April 2012

We’re now off DST, but of course my internal alarm clock, not to mention my dog, insisted on me getting up at 7am body clock time. For a few moments, I seriously considered waking Julie up with the news that there was another motorhome parked in the paddock, but then thought that it would be a bit much at 6am on a Sunday.

I am pleased to say that we are well and truly organised for the upcoming trip to USA. We are now fully packed, with one suitcase well under the 23kg limit and 2 carry-ons each, of which only one is anywhere near the 7kg limit. It feels good to be travelling light for a change. Julie’s job tomorrow is to clean the bus thoroughly inside while I’m at work. On Tuesday morning, we leave the paddock behind and drive into town, where she will wander around for a few hours, until she can check in to the Capital Executive Apartments. The holiday begins for me when my colleague Ainslie drops me off at the apartments and takes our car home. I had intended leaving the car in the car park at work, under the noses of the security guards, but her offer was better. Now we wait.

And we’re off. I’m writing this on the plane, buried deep in the bowels of a 747 Jumbo. By Monday night we were effectively fully packed, except of course for those last minute things like toothbrushes that need to be used on the morning of departure. Tuesday came, Julie got bored wandering around and we had dinner at the restaurant downstairs. Funny how on the night before you get moving, a really restful sleep is rare, although Julie was so exhausted that she slept well for a change. We walked the few blocks to the bus station with all of all luggage and the trip to Sydney passed without incident. There was a huge line already waiting to check in, so that took a while, then we sat down for a light meal. Unfortunately, we waited a bit too long and had to scramble through immigration and security, arriving at the gate lounge when it was already empty. Maybe she’ll listen to me next time. Anyway, we’re here and we’re flying.

Wednesday: We arrived without incident at LAX.

The Quarantine people didn’t seem to care that we live on a property and handle animals regularly; they just wanted to check that our shoes were free of dirt. Then we tried to find the LAX public bus station, without the instructions that I should have printed for myself. We ended up taking a taxi to Venice Beach, despite the fact that I had to provide him with directions! Kudos to Matt at Venice Beach Suites and Hotel, who got up out of his chair and came around to our side of the desk to introduce himself and welcome us. I recall being suitably impressed at the time with his welcoming approach. We were able to check in immediately, so we had plenty of time to establish our home base and explore a little. We did dip our toes in the ocean and we can confirm that the water is cold.

We weren’t sure about this ATM. We think the cover is to provide enough shade that you can see the screen.

Thursday: We slept in (finally) and then walked to the Santa Monica Pier for some exercise and a look. Along the way, there was a guy just finishing hand painting an advert on a high wall, from a picture placard in his hand. Beautiful work!

The walk was enough exercise and we caught a local bus back to Venice beach. It’s been a wonderfully relaxing day, with a combination of exercise, browsing the shops, researching tomorrow’s escape route and bar lounging.

It’s an early night tonight, as we are out of here at about 07:30 tomorrow, heading for New York.

Well, here we are in New York City. Getting to the airport yesterday was a bit of a struggle, but we did it via the public bus system. Getting through security at the airport was even worse than last time we were here, right down to the x-ray machine. Empty out everything – belt, shoes, money, phone. Not quite stripping off, but as close as it gets in a public place! Then the airline moved the flight from gate 77 (right out on the end of concourse 7) to gate 62 – right back down the whole concourse and across to the next one. We had stopped for breakfast, then arrived at gate 77 at the boarding time on our boarding passes, to find the area empty. Checked the departure board and had a very fast walk to where we needed to be. After that, things went smoothly. We had decided some time ago that we would book a car from Newark airport into the city, which turned out to be an excellent choice, rather than dragging baggage around on public transport. We’ll do that on the way out. The driver’s estimate of 45 minutes turned out to be spot on, as the traffic jams up very badly getting into the Holland Tunnel.

