Saturday, October 29, 2011

La Rhune in Basque Country

The beach at Saint Jean de Luz

A clear day from the start, last May 16, with breakfast at the hotel in Saint Jean de Luz. Jeanne Mill's quilters tour group was heading for a train ride. I had more than the usual travel butterflies in my belly about this one, weighing whether to bail.

Hôtel de la Plage

Denis welcomes us aboard

Here was my worry. Jeanne had asked what I thought of some of the proposed activities for the trip. One was a ride on le Petit Train de la Rhune, a cogwheel train up to the top of the first summit in the Pyrenean range. It straddles the border of France and Spain, with views of seven Basque provinces.

Sounds fabulous, I told her. And I meant it. But it was also accompanied by this photo of the train, to all appearances chugging (well, I guess cogwheels don't chug) along the edge of a precipice, on its way UP THERE. I had visions of crossings on trestles thousands of feet above the canyon below. I'm not at all keen on heights. I could see myself lying face-down, flat on the floor of the train, hiding my eyes. Would it be worth it?

When push came to shove, I held my breath and piled into the train with the rest of the group. But I didn't sit next to the open window. Iban, our Basque guide, was very solicitous of guarding me from my fears.

Rising to 905 meters (2969 feet), La Rhune hosts many varieties of plants and animals and a lot of historical events. A historical timeline lists items such as Empress Eugénie de Montijo's climb to the summit in 1859, which is commemorated by a granite obelisk; the conception of the idea of a railway in 1908; operation of the first section commenced on 25 April 1924, with the line to the summit opening on 30 June of the same year. I'm not much of a history buff, so gave the timeline only a glimpse at first, but found a variety of fascinating tidbits included. Check it out here.

There are wild ponies on the mountain called "pottocks." (Honest, that's what it says.)

You may not believe this either, but part of that tiny speck that looks like a tongue sticking out below the "nose" on the bluff is some kind of mountain goat. I'll show it to you a couple of shots down. You may also be able to make it out if you double click the photo.

But right now, we passed the downward bound train. That means we're at the halfway point going up the mountain.

Here's the little critter, surveying his domain.

These flowers are probably foxglove, as nearly as I can tell from the flower pictures on the website. There are sheep in the shadows behind them.

These are sheep. Sheep ranchers summer their sheep on the mountain. It's either free or cheap grazing, can't recall exactly. Each owner has a color of the season which is splashed on the back of the sheep, to identify whose is whose. (I'll accept grammar corrections on that one!)

I believe some of those rocks out there are sheep.

The mountain is crisscrossed with hiking trails. While the train ride up takes 35 minutes, walking down takes 2 to 2½ hours. Other hikers take longer routes around the mountain, and I believe it was Iban, our guide, who told me he brings his children camping there. That is Saint Jean de Luz out along the coast.

Shaggy sheep.

Iban at the summit, pointing out all that we can see from up here. Despite the bright sun, a cold wind whips us.

There are competing businesses up here, one trimmed in red, the other in green. People have their favorites, but I didn't go into either. There were too many stairs without railings for me to be comfortable going up and down. I'd already had one stair-related fall on this tour and didn't want to press my luck.

My chance to pat a pottock . . . people had been approaching boldly, but this pony snapped at the guy before me so my touch is tentative. See my jacket billowing in the wind.

As the high point in the region, various communications facilities are located at the top.

Roughly translated, Souvenir of the Ascent of Her Majesty The Empress Eugénie, is carved into the granite.

We head down, in the train. You can find an interactive map of the train's route and the hiking path here, along with additional pictures.

I'm facing frontwards going down, faced backwards going up (both of which are downhill views).

More ponies that look awfully much like horses.

I dunno. They could be cattle. I can't even get a clear view in the uncompressed photo.

After we return to the station at the Col de Saint Ignace, we all make beelines to the bathrooms, then take the bus to Sare, "one of the most beautiful villages in France," where we have a Basque lunch at Lastiry. The train trip was fantastic and didn't scare the wits out of me at all. No trestles, and the precipices were bearable.  I'll blog on the rest of our day in Basque country in a later post.

I'll see you soon.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Thursdays Out . . . October 27

Thursdays Out is feeling neglected. Not that Thursdays have been unbusy. In fact, some weeks are so busy that Thursday merely merges into the steady stream of days. We are growing quite a group at NeedleCrafts. It's nice after years of three or four of us that the group has become self-sustaining. The absence of one person is no longer cause for cancellation. Two weeks ago several people said they wouldn't be there the following week, then 10 of us showed up, tying the previous max. This week we had 11 before the day was over.

