The Heartland

I’m thrilled to be in Whiteside County, Illinois, camped directly on the Mississippi River.  After years of seeing the local place names on maps and in historical documents about my ancestors, I’m finally actually seeing the landscape here and visiting my ancestors’ graves.  That’s been the case with all the locations I’ve visited, but for some reason this one in particular has really called me.

View from my front door.

I’ve camped on or very near numerous bodies of water: Lake Ontario in New York, Lake Dunmore in Vermont, Mohawk River in New York, Clear Fork River in Ohio, and Lake Lenwood in Wisconsin.  But the mighty Mississippi is downright magical.

I’m so close to the water that I can hear the frogs plopping in for a dip all night.  In the evenings, the geese come to feed – it seems like hundreds of them.  I watch their little tails go straight up in the air as they dive for dinner.  And there’s always something  – don’t know what – coming to the surface and making a splash and a swirl.  I can hardly believe my good fortune in getting a front row seat for all the action.

The trip here from Wisconsin was relatively short at only 200 miles, so I only had to make one stop. But it was a memorable stop because about an hour past it, I got that sinking feeling in my stomach when I realized that I had left my credit card sitting on top of the pump.  After much gnashing of teeth and hurling of four letter words, I finally calmed down and decided to return the next day to fetch it, and take the opportunity to use the wifi at the local Starbucks since there isn’t one near my campground.

As it turned out, I truly enjoyed that drive.  While my RV GPS had routed me the long way around to stay on interstates as long as possible, the shortest route by car was an hour and a half of zig-zagging on two-lane country roads.  It was a gorgeous sunny day, so I put the convertible top down to soak it all in.  It was classic heartland landscape, but instead of “amber waves of grain”, there were endless corn stalks, interrupted occasionally by a farm house, a silo, a barn, or a few cows.  I passed through very few towns – maybe two – and saw very little traffic, except for gigantic farm equipment which took over the road here and there.

As I drove along, I tried to imagine what it looked like when my ancestors first arrived.  According to the county history books, Clark Abbot and his family were only the fourth to settle here.  Clark married Betsey Jennings Crouch in Vermont, then moved to Chautauqua County, New York in the mid 1830’s, and then Illinois in the early 1840’s.  They established a large farm and Clark was a prominent citizen until his death in 1880.  He and Betsey are buried in the little town of Fulton, just a few miles south of my campground along the Mississippi.

Henry Ustick, head of the other ancestral family which settled here, was born in Washington County, Pennsylvania, and moved to Ohio after serving in the War of 1812, where he married Abigail Young.  He brought his family to Illinois in about 1848, using a land patent from his military service.  He and Abigail are buried near Morrison, the county seat.

One of the things I like to do, if I can, is to identify the location of the land my ancestors owned.  Usually, the land has been completely developed, but I have a feeling that here in Whiteside County, the land is still being farmed.  That will make it a lot easier to envision what it was like 160 years ago – I don’t think it’s changed much!

Goodenough in Wisconsin

It’s hard to believe I’m in Wisconsin in late September in 90+ degree heat.  When planning this part of the trip way back in the spring, I was concerned that it might be too cold!  Last year, I saw frost in upstate New York in early October, and I was hoping to avoid that.  As it turns out, no worries there!

Earlier this month in Ohio, temperatures were in the 40’s at night – delicious sleeping weather! I tend to have an instinctive urge to make soup when the weather turns cold (don’t we all?),  so I went out and bought the fixins for two different kinds of crock-pot soup: split pea with ham, and a black bean and veggie soup.  Once here, though, considering the weather, I made the soups but then froze them for later.  Who wants soup in this heat??

It was a long haul from Ohio to my Wisconsin destination – about 500 miles – and it involved driving through Chicago, which was a source of some angst before the trip.   My main concern was the possibility of getting stuck in a major traffic jam, and not being able to make it to my scheduled stop in a reasonable amount of time.  As you know, I plan all my stops, and I never want to be in a situation where I have to choose a stopping place on the fly.