Our apartment is on the fourth floor on a tenement building – stairs and no lift! We will be fit by the time we leave! The apartment is small, but immaculate and very comfortable. There are people everywhere on the streets, so we felt quite comfortable walking around. We had dinner at a Chinese restaurant, where we were one of only two non-Asian couples, although we did shy away from the frogs, intestines, shark fins, jelly fish, etc. It is as I remember from last time. Go to bed exhausted and wake up good to go again. Once you hit the streets, it feels like there’s energy coming up out of the ground. I made coffee and then needed milk, so took a walk around the block. Not quite up to sprinting up the stairs just yet though. The view from our window.

Saturday. When we finally made it out the door, we headed for the subway station. We bought 2 Metro Cards and loaded them both with $20, which is enough for 10 trips each. Then we caught the (subway) train to Battery Park, at the bottom end of Manhattan.

The original plan for the day was to catch the ferry to Staten Island, followed by the train down to the bottom of the island. We had also agreed that our plans could change at any time during the day as it progressed. And they did. We got off the ferry on the lower deck and completely missed the terminal “stuff”, including catching the train as per the plan. Actually, we never did see that train, we just heard it leaving.

So we walked up the hill a bit and had lunch at an Italian restaurant instead. Wandered around a bit more and came across a squirrel with a nut in its mouth, which just sat there and posed for me.

Having had a chance to look around the ferry on the way over, we were able to get some pictures of the Statue of Liberty through an open window on the return trip.

Back in Battery Park, Julie spotted a whole heap of people in red smoke or dust or something, and wanted to go have a look. I figured it was probably the Occupy people. Either way, we watched for a few minutes and it all looked a bit ugly, so we left them to it.

Where to from here? Back to the subway, of course. The only landmark on a direct line from a nearby station was Grand Central Station, so off we went again. I must say it is even more impressive than I remember it being. It’s huge! I believe it occupies an entire block.

In addition to holding a massive train station, plus a multi-line subway station as well, it contains a substantial market.

Fortunately, we had already checked out our local shops in passing last night and were well aware that the prices in the market were way too high. As we still had a bit of oomph left in us, we headed for Times Square. Unfortunately, I underestimated just how far it was, but we ran out of steam before long anyway and retreated to the station to make our way home via the subway. To an outsider, it would have looked hilarious watching me get my bearings once we came out of the local subway station. Let’s see, the sun rises in the East, set in the West, goes around to the South (no, not North), so that’s West and we need to go East. We made it home.

Last night, I was checking on the server in the bus at home. I’ve already had to ask Tom (who is looking after the dogs) to reboot it and now I’ve discovered it’s picked up a virus, which effectively disables everything that tries to run. Now it’s just going to have to wait until I get home to fix it. However, I did pick up a picture off the webcam, where we could see Kelly sitting out near the driveway, waiting for “someone” to come home. Trying really hard not to feel guilty about that!

Sunday. Again, a late start. We decided to check out Coney Island, so back on the subway (of course). Once we got out of Manhattan, the subway train goes above ground, so we got to see some of the suburbs.

First stop: lunch. At the famous Nathan’s, of course. Just can’t beat fish and chips on the Boardwalk.

For me, one of the highlights of the sideshow alley was watching the people on the “Fly like an Eagle” roller coaster. Strapped in belly down, facing forward, they get pushed up by the big rotating wings and go from there. Includes several full loops and I managed to catch these people coming around one of the bottom bends.

For Julie, it was finding me some track pants (sweats) that actually fit me. It being Easter Sunday, it seems that after everyone had finished their family lunch, they all headed “out”, so we were leaving as the real crowds arrived.

Next stop was Times Square. That’s one of the marvels of NYC’s subway system – within about half an hour, you can be almost anywhere. We stepped out of the station right into the middle of the action – people everywhere! Just across the street, we could see the famous scrolling news ticker. Further down the street and looking back, we could see the ball that drops at midnight on New Years Eve. Other pictures include people posing with a wax figure of Morgan Freeman outside Madame Toussaud’s, and various cartoon characters scattered around.

Julie thought it funny when she hugged one of them to find he had an Asian accent! And it wasn’t just us that were surprised that Macy’s was closed. “Whaaaat! Macy’s is never closed.” A bit further down Broadway, JC Penney’s was also closed, so maybe it was something to do with being Easter Sunday.

