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Over the weekend I headed up to Louisville to celebrate another family birthday. There was no sightseeing along the way, as there had been last time, but I did get to Mass at another Louisville parish – the beautiful St. Martin de Tours.

(For a little bit of music, go here.)

(More on the parish here – the history indicates it faced “certain closure” back in 1979, when the decision was made to emphasize sacred music.)

It was the 10am Ordinary Form (the parish also offers EF and Ordinariate). The church was pretty full, with tons of families and children. Music was beautiful and reverently simple.

And yes, in this land of chant and motets, families with children were explicitly welcomed in the music supplement, saying: To parents with young children: may we suggest….relax! God put the wiggle in children. Don’t feel you have to suppress it in God’s house….If you have to leave Mass with your child, feel free to do so, but PLEASE COME BACK. Let them know that they have a place in God’s house! To other members of the parish: the presence of children is a gift to the Church and a reminder that our parish and faith is alive! Please welcome our children and give a smile of encouragement to their parents!

It can be done.

Anyway – that’s not my point. Here’s the point:

I’ve been to Mass in quite a few Catholic churches across the country, from New York City to New Mexico, over the past couple of months, and it’s interesting to note:

This is the third parish I’ve been in where the altar rail was used for Communion: also in Louisville, at St. Louis Bertrand and at Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC.

It’s the second parish in a week in which I’ve been to the OF Mass celebrated ad orientem – last week was at Stella Maris in Sullivan’s Island, SC.

All were Ordinary Form.

(Two points: I think Sunday Mass at Old St. Patrick’s is generally celebrated ad orientem – and I’m just saying that based on photos from their Instagram. But this was a daily Mass, and was celebrated facing the people. Secondly, also judging from photos of other liturgies, St. Martin’s does seem to have another altar they bring out – I don’t know what merits its use. But it was nowhere in evidence yesterday, a Sunday Mass.)

Of the two practices, seeing the altar rail in use for Communion three times surprises me the most. I can’t even remember the last time I’d seen it, but it seems completely normal in these settings – with a mix of modes of reception, most on the tongue, but some on the hand.

I’m actually a fan of the communion rail, not for any high flown theological reasons, but simply because I prefer the mode of congregation approach that seems to accompany it – basically no ushers directing traffic. I suppose you could have them doing the solemn-row-by-row thing in this context, but it doesn’t seem to happen.

As I have mentioned before, when you go to Mass outside of the United States, you generally (in my limited experience) don’t see the Usher Brigade. People just…drift up to receive. There might be an organic front-to-back progression, but there is definitely not the standing-up by row and trudging-up-when-the-usher-allows. My home parish ditched that habit during Covid, which was nice, but sadly reinstituted it at some point last year.

The drift-up-when-the-Spirit-moves-you paradigm is more amenable to a sense of spiritual freedom, I think, does not put pressure on anyone internally or externally.

A contrast: at Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of Santa Fe, the distribution of Communion began with the cantor immediately ordering, “Please stand and sing….”

My observation: Some obeyed, more than a few remained kneeling in prayer until they went up (when directed by the usher, of course.)

I’ve often noted that the pre-conciliar liturgy was all about precise rubrics for the celebrant. The focus of the post-conciliar liturgy in practice was more – especially from the 70’s on – about micro-managing precise rubrics for the congregation, which previously had been allowed to engage with the liturgy at their own pace, as it were.

(For a sense of the difference, go to an Eastern Catholic or Orthodox liturgy, where the same traditional energy prevails still)

As I get older and reflect more and more on what I’ve seen and experienced, I can’t help but keep reflecting on the quite unsurprising replacement of the purported V2 goal of “worship as an organic expression of the community’s sensibilities” with the reality of “a few employees and volunteers telling everyone else what to do based on their own preferences.”

Anyway, in a time in which some bishops are ridiculously, weirdly and even cruelly fixating on the Grave Threat of the Traditional Latin Mass – you’d think they’d have more important matters to tend to – and even attempting to suppress practices like ad orientem and the altar rail – I thought you might appreciate these snapshots in which these apparently super dangerous practices are in use and it is…not a big deal.

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Coming to you from Whole Foods….

Well, for the first time on this trip, I’m staying at a place with less-than optimal internet, which is ironic since this is the most expensive place in which I’ve stayed (which is not saying a whole lot, but still. It’s in a somewhat chi-chi part of town and the owner has the rental casita on a booster from the main house. Even if I plant myself right next to the contraption, photos still don’t load. Let’s see if Whole Foods comes through.)