It turned out just fine.  Here’s a picture of the scenery on the highway through Chicago:

Chicago Skyline en route to Wisconsin

I’m liking it in Wisconsin.  I went to college here (Beloit College), so it certainly brings back happy memories.  The campground is quiet, and my site has a lovely lake view:

Lake at Wisconsin campground
Wisconsin campsite

So I’m here to research my great-great-grandfather Darwin Erasmus Goodenough and his family.  Unlike the other research locations I’ve visited, this time it’s only one family group, one surname, and one county, which makes everything so much easier.  And I’ve never camped so close to all the important places; I’m about five minutes away from the courthouse, the library, the town where the Goodenoughs lived, and the cemetery.

While reviewing my digital Goodenough surname file in preparation for my research here, I ran across this cartoon which had been in my father’s genealogy files:

Newspaper clipping of Goodenough joke. Source unknown.

My parents both had a great sense of humor, particularly my mother.  They enjoyed the teasing about their surname – they saw it as a conversation starter because those who hear the name for the first time usually make a comment of some sort.  Sometimes it’s “Oh, that is so CUTE!!”, but mostly it’s “Is that spelled the way it sounds?  Really??”

You can imagine the jokes I’ve heard about my surname throughout my life. I had a tough time with it as a kid, because I saw it as a put-down.  I wasn’t great, fabulous, or exceptional – I was just good enough, which is what the above cartoon is implying.  As an adult, though, I took my parents’ cue and went with the flow.

And then, my wonderful ex-husband set it all right when #1, he gave me the name Roberts, and #2, he put a different spin on the standard joke, by announcing during his speech at the wedding reception that he’d told his mother, “Mom, I finally found someone good enough!”  Now THAT made me smile!

While doing some newspaper research this week, I stumbled upon this little gem from 1890:

“Humorous”, The Daily Times, Davenport, Iowa, 29 January 1890; digital image, Newspapers.com (www.newspapers.com : accessed 25 Sep 2017), citing original, p. 2, col. 3.

Nothing like a good joke – er, Goodenough joke – to feel that connection with my ancestors!  Evidently, Goodenough jokes have been around for a long time.

As I got out of my car at the cemetery, this was the first headstone I saw:

Junk Gravestone, Newark Cemetery, Young America, Wisconsin

which makes me extremely grateful for being Goodenough instead of Junk!

Heading West

I’m excited to finally be in Ohio, the farthest west I’ve been since I started this RV trek.  It’s a bit of serendipity that my ancestors settled near Columbus, the state capital, because that’s where all the genealogical goodies are!

Several branches of my father’s family converged here in the very early 1800’s.  The Beers and Young families came from Morris County, New Jersey, soon after the Revolutionary War, and the Usticks came from Washington County, Pennsylvania a few years later.  Members of my family were the first permanent white settlers in Knox County, according to the local history books.  More on that in a future post.

For the next two weeks, I’ll be staying at a campground about an hour north of Columbus; my campsite is directly on a sweet little river.

View of the river from my campsite

I spent last week in Pittsburgh at the annual conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, which was fantastic!  It started with “Society Day” on Wednesday, which was full of terrific topics on managing a society.  The conference wasn’t as crowded as others I’ve attended, which was great, considering that all the excellent national speakers were there.   It was a packed schedule, going from 8 am to 6 pm each of the four days.  I took advantage of several lectures on research in Ohio – perfect timing!

Before leaving Albany on August 28th, I drove my car down to Newtown, Pennsylvania to see my son Kyle, who arrived there from Seattle around August 15th.  Thanks to my dear friend Agnes for putting me up (or is it putting up with me?) for a couple of nights!

The trip was also my last opportunity to offload more stuff into storage, and my little Mini was packed!  I had two huge garbage bags full of clothes, which must have weighed 50 pounds each, plus several tubs of genealogy files.  I did finally finish my scanning project, so I no longer have to lug around all the original paper files.

Kyle and I had a terrific visit.  He was on the road by himself for his birthday earlier in the month, so we had a belated celebration by going out to a nice dinner near his apartment in Warrington.  He started his new job the day I arrived, so I visited him at his office the next day, and that night we went shopping for some work clothes for him, followed by another dinner out.  I miss my boy!!

