Traditions . . .

This has been a year — or at least a few months — for examining past traditions. When the future seems uncertain, there is something comforting about remembering the past, getting lost in nostalgia, and returning to happier days full of memories of family, friends, fun and tradition.

It has been especially true during all the holidays of the year: Valentines Day, Mardi Gras, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Years — many of those special times normally full of family celebrations and traditions have passed us by since 2020.

In the days leading up to fall holidays, few of us would have believed that the “norm” in 2021 would once again be another scaled-down version of Thanksgiving dinner. It may not have been potluck shared by extended family at socially distanced outdoor picnic tables in a state park, (yes, that happened the previous year), but for most it was, once again, a small table not heavily laden.

Many of our holiday celebrations, those that actually were held, have been accompanied by masks and elbow bumps, but no hugs. Who would have predicted that we would spend last Christmas alone, despite the hopeful news in 2020 that two effective vaccines were ready to be delivered nationwide? Who then would have believed that “the abundance of caution” against large family gatherings would continue for a second Christmas? Who could have imagined yet another mutated virus wreaking havoc with family get-togethers and travel plans now and for the foreseeable future? Yet, that is exactly what has occurred.

May you live in interesting times . . .

Depending on your upbringing and mindset, that phrase has alternately been considered a blessing or a curse. Although there is little evidence that it originated with the Chinese, and even less that it stems from a Yiddish expression or a rabbinical interpretation, it persists in the minds of many of us as a warning that we should never get too comfortable. Life is not to be taken for granted.

Our times — this past year and three quarters, and still today — are nothing if not interesting.

Many of us are still hopeful that we will once again be free to travel freely. But, with the return to mandated masking in many places, extensive travel disruption attributed to ill employees, and persistent warnings about travel, gatherings and testing, we are again uncertain. We hope that we will continue to care for others, by being mindful about where we go, what we do and how we act. But, as this last year has taught us, life is fragile. I am now even more convinced that we must savor the traditions that have brought us here.

For me, that means being with friends, not via face time, Skype or Zoom meetings, but up close and personal. It means sharing good times, welcoming the births of new babies and celebrating graduations and promotions. More importantly, it means being together to comfort one another during sadness and hard times. Working remotely may not be a great hardship. But, being continually remote — from family, friends and business associates — is devastating.

This past year, I lost several acquaintances to COVID. Many others in my circle of friends and family have been ill with the virus. Others, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, have tested positive recently, with varied symptoms and severity, with — presumably — the Omicron variant. I am learning more than I ever wanted to know about the SARS-CoV-2, commonly known as COVID-19.

Humans were not meant to be solitary animals. That is only too evident today, with increasing concerns about not only mental health, but the economy.

The path forward seems clear. We must not forget these past months, nor the shutdowns, the fear, the toll it has taken on lives and livelihoods. But, we also must not give up hope. Let’s don’t ever forget what makes life worth living. Let’s all honor those traditions that we missed so much in 2020 and were hesitant to resume in 2021. Let’s not return to the place of isolation and alarm. Let’s be smart rather than complacent, but let’s go on living our lives with confidence

Yes, COVID-19 is a scary disease. But all diseases are scary. And those who are sick need to be comforted, not left alone. No matter what or how you celebrate the special days that are to come this year, may holidays that are meant to bring us together in the coming months continue to bless you, uplift your spirits and prepare you for what lies ahead.

That is my wish this second day of the new year.

Out in the world again . . .

Once again, each day dawns with new reports about Coronavirus mutations, infections and restrictions. Just a few weeks ago it seemed as if all that was in our past. Today, once again, COVID-19 is big news, at the top of the list of concerns for those of us who delight in travel and for others with holiday travel plans. COVID has had a personal impact for me and my family this year as well. Our holiday travel plans were altered because a member of our family tested positive. We experienced some anxious moments about his health and, although his symptoms were relatively mild, quarantine was the order of the day — or, more precisely, quarantine for 10 days, tests for members of his immediate family and, of course, no guests for the holidays.

Flexibility is today’s reality, for sure!

Still, it’s time to think about past and future destinations, and the differences we can expect.

In late September, we had the opportunity to “dip our toes in the water,” literally and figuratively, on a four-night cruise out of Galveston. We were more than eager to experience new travel protocols, and this seemed the perfect opportunity, with a single port call at popular Cozumel on the Mexican coast. Passengers were free to disembark and to explore freely. Shops and restaurants were open and taxis were abundant, but masks were required of all citizens and visitors.

Our Royal Caribbean ship, Independence of the Seas, sailed at less than 30% capacity: 1,260 passengers, with probably close to the same number of crew. It was quiet, but it was a wonderful experience. It whet our appetites for more and longer itineraries, held so long in check by the pandemic.

