Traveling in the Time of COVID

When my husband mentioned to a friend that we were traveling to Canada this summer, his friend said, “Wow, that’s brave” (and, by “brave,” I think he meant “crazy”). While any amount of traveling – whether to a foreign country, another state, or another county – could be considered brave (or crazy) during a pandemic, this trip felt like a pretty safe bet for us.

As this chart from the New York Times indicates, our journey would take us from a country with relatively high infection rates to a country that, for the most part, appeared to be taking the pandemic seriously. When we learned in July that the Canadian border would open August 9th to fully vaccinated U.S. tourists, we started to finalize plans for our trip north.

In normal times, a road trip up the length of California, then through Oregon and Washington, would be a wonderful opportunity to visit friends and favorite spots along the way. But because we knew that we would have to get COVID tests within 72 hours of crossing the border, we decided to play it safe and take the most direct route with the fewest number of stops. Long days of driving and eating mostly at fast food establishments (where it is possible to get fresh salads) isn’t our favorite way to travel but we didn’t want to get within miles of our destination and find out that we had contracted COVID somewhere along the way.

Even with hours and hours of driving, we found that arriving at our carefully selected overnight stops in the late afternoon gave us great opportunities to stroll around their historic districts and discover lower risk outdoor dining opportunities. That turned out to be more fun than expected.

We had arranged to have our COVID tests two days before we were to cross the border at a facility that guaranteed results in 24 hours. The following day, we had our (negative!) test results and just one more overnight stay before queueing up early to be among the first American tourists to cross the border.

Because of other blogs you follow, some of you already know a main focus of our trip to Vancouver Island was to meet up with a group of bloggers who have become dear friends. We are all fully vaccinated and we knew that most of our activities would be outdoors enjoying the island’s amazing natural beauty. We hiked through forests, explored beaches, ate in some lovely outdoor restaurants (including some excellent food trucks), and partied on the patios of our friends’ homes.

During our almost month-long stay, we managed to pack in a ton of fun, miles of hiking, lots of laughter and maybe a little too much eating, all while staying safe and COVID-free. Since several of the bloggers have already written about the fabulous time we had (Donna, Retirement Reflections and another post; Erica, Behind the Scenery; Kathy, SMART Living 365), I will let their posts tell that part of the story.

In order to cross the border into Canada, my husband and I were required to present our passports, proof of vaccination, and documented negative COVID test results. To cross the border back into the United States, all we had to do is show the border guard our passports and assure him that we didn’t have any fruit in our car.

Crossing back into the U.S. felt a lot braver – and perhaps crazier – then traveling to Canada.  

Sunday Stills: Summer Bugs

We’re lucky to live in an area that doesn’t have too many bugs… at least the type of bugs that bug us.

We have insects:

… and we have arachnids:

But buggy bugs? Not so much.

I was at a loss when I saw that this week’s Sunday Still photo prompt was Summer Bugs, until I thought of my first car: a 1972, chartreuse, Volkswagen Super Beetle. I loved that car, not only because it was as cute as a bug, but because of the sense of freedom it gave me.

Cool car, unfortunate perm

Although that car is long gone, I still love VW Bugs, as my photo archives will attest. Here are just a few pictures of VDubs that I have taken over the years while traveling.  

Bugs found along Route 66

The Bug Farm in Conway, Texas has a permanent crop of five Volkswagen beetles planted nose-down in the ground. It is a parody of the more famous Cadillac Ranch in nearby Amarillo.

In Holbrook, Arizona, just down the street from the Wigwam Motel (yes, each “room” is shaped like a teepee, and, yes, we stayed there), is Kester’s Bug Shop. where they have bugs of unique shapes and sizes.

Bugs of Mexico

Vintage VW Bugs are everywhere on the streets of Mexico… some are in better shape than others.

Hometown Bugs

These bugs were discovered in our neighborhood.

A shy bug hiding behind a plumeria bush
A neighbor is restoring a 1971 Super Beetle

This week’s theme for Terri Webster Schrandt’s Sunday Stills photo prompt is Summer Bugs. See Terri’s photographs on her blog, Second Wind Leisure. If you have some favorite bug images, please join in!

Sunday Stills: A Change of Altitude

It’s almost as if Terri (Second Wind Leisure) knew that my husband and I would be spending a few days up in the mountains when she came up with The Great Outdoors as this week’s Sunday Stills photo topic. Although I often have to search my files for images when I join in on one of her photo challenges, this time all I did was walk out the door of our little cabin and there it was… the great outdoors!