You see knitters, crocheters, a scrapbooker, a photographer putting together greeting cards, my computer doing security updates as I contemplate blogging amongst all the conversation. I've shown some of their creations on earlier Thursdays' Out. Here are some new little baby hats, waiting for the arrival of new grandbabies (or possibly great-grandbabies for some of us).

The next hat takes some explanation. Paula was trying to knit a toasty hat for herself (I think) and got to the point where stitches stopped being added for each row around, in order to make it snug around the head. (Or so I am told. Nothing I've ever tried to knit has behaved in the expected fashion.) Yet, while Paula stopped increasing, the hat continued to flare, ending up a little more like a doily than a hat. (The white part is supposed to be a ruffle, but not that other color.) You can see the outcome.

She's returned with it on Thursdays for several weeks now as we all get a laugh and make suggestions for remedying the problem. I'll take your suggestions to her if you have any. I'll do an updated photo if any of those work.

Paula had more success with this cute little baby jacket.

Sister is in town here at their Mountain House now. She's the scrapbooker in the photo, putting together a scrapbook of Nephew's wedding. After NeedleCrafts, we gassed up the car for our trip to Yosemite on Sunday. She, Sister-in-Law and I will be spending three days there. Sunny weather is forecast most of the time, with chilly overnights. We should be blogging some good pictures. Brother-in-Law will get to entertain two households-worth of cats.

I checked out the garage construction site when dropping Sister off. I was disappointed to learn that the garage door will not be as big as the fire house's door. A temporary support has been put up through the center of the lower garage to support installation of the trusses, which were scheduled for delivery Friday.

The installation of stairs from lower garage to upper garage was underway.

Maybe they'll have the roof on by the time we get back from Yosemite.

See you soon.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Last Minute Substitute


Do we really have control over the meeting
 room temperature, or are they faking us out?
 When I first read the official call to the fall meeting of the district my Soroptimist group is in, I thought it would be fun to go. I've never attended a Soroptimist activity other than local ones and this one specifically invited all members. When I look back on my own life experiences, I've attended no end of conferences and conventions, so it must be something I like to do. However, since it was to be held two weeks after the big wedding weekend, I wasn't at all sure I'd want to get up before the sun on another Saturday so soon again.

Then at our Soroptimist meeting on Tuesday, two of our planned participants had to cancel and there were vacancies. I pondered. Did I want to give up two hours of sleep on Saturday? ..Or not?

I decided to go for it.

To minimize my morning wake-up shock, I showered the night before (wet head in bed = Kewpie doll hairdo), laid out my clothes and shoes, had my purse items in my backpack along with notebook and camera, and set my cell phone alarm. Naturally, my car key went missing as I was about to leave, but I moved to the Plan B keys (key chain with a hunk of keys) immediately, and was on time to catch a ride with Cindi to the city that's about an hour away.

On this rare occasion that I was sitting in the front seat not driving, I finally got this picture I've wanted for years. All those many years I'd driven my folks back and forth on this highway, my Mom had always piped up with "There's Egypt" when we'd see these triangular hills, particularly in the season when they are golden. "They look like pyramids," she'd say. Can it be that the tips of the pyramids have softened in the twenty-something years I've been making this drive?

(Mama out there, this one's for you.)
We arrived à l'heure, one of the 11 clubs in the district attending the meeting in a very nice senior center. First continental breakfast, then down to business.

I'll spare you the business part of the meeting (which was most of it) but bring you a bit of frivolity for a good cause: a Mardi Bra Contest, wherein bras were to be decorated with an original design, to be subsequently donated to the Susan G. Komen 3 Day Walk volunteers to use or other fundraising events for Breast Cancer. I think there were about 13 entries (or maybe 17) but I'll bring you just a few that tickled me.

First, of course, is the one submitted from our club. Ours is the one on the left; I would have cropped the pic to show just it, except that the bra beside it is pretty cute too.

Ours, on the left

Awards were given in three categories: Most Whimsical, Most Bling, and Overall Winner. Here I present the Overall Winner.

#1 "boobies in bloom"

I bought a cuddly sweatshirt with the Soroptimist logo on it from one of the clubs selling them there, and by the time we left, my simple backpack had devolved into an armload of individual items. Zip zip back up the hill and Cindi dropped me off at my car before taking Bonnie to her house. I had a little trouble locating my Plan B keys. They clearly weren't in my pocket -- turned out to be buried in the backpack. But what's this in the pocket? The key I couldn't find in the morning. I have no recollection of putting it there, so unless it levitated ... . Well, I just won't gripe when the gremlins of lost items bring them back.