So, in mid-November, we flew to Fort Lauderdale to embark on three distinctive bookings on two different cruise lines. First, we visited the Caribbean ports of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Phillipsburg, Sint Maarten, and the beautiful island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. We sailed on the impressive Celebrity Edge, a modern ship designed to carry 2,908 passengers, but during our seven days on board, there were not quite 1,300 passengers. Then, after a few days in Florida, we set sail again on Emerald Princess, bound for the cruise line’s private beach resort on the island of Eleuthera. We sailed with fewer than 900 passengers. It was quiet and restful. That three-day excursion ended once again in Fort Lauderdale where, following a negative result to yet another COVID test administered by the ship’s medical team, we were authorized to remain aboard for another 10 days.

Our itinerary included passage through the Aqua Clara Locks of the Panama Canal, and our ship, designed for 3,080 passengers and more than 1,200 crew members, sailed with 1,374 passengers. Following an initial stop in Nassau where three other ships were in port, our captain set a course for Cartagena, Columbia, on the way to the Canal. Following our day spent traversing the locks and once again being awed by the marvel of the century-old engineering feat that changed the face of global commerce, our final port calls were in Costa Rica, and Jamaica, prior to returning to Fort Lauderdale to disembark.

It was quite an experience! We had previously visited five years ago, entering Gatun Lake through the old two-chamber locks which still operate perfectly, as they have since 1914. The new locks can accommodate much larger ships, of course, more than doubling the ability of the canal to facilitate shipping. It’s fascinating and impressive. Panama has changed during the intervening years, but despite the economic boost from the new locks, Panama and other Central American countries have suffered during the pandemic.

We agreed with other passengers that, as much as we have missed traveling, our disappointments do not compare with the hardships of crew members, some of whom were literally stranded at sea for up to four months prior to being transported back to their home countries. Nor did our “stay at home” time compare to the economic hardships faced by residents of these port cities that depend on tourism for their livelihoods.

Sharing pandemic experiences and future dreams with the staff and crew, and with residents of the countries we visited, became the most important takeaway from these trips. Each ship sailed at far less than full capacity, making it easy to get to know bartenders, cabin stewards and dining room servers. To a person, we found all crew members, including senior officers and maintenance personnel, more than accommmodating, and eager to interact with passengers. To be sure, everyone we met was happy to be back at sea. And those we met on shore during our excursions were delighted to once again welcome us to their countries.

If you’re planning a trip — sooner or later — we would urge you to go. But be smart about it: Get your vaccinations, submit willingly to the tests, abide by the rules (and know that the rules can change quickly), talk to the people you encounter, and enjoy every moment.

The world is different, but it’s still welcoming, and there are good reasons to get out and experience it!

We found that talk about our collective pandemic experiences, our fears and our heartaches, brought us together. Ask people about their families, about how the pandemic affected them and about their hopes for the future. Connect on a personal level. We have always found that to be the best part about traveling. It’s especially true now.  

At the same time, however, I cannot help but be disturbed by the news that European countries are again closing borders and that more stringent rules are in effect for travelers arriving in the U.S. from foreign cities. I am appalled — and worried — by the rising numbers of positive tests throughout our country and around the world, and by daily reports of rising numbers of positive tests on cruise ships, and of cruise ships and passengers being turned away from world ports.

If you have recently been on a cruise or taken a trip abroad, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts, not only about your experiences, but about any future plans you may be considering.

We felt perfectly safe as vaccinated travelers; we fell naturally into the routine of masks in public places, limited passengers in an elevator, social distancing and constant handwashing and sanitizing, although we sometimes did it all with wry smiles and perfunctory observance. We also appreciated (and took advantage of) every opportunity to shed our masks, even if only for a few breaths of fresh outdoor air, or when nursing a cool drink in the company of others.

One final thought: I have to hope that none of us will easily abandon our travel plans. Travel is the single most valuable step we can take to learn about this world we all inhabit, the best way to forge understanding of different cultures and ideas, and the only way to become truly educated citizens of the world we all share. Travel enriches us all.

Let’s don’t give up on that idea. If you’re thinking of a cruise, a guided tour, a flight to an exotic destination, even a cozy stay at a B&B across the state line, go for it. Plan it, do it, enjoy every moment and return home safe, refreshed and full of the wonder of it all.

I do not know what the future holds. Perhaps, as 2022 dawns, what we must all hold onto is hope. May the new year be better for all.

To echo the words of Rick Steves: “Keep on travelin’.”

Eureka: What an experience

I don’t quite know what to say about Eureka Springs. It’s equal parts history, natural beauty and distinctive character. And for a quick weekend getaway, it’s a delight! There’s a lot to like about this small town (population only about 2,100) in the beautiful Ozark Mountains of northern Arkansas. It’s unique, and in some ways it feels stuck in time. That, too, is part of its mystique. It has charm, for sure.