We were delighted when our friends, Kathy (Smart Living 365) and Thom, invited us to join them for a few days at their mountain retreat in nearby Idyllwild. The cabin they have rented for a number of years has a mini-cabin situated just a few steps away. It’s perfect for the hosts and the guests – lots of opportunities to connect, but enough separation so that everyone can have some privacy and alone time.

We hiked:

We hugged trees (and each other):

Kathy and Thom showing a tree some love.

We moved boulders:

Full disclosure: it didn’t budge (thank goodness!).

We watched the sunset… :

A fire a couple of years ago left these trees bare, but still beautiful.

… just before the full strawberry moon rose:

We enjoyed great conversations:

There may have been some adult beverages involved.

And, we marveled at nature’s artistry:

I loved how the bark’s texture changed closer to the soil.

The red bark of the Manzanita starts to peel, reveling the new growth below.
I think I saw a mountain gorilla on the trail… or not.

The few days that we were able to enjoy the clear mountain air and expansive vistas were just what we needed. There is nothing quite like spending time in the great outdoors to reduce stress, encourage reflection, and help us appreciate the gifts of Mother Nature.

Thursday Doors: Interplanetary Portal

I have had a photograph sitting in my archives for a few years, with vague plans to share it in some future Thursday Doors post. When I read that Dan Antion (No Facilities) had created a Writing Challenge based on door images, I figured this would be a good time.  

Writing Challenge, you ask? Yes – Dan, the keeper of all things Thursday Doors, came up with the brilliant idea of having door photographers provide inspiration for writers.  

I found this door about three years ago while on an artists’ studio tour in Southern California’s high desert, not too far from Joshua Tree National Park. It was on property owned by artist Snake Jagger, who often includes a door very much like this – standing slightly ajar, alone in the distance – in his whimsical surreal landscapes. I love that he built a three-dimensional door that looks just like the doors in his paintings. The structure is no deeper than a sheet of wood. The illusion of depth is created with perspective.   

Please join in!

If you want to participate as a photographer: create your own Thursday Doors post and share your images. Be sure to link to Dan’s post.

If you want to participate as a writer: plan to post your door-inspired writing on your blog anytime between now and May 29th. (I’d be thrilled if you used my door as inspiration but, if space aliens or portals to other worlds aren’t your thing and you’d like to select another door, there will be plenty of others to choose from.) Include a link to Dan’s site and attribute the door image to the photographer.

If you want to participate both as a photographer and a writer: get busy!

For more specific information about how to participate in the challenge, please read Dan’s original announcement.

Sunday Stills: Winter(ish) White

Most often, to find images for Terri’s weekly photo prompt, I look in my files for existing pictures that match the theme. This time, I decided to use the week’s prompt, “Things that are White” as the inspiration for a scavenger hunt.

My husband and I woke up one day last week to glorious blue skies and temperatures that were predicted to reach the low 70s. Although it seldom gets too cold in Southern California, a winter day like this – especially one in the middle of the week – begs to be enjoyed outside. We decided to take a quick drive up the coast to the beachside community of La Jolla, to search for things that are white.

Kayak tour to explore the sea caves.

Right away, we saw a whole flotilla of kayakers. There are several local kayak rental companies that offer tours, and each has their own hull color for easy identification. This group, on this day, happened to be in white kayaks. I felt that we were off to a great start on our hunt.

The white cliffs of guano

A little bit further on our walk, we came across cliffs covered with white bird… ummmm… poop. The pelicans and sea lions are fun to watch, but the smell made us move along quickly.

The ocean was relatively calm that day, but we still saw a lot of waves with whitewater foam. If you look closely at the first picture, some of those “rocks” in the foreground are actually sea lions basking in the sun.  

A black and white gull is more interested in treats someone might throw to him than he is in the view.

A white rescue surfboard is at the ready just in case someone gets into trouble out in the water.

White shells embedded in cement.

More white sea spray in the distance. It was an especially low tide this day so there were a lot of tidal pools to explore.

Back up on the main street, we passed by the historical La Valencia Hotel, which was built in 1926. Black and white umbrellas and window awnings are set off against the hotel’s iconic rosy exterior. (Oh, and look: a white SUV!)

And, finally, the white and red hat made famous in the book, The Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss (a.k.a. Theodor Geisel) was a long-time resident of La Jolla and several local galleries carry his work.

Do you have pictures of things that are white? Join Terri’s Sunday Stills photo prompt to show us your images and see what others have shared.

Sunday Stills: The Silver Lining of Clouds

When I was young, my favorite summer days were those when cloudless Southern California skies promised idle afternoons baking my body at our local beaches. It wasn’t until I was older—after inflicting untold damage to my skin—that I started to truly appreciate clouds. Not only do they provide a respite from the heat and help block harmful UV rays, but they can make the sky so much more interesting to photograph.