But it's tit for tat and, later, when I go to get my camera out of the backpack to transfer the photos to the computer, it's missing. I left it on the floor of Cindi's car. So on this additional trip out, I stopped by to see how Sister and Brother-in-Law's garage has progressed since my last visit.

Wow! Way back when this was in the dream stage, BIL had been sizing up the doors of the fire station and commented that they were about right. Here it is. I believe the beam on the floor will be going up top, but I think this is as big as a fire station door.

Close up.

And that was my Saturday.

See you soon.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Search . . . Tying Up Loose Ends

"If you put things where they belong when you're done with them, they won't get lost."

Yeah. I can agree with that. But my car key belongs in my pocket. It's a single key, the kind with the remote door controls in it. The service manager at the car dealer told me that it isn't a good thing to have a key chain with half a dozen keys dangling from the ignition. So my single key goes in my pocket, then into a basket on the kitchen counter or tray on my vanity when I go to bed.

The other day I put on a pair of "pedal pushers" (what do we call them now?) with no pockets. I complained at the time of purchase at the lack of pockets on those and a couple of other pants I was buying, but she-who-shall-remain-nameless said,  "But they look so cute on you, Lee."  "My keys and my Kleenex???"  She-who-doesn't-even-own-Kleenex, "You can put them somewhere else."

During a meeting that evening I stuffed the key in the water-bottle pocket in my purse, along with the water bottle. When I got home after the meeting, I had a bag sloppily stuffed with laptop and cords, the purse, and a handful of junk mail to carry in. The key had to have been in one of my three hands, and I thought I threw it into the basket on the kitchen counter when I walked in.

Wasn't there when I needed to leave the next morning to take Chloe to the vet, nor in the purse or the vanity tray or next to my computer keyboard or on my bedside table. As a temporary measure, I fished out the key chain with the half dozen keys to use for the day.

But last evening I went into full search mode. I reviewed all the spots in the house, then went out to the car to search all around the seats. I have a bad habit of putting the key down beside me on the seat  while listening to the final word on a news story on the radio, then getting out without it. (Struggling ever to remember the door code to get back in when I do that.) I resorted to flashlight to look under seats, inspect the narrow spaces between console and seats, peer into the darkness between console and dash where the odd CD resides. Something was there in a plastic bag. I pulled it out to look under. The baggy contains a center punch, the old-fashioned tool carried to bust out auto windows in case of accident.

And, what's this?  Yeowieeeeee!

In the same baggy, it's the long-missing, thought gone-forever, Soroptimist name plate and membership pin & ribbon. I don't know whether I wore them for the Soroptimist meeting on the day I fell on my face. I do know they were missing from my notebook, where I very carefully put them inside a sheet protector, usually within a plastic bag with that layer of plastic between the full-muscle magnets and the backings, at the next meeting. I hypothesized they had somehow been rocketed out of my Soroptimist notebook when it flew away in the fall. The disarray in my notebook at that next meeting when I first opened it again gave credence to that theory.

On the other hand, if they had landed on a downtown sidewalk, in this small town they would have made their way back to me. I'm left thinking that at some point after the fall when my sister was driving my car and my notebook was out of reach, I happened on the bag with the center punch and stashed them there.  I don't think my memory was fully operational right after I fell.

As I carried my precious found items into the house, I spotted, at the far end of the kitchen counter as far as could be from the normal key repository, my car key, partially obscured under the lip of a brass egg poacher.

Found! Everything found.

This may be important to me, but in the grand scale of things, these are trivial. I've been listening to news of the searches for Baby Lisa in Kansas City. They mention bringing in ever more professional searchers and making more intensive searches. We all pray it ends well, but things do not look good at this point. Ironic that last night's Law & Order:SVU was about the search for a lost baby. Ultimately, it was determined that the baby in question had died of SIDS, which the parents had handled very poorly. One of my best friends in junior high school had two babies (later on) who died of SIDS, before SIDS was known about, and they fell under suspicion and the suspicions were aired in the newspapers. Although I'd lost touch with her after we left junior high, I did not believe anything bad about her. I don't know how it came out.