Eureka Springs was first settled in 1879, and named on July 4 of that year. There are wonderful old homes — many of them now B&Bs — that rival San Francicsco’s “painted ladies.” Log cabins, imposing stacked stone family homes and simple, single-story cottages exist along steep inclines and winding lanes. There are pizza places galore. There are casual diners and a few fast-food outlets; there are fine dining places with white linen tablecloths and attentive waiters. Old-fashioned bars attract a biker crowd come to ride the high curves and twisting back lanes. A local brewery and plenty of watering holes with more than their share of character and characters attract lively, friendly crowds.

On the labyrinthian streets, you’ll find historic buildings housing trinket and t-shirt shops, underground grottos from which the “healing waters” once flowed freely, an old-time photo parlor that proclaims “Weddings Performed” and distinctive hotels and eateries. Street art and street musicians coexist in the small downtown. Public sculpture and old memorials are much in evidence, as are the public buildings and hotels with historical plaques.

A well-preserved Carnegie Free Library is a commanding presence on one of the main streets, and it’s still in use. The old depot and railroad roundhouse are attractions at the edge of town; a popular excursion takes visitors on a four-and-a-half-hour trip over restored Eureka Springs and North Arkansas track. You can also book a lunch or dinner expedition ride to enjoy a trip into the past in a restored dining car. Along the way are extraordinary scenic vistas.

For a first-time visitor, an orientation ride on the “hop on-hop off” Eureka Springs Transit is a must. Ride the four different routes for an overview of Eureka Springs. It’s as much a local public transportation staple as tourist aid, taking passengers almost anywhere in, and out of, town. Its price is more than reasonable at $6 a day for unlimited time and distance. You’ll rub shoulders with local residents toting grocery bags, and others on their way to work or heading home after a long day.

The varied routes are perfect for exploring at your own pace, and it certainly beats walking up and down steep hills on foot, or trudging long distances in unfamiliar territory.

Drivers are helpful and knowledgeable, even willing to “bend” the schedule a bit so a rider can hop off and grab a free paper, or snap a cell phone photo of a giant sculpture from just the right angle! Stops are plentiful along each route and trams run every 20 to 30 minutes all day long, so there’s ample time to explore a site — or several — should you choose to do so.

We drove to Eureka Springs — it’s a pleasant four hour trip from our home. We traveled through pretty country on curving two-lane state highways. But, once there, we parked the car and rode the tram. It brought us to Thorncrown Chapel, where we were entranced with the architecture and the story of this inspiring place. The soaring wood and glass structure is perfectly integrated with its natural surroundings. The tram also brought us to the famed Passion Play site, with its recreated ancient Jerusalem stageset and other themed attractions. The 65-foot high Christ of the Ozarks statue, reminiscent of similar works in Rio de Janeiro, Lisbon and Havana, towers above the surrounding forest, but is perhaps more impressive from a distance than it is up close.

The downtown trolley station is well-situated for a walk around town. Visitors can enjoy lunch, browse funky shops, visit the historical museum or simply admire wall murals and interesting architecture. Spend as long as you like, knowing that another tram will arrive within just minutes. On a walk about town or in any neighborhood, you’ll find something wonderful around almost every corner: a grotto carved into a hillside, an iron fence dripping with flowering vines, the suggestion of a face in a towering old oak, a lush garden with a bubbling fountain, whimsical yard art decorated with strings of lights, or a house clinging to a cliffside over a massive boulder. There is beautiful statuary and whimsical signage.

We could have disembarked for a visit to the Crescent Hotel, built in 1884 and known for its resident ghosts and always-fully-booked ghost tours. Its site, at the crest of the highest hill in Eureka Springs, is reason enough to want to spend some time there (which we did, later the same day, when we returned for pizza at the fourth-floor Sky Bar. The view was mystical, with a haunting landscape of moving mist that shrouded the mountains all about us. Gleaming white in the distance, the Christ of the Ozarks watched over the setting with outstretched arms.

Although experiencing Eureka Springs can feel a bit like entering a time warp, being thrust into the long-ago culture of a small town is magical, if a bit disorienting. Residents insist that everybody knows everyone else, and that no one bothers to lock their doors. We stayed just two nights at The Bridgeford House, a charming B&B conveniently located on Spring Street. Its location put us only a few steps from the trolley stop, and we were greeted by waves from friendly passengers as we enjoyed breakfast on the front porch, served with a smile by Innkeeper Will Lawlor, who is himself a relative newcomer to Eureka Springs. We enjoyed chatting with him, and sharing our impressions of this interesting historic destination.

Is Eureka Springs worth a visit? Absolutely. It’s nothing if not unique!

Leaving home, again and again . . .

Leaving home, again and again . . .

When I’m traveling, I try to ask other people why they travel. It’s a good way to strike up conversations with strangers, and every trip is better when experiences are shared with other people. Beyond that, though, I am deeply interested in why people leave home and family with a desire to see unknown places. The answers are telling, running the gamut from “Because I can,” to “It’s fun,” to “I’m checking another place off my bucket list!”

