenty of rocks in the dry lake bed; no water.

I’ve loved coming back here — and introducing Yosemite to Frank.  But I am looking forward to our trip today, through the High Country and east — and away from the crowds.


August 12, 2014

IMG_4393This isn’t supposed to be a travelogue — but at home I don’t seem to have time to blog anymore.  That’s an issue that I will have to deal with.  Meanwhile, Frank and I are spending the week in California, and I woke up early, which is a chance to get caught up on FB and the blog.

We started off in Napa where we spent time with his family.  Napa is a theme park, just like Boothbay Harbor, but growing faster.  Maybe having water on three sides is a good thing in that it limits our growth! After several days of family we headed east (easy to get confused on the left coast, but anyway, we headed away from the ocean), crossed the Central Valley, and up to Yosemite.

Of course, August is the wrong month to visit Yosemite — we knew that.  Our first destination was Mariposa Grove, a stand of giant sequoias.  The parking lot was full and we were directed four miles away to where we could park and catch a shuttle.  That parking lot was full as well, and we were just about to give up when we found a place to park along the drive.  The hassle proved well worth it — this is the grove that really sparked the concept of putting the national park together.

IMG_4402We took the tram ride through the grove, and it was a good tour. I was amazed at all the various languages that we were surrounded by — maybe Americans know better than to visit Yosemite in the summer, and international visitors just do what they can.  The tram gave us a good view while keeping us on the road and away from be bases of the trees, and of course that means minimizes the damage caused by humans … so I was surprised to hear that the tram is ending and the road is being removed, leaving the trees to hikers only as of next year.  I must learn more.

Meanwhile, these are giants.  It’s hard to gain a perspective on them — the big ones are something like 30 feet in diameter and 90 foot in circumference, which basically means our bedroom could fit in them … and they practically live forever.  They apparently don’t  die of old age or disease or burning — they just eventually lose their foot structures and fall, and then that’s it.

IMG_4411We returned to the car and headed north,  but at Frank’s suggestion turned off to take the road to Glacier Point.  Wow! Thirty miles of winding road took us to the edge of the southern rim, and we were suddenly looking right down into Yosemite Valley, with Half-Dome at an angle that showed the “half” from the side.  Again, we had to wait in the parking lot for people to leave before we could arrive — Yosemite is clearly being loved to death — and again, I wasn’t sure we wanted to put up with the hassle — and again, the view was incredible.  Granite, waterfalls, green forests as far as the eye can see.  A landscape as wide as the Grand Canyon, all around us.  Remarkable. And all this in the late afternoon sun, so that we had terrific shadows and a beautiful blue sky in the background.  Picture-perfect. But no place I wanted to get caught in after dark!

IMG_4415Besides, we had a B&B to reach.  When I had made reservations in May, I quickly discovered that it was too late to stay in the park — even the Awhawnee with rooms over $400 per night was booked.  So we are in El Portal, just outside the main gate to the park. The B&B was, interestingly, built as such, and is sandwiched in between two motels on the only strip along the river allowed for commercial use.  So I write this from our balcony, overlooking the river, with granite mountains all around me and the sound of the water below me.  Today will be an easy day — based on yesterday’s experiences we plan to leave our car at the main gate and take the bus that winds through Yosemite Valley — but first, we have to get up! And that may take awhile.




Longevity, Loyalty and Love

June 10, 2014

I just returned from helping my parents celebrate their 70th anniversary (no, that is not a typo).

There were 200 people at the anniversary party last Saturday, including two who had been at the original event in 1944:  My mother’s sister (her maid-of-honor) and a classmate of my Dad’s.  Following is the toast I gave last Saturday:

We are here to honor longevity, but my parents’ marriage and this occasion represent a great deal more than just time spent together.

In 30 years of active duty, Jane and Paul made six coast-to-coast transfers, lived in 17 houses, attended at least that many churches, raised three children, and made it all into an adventure. When I look back on my youth, it’s with some awe that I realize the energy that my parents put into creating our lives and making our childhoods as seamless as possible: Finding a house, enrolling us in school and supporting disparate youth activities, exploring our new city, wherever we happened to be. And then starting all over again somewhere else in another three or so years.

And it’s clear that everywhere Jane and Paul have landed, they have created community, and they have built a home. Wherever they have been, they have made good friends, which is why there are so many of us in this room today.