Update: It did.

(And you wonder – why not just wait until tomorrow? Because I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow – I may not have internet all day, at all – and I don’t want a huge backload of this type of writing. I have other things I need/want to do when I get home.)

Saturday morning was my last morning in the lovely, perfect Tiny House outside of Abiquiu, New Mexico. Here’s the listing – it’s not on the normal rental sites, but on a site geared more towards campers. Hipcamp features campsites, yes, but also lists lodgings that are perhaps on campsites (yurts, cabins, treehouses) and spots like this. It’s also on VRBO. I do believe that the gentleman who owns the property built the house and probably designed it as well. It’s cunning, smart, and cozy – and as you can see, the location can’t be beat.

Good-bye Tiny House!

I cleaned up, packed up and headed out to Mass.

Where?

Here.

As I mentioned somewhere – perhaps it was on Instagram – I’d discovered a couple of days before that since this parish, now St. Thomas the Apostle, was originally founded as St. Rose of Lima in the colonial period, her feastday (which was Monday) is celebrated with a fiesta, that begins with Mass in the ruins of the original mission.

Not something I’m going to miss, amiright?

There were probably 75 people there, mostly Hispanic. The Mass was in English, with all music in Spanish and the Agnus Dei in Latin. The priest was Vietnamese. It was a lovely Mass, in a beautiful, moving setting.

I was standing in the back, and there were probably twenty people behind and around me.

Followed by a procession – not Eucharistic, but with images of St. Rose and the Blessed Virgin – into town. It was escorted by folks on horseback and the fire department. It’s about a two mile journey, and I wasn’t going to walk it, so while I waited, I headed down to the Chamo River for a bit of a break.

The procession arrived – my position was from the parking lot of the famed Bode’s General Store – which is the main shopping stop in Abiquiu.

Up to the fiesta. The church, St. Thomas was open, so of course I took a look. As you can see, it’s peppered with images of both St. Thomas and St. Rose.

I understand the mayordomo is a common role in churches down here. Don’t you think it’s a good idea to have an official parish mayordomo instead of the unofficial jockeying for the spot that’s inevitable anyway?

To cap off an already very interesting morning, I discovered that the O’Keefe house and studio was doing special tours from 1-3. Abiquiu residents were free, and non-residents were asked to give a suggested $20 donation, which would then go to benefit the church. I’m in!

It was not the full tour, of course – more of a walk through with a docent, who gave the basics, but didn’t go in depth. I didn’t get any photo of her studio because there were a few people in there already. But I did get photos of her perfect mid-century mod sitting room – the rocks on her window sill are just part of O’Keefe’s rock collection, which she enjoyed rearranging and studying. The black door is a subject she painted quite a bit.

The setting is….unbelievable. And yes, inspiring.

And remember, it’s just around the corner from the Penitente Morada.

Time to hit the road south to Santa Fe. I stopped in Romero’s fruit stand to pick up some chile powder and some chili-sprinkled dried fruit, then kept going. My rental wouldn’t be ready until 4, so I continued to the Plaza, walked around a bit, got my bearings, saw the Cathedral exterior, where folks were arriving for Mass. Then back up to the rental, through clothes in the washing machine, and then….to the opera!

This was the last night of the season for the Santa Fe Opera, which is performed, of course, in this quite stunning setting, open to the west, so the setting sun provides a backdrop for at least part of the evening, and then twinkling lights for the rest. It’s a gorgeous place.

As I considered attending this performance, I noted that tickets were somewhat scarce, and of course, not cheap. I was willing to pay a couple hundred bucks for the tickets, but then read somewhere about standing room tickets – for $15. How to get them? It’s not on the website. Are they available just on the day? Is it a lottery? What’s up? So, I did the radical thing – called the box office.

“Oh, you can buy them now, over the phone,” she said.

Well, that’s a done deal, then.

There are maybe two dozen standing room spaces, and understand this is not a Globe Groundlings situation where you’re just standing in a crowd. There’s a designated area all along the back of the Orchestra seats – the mixing board is in the middle – with stands on which you can lean, and which also have the little translation screens. Really – I would definitely do it again.

I’m especially glad that I only paid $15 because…wow, this production was not good. This review expresses my reaction in a much more knowledgeable way than I could manage. It just did not work, although the second act was better than the first.