Some say they travel to see things; others because they have an interest in food or nature, in art or history, in geography or the geo-political and cultural qualities that both unite and separate us. Some simply have the time, energy and funds to be away from home as much as possible. A few enjoy collecting “travel trophies.”

My personal favorite? “I’ve never been here before.

Whatever the underlying reason, there is no doubt that more people travel to more places more often than ever before in history. At least they used to — before COVID-19. As restrictions are lifted and confidence in the efficacy of vaccines and effective treatments grows, travel is sure to rebound.

U.S. airlines and foreign carriers serving U.S. destinations carried an all-time high of 1.1 billion systemwide (domestic and international) scheduled service passengers in 2019, 3.9% more than the previous annual record high of 1.0 billion reached in 2018.

In 2018 alone, according to The Maritime Executive, 28.5 million people booked a cruise. That number rose in 2019 to 29.7 million. And then, in early 2020, the cruise industry shut down, virtually within days, due to the Coronavirus pandemic. However, the Los Angeles Times reported one year ago that bookings for 2021 were up more than 40% over 2019. Today, even though cruising has resumed only marginally in the United States, and only a few ships are sailing from foreign ports, there is much demand.

Cruise line schedules are now available for the 2022, 2023 and even 2024 seasons. Undoubtedly, new records will be set, and each reintroduced itinerary becomes a reality. Right now, prices are low, and ships are not filled to capacity, so if you’re considering a cruise, book now.

There is little dispute about the enormous pent-up demand. “Other places” now seem more appealing than ever before. World travelers and families who have been too long without a vacation are once again looking at places to go, whether they be budget getaways or luxury resorts. If you relate more to “getting gone” than to coming home, as I do, then you no doubt know the feeling.

The Realities of Cruising in a Post-Pandemic World

With that in my mind, I recently booked a quick four-night cruise out of Galveston, Texas, as a “dip my toes in the water” experience. Just before the world shutdown, my husband and I had sneaked in a short Royal Caribbean cruise out of Galveston to Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico, so it was fitting that we should pick a similar itinerary for our return to cruising. I am happy to report that, although this journey was much too short to qualify as a dream vacation trip, it was a good experience. I can now say with conviction that I am ready to begin traveling again in earnest; to once again anticipate the thrill of new ports and foreign destinations.

Cruising is different today, to be sure. One of the most noticeable differences right now is the reduced numbers. On Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas last week, a ship with more than 1,900 passenger staterooms meant for at least two occupants per cabin, there were just over 1,200 guests. There were probably an equal number of crew members. The ship was not empty, but it was quiet. There were other differences as well; Some venues had reduced hours and there was no buffet dining available for dinner. But the atmosphere was upbeat, and the service was impeccable. Ship’s crew and port staff were attentive, informed and obviously happy to be back at work.

Read more in coming days about our experiences on this short cruise.

Cleaning and sanitizing protocols are extensive and enforced; all crew is masked at all times; and guests are required to don masks in public areas and encouraged to wash hands and/or sanitize often. Surfaces are frequently cleaned and wiped, and the percentage of vaccinated guests is near 100%, except for children under 12. I am certain the same is true for all cruise lines. All passengers were required to show proof of a negative COVID test performed no more than two days prior to boarding. My travel companions and I felt perfectly safe and protected on board.

In case you’re wondering, I have already booked other trips — for later this fall and early next spring. So, when the time is right to leave home once again, where is it that you will go?

As Jack Kerouac wrote, “All of life is a foreign country.”

I hope you’ll come along with me to see the world through my lens. And I can’t help but hope that you’ll also venture out to see the world for yourselves.

Rubber Duckies: Back at Sea

Note: This post was first published as “Rubber Duckies and the Road Ahead” in August 2016; it has been revised slightly and updated to reflect new information about the continuing duck craze!

Several years ago I wrote a column about rubber duckies, discussing the pervasive fascination with that familiar childhood bathtub toy. Who doesn’t love a rubber duck?

3478249785_bc1b8b1ae5_z

A personalized rubber duckie was one of the first gifts I bought for my grandson — that turned into a progression (and a collection) of rubber duckies of various colors and costumes. The obsession spilled over into gifts for my then high-school-teacher son (Professor Duck) and various other family members, and ducks for each succeeding holiday. Then, like other enthusiasms, my duck-gifting phase ran its course to echoes of “Enough, Mom, enough.” 

Rubber Duckies are available in all sizes, a few varied shapes, numerous colors and with all sorts of “costumes” and personalities.  However, the perennial favorite is still the yellow version, with bright orange bill and black eyes. Many collections feature “one of a kind” or limited-edition duckies; Stories are circulated about duck adventures, and tales are told of lost or rescued ducks.  Ducks are used in NASA glacier-tracking experiments, and there are still sightings of some of the group of “globe-trotting” ducks that “jumped ship” in the Pacific in January of 1992.  Really.