By this time, we were getting peopled out, so found a wine bar, sat for a while, had a drink, then decided it was time to head for home. My suggestion that we could walk through Little Italy certainly helped the decision. So where to from here? Again, back on the subway! Again, I had to pause for a moment and get my bearings from where the sun was. We found that the boundaries between Little Italy and Chinatown are pretty blurred, but we did make our way into the Puglia Restaurant, which has been there since 1919. After that, walk home and work off some of the food. When we first arrived here, Mike stated that we would be running up the stairs in a couple of days. I made it up 3 flights of the 4 before I slowed down.

Monday. The cupboard is almost bare of coffee, so I mixed in everything I could find – ground, instant, etc. It turned out very strong and bloody awful, so I went out to Starbucks. On the way back in, I actually ran up all 4 flights of stairs. Not sprinting yet, but a definite run. Julie heard me coming on the top flight and was impressed.

Today’s scheduled activity was a visit to the 9/11 memorial. As usual, we caught the subway to downtown. We had time to divert via Wall Street. Tiffany’s wasn’t yet open, so we noted that for later.

As expected, security for the 9/11 memorial was the same as it now is for airports, minus the x-ray scan. For me, the memorial was, as expected, a far cry from the huge mess and hole in the ground that I saw in 2003, repeated here for comparison.

For Julie, having never seen the Twin Towers, she really had no concept of the scale of the event.

Later on, when we had a view of the skyline, I pointed out that the tallest building in the area now, one of the new towers, is currently at about 100 floors.  From memory, the towers were just shy of 300 floors.

Having done my research in advance, I was especially pleased to get up close to the “survivor tree”.

Their museum is not yet completed, but they do have a small display in the gift shop area. Pictures from there include a Battalion Chief’s Helmet, a piece of mangled steel, a snapshot of how the area will look when complete, mangled aluminium, a convenient Fire Truck and a view of the new Tower 4.

From there, we had lunch.

Oh, you’ve seen in the movies and TV shows, the steam coming up out of the drains. Yep, it does!

From there, again, jump on the subway. This time, up to Broadway and walk across to Central Park.

Tuesday. Catch the cruise out past Ellis Island to the Statue of Liberty.

For those of you who have had the opportunity to go up into the crown of the statue, you were lucky. Right now, it’s a construction zone, just as it was back in 2003. BTW, it’s Spring here. When I quizzed Julie on the year of the Declaration of Independence, she correctly replied “1776”, which tallies with the date on the statue’s tablet, MDCCLXXVI.

We spent a lot of time at Ellis Island, which is really a huge museum depicting the time when it was a very busy immigration station. I have often wondered why, when I was here with Doris in 2003, we came, looked and departed quite quickly. So I thought I’d have a look in the names record and there I found her surname – McCutchen. But she arrived in 1960 and Ellis Island closed in 1954, so I don’t know.

The last few pictures are from the subway (some of the tile work at the stations is just stunning) and a view of the apartment building and entrance.

Wednesday. We leave NYC and head for Seattle. First step: get some breakfast. Three blocks down at MacDonald’s, that’s Maccas for me, Mickey Dees for Julie. Then get packed again. I had expected to be charged for all of our checked bags on all of our domestic flights, but we weren’t, so the strategy has changed to putting all of the heavy stuff into the small suitcase, which brought it up to about 14kg, while maintaining the big one at about 21kg, leaving us with my backpack and Julie’s red wheelie as carry-ons. This of course made it that bit easier to negotiate the dreaded stairs at the subway stations. And this time, we actively sought out elevators where possible. One connection later found us at New York’s Penn Station. I never did find out why they are called “Penn” stations. And the New York one is HUGE. Anyway, we found our way onto a New Jersey Transit train to Newark Airport (yes, a real train) and then onto the airport AirTrain.

With 2 hours to kill, we sat down to a leisurely lunch.