When I told  friends that my parents were about to celebrate their 70th anniversary they were astounded. When I told them that the party was planned for 200 people, they were speechless.

What’s the secret of Jane and Paul’s success? My parents would say that longevity isn’t good for much if it isn’t partnered with loyalty and love.

It hasn’t always been easy. I think my siblings would agree that growing up a Peak wasn’t for the faint-of-heart. Jane and Paul set high standards and expected us to live up to them. They still do, of course, and now the grandchildren get the brunt of those expectations. Among the life lessons Jane and Paul have imparted to us is the reality that loyalty and love go hand-in-hand. Dad has always found tremendous meaning in being part of something larger than himself – the Coast Guard is the most obvious example, but so are all the volunteer organizations to which he has belonged. Twenty years ago, Dad claimed current or previous membership in 35 tax-exempt organizations. The number has only grown since then.

And my parents may have slowed down in their activities, but just barely. You may be aware that Jane is currently serving a three-year term on her college Alumni Board. This requires her to travel to Connecticut College for board meetings and, last month at graduation, it found her in academic procession, complete in cap-and-gown.

Longevity, loyalty, and love. Love for country, and unconditional love for family. In August, Jane and Paul will be heading to San Diego for a gathering of the Peak clan, including all three of Dad’s brothers. Roger and Nicki and I grew up attending these Peak reunions, and again, we – and our cousins — thought they were normal. Today, I would more specifically describe them as awesome.

Jane and Paul’s unconditional love for their children and grandchildren doesn’t keep them from getting exasperated by our antics at times, but any criticism has always been leveled at the act, not at the actor. And more typically, their enthusiasm and support for our activities is boundless to the point of embarrassment.

Seventy years is a long time. It’s so long that the gemstone people don’t come up with a special stone for the year; they just keep on repeating diamonds. Hallmark doesn’t bother putting out a specific card. Seventy years is so long, in fact, that it’s remarkably close to one-third the age of our nation. Jane and Paul have been working on their genealogy for a long time, and now they have become ancestors in their own right. And like all good ancestors, they have created a legacy for those who come after them. A legacy of love and loyalty – as well as longevity.

So let’s raise our glasses in a toast to Jane and Paul.


What’s Old is Young

June 3, 2014

When my parents moved into their independent living retirement complex 25 years ago, they were in their late ’60s and the youngest residents in the building.

They were also young by “Greatest Generation” standards to make such a move. But they had a motivation: They had spent the previous decade caring for their aging parents — at one time both my grandmother and a great-aunt were permanent residents in their home — and they were determined that their children (as my mother used to put it), “wouldn’t have to go through all that.”

So they moved to Vinson Hall, a retirement community in northern Virginia originally built to provide dignity for widows (they were all widows in those days) of officers in the maritime forces (Navy, Marines, Coast Guard) who didn’t have the resources they needed to live independently.

My parents were part of a new wave of elders who moved into a retirement complex because they emotionally wanted to, not because they financially had to. And while they were still a couple. They moved into what I remember was described at that time as the largest apartment in the building — a large one-bedroom created by drilling a hole in the wall and putting two studios together. It WAS large — with a “project room” after one of the kitchens was dismantled, and two (count ‘em, two!) bathrooms.

How times have changed.

Today my parents, now in their early ’90s, have lived in Vinson Hall longer than any other VH residents, and longer than any other home they ever lived in. But they are far from the eldest at Vinson Hall: In fact, my father assures me that the median age of the residents is now somewhere in the late ’80s, up by about a decade from when they moved in.

So by Vinson Hall standards, their age isn’t anything exceptional: They have plenty of neighbors also in their 90s, and a few residents are over 100. In fact, Dad showed me the program for a memorial service to remember all those residents who died last year: There were close to 20 names on the list, and ALL the deceased had been in their 80s or 90s. No residents in their 70s died last year.

So much for the Biblical “three score and ten.”

Not only are residents arriving late and staying later, they are arriving with more stuff. My parents’ apartment is now dwarfed by two- and three-bedroom suites, and a new building is going up within the complex in which ALL the units will be size-ably greater than those from the existing building. Already, the new building is sold out, and move-in date isn’t until the last quarter of the year.

One more statistic: This week my parents will celebrate their 70th (!) wedding anniversary. That’s an incredible milestone, even by Vinson Hall standards. What a legacy!


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