I also recollected a search I participated in, many years ago, a bona fide search for a missing child. I was a reserve deputy sheriff, with an asterisk, meaning I was only sworn in to serve as an assistant advisor to a Law Enforcement Explorer Post in the Sheriff's Department. A seven year old girl went missing, presumed kidnapped. On about the third day-missing, searchers were called out which included our Explorer Post. As a slightly compulsive calendar-saver, I can tell you that it was August 11, 1975, a Monday.

We assembled in the countryside: grasslands, brush, trees, bluffs, dry stream beds. Not smooth, in other words. We were to do a grid search, walking in parallel straight lines, not far apart. We understood we were looking for a possible body, but were to keep our eyes out for any possible clues. The kids and I lined up, as did all the other units on hand, and we started to walk our straight line.

I don't know about those athletic kids, but I did things I didn't think possible for me to do to maintain my course. Scared of heights, I went straight over rocky dry river banks, scrambled up the other side, through woods and poison oak, through tangled vines with sticky cobwebs and big spiders (normally, prompting a flight response in me) and other weird critters, through mud and over rocks. On we pressed, for several hours. It was good news, in its way, that we found nothing. We searched for just that day. But as days-missing passed, hope for a good outcome dimmed.

Then sometime on Thursday, I got the word, maybe on the car radio, I'm not sure. I know I burst into tears.

I've found an article online in an old paper that describes the outcome:

I weep tears of joy as often as from sadness. And then there was jubilation.  These are searches of consequence.

See you soon.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"It's About the Bride"

(With apologies to all you fully-involved grooms -- your names are legion. NOT. You do know where the wedding veto power lies, don't you?)

 (Disclosure - The Groom is my Nephew; his mother is Sister.)
(Time passes. Wedding is planned for October.)

The Rehearsal and BBQ

The Bride and Groom, who live in Phoenix, as does her family, traveled en masse to the Bay Area for the wedding, where the Groom's family lives, just in time for the Rehearsal BBQ.

Welcome to the party.

Tables await the hungry.

The Groom, his brothers, and a friend from his teen years
in Hong Kong and the DJ for the event, tend the fires. (Hah!)

The Little Bubble Girls rehearse their walk down the aisle.

Wedding Day

Family members wait in the hotel lobby for their transportation
 to the wedding venue to set things up.

Still in his sound-equipment-set-up garb ... I always loved this logo.

He has a word with the Groom.

The Groom's Dad looks on.

The Cousins finish up with the flowers.

A reflective moment

The Bride and her Mom. The Bride designed her own dress and
 jackets for her Mom and Sisters, and did much of its construction.
 She is a prize winning young designer in the Phoenix area.
See her website here.

Meet the Married Couple, Brett and Becky, and her parents.

The Bride's little nieces and nephew mug for their Daddy's camera.

The Mother of the Groom's Family Photo

The First Dance

Cutting the Cake


First Bites. Thank goodness they didn't jam the cake in each other's
faces. I hate that practice, as do they, even though they were egged on
by some in the crowd.  (I think strewing chocolate cake crumbs
on that dress would be cause for immediate annulment.)

My Youngest Grandson catches the Garter. His older
Brother explains the significance of the catch.

The Throwing of the Bouquet was Not Without Incident. The first
feint resulted in a couple of roses flying out of the bouquet on
their own. The first real throw went straight in the air, hit the
ceiling, and dropped down behind the Bride. "Throw a line
 drive," someone called out. She launched it backward like a
bullet. Single Ladies flinched and ducked.

The Catcher of the Bouquet, who was innocently on the steps outside
 behind the Ladies, introduces himself to the Catcher of the Garter.

The Groom sings to the Bride.

Groom's Mom and Bride share a moment.

Groom's Mom and other Dad

Self-Portrait, between Brother-in-Law and Son-in-Law

Son-in-Law and Daughter

Daughter and Granddaughter

Son and Granddaughter


Grandson and his new Lady. He's so tall and she's
 tiny but she seems like she keeps up with him!

Wrap Up

The weather for the wedding festivities was perfect. It had stormed earlier in the week, but the backyard had fortunately dried out for the BBQ ... roses in bloom, grass neatly trimmed, balmy afternoon, cool evening. The wedding day was warm and sunny, with another cool evening. Fall is in the air. The grounds around the Lake Temescal Beach House were lush and romantic and the lake serene, as a few bathers played on the shoreline and swam.

I think the Groom's Mom (Sister, if you'll recall) would say, "It was about time" and "thank goodness that's over." It's a lot of work for those involved, but they did a beautiful job. I think I'll tell my children to suggest to their children that they elope, as beautiful as it all can be.

See you soon.