A 6 hour flight always takes a long time. Not as bad as a 14, but because we had spent virtually all day getting to it, we were well and truly bored, only about an hour in. But we survived, as you do, and were greeted by April’s smiling face at the baggage collection area. She has the next 2 days (plus the weekend) off work, so she was quite happy to have dinner with us, take us shopping and generally be there for us. Thanks, babe! The cabin is smaller than it looks in the pictures, but every bit as nice and cosy. With our internal body clocks pushing midnight and beyond by the time we finally sat down to chill out, we chose the electric heaters over the wood fire for the first night. We did, however, find a lady’s G-string down between the seats on the couch. Clearly a very romantic little cabin.

The first pictures are what I took when I walked out in the morning, all of them untouched except to reduce them in size.

At one point, when I was building a fire, Julie spotted a log made of pressed sawdust and exclaimed, “”Oooh, it’s a Prestolog! Dad’s company used to make those.”

Note the kettle on top of the heater. When the fire is going, it boils regularly. It’s since been replaced by a saucepan half full of water, in an attempt to get some moisture in the otherwise dry air here.

Sunday. It’s been a few days since I updated here, because it’s been pretty full on with family and friends.

Note from 2018: It looks like this is the point where I had found a program called AutoStitch, which is the end result of a project by researchers at the University of British Columbia. Give it a batch of picture files and it stitches them seamlessly together. Over time, I have learned that if I give it too many similar pictures, it gets confused. Give it the bare minimum however, with just enough anchor points to find a match, and it works perfectly.

We have visited Dad nearly every day and he has kindly loaned us his car while we are here.

We’ve hung out a lot with April, Mike & Duncan. Last night, we went to Nancy’s place and met a heap of cousins, as well as second and third cousins.

Great night and thanks to Nancy for hosting it. Duncan stayed overnight with us and survived the experience. Today, we had brunch with Colleen & Cathie, Julie’s former Boeing colleagues,

followed by paddle boating on the lake with the kids.

Across the lake, we found a large colony of turtles, who spend their out-of-water time on several logs that the property owners have provided. We managed to float up VERY close to the one in the picture.

Monday. I have picked up quite a nasty cold, which has knocked me around rather badly. We stayed home nearly all day, partly for recovery and partly so as not to spread the joy around too far. I did go out in the smaller paddle boat for a while in the morning and enjoyed the serenity out there, rugged up against the cold in the wind. We did manage to go out for a while, and while we were out, the “split wood fairy” (our host Dan) called and left us a fresh supply of split wood for the fire. Later in the day, our host Roberta called in to meet us in person. During the conversation, she asked whether we were doing OK with wifi access and mentioned that they had enough cable to reach down to here, but just needed to get the ends connected properly. Now there’s a challenge, and you’re talking to the right person! I ended up at Home Depot, buying connectors, a crimping tool that turned out to be way better than what I could have picked up at home (for a fraction of the price), a cable tester that almost makes coffee and a plug-in tool that Frank desperately needed when we were wiring the surgery last year.

I was scheduled to go ice skating with Duncan that evening, but he has “a bone in his leg” (my explanation), probably a pulled muscle up near the groin, and April had taken him to the walk-in clinic and is keeping him off the ice until he improves. So we stayed home.

That night, Julie somehow got the notion of going for a swim in the lake. I guess I should have realised that she was once again sleepwalking when she appeared at the stairs, dressed in her bathing suit. It developed into an interesting process of getting her back into bed (upstairs) and then standing guard for an hour or two. Seriously (again) I couldn’t make this stuff up! Perhaps I should have let her go, because THAT would have woken her up! Of course, we have no real idea as to why she has suddenly started sleepwalking after so many years.

Tuesday. I mentioned going for a swim and got the response “NOOOO!”, with a suitably horrified expression. Well, that certainly answered that question. The combination of a rough night and the cold coming into its full power left me struggling today, although I did manage to install a cable run from the house down to the cabin and we now have full strength Internet access down here. We did go out and meet Theresa for lunch,

and called into April & Mike’s place to borrow a spare router, so we now have have full strength WIFI in the cabin. Yay! And now, …. wait for it …. it’s raining. Well it is Seattle after all.