Although one of my favorite things to photograph is the contrast of colors and shapes against a bright blue – and cloudless – sky…

… I am more often drawn to the interesting shapes and colors that clouds add to the image. Below is the same image with clouds (the original) and without (edited). I think the clouds add interest to the image, but you may prefer a clear sky. Many photo editing tools allow the original sky to be swapped for another so, even if Mother Nature offers one sky, you can choose something else.  

Looking towards San Miguel de Allende from the botanical gardens.

Sometimes cloud formations are so beautiful, they are the focus and there is little need to include much else in the image.

Have you ever seen clouds that are so perfectly situated in the sky, it’s almost if they were painted in that way?  

Ring around the sun in San Miguel de Allende.
Ring around the top spire of the Parroquia in San Miguel de Allende.

Clouds can also add interest to black and white landscape photographs. Without the puffy white clouds, the sky in both of these photos would have been dark gray and black and, I think, less interesting.

Big Island, Hawaii
Big Island, Hawaii

And, as any connoisseur of sunsets will agree, clouds – or the lack thereof – can make or break a spectacular display. After some practice, you can start to guess whether you should have your camera ready or not before the sun drops below the horizon.   

Key West, Florida
Southern California.

This week’s theme for Terri Webster Schrandt’s Sunday Stills photo challenge is Clouds and Fog. See Terri’s photographs on her blog, Second Wind Leisure.

Thursday Doors – Christmas in San Francisco

Back in the day, when we could travel without worry, my husband and I spent part of our Christmas holiday in the beautiful city by the bay: San Francisco. One of our favorite things to do in San Francisco is to walk and, if you’ve been there you already know, that means hills… lots of hills. In fact, I read that San Francisco is considered the second hilliest city in the world, next to La Paz, Bolivia.

The wonderful thing about hills, besides the great cardio workout you get, are the views they often provide when you arrive at the top:

At the top of Lombard Street (the “crookedest street in the world”) looking towards Coit Tower.
At the summit of Telegraph Hill looking out towards Alcatraz Island.

With its sweeping views, vibrant downtown, bustling waterfront, historical neighborhoods, and eclectic architecture, as long as you are in decent shape, the city is best observed on your feet (preferably shod in sturdy walking shoes). By walking rather than driving, you will also be better able to appreciate the Victorian beauties, especially when their doors are dressed up for the holidays. No blow-up plastic Santas here; the decorations are elegant and understated. It just takes a bit of bling to make a grand impression.

It has been a couple of years since we’ve been to San Francisco, but it’s a city that will always call us back. Even though we’ve been there many times, there is always more to see.

Thursday Doors is a weekly celebration of doors hosted by Dan Antion at No Facilities. Head on over to see his collection and to see what others have shared from around the world.

Wishing you and your family a safe and happy holiday and a wonderful year ahead!

Adjusting Our Comfort Levels

My husband and I were very strict about our personal isolation when Covid-19 started to be a thing. We planned our meals carefully and took advantage of shopping services when we needed groceries. We limited our interactions with friends and family to phone calls, emails, texts, and this new thing we’ve all learned about called Zoom. When we ventured out back then—for a walk or a drive—it was eerie how few people we encountered.

As time has progressed and more has been learned, we have adjusted our behaviors somewhat. We are still very careful about our interactions; we avoid crowds and don’t go anywhere we can’t control our physical distance from others. Anyone who thinks this whole thing is overblown or even a hoax, isn’t someone we choose to be around.

Although we still prepare most of our meals at home—same as pre-virus—we do get take-out from a few favorite restaurants now-and-then. We’ve enjoyed several driveway happy hours with small groups of friends, and I’ve attended a couple of book club meetings held in a member’s large backyard. We now go early-morning grocery shopping a couple of times a month at a small, local store and have ventured into Home Depot once or twice for needed supplies. We still take advantage of curbside pick-up when we can but, occasionally, we need to actually enter a store (we are the ones wearing both masks and gloves).

Happy hour with neighborhood friends.

What we hadn’t done up until a couple of weeks ago, is to travel more than a few miles from home—and certainly not overnight.

Then, some good friends of ours (Kathy, of SMART Living 365, and her husband, Thom) invited us to visit them during their stay at a mountain cabin. The cabin—one they have rented every summer for many years—is located in a small community a little over two hours from our home. It is nestled among the pine trees, features a large deck and, best of all, has a guest cabin on the same piece of land—just perfect for a two-night stay.