Rubber Duck Races, generally to benefit local charities, are held from Seattle to the Ozarks, from Washington, D.C., to Crested Butte, from Texas to Tahoe.  One of the largest duck races is in Hawaii, and some of the most informal are held in small town creeks, canals and even in swimming pools.

I am still tempted when I see an especially appealing little duck in a store window. And I gasped with delight at news photographs of a giant rubber duck making its way through Lake Superior at a Tall Ships Festival in Duluth, Minn. In August of this year, a 25-foot-tall mystery duck with the word “JOY” emblazoned on its chest appeared mysteriously, to the delight of local residents, in the harbor in Belfast, Me. Then, just as mysteriously, it disappeared.

So, imagine my surprise when I encountered a stylized rubber “duckie” with mane and tail in the middle of Virginia horse country during a summer road trip.

20160610_082651

I was immediately smitten, not only with the little rubber horsie that perched on the edge of the Lexington motel room bathtub, but with the motel itself. After the whoops and the grins — and the picture-taking — I thought about the marketing genius that played to the playfulness of tired travelers.

The clerk was accommodating, more than willing to let us pick a mate for our little rubber traveling companion, only exacting a promise that we would honor the commitment to snap pictures as we traveled on. That we did, and the little horsie-ducks happily sat on the dashboard — a pair of cute mascots — for the next 3,000 or so miles of our journey. They traveled through city traffic, along country roads, into Quebec and Ontario, skirted along several of the Great Lakes and sat under the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. It proved, I think, that we are never too old for a little silliness in our lives.

Our little companions abandoned their perch on the dashboard when the temperature soared regularly above 100 degrees back home in Texas. But they accompanied us on several other adventures; today they spend most of their time perched happily on a shelf in my office, joined by a sizable “paddling” of ducks collected from many places over the years.

Just recently, during a quick weekend visit to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, The Bridgeford House, a charming B&B, had a pair of ducks perched on the edge of the jetted tub in our bathroom. I was delighted, but I allowed them to stay to greet future guests.

Rubber ducks on cruise ships, some with “passports” and others with “tickets” and messages from previous owners were regularly hidden on cruise ships prior to the cessation of cruising in early 2020 due to the pandemic. They had gained a large following aboard major cruise lines. Now, we understand, the craze has gained new life, and there are numerous cruising ducks pages on Facebook. It’s a phenomenon of the times, with a number of spinoffs — crocheted ducks, duck jewelry and key chains, duck towels and duck art — for fun-loving “adult children” at sea and on land.

Some cruise lines have embraced the fun, selling ducks and duck-themed gifts in onboard shops. And some crew members are enthusiastic collectors as well! Rubber duckies don’t take up much space or make a mess; they are exceedingly patient and compliant travelers, requiring no special accommodations or food. But they did, do and will continue to make us smile! So, if you come across a duck in your travels, feel free to to befriend it and take it home. Or let it remain in its hiding place to bring a smile to another face. Post a photo on one of the online groups, if you choose, or rehide it to give someone else the pleasure of finding it. Release your inner child, and just enjoy the experience. I have only found one duck on board a ship, but you can bet I’ll be keeping my eyes open next time I sail.

*Multicolored duck photo by Jo Naylor/Flickr; others by Adrienne Cohen; The motel was the Comfort Inn Virginia Horse Center, Lexington, VA, and The Bridgeford House B&B is located at 263 Spring St., Eureka Springs, AR.

Two decades ago . . .

Over the past 20 years I have written many times about the events of September 11, 2001, and about feelings and my memories of that day. There is no need to write more. Twenty years is a long time; and still today the stark reality of what occurred that day is as sharp and as painful as ever. Today, I will spend some time remembering, as so many of us will. It is one of those life events that simply cannot be set aside.

Whether we would choose to or not, we who lived through the hours of 9-11, and the long days that followed, can never forget. So, today, as I gather with new friends to commemorate the loss and the sacrifices of that day, I thought I would repost just one piece from the past. As the note at the end explains, it was prompted by the reaction of a then-11-year-old boy who was upset by a morning radio report. I wanted to give him some comfort and some hope at the time. I can only hope it did, and that, in some small way, it might comfort others as well.

Here, then, with just a couple of changes, is what I wrote on September 11, 2019:

Dear Children:

Posted on September 11, 2019 by Adrienne Cohen

Some days are just not like all the rest. They can be different from all others for just one person, for a family, for a whole country, and sometimes for the whole world. Days worth remembering can be happy days or they can be sad days.

Often, good things happen even on sad days.

On September 11, 2001, something terrible happened in New York City. Two skyscrapers were destroyed; two separate airplanes flew into the buildings. People in New York watched in horror. Others around the country, even in other countries, watched via television, and were stunned.