I recently reconnected with Kris, a very close friend from graduate school.  We were roommates and did everything together – same two majors, same classes, same parties.  She’s lived in Virginia all these years, and I honestly don’t know why we didn’t stay in closer touch.  But after a four hour phone conversation, which wasn’t even long enough, we decided we had to see each other before I left the area, so we met at a hotel in Wilmington, Delaware for a night.  What a blast!  I just love her!  Here’s a picture:

Chris and Kris!

So now I’m heading westward into unfamiliar territory.  With no distractions, I’ll be able to delve into my family’s history in each new location.  I’ll post details of my fall schedule soon!

Albany, New York

For the last two weeks, I’ve been at this lovely little campground on the Mohawk River in Schenectady called Arrowhead Marina and RV Park.  It’s about a half hour drive from Albany, my primary research target.  Here’s a visual:

View of Mohawk River from Arrowhead RV Park office.
My camp site at Arrowhead

The campground is beautifully maintained, with lots of grass and trees. The sites are a bit too close to each other for my taste, but thankfully the neighbors are all extremely quiet.  I try to take a long walk every day; there’s a nice little walking path across a bridge over to the other side of the river.  I took this photo of the campground from over there:

View of the campground from the other side of the river

The day after I arrived, I drove (in my car) to Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia for a follow-up lung scan, about four hours away.  It was excellent news:  my lungs are completely clear!  Whew!!  Now I’ll just have annual scans to screen for lung cancer.  After the appointment, I visited with my friends Agnes and Cindy in Bucks County, and then drove back to Schenectady the next day.

The agenda for the rest of the week included catching up on all kinds of things:  my online classes, my personal bookkeeping, my travel planning, this blog, scanning my genealogy files, and preparing for my Albany research.  It’s amazing how much time it all takes, and I’m so glad I scheduled a month here!  I tend to procrastinate on a few of these items (i.e. bookkeeping, scanning, classes), so I told myself I couldn’t do any more research until I caught up with everything else.

During the second week, I spent six full days going to various archives, libraries, courthouses and historical societies.  We have slews of ancestors throughout the state, but my primary research focus is to solve a couple of mysteries about ancestors on my mother’s side, who lived in Albany, Troy, Clifton Park, and various locations in Rensselaer County in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s.  Much more on that later!

I’ll be making another side trip to Bucks County again next week, which will be my last opportunity to offload excess baggage in the RV.  I won’t be back there again until next May, but I also need to consider the fact that my RV will be in storage in California until next October. So, if I think I’ll need something next summer and fall which is currently in the RV (perhaps for the cruise, for example), but that I won’t be taking to England, then I need to leave it in storage now.  Jeez, it makes my head hurt!

But here’s the real reason I’m going to Bucks County for another visit:  my son, Kyle, is moving back to Newtown!  He received an offer he couldn’t refuse – he’s going to be a real estate agent for The Cosack Team with Fox and Roach.  Kyle graduated from college last year and then drove out to Seattle, where his sister has been living for many years.  Although he enjoyed it there, it just wasn’t a fit for him.  He’s beyond excited to start this new career!

If you’re wondering whether or not Kyle’s news has an impact on my long term plans – you bet it does.  I’ve made no decisions, but I certainly need to consider where my kids are living when I ultimately settle down.  We’ll just see how it all plays out!

Fun in Vermont!

I loved my time in Vermont!!  I may not have gotten a lot of research done (see previous post), but I had a ton o’ fun and the area was stunning.  Here’s a picture of my campsite:

My campsite at Waterhouses Campground, Lake Dunmore, Vermont

I stayed at Waterhouses Campground and Marina, which was very wooded and you had to go over a sweet little stream to get to my site:

Stream going through campground

But the best part was Lake Dunmore – the campground is also a beach and marina:

Beach at Waterhouses
Marina at Waterhouses
Lake Dunmore from Waterhouses Marina

No wonder I was a little distracted from my research work, right?!?

My best friends from childhood, Carol and Debbie, came to visit me for three nights.  It was so exciting for me to have guests and I love being with my sistas!!  There’s a little restaurant on the water called Paddler’s Pub, which is part of the marina, and we had some great times there having cocktails and a couple of meals.  And we had fun just hanging around the campfire, too.