But you know what? It was 12 minutes from my rental, and hearing the singing and the music in that setting for that price is not something I’m going to complain about.

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My favorite thing about Wide Open Spaces is the sight of rain in the distance. Lots of that today.

Not because of it, but just because I needed to, I took most of the day for writing and catching up, not venturing out until 3-ish. At which point I got back on the high road to Taos, intending to make a couple of stops at places I’d missed the first time, and then going to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge – then circling back down this way.

Well, I didn’t make all the stops because I was trying to outmaneuver those thunder clouds much of the time. I enjoy watching them, but I didn’t particularly want to be in them. I don’t begrudge them their rain at all – they need it badly, and it’s great to see the “Forest Fire Risk” gauges at “low,” which they are right now.

So not a lot of photos today. But:

From my front porch this morning.

Then at the bridge, there was a huge storm that I’d skirted while driving, but reached Taos while I was there. My poor photography can’t capture it, but it was massive, with lots of lightening – quite fascinating to watch – from a distance.

The bridge is the…fifth highest in the US.

On the way up, a stop this establishment in Dixon – it seems like a good place to shop and get quality food. The folks I saw in and around reinforced my sense of the artsy/boho/alternative quality of the demographic around here. I just grabbed a pastry from, I think, a Santa Fe bakery. Ah yes – this one. If I had a freezer, I would have definitely gotten a loaf of the green chile bread.

Then closer to home (for one more night) in El Rito, a church and…something else.

That’s it, that’s all, watch out for that rain!

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What inspires you?

Here’s what inspired me on Thursday.

Mass, of course. Not only the Mass itself and all of its components, and the encounter with the Lord, but also having this encounter with others, past and present, in a simple, beautiful structure built by human hands, standing in this place for centuries now. A testimony, as was the presence of the couple of dozen folks there in that early morning hour, bringing whatever they have – burdens, joys – to the same Lord, not knowing how any of it will turn out, but trusting nonetheless, in the presence of the saints.

Considering creativity at Ghost Ranch, learning about Georgia O’Keefe. Hearing about a complicated woman living a complicated life, but also knowing herself and her own mind, and living it out. The tour I took was the “landscape tour” – on a bus (you can also do hiking and horseback tours – I was into efficiency yesterday) – on which the docent narrates O’Keefe’s life, especially in New Mexico, and compares images of her paintings to the landscape subjects.

To consider how she saw, how she worked, her focus, her self-understanding of what she needed to do and how she needed to live in order to share what she saw. Challenging and yes, inspiring.

The hike to Chimney Rock. There are several hikes originating at Ghost Ranch, and this is one of the most popular. It’s not a difficult hike, but the challenges are twofold: some scrambling up to the mesa near the end, and then the fact that it’s unshaded, except for some scrabbly junipers along the way. Maybe this was not the best choice for an August afternoon when the temperature, according to my car when I got back, was 93? (It hadn’t been that hot all week, so I hadn’t even considered that in my trail decision.

Other than that, it was a good hike, with spectacular views at the end. I had paused about halfway through at a point when I was high enough to get a good view of Ghost Ranch and the surrounding landscape from above as well as a picturesque view of Chimney Rock, and I thought…that’s good enough….right?

(Because it was hot.)

But then I heard the voice of my youngest, with whom I’ve walked and hiked countless trails, including at at least one on which I thought I just. Might. Die. He’s far away now, living life, but just as with every other of my kids, his personality and his interests enriched mine, and I doubt I would have even been on that trail if it weren’t for him. You’re not gonna stop now, are you? Keep going. It will be worth it.

It was.

Some of the voices that live in our head can be destructive, limiting, and should be exorcised. But others – so many, voices of those we’ve known well or who lived far in the past – where would we be without them? How impoverished our lives would be if, however unexpected, they had never snuck, barged or strolled into our lives, even for a moment.

A tiny cafe with a beautiful, perfect, green chili stew. To sit in a place so lovingly, carefully created to be a unique spot in this small town, the design and the food intentionally and purposefully crafted with care and vision?

And it’s not just this boho-hipster spot in the desert. It’s every person who’s taken a spot on the land, a spot in time, and made something of it, not knowing what will become of it, just knowing that this is the time and place to do this thing that’s rumbling inside, wants to get out, and might just add something that the world could use right now. Another inspiring nudge.