You have probably heard people say, “Never forget.” On the world’s clock 18 years ago, time stopped for some people. The details aren’t quite as important as the feelings and the memories that people have of that day. It started much like any other, with families waking up, having breakfast, and getting ready to go to work, or to school, to take a trip, or to have fun with friends.

But then it all changed — and it changed very quickly from a normal day to one that would be remembered in a very different way. In New York City, and in Washington, D.C., and in a field in Pennsylvania, four separate airplanes crashed, three of them into buildings filled with people. Many people in those planes and in those buildings died.

It was, and it still is, a very sad day.

Never Forget

Your parents and grandparents, and the parents and grandparents of your friends who lived through that day and the weeks that followed have many different reasons for wanting to remember. Some want to honor friends and family members. Others want our country to remember, so that nothing like this will have to happen again. Some look at the day as a piece of history that ought to be studied. Nothing quite like it had ever happened before.

It was a sad day. But it was also a time when many strangers helped and hugged one another, and when an entire city, a whole country, and most of the world came together in shock and sadness, and almost immediately began to take steps that would prevent something similar from happening again.

If you feel like crying today as you hear some of the stories, or if you don’t understand why all adults can’t just agree that it’s over and move on, or if it makes you afraid in some secret place in your head that something bad might happen to you, know that you are not alone. Adults sometimes feel all those things too. Everyone does! 

The truth is that people sometimes act badly, and life can be cruel. But more often, when truly terrible things happen, most people react differently; they act in really good ways. They try hard to keep others safe and to make them feel better. That is exactly what happened on this day 18 years ago. Some very normal people almost became superheroes on that day.

The adults who lived through 9-11 are getting older now. But their children, and the children whose fathers or mothers, aunts and uncles, grandparents, neighbors and friends were hurt or killed on 9-11, are growing up, and they continue to help other people and to help mend the world in ways they might not have done otherwise.

That’s what we should remember. So, when you hear those words, “Never forget,” know that sadness has another side, and hope and goodness really do exist.

Always.

It’s okay to remember the sadness of 9-11, but we can all go on, working to make all tomorrows better, brighter and happier for us all. That’s exactly what we need to do now. We need to go on and work hard to make tomorrow not only different, but better and brighter for everyone.

Note:  What prompted this? I  heard this morning from my grandson’s mother that he had a “pretty emotional reaction” to a morning radio show mention of losing friends on 9-11. She also noted that her memory of that day centers on morality and resiliency, and that she would share this video with him. I’ll share it too, for anyone else who needs something inspiring and uplifting today. 

Read the original post here.

About Arkansas

It’s called the Natural State, or sometimes the Diamond State. After moving to Arkansas in the midst of the pandemic, my husband and I have now been residents of this state for a full year. We have settled into a new routine, and now we’re more than ready to venture out to see what prompted those labels for Arkansas. Within minutes of our home are both a national park and a national forest. Numerous state parks, mountains, lakes, rivers and historical sites are not much further afield. Getting to them is easy by car, and we have already enjoyed quick road trips on back roads to learn the lay of the land, as they say.

We like what we see.

We also just acquired a “new to us” vehicle, purchased with the sole intent of having fun as we explore some of the interesting highways and byways of our adopted home state. It’s a convertible, so we can feel the wind in our hair on pleasant drives when weather permits. As anyone who knows me knows, I typically try to avoid interstate highways, much preferring back roads and curvy lanes where it’s easy to catch a glimpse of wildlife, wildflowers in the fields, odd signs and old buildings.

We like pulling off the road to have a closer look if we see something interesting, and we have been known to follow hand-lettered signs to classic car shows, country stores, out-of-the-way fudge shops, charming churchyards and old battlefields. Bear that in mind as I take you to some unique destinations. We have found also that there are plenty of friendly folks in smaller towns, folks who, for the most part, are only too willing to stop whatever it is they’re doing and tell us about what we’re about to discover.

Sometimes we pack a picnic, or we’ll stop for a quick bite and a cool drink anyplace that seems a little quirky. We might look for a quaint B&B or a rustic cabin, but many of our jaunts don’t require an overnight away from home. Most of the time we don’t make reservations. We are footloose and fancy free at this point in our lives. Until we are free to travel globally again without restrictions, warnings (or masks) we will probably stay closer to home. We have decided that’s okay for now, so we’re busy planning more regular getaways. I hope you’ll come along.

Here’s a peek just to whet your appetite for what’s to come. I take lots of pictures, so they’re the focus right now — the stories will come later; I’m saving my words for later and longer trips. For now, I’ll just share some Hot Springs sights, beginning with random shots around Hot Springs and the home turf that we have come to love.

In case you’re wondering, the hot springs still flow . . . and, like many other locals, we make a weekly trip to the city’s free spigots to fill our water bottles. It’s nature’s gift to us, and it’s really good water!