Campfire at Waterhouses

We also rented a pontoon boat for a day.  Our childhood home was in Massapequa, Long Island, New York, in a section called Nassau Shores, which was on the Great South Bay.  Deb actually lived in a house right on the water.  So we all were familiar with boating from a young age, but none of us had driven one in many years.  It was quite an adventure and a memorable day! Here’s a picture of me on the boat:

Chris on the boat at Lake Dunmore

During my last weekend there, I visited some very old and very dear friends in Burlington.  I’ve known Jeff since I was 20 years old, and his wife Dawn for almost as long, but I haven’t seen them in decades.  I actually introduced them, and it was great to see them still so happily married after thirty years.  Amazingly, it felt natural and comfortable to be with them, even after all this time.  I love them!

They took me out to a fabulous dinner, and then we watched the sunset on Lake Champlain.  From there, you can see the Adirondack Mountains in the distance – it’s just lovely.  Jeff took an amazing photo:

Sunset on Lake Champlain, Burlington, Vermont. Photo by Jeff Schneiderman.

Jeff is a professional wedding photographer and took a picture of me.  I usually avoid having my photo taken and hate all pictures of me, but I guess this one isn’t too bad (not a comment on Jeff’s skills – I’m talking about the subject!):

Christine Roberts taken by Jeff Schneiderman.

So, you can see why I loved my time in Vermont, and why I have to go back!

Busy Month in Pittsburgh

My stay in the Pittsburgh area was crazy busy, filled with great stuff; the month I spent there literally flew by.

For the first week and a half, I hung out most days with my second cousin Melody.  We went to courthouses and libraries, and also scanned a bunch of photos at her house, which took several days.  She’s spent most of her life in the area, and knows exactly where the old farm is, so we drove up there and she shared her memories about it.  I had been there years ago with my Mom, but wasn’t exactly sure I could find it again, so the tour of the farm and the old stomping grounds in Finleyville was fascinating to me.  Melody and I also had dinner with two sisters who are third cousins to us.

Farm in Coal Bluff, looking up the hill, circa 1930’s
Farm in Coal Bluff, looking down the hill, circa 1930’s
Coal Bluff farm today.

Then my friends Sandra and Bob joined me for a week.  They’re the folks I met when we were all living in the same neighborhood in Woodland, California about 27 years ago, and they’re also living full time in an RV – amazing coincidence!  We spent our days hiking, swimming, sightseeing in Pittsburgh, and getting various errands done.

Bob and Sandra at Point State Park, Pittsburgh.

We played cards every night, except for the night we went to see a Frankie Valli Tribute band play in a concert along the Monongahela River.  Probably the most fun thing we did was to take a tour of a coal mine!  I just loved feeling that connection to my many coal mining ancestors.

Generations of my maternal grandfather’s ancestors worked in the mines.

Next, I spent a week studying genealogical citations with Dr. Thomas Jones at GRIP, the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh, held at LaRoche College.  The majority of attendees stay in the dorms on campus, which I’ve done in the past.  But I decided to commute this time, and I’m not sure I would do that again!  I drove an hour in rush hour traffic each morning and evening; sometimes it took an hour and a half.  Classes went from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, and there were also evening activities which I chose not to attend because of the long drive.  The commuting part was a bit stressful – it definitely reminded me of going to work!  Otherwise, the week was fabulous, and zipped right by.

That Friday, my friend Agnes came for a weekend visit.  We hung out by the pool, went out to eat, hiked, made a campfire, and generally chatted non-stop the whole time.  It was the first time I had a guest in the RV, and it worked out really well!  I gave her my bed, and I slept in the over-the-cab bunk.  It was so great to have a buddy for a couple of days!

On Monday, July 3rd, I spent the day at the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh.  Actually, technically it was the City-County Building.  I had ordered my grandparents’ 1944 divorce file from offsite storage when I was there earlier in the month.   Both of my grandparents re-married and then divorced again, so there are tons of juicy marital issues to be discovered – this is where you find out what was really going on, if it can be believed!

On the Fourth, I took a long walk through the gorgeous Mingo Creek County Park,

Path in Mingo Creek County Park has its own covered bridge!

and then I did a tour of all the houses where my mother lived when she was a child.