Wednesday. Along the way yesterday, we stopped at a pharmacy and picked up some Nyquil and Dayquil. For our non-American readers, they are day time and night time cold symptoms suppressants that seem to be highly effective on both of us. Consequently, we are both still under the weather, but not suffering from it, so we have had a quiet morning in the cabin. I even went out on the lake again for a while. So relaxing out there, sitting in the boat and allowing the wind to blow me around. When we visited Dad, he asked us to take him for a drive to Carkeek Park, which overlooks the water. Excellent choice on such a beautiful day, Dad. Julie managed to wheedle him out of the car for a photo and from there, he walked the short distance to a bench looking out over Puget Sound.

There, he got talking to Jerry Bach, who has lived in the area all his life, and they had a great chat about where the trains go.

They discovered that they have a mutual friend who is one of the longer term residents in Ida Culver House.

From there, Julie & I continued on to April & Mike’s place for dinner. We want to know what goes into that pasta sauce to make it taste so good!

And back to the cabin, where April has donated the router here, so we have a wifi setup here that will remain after we leave. Nothing quite so satisfying as leaving operational remnants! Next morning it took us a while to get packed and moving, followed by a few errands, but we made good time on the way to Spokane. At the top of Snoqualmie Pass, which is where the Interstate-5 goes up and into the Cascades, we pulled off to buy fuel and some eats. It was incredible to see how much snow is still up there.

But then, just like our summer being flooded out, their winter was equally wet. Further along, Julie pointed out an old restaurant at Vantage, where she & April used to stop on the way.

We are staying with her twin sister Janet & husband Steve until Sunday.

Friday. Both of them had the day off, so we started with a tour of Janet’s workplace, Spokane Packaging, who produce boxes of all shapes and sizes. Their main stock is cardboard, but they also use plastics and foam. Opening a package or computer box will never be the same! From there we headed towards their lake house at Spirit Lake, stopping first at the Twinlow Camp, where the girls spent many a summer in camp.

On the way back, we stopped off at a bar in Spirit Lake where the smokers can still indulge their habit INSIDE the bar. This place is straight out of an old western movie!

At lunch in Spokane, where the waitresses spontaneously broke out a line dance.

Back in Spokane, Julie & I visited her nephew Charlie and his “new” wife Alyson. They’ve now been married for 5 years, but this is the first opportunity we’ve had.

Saturday. The only event of the schedule for today is dinner, so Julie & I took advantage of the great weather (yes, we brought it with us) to go into Spokane and check out the river falls, which currently have the most water that many of the locals have ever seen. It was a good day.







And then it turned. As we were preparing for dinner, we got a call from the other sister Nancy, to say that Dad had died. What? I spoke to him by phone this afternoon! So Janet & Steve packed a case while we did the same and hit the road back to Seattle. As we traveled we pieced the story together via phone calls. After I spoke to him, Nancy had dropped in and managed to get him to take a shower. After that of course, he felt much better (as you do) and decided to tackle the job of hanging some strings from the top of the balcony to discourage the pigeons from landing there and pooping all over the balcony. He was standing on a plastic chair and slipped and fell over the balcony, falling 2 floors to the ground. Needless to say, the whole family is devastated. We got into Seattle around midnight and slept on the couch and in Duncan’s bed.

Sunday. The family gathered at Nancy’s place to console each other and plan out the next steps. When we finally got moving, it was over to Ida Culver House to go through Dad’s apartment and find the documents that were needed to arrange other details, such as his Army discharge, so that the funeral people can arrange something appropriate to his military career. Yes, details are sketchy. Julie has the job of arranging a photo tribute of some description. April pointed out to me from the balcony where there was still Dad’s blood on one of the garden ornaments below, so I took on the task of removing it. That’s when it finally hit for me.

We also arranged accommodation for ourselves at short notice, again via the AirBNB website. We’re only a couple of miles from Nancy’s place. Al, our host, hadn’t expected to have anyone in here for the next week or so, as he is preparing for a monthly rental, starting on 1 May, so he needed to prepare it first. It’s basic, as the previous tenants had cleared out the kitchen to the downstairs area, which is his office. Al very kindly went out and bought a heap of things, enabling us to make the morning coffee, mugs to drinks it from, bowls to eat breakfast from, and so on. Definitely above and beyond!