Physically distanced, socially together.

After six months of restricted movement and limited social interactions, we decided that spending a couple of days in the mountains with—physically, but not socially distanced—friends was worth the extremely small risk. We knew that they were as careful as we are, and their generous offer came with the understanding that we’d all do what was safe and comfortable.

Kloe (can you see her?) leads the way up the hill.
Between a rock and… another rock.
The red branches and green foliage of a Manzanita tree contrasts against the clear blue sky.

After so much time staying close to home, our short mountain get-away was rejuvenating . The vistas were gorgeous, the company warm and welcoming, and the conversations lively and thought-provoking. Although these last six months haven’t been the challenge for us that so many others have faced, we found that a change of scenery, new paths to explore and, most of all, spending time with good friends, was just the balm we needed to help sooth our souls.   

happy to get away.

Desktop Travel

A few weeks ago, I wrote that my computer had died and needed to be replaced. Although I wasn’t happy about the inconvenience or expense, I have discovered a silver lining (and, don’t we all need a few extra silver linings these days).

Sometime early last year, I took on the challenge of culling and organizing my digital photos. It took me several weeks to go through them all, delete duplicates and disappointments, and finally create eight distinct topic folders under which my images could be filed. Full disclosure that one of the eight folders was titled “Miscellaneous” but… whatever. I was awfully proud of myself when I finished and have been careful to keep everything mostly organized since then.

Until…

When setting up my new computer, old files were transferred from my two back-up hard drives to my desktop. Although this was done by a “professional,” the way the transfer was made pretty much set me back to square one. Suddenly, my new computer was full of all the duplicates and disappointments I had previously gotten rid of and there were multiples of everything, including several copies of the eight organized folders.

Someone less anal and terrified of losing anything probably would have just kept one complete set of the eight folders and deleted everything else. Not me. I had to go through everything once again to be sure what I was keeping and deleting was what I wanted to keep and delete.

I have finally finished the job and the images in my Pictures folder are all organized in their correct folders. No duplicates and very few disappointments (not every photo is a winner but some of the less-than-perfect ones can still be quite loveable).

I knew the task would be time-consuming; what I didn’t expect was how uplifting it would be. I got to travel again to Cuba, Canada, and Mexico, enjoy a cross-country road trip with my girlfriend, visit the Pacific Northwest and Atlantic Northeast, tour San Francisco and Key West, and get my kicks on Route 66.  

I also was able to travel back in time and enjoy dinner parties with friends and family, summer gatherings on our deck, and celebrations – large and small – with absolutely no social distancing, masks, or BYOEverything.

It was glorious.

If you are like me and have a lot of pictures filed away on your computer, I encourage you to do some time travel of your own. Just because flights have been canceled, travel delayed, and planned get-togethers put on hold, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a trip down memory lane.

It might be a good time to organize your photos and make sure everything is backed up, too.

Thursday Doors: Grand Doors

The colonial era of Mexico, when it was known as La Nueva España or New Spain, stretched on for 300 years, from the 16th century into the 19th. During this period, the Spanish destroyed many of the original sacred temples and religious sites, replacing them with buildings that reflected the style of architecture found in Spain.

Examples of its colonial past can be found all over the city of Oaxaca. Many of these buildings have been restored and are still in use today, the churches providing daily services, and monasteries and mansions repurposed as museums, galleries, shops, and hotels. Sadly, other colonial buildings are crumbling, victims of time and neglect (not to mention several substantial earthquakes that have rattled the city over the years).

Grand buildings often have grand entrances. This week’s Thursday Doors post features some of the doors leading to Oaxaca’s colonial history.

Behind the doors of Iglesia de Santo Domingo, a wedding ceremony is just about to conclude. The performers are waiting for the doors to open so the celebration – often lasting well into the night, and even into the next day – can begin.

The Basilica de la Senora de Soledad  – built between 1682 and 1690 – featured grand doors leading to other grand doors.

A side door of the Templo de San Matías Jalatlaco. I was tempted to remove the little white sign before I took this picture, but was afraid I’d be struck by lightning.

This church was rather simple compared to many of the huge stone churches in Oaxaca, but that’s probably why I liked it so much… that and its lovely iron gate.

The magnificent Teatro Macadonio Alcala hosts performances ranginging from operas to plays and classical concerts. My husband and I attended a performance of Madama Butterfly, which is set in Japan, live-streamed from the Met in New York, sung in Italian with Spanish subtitles. What a world.

Thursday Doors is a link-up of fellow door aficionados generously hosted by Norm Frampton. Head over to his blog to view all the amazing doors he and others have posted.