One of the houses in Mt. Lebanon where my mother grew up.

After that, I visited the cemetery where they are all buried, including my parents and brothers.

James Chapel and the cemetery, a long time ago!

During the whole day, I thought about the family gatherings held on the 4th of July at my mother’s grandparents’ farm in Finleyville.   Patriotism runs in my family, and it comes directly from my great-grandparents, James William Furlong and Mary Payne.   James was the son of an immigrant, and Mary came to this country with her parents at the age of 11.  They were proud Americans, and celebrated the 4th of July each year in grand style!

James William Furlong and Mary Payne; my grandfather Norman Furlong is in the back holding the dog.  Unknown woman on the right. Estimated to be late 1920’s.

Their six children all brought their spouses and kids to the farm for the big celebration every 4th of July. My mother said they gathered for the Fourth as long as she could remember, and the picture above shows that they did it before she was born as well.

James Furlong often wore all white to celebrate the day, and there was a huge American flag.  All of the aunts were busy in the kitchen making the picnic fixins, which included  ham, potato salad, homemade bread and ice cream, while the cousins all played games.  Grandma and Grandpap gave each of their grandchildren a silver dollar every year, and many photographs were taken which we all SO enjoy and appreciate today.  And I still have the silver dollars my mother received – she saved every one of them.

My grandparents, Norm and Viola, in the center; grandfather is holding one of his nieces.  Note the big flag in the background!

It seemed very appropriate for me to spend the Fourth near the farm in Finleyville, feeling patriotic and envisioning those many, many happy times my mother told me about, and which I can clearly see in the old photos.

When it was time to go the next day, I wasn’t ready to leave.  It felt good to be there, and I have lots more research to do.  So I know I’ll be back, and hopefully next time it’ll be a longer stay!

Back in the 215/609

I’m just about wrapping up a two week stay in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, my former home.  I’ve had ties to the 215 and 609 area codes since I was 16, when my family moved from the south shore of Long Island, New York to Pennington, New Jersey.  I left at 18 for college, went west, and then returned in 1997 at age 41, settling across the river in Bucks County.  So it’s natural that being here stirs up lots of memories.

Like, my father and my brother Jamie died in the 609.  My mother and my brother Chuck died in the 215.

I really AM trying to dwell on the positive.  This is where my children grew up – there were certainly many happy times.  And I’ve SO MUCH enjoyed seeing friends I’ve missed greatly over the past nine months.  I’m truly thankful for the many warm relationships I still have here, but those sad thoughts creep in just the same, triggered by familiar landmarks in the area.  It’s definitely been bittersweet.

One of the highlights was a three-day side trip to Long Island to visit my lifelong friend Carol.  No RV, just my little car.  We went to the resort-y town of Greenport, way out on the east end of the island, to visit her new grandson, and then had a wonderful night out.  I love her like a sister!

My beautiful friend/sister Carol with her grandson, Michael
Chris and Carol out on the town!

Another highlight was getting back together with my friend Agnes.  She was my BFF for twelve years, and then we had a falling out around eight years ago.  Now we’re just looking forward, and it feels soooo comfortable, natural and – well, just fantastic all the way around.  She took me out to dinner on my birthday last week, which was a real treat – any time spent with Agnes is special.  Here we are, “back in the day” –

Agnes and Chris, circa 2009

Speaking of birthdays, I was excited to turn 62 and qualify for the National Park Service senior pass…well, kind of excited…  But you should know that the price for a lifetime pass is increasing from $10 to $80 sometime this fall – so if you’re 62 or older, get yours now!

I also spent time with friends from my former workplace, my genealogy buddies at the Bucks County Genealogical Society, and my girlfriends Cindy, Denise, Kim, Else, and Nancy.  It was wonderful to be with them all, and I hope it made them feel good to be with me, too.  I’ll carry that feeling with me for a long time.

I’ve done so much socializing that I’ve hardly done any work – that’s a good thing!!  But even with all the hugs and kisses going around, I did still have to get things done.  I met with a genealogy client, and a new one came along that I’m very excited about.  I completed some of my online self-paced genealogy classes, but I’m still one class behind (I take two per month – I haven’t finished one of my May classes, and it’s already June!).