We want to explore Hot Springs more fully, and we will do that this winter, when it becomes somewhat quiet again after summer tourists leave. The National Park that encompasses the city just celebrated its centennial. Land that contains the natural thermal springs was set aside as Hot Springs Reservation in 1832, but the area was mapped initially under an order to explore the southern Louisiana purchase, issued by President Thomas Jefferson in 1804.

The sprawling Ouachita National Forest extends westward from the Hot Springs area throughout much of Arkansas and into eastern Oklahoma, and it too is only minutes away, with all its natural beauty. We want to get out to the forest more as well. And Arkansas state parks, judging by Petit Jean where we spent a wonderful couple of hours not long ago, is not only delightful, but it’s an easy day trip!

Long may it wave. . .

 

Today is a day for waving the flag. It always has been. On this most American of American holidays, Old Glory — the red, white and blue — is displayed prominently everywhere. Along with the fireworks, the hot dogs and brats, sauerkraut and beans, potato salad and beer, it is a quintessential American holiday. I love it, and so do most people I know.

Other countries also have national holidays, and they’re wonderful as well. But this one is mine. I am an American, above all, and I celebrate the history of my country and the heritage of my forebears who worked to build and preserve this nation.

This weekend I will celebrate! With outdoor concerts and picnics, with old friends and new acquaintances, on the lake and in the park, I will celebrate. Here in Hot Springs Village, the celebration has continued since Friday, culminating in a “beach party” and fireworks over Lake Balboa tonight. I have enjoyed it all, but at some point in the celebration, I will pause to remember why.

I will celebrate the freedom that was proclaimed for us all 255 years ago, and won anew in skirmishes that extended for years, until a decisive battle was won against the British in September of 1814. It was the battle that led to the penning of the poem that was to become our National Anthem.

And it was the tattered American flag flying over Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor “in the dawn’s early light,” that inspired Francis Scott Key to write those words. How different history would have been had it been the Union Jack that he saw.  However, it was not until 1931 that The Star-Spangled Banner was adopted as our national anthem.

Have a wonderful Fourth of July everyone.

 

 

 

 

77 Years Ago — Another Time and Place

A new fighter group was activated on June 1, 1943 and was assigned to the Los Angeles Air Defense Wing, IV Fighter Command, of the United States Fourth Air Force at March Field, California. One week later, three squadrons were assigned to the group, each with a cadre of 40 enlisted men; The squadrons were led by captains, while a lieutenant colonel commanded the group.

The group moved to Van Nuys, California, in August, and by mid-September, each squadron had a roster of between 40 and 44 officers and from 189 to 217 enlisted men. Training intensified in October to include mock dogfights in the air over the Pacific, with the three squadrons flying out of separate fields in Southern California. Mock dogfights were staged over the Pacific with naval pilots from a nearby port. Sadly, during training, a number of aircraft crashed and several pilots were injured or lost their lives.

Just after Christmas, the 364th Fighter Group passed muster and was deemed ready to engage an enemy. At that time, men assigned to the group did not know where they would be going. The question was answered when on January 13, orders were received and the next day, the entire group departed California on a troop train bound for New York, arriving five days later. The men received final physicals and 12-hour passes on a staggered basis until, at about 8 p.m. on February 1, all were boarded onto another train, then transferred to ferries in New York Harbor, arriving at a cargo dock under cover of night.

A first-hand account of that night is in the history book of the 364th, produced in 1991 by those who had survived the ensuing months and years of war, and finally were ready to share their memories of it.

“We had time to guzzle hot coffee (viewed now in retrospect as a fabulous luxury) and doughnuts proffered by the Red Cross. The more enterprising, though perhaps not too security-minded, of the squadron were able to learn from the M.P.s that our ship was the Queen Elizabeth, that we would go unescorted, and land in Glasgow in seven days. All of which predictions proved correct.”

The ship, planned as a luxury transatlantic liner, had been outfitted earlier as a troop carrier, and she did, indeed, sail to Europe with precious cargo, but with no military escort. The men of the 364th Fighter Group, now part of the 8th Air Force in Europe, boarded a train immediately upon disembarkation for transfer to Honington Field in Suffolk, England, “where both officers and enlisted men were quartered in more luxurious quarters than we had ever had in the United States of America.”

Mission No. 1 was flown by two of the squadrons of the 364th Fighter Group on March 2, 1944, less than one month after arriving in England. They “supplied withdrawal for bombers returning from Germany.” The account of that first mission notes: “Lt. Kenneth Nicholson had to abort. Returning on one engine, he belly landed the P-38. The plane was the only casualty.”

