Sunday, May 24, 2009

Happy Memorial Day

I can remember a couple times when our family would load into the car and work our way around the small cemeteries of Nebraska and Kansas. We'd stop at the plots of our family members and leave some flowers then move to the next on our list.

As a child, this was a bit boring. As I got older I regretted that I did not do it more.

Last year, long after being recruited I finally joined the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War. My 3rd Great Grandfather was in the 171st Pennsylvania in 1862 & 63. This genealogical fact helped me win a scholarship back in high school and 13 years later I decided I'd waited long enough to join the order.

This was my first Memorial Day with the Sons and I was happy for it. They weren't my own family, but they were veterans of wars that allowed me to have the life I have. For a couple hours I strolled around the Mountain View Cemetery placing flags and flowers at the graves of the Union veterans. This was followed by a short ceremony, a tradition handed down through the years.

We were told stories about the cemetery and the souls resting there. Thaddeus Lowe, his wife Leontine and Eliza Johnston came to life through dedicated storytellers and impersonators. The Confederate sons did a three volley salute.

It felt right. It wasn't just about a day off or grilling in the park. It was about the men and women that bequeathed this country to us.

I shouldn't have waited so long.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

For the Nerds...

For the record - missed one on the short quiz, missed three on the long quiz.

California Strawberry Festival

Strawberry Shortcake - Good.

Strawberry Beer - Not so good.

Strawberry Pizza - Good excepting the crust.

Strawberry Mango Pineapple Salsa - Not bad, but not good either.

Strawberry (lonely, by itself, with the green leaves still there) - Great.

There were more strawberry things about. There was strawberry wine and champagne. There were strawberry smoothies and strawberry cream lemonade. Ladies wore strawberry decorated clothes and hats, kids wore strawberry stained smiles and by the end I was wearing strawberries on both hands and one leg of my pants.

The adventure began at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles where we caught the 14 train to Oxnard. This was a first for me. I had ridden a train in North Platte once for about a half mile. I had ridden the dinner train in Branson. I had ridden the subways in Washington, D.C. and New York. I had even ridden Thomas the Tank Engine somewhere in Kansas, but Amtrak had somehow elluded me. To Oxnard was nice - we sat in the upper section in spacious, reclining seats. If you're not in a hurry this would be a good way to see the country. The return to Los Angeles was less accomodating. There was a mad rush to more confined cabins as we needed to stuff 200 people into 198 seats (possibly the largest game of music chairs I'd ever played). There was also Roger.

Roger was an asshole. We presume that he may have been a racist asshole. He snapped at Camille that there was only one line. There were two windows and people were standing in two lines so I was mystified at the one line policy, a policy that quickly disintegrated once we had left. His first words to Joanne were, "Do you speak English?" (Probably better than he does.) He then told her that she'd have to get her boarding pass from the guy standing outside even though Camille and I had just gotten our boarding passes from the other guy inside. Later, our dear Roger was an asshole to another young man, was repeatedly seen being an asshole to other passengers and then drove a golf car down the train ramp in a rather condescending way (or so we thought).

All of this traveling was really just so we could eat. We rode on the train for two hours so that we could walk around for four hours trying every strawberry flavored dish imaginable. We interweaved rounds of eating with rounds of looking at "crap". A friend of mine once argued that the arts and crafts normally seen at fairs and festivals had a finite quantity. There was, he argued, no more kitsch creation. The ugly and hideous and goofy stuff just moved from place to place through fairs, festivals and garage sales. I had thought this might be true. I no longer do. The stuff is created in the vicinity of Oxnard, California and begins its life at the Strawberry Festival. I believe this same "crap" meets its ultimate demise in estate auctions where old men looking for a well used hammer buy entire boxes of this stuff for the single quarter inch, extra deep Craftsmen socket rolling around the bottom.

Once back in Los Angeles we ate again, this time at Phillipe for a french dipped sandwich (and a half hour of some chubby guys butt crack).

Throughout the day, we made of fun of Joanne, we made fun of Camille and they made fun of me. This is how we show our affection for one another. Our favorite riffs: Joanne sniffs her food before she eats it. Camille has a purse with the same properties as Santa's sack allowing her to reach inside and pull out whatever it is any of us needs. I was carrying around my water pouch backpack and sucking on a little blue hose all day (it was gift from Thaddeus that I hadn't used before and yes I looked like an idiot, but I would have killed for that thing in Washington, D.C. last year). Somehow all of this works for us - 12 hours together, 5000 calories of sugary strawberry goo, 2 insults from the Amtrak guy and a few tense moments lost in the parking garage (with the endless series of closed exits), we still managed not to kill one another and next weekend we'll be out for some other adventure.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Birthdays and the Zoo

The weather was cold. Not bone chilling, wish I were dead cold. This was just under the tolerable mark and slowly accumulated with time. My Los Angeles friends would recognize the Omaha weather as the worst they had ever seen, in other words, it was upper 40's with sporadic rain and a gusty north wind which has become pretty much miserable for me too. Yep, I've become wussificated.

The occasion was Lilly's second birthday. The venue was the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha. Fortunately most of the zoo's attractions are inside and once Lilly blew out the candles we packed up the decoration and headed for the desert dome. We looked at the animals. The animals looked at us. A chimp licked a glass window. A gorilla tossed around what may have been a hard boiled egg. There was a lot of spotting Nemo(s) in the aquarium. One of the nieces was afraid of the desert dome and every time she saw it from the outside she told us we were not to go back inside.

Now for a few zoo sightings:

Lilly - Age 2

Tiger spotted in the Gift Shop

The rare Chadron State giraffe

The nieces - now both 2

Afterward, it was an early dinner at Spaghetti works in the Old Market (and some ice cream at Maggie Moo's on the way out of town).