I was also hoping to do a bunch of scanning of my genealogy research files while I’m here near my storage.  I need my files with me as I do my research, but of course I don’t want to lug them around.  I did get SOME scanning done, but not all.  I have a little reprieve because I’ll be making an unexpected (but brief) trip back to Bucks County at the end of July, so now my plan is to scan the rest of them over the next two months, and return a box of files to storage then.

I was able to off-load some stuff from the RV back to storage: a couple of tubs of genealogy files which I’ve already scanned, and a huge tub of books which is VERY heavy (what was I thinking??):

Tote full of HEAVY books!

There are several genealogy books which I need to have and will keep, but for pleasure reading I’ve started buying used paperbacks at book sales, and will recycle them back to Goodwill so I’m not carrying around books I’ve already read.  I also installed an Amazon Kindle on my laptop, and I can get free or very inexpensive downloads from Amazon and other sources.  Slowly trying to change my habits to accommodate my new nomadic lifestyle!

I love the campground here, and except for Memorial Day weekend, I had it pretty much to myself:

A nice, quite campsite
Empty campsites all around

But now it’s time to say goodbye to the 215/609 – except for that quick trip at the end of July, I won’t be back until May of 2018.  Returning to a place I used to call home after being away for so long sure puts a different perspective on life in general.   I’m expecting that next year, with more time behind me, the acute sadness I’m often feeling in this place more than others, will dull a little more.  I’m hoping I’ll be able to simply enjoy the good memories, and all the people still here who I love.  Now, on to the many adventures in store for summer of 2017!!

A Week at the Spa

I spent last week at my cousin Betsy’s, which was almost like a week at a spa.  We ate luscious, healthy meals, lounged around the pool, slept late, drank wine on the peaceful front porch, enjoyed the bucolic views of the sheep and horse pastures, and read novels.  And I gave myself a pedicure.  I literally felt like I was at a fancy resort!

The pool and hot tub from the back porch

Betsy is a shepherd, and her sheep gave birth collectively to about 20 lambs earlier this year.  She also has chickens, so we had farm fresh eggs every day.  Here’s a picture of the smallest lamb, “Tom Thumb”:

Tom Thumb, a three month old lamb
The barn – you can see my RV in the driveway!

The companionship with my cousin was the best part – we talked for hours on end.  We realized that we’ve spent very little time in the past being together, just the two of us.  Usually we’ve had family all around, but this time, her wonderful husband was away most of the week, and we had a real girls week.  It’s such a treat to be with family and to reminisce with someone who knew and loved my parents and brothers.  I love Betsy like a sister!

View from the front porch

I did all that fun stuff, but it actually wasn’t all pampering and relaxation.  I had an agenda (as I usually do!) of tasks to complete:  did several large loads of laundry, got Betsy’s DNA sample and mailed it in to Ancestry, bought three turkey breasts to roast and freeze in serving size bags (my RV has no oven and I like to use real roasted turkey in sandwiches and salads), completed my scanning of two tubs of genealogy files so I can leave them in storage, and washed both the car and RV.  My online genealogy classes were on the list, but I never got to those this week – and that’s fine.  My new motto is “No Stress”, so if I don’t get to it, I don’t get to it.

I’m so lucky to have this little oasis to visit when I’m traveling up and down the east coast! Now I’m in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, my former home, for two weeks of socializing, going to doctor appointments, and re-shuffling stuff in and out of storage – more on that soon!

China

China wasn’t on my bucket list, so I never would have chosen to go to there on my own, but when my ex-husband found a very inexpensive two week tour and asked if I would join him, I figured I may as well go and have an adventure.  I love history, and certainly China has that in spades.  And the four day cruise on the Yangtze River looked stunning.

We used a company called Sinorama, which I would very highly recommend.  They were organized and efficient, and the various Chinese guides were terrific.  The 15 day tour included airfare, two in-country flights, a 500 mile trip on a bullet train, a four day cruise on the Yangtze River, five star hotels, and most meals – all for about $1,400 per person.  I’ve never ever traveled with a tour before, but I wouldn’t do China any other way.  I didn’t expect to enjoy being on a tour (I prefer to travel independently), but I found it fun to be with a group of people, most of whom we liked very much.