Tuesday. The last 2 days have been a blur of working with Jan & Steve, and Nancy & Jim, to start to clear out Dad’s apartment and kick off arrangements for the funeral service. Both of us are pretty buggered and it’s good to have somewhere to come “home” to. It might be basic, but it’s warm and the bed is comfortable. We really have to kick this habit of going to visit and staying on for the funeral. It happened with my Dad too, back in 2005!

It has been interesting watching Dad’s 3 daughters working together. Everyone is exhausted, both physically and emotionally, and tempers can flare pretty quickly. Even so, we’ve managed to maintain a process and a flow. Early on, we went out and bought sticker dots in 3 colours. If there’s an item that you would really like, put your sticker on it and we’ll talk about it on Friday. Earlier today, I pulled my left arm sharply in, pulling photo albums around inside a box, and heard my shoulder go “pop”. After we got back to the house, I called the nearest chiropractor and got in straight away. Apparently, for a man of my age, and with all that is happening right now, I’m in pretty good shape. The good news is that nothing is out of place in my shoulder and I’ve just pulled a muscle or something.

The funeral is on Saturday at 2pm, in Nancy’s regular church in Ballard. My part is to put together a slide show for gathering afterwards. Julie’s job at present (other than packing boxes during the day) is to go through the photo albums and find pictures to use. The other piece of news is that we received the autopsy report, which suggests to us that Dad probably died instantly, which is a blessing. The other blessing is that at least we visited him almost every day, just last week. I know that this newsletter sounds really chopped up, but just as it was back in 2003 when this website started, that’s just how it is. And there are only a few photos to put up, because I haven’t taken many.

Thursday was packing even more boxes, as well as final negotiations on who gets what, culminating in the removal of the boxes destined for each of the 3 households. Then we made our way up to April & Mike’s, where Mike helped me with a production line to get all of the relevant old prints photographed for the slide show. That night, I couldn’t sleep, so went through all of them, straightened and cropped them, then sorted most of them into decades, then into an approximate date order. On Friday, we spent most of the day at our place, doing more of the same. By the time we went to Ida Culver House for dinner, the slide show was largely complete.

Saturday. The church where the memorial is being held is just one block from our place. I drove our contributions (including both laptops AND a memory stick loaded with the slide show), got it set up, and then we went to the local pancake place (again) for breakfast, and walked to the church. The memorial went pretty much as planned. Nancy shared some stories, Jan read a poem, I shared some insights and Julie recited the “Dog Face Soldier” from the 3rd Infantry and saluted her Dad, from one veteran to another. Nancy had been given so much food, that we were all obliged to gather for dinner to eat it. It’s been an exhausting week and it ain’t over yet. Tomorrow we move furniture!

As I am now applying for a USA Permanent Resident Visa (aka Green Card), with a very real possibility of us moving here at some point, we have rented a storage unit that can be used to store all that furniture, as well as anything that April & Mike need to get out of their house. Gotta love it when the plan comes together!

Sunday. Moving furniture. Fun! We were almost finished the uplift at noon and had finished the transfer into storage by about 2pm. Huge thanks to Michael, Dan & AJ doing the heavy lifting, with April & Julie doing many of the sideline jobs. Julie now has numerous boxes to go through next week at April’s place, and will be interspersing that with catching up with friends (either again, or those we missed the first time). I think she’ll be ready to come home on the 8th. Tomorrow, we completely repack everything, with a view to sharing out the weight and deciding what needs to stay here for a while and what really needs to go back to Australia. Again: Do you really need it? Where are you going to put it? Will you use it? Now that we’re in the bus, there’s a high emphasis on the “where will you put it” question.

Tuesday. After the heavy duty week last week, now comes the almost as heavy duty packing and travelling, then getting back to some sort of regular sleep pattern. Yesterday, spread everything out and packed. We had a short stay at April’s for a light dinner and watched Mike & Duncan play on the Kinect system. Even had a go ourselves. Overnight, I emailed Valerie from Life Center NorthWest and today, we had lunch with her at Bellevue on the way out to drop me at the airport. So here I am, using the airport’s free wifi, while Julie works her way back to Everett. Ugh! Next time I am online will probably be back in the paddock.