During the rampup to D-Day, operations for the 364th Fighter Group were “costly,” with the loss of 18 pilots in May and 137 planes aborted. It was just the third month of combat for the group

On June 5, 50 P-38s were a part of Mission 62, termed an “area support mission” in the official records. The invasion fleet had departed from the English coast, and “Neptune” had begun. Missions 63 through 117 were flown in the 10-day period from June 6 through June 15. The following day, the three squadrons of the 364th Fighter Group returned to flying “normal” combat missions.

Once again, from the history of the 364th Fighter Group:

“Major Brad McManus led off the first section of the 383rd at 0330 hours with 16 planes flying. The take-off was in a blinding rain and trying to make formation over the base was a challenge to say the least. . . .

“On the day’s last mission of the 8th of June, Lt. Loren Wilson (383rd) was heard to say over the R/T, ‘Hell, B.B. (his flight leader, Lt. B.B. Wilson) I’ve lost you. I’m going back.’ Lt. Wilson never returned to the base and a crashed P-38 was later found south of London. This was the only loss the Group suffered while flying 321 sorties.”

Today, on the 77th anniversary of D-Day, I cannot help but return to the entries that detail this one American fighter group’s part in that war. Just last week, on Memorial Day, we paid tribute to those who lost their lives, not only on D-Day, but in all the battles waged by this country against foes around the world.

However, for me, World War II remains unique. My father was there — first in California to train with the newly-formed fighter group. He was on that five-day troop train journey from the West Coast to the East, and he was on board as the liner decked out in battleship grey, the ship he called “the Lizzie,” made her way unescorted from New York to Scotland. He was there at Honington on June 6. He was 25 years old. Even though he did not fly, I know he waited with concern for planes and pilots to return from each mission. I know he grieved when they did not return as scheduled.

He did not talk about those days, nor did he talk much about the war, or about other battles in other wars. I suspect he carried vivid memories of the war years, but he chose not to share them with me. But the pride he felt about being a member of the 364th Fighter Group during World War II was something he never hid.

The last Mission of the 364th was flown from Honington on May 6, 1945, not quite two years after the fighter group’s activation. During its short life span it achieved a remarkable record, flying P-38s and, later, P-51s. The fighter group was deactivated on November 10, 1945. My father returned home from England in July 1945, with the expectation of being transferred to the the Pacific Theater of Operations. Thankfully, the war ended before he received his orders.

So, now I try to piece together the stories I wish I had heard from him, and I share his pride in the unit, and the service members — all of them — who played a part in the effort that culminated in D-Day 1944.

Decoration Day

Today is Memorial Day. It was proclaimed so only in 1971, by an act of Congress, to be celebrated on the last Monday in May, but the tradition of decorating gravesites and paying tribute to those who died in battle, or as a result of injuries sustained in service, goes back a lot further in time. Some say it was always a Southern tradition. It is true that May 30 was celebrated as Decoration Day, beginning in 1866, following a declaration by U.S. Gen. John A. Logan, who took his inspiration from the practice of cleaning and decorating relatives’ graves each spring, especially the gravesites of Confederate dead.

I was privileged last Friday to be one of a small group who volunteered to place flags in a single section of the Little Rock National Cemetery for Memorial Day. In a little more than two hours, our group of nine decorated more than 1,800 headstones with the small, simple reminders that a nation still honors those who died in wars fought to defend the freedoms we now enjoy.

The day was first celebrated nationally in the United States in 1868, during a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., where both Union and Confederate dead are buried. As the years passed, it came to be known as Memorial Day, and after World War I, the same date was celebrated across the United Kingdom, and elsewhere in the world as Poppy Day or Remembrance Day. The tradition continues, but in many places, the date has come to be celebrated not as a tribute to those who gave their lives in service to the country, but as a party weekend that signals the beginning of summer.

Perhaps there is room for both.

I choose, each Memorial Day, to take at least a few moments to pay tribute to those who died so that my family and I can live in peace and enjoy the coming summer’s activities. As the proud daughter of a retired military officer, the wife of another former Army officer, and the descendant of many men who served honorably in war and peace in our country’s past, I cannot forget the sacrifices of those who served, both at home and in foreign lands and did not return to enjoy the privileges that they won in battle.

I have written before about my visits to battlefields, and my feelings. I could not help but recall, as I planted small flags aside the headstones of men and women I did not know, those other visits and those other feelings. When the work was done, I took a few moments to walk alone among other markers at the Little Rock Cemetery. Sadly, there were not enough volunteers this year to place flags at all the headstones — many of them date to the Civil War. Separate burial grounds of Confederate and Union soldiers have been incorporated into the grounds of the National Cemetery.

The markers and their inscriptions are telling. Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War. History is alive in this somber place. Veterans from all services who have markers here served in all the battles this country has been engaged in — from that war between the states to foreign battles in which we had no stake. Most of them did not die in battle; they died as old men, but they served, and that service changed them. I am sure that, until the end of their days, they took pride in their service, knowing that what they did allows the rest of us to live our lives in relative peace and prosperity until the end of our days.