We flew from Seattle to Shanghai and spent the first two nights there.  We toured the city on a bus, went to a museum, and then a shopping area. Unfortunately, the weather was rainy/drizzly/misty, and it stayed that way for about the first 9 days of the trip.  One thing I noticed on the first day in Shanghai was a lot of people wearing face masks.  We learned they did that because of the smog. We saw it all over China.

Typical Skyline in China

Next, we took the bullet train from Shanghai to Wuhan, about 500 miles west, where we stayed one night before boarding the cruise ship.  I love to cruise, and enjoyed being on the water.

Chinese flag on back of cruise ship

The highlight of the cruise was going through the famous Three Gorges area.  A huge dam was built there, the largest hydroelectric project in the world and an engineering marvel.  The ship had to move through five different locks, taking almost four hours.  The picture below shows the two ships ahead of us moving into the first lock.

First Lock at Three Gorges Dam

 

View from cruise ship

Although the Three Gorges dam was fascinating, I was generally underwhelmed with the scenery on the Yangtze River.  Much of it was spent passing through various cities.  The Three Gorges area itself was more remote and lovely, but it wasn’t spectacular – I guess I got totally spoiled with the New Zealand landscape!   The river itself is extremely polluted, and I’m pretty sure the ship was dumping its trash directly into it.

Another scene along the Yangtze River

I’m not generally a complainer, and I’m definitely not that picky about food, but I am an experienced cruiser, and I thought the cabins on the ship were tired and worn – stained carpet, unpleasant smell – and the food was very marginal.

The cruise ended in a town called Chongqing where we visited the zoo.  This was truly another highlight of the trip. It was beautifully landscaped, and huge.  We saw Giant Pandas and yaks for the fist time.  We could have spent all day there!

Giant Panda eating bamboo, Chongqing Zoo

Chongqing is in the Szechuan area of China, and the lunch there was one of the best meals of the trip.  Added to the great food was an actual traditional Chinese wedding which just happened to be taking place in the same restaurant. We couldn’t understand a word, but it was amazing to watch.

In the afternoon, we visited the Old Town there, which was a crazy crowded place, full of vendors hawking their wares, and odd smells everywhere.  We found a little cafe with great coffee on a second floor balcony, where we could look down and watch the crowd – that was fun!

One of the less crowded areas of Old Town Chongqing

After one night in Chongqing, we flew to Xi’an.  The experience of going through security for an in-country flight in China was like nothing else I’ve been through.  They do a completely thorough search of every person.  Our carry-on bags were scanned three different times. Our guide made it clear that if anything was found in our checked luggage which wasn’t allowed, the luggage would be kept by the authorities and we wouldn’t even know that there was a problem until we got to our destination.  Fortunately, all of the luggage in our group passed muster.

Chris and Eric at one of the meals along the way

It was in Xi’an (pronounced SHEE-ahn) that we finally saw the sun, the first day through a haze, and the second a full fledged sunny day. I think Xi’an was my favorite place, and maybe it had something to do with the sun, but I also really loved seeing the Terra Cotta Warriors.  This active archaeological site with an amazing army of 8,000 soldiers is over 2,200 years old.  Each soldier’s face is unique. The army, including horses, was buried with the first emperor of China, and was intended to protect him in the afterlife.

Terra Cotta Warriors
Warriors Close Up
A very special warrior!

After Xi’an, we flew to Beijing, where we saw the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, and Tiananmen Square.  I think my favorite part of Beijing was the Hutong District, which is the Old Town.  We went on a rickshaw ride through this part of town, and then had dinner at a resident’s home there.

Scene in Hutong District, Beijing
Rickshaw drive through Hutong District
Arriving at private home for dinner in Hutong District
Cooks in the kitchen at private home in Hutong District
Tiananmen Square
View from the Great Wall
Climbing the Great Wall
Entrance to popular Beijing shopping street
Scorpions for Dinner, Vendor Booth, Beijing

Overall, I thought Sinorama did a good job, but to be completely honest, I could never say “You gotta go!” about China.  There are plenty of negatives that I haven’t mentioned about this communist country, and I wasn’t always happy to be there.  Among many other things, the smog and other pollution was a real turn-off.  I feel very fortunate that I was able to experience China, but I won’t be going back.

Sarasota: My Happy Place

When I think back to where I was a year ago, so many feelings come up, but mostly relief- I’m SO GLAD I’m not there!  If I had known then that I would be here now, it would’ve been easier, but I didn’t know when I would sell my house.  I was in the middle of another winter where I was often snowed in by myself, and unable to afford a proper snow removal service for my extra-long, steep driveway.  Any time we had a winter storm, I was outside after work in the dark with my snow shovel, trying my best to keep the driveway from freezing overnight, so I could get to work the next day.

Looking down the driveway (to the left) at my former home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania
Looking down the driveway (to the left) at my former home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania
View from the back of my former home looking up at Mom's house at the top of the driveway
View from the back of my former home looking up at Mom’s house at the top of the driveway

Every day, I saw my mother’s dark empty house at the top of the driveway, which created a pit in my stomach each time.  It certainly could have been worse, but it was a friggin’ nightmare compared to where I am today.  And it was a nightmare which had been preceded by several other nightmares.  It’s so true that “we do what we have to do”, and we surprise ourselves when we live through it.

I had completely forgotten what it feels like to be this happy.

I am LOVING my winter in Florida!  The weather has generally been in the 70’s, with lows in the 50’s – quite perfect. Every time I go outside, I’m extremely aware of how incredibly lovely it is, and how fortunate I am to be here!  I don’t even bother to put the top up on my car, because I never need to – which adds to the overwhelming feeling of freedom I have.  Driving around town in the open car in shorts, sandals, and a sleeveless top in January, with the sun shining down on me, makes the smallest errand feel like I’m on vacation.

I’ve joined the YMCA, I’ve joined the local genealogical society, and I’ve joined Meetup to get together with people for different activities – walks, movies, bowling, happy hours, all sorts of things.  The people here are generally relaxed and happy.  Many are retired and single, and, like me, they’re also looking for new friends.  So I feel like I fit in.

Staying at my cousin’s house makes me feel like a princess in a castle – it’s a lovely, comfortable home, still full of my aunt’s unique possessions, including family pictures everywhere.   My mother’s sister had the house built in 1989, when she was 57.  She was a creative thinker, and had custom features installed, like an electrical outlet under the couch in the middle of the living room so no one would trip over the lamp cords, a Murphy bed in the third bedroom, a built-in ironing center in the master bedroom, a fireplace which is rare in Florida, a window seat, a custom spice drawer and slide-out drawer cabinets for pots in the kitchen.  It’s not a big house, but it’s classy. She knew what she wanted.

My Mom and my aunt were just 15 months apart and were very close friends.  Mom visited her sister here often, and every day I hear their laughter as I’m cooking in the same kitchen – they were both over-the-top fun to be with!  So being here feels comforting.  It feels like I’m with my family. I feel so grateful to my cousin for letting me stay here.

My Aunt Arden and my Mom at Arden's Sarasota house
My Aunt Arden and my Mom at Arden’s Sarasota house

So it’s not surprising that I started to think that maybe I’ve found my “happy place.”  Maybe this is the place where I should settle down.  I like that it’s easy to get here from the northeast, and that Florida is a place where many of my friends will retire.  I LOVE that it’s near the beach, and there’s lots of water everywhere.  I LOVE the west coast, because one of my favorite things to do is sit on the beach and watch the sunset over the Gulf.   I could actually afford to buy a home of some sort here – maybe not in Sarasota, but somewhere close.  And of course maybe eventually my cousin and her husband will retire here – I’d love to live near them.

So I made an appointment with a real estate agent.

And then I canceled it.

After a heart-to-heart conversation with myself, and some budget scrutiny, I realized that I’m just not ready to settle down.  I’ve barely begun my RV life, and I miss it.  There are lots of things I still want to do, including doing my genealogy research overseas.  It just doesn’t make sense to buy a house before I do all or most of these other things.

And then I started brainstorming with myself, made a list of the most important things I still need/want to do, and created a plan for the next 22 months.  All planned out.  And none of it involves buying a house, or being in Florida.  Stay tuned!!