Georgia O’Keefe lived and worked at Ghost Ranch, but eventually she purchased a home and created a studio in Abiquiu proper. Tours must be booked far ahead of time (they’re booking October now), so that was impossible, but I drove by the gate anyway, then continued up the curve of the road to the Penitente Morada – the structure that the Penitente brotherhood uses for meetings and ceremonies. You may associate Penitente with re-enacting the Crucifixion, and I don’t know if they do that in this part of the world, but what they do engage in are charitable acts – they are, it seems, essentially confraternities.

There’s a couple of small museums at Ghost Ranch, one of which features a display of santos by a local artist named Max Roybal, who was a member of the brotherhood. If you click on the photo below, you can read more of an explanation.

How striking. O’Keefe, whose unique way of seeing expresses a sort of spiritual vision and who, while not tempted to convert at all, was a visitor to the Monastery of Christ in the Desert – lived and worked just a few yards from the simple structure where men gathered, seeking to deepen their own spiritual vision and the living of it.

The juxtaposition, the differences, but trying to work out the commonality, living and breathing out here in light of the same mountains, under the same heavens. It will never stop being fascinating – and yes, inspiring – to me.

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Let’s backtrack and finish off Wednesday.

Sidebar: It’s crazy to me to think that I’ve only been gone since Sunday. Einstein was right.

We left off in Taos, but let me backtrack a bit from that.

As I mentioned in that post, there’s a “low road” and a “high road” between Santa Fe and Taos. It’s generally recommended to take the low road up for more spectacular views and then the high road back for the small town stops on the way. I’m not in Santa Fe right now, but the advice still applies, so I took it.

I reached the Rio Grande Gorge Visitor’s Center, took in the situation and decided that there was another road that looked really interesting and would probably bring me to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, at which point I could head over to Taos and then back on the high road. Oh, yes, I’m so smart.

So I did this. I turned off the main road at Pilar and meandered up along the river, past campgrounds, until I reached the historic bridge. How interesting. I read about the origins of the bridge, how a camp had been established nearby in the hopes of finding gold, and so on. Some folks were kayaking on the river. I crossed the bridge and started up the winding road, confident that I’d be meeting up with the other road that would take me up to the Gorge bridge.

ROAD CLOSED.

No wonder no one else was on the road. Huh.

All right, so I “wasted” about 30 minutes, but you know how that goes – nothing is wasted. We can learn things along the way. In this case: Don’t be stupid, and maybe once in a while, just do what everyone else is doing.

It was pretty, though. It was.

So up towards Taos, the first stop being the historic in Rancho de Taos. You know this. You recognize this – photographed by Ansel Adams, painted by Georgia O’Keefe, and for clearly good reason. The interior is beautifully preserved, and it’s not a museum. It’s a living parish, clearly.

Into Taos, which is Tourist Central, completely unappealing to me. It must be a nightmare during ski season. I walked around for about ten minutes, stopped in the gift shop run by some Benedictines – a nice shop – and then decided I’d had enough.

Time to hit the high road.

The drive takes you through the Carson National Forest, and the difference in topography and flora from just a couple dozen miles to the west is astonishing. I stopped at a few churches along the way – as I explained yesterday, all were locked, and this time, I’m not mad about it. Given the historic and precarious nature of these structures and – I’ll add – given the number of interesting characters who are commonly seen on all roadsides in this state – it’s not a hard decision to keep these places locked up when they’re not in use.

I am storing up my thoughts on all of this, be assured.

It is amazing to be in a place where you can take in thunderstorms on your left and sunshine on your right.

This cemetery was an absorbing sight to me – full of sunflowers, several freshly-dug graves and unique memorials.

Keep going…to the shrine at Chimayo. We were there on our trip 10 years ago, but why not revisit? It was strangely empty, but perhaps not so strange for a Wednesday in late August. I did not get any dirt, as I still have a little pillbox-type thing full from last time. I was moved, as I always am at such places, by the images of loved ones to pray for or to give thanks for. I was interested in not one, but two areas devoted to Our Lady of Lavang, a devotion with Vietnamese roots.

Food here – it was very good.

Upon returning, there was enough daylight for a short hike – this one, not far from my rental. A half mile takes you up to a mesa where a puebla once stood hundreds of years ago. The views, of course, are marvelous, and it’s a gift to be able to take it all in.

And yes, I did get up this morning to see the interior of one of the churches at Mass….

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…and how it’s going:

With a bit of a mess in between.

That was a day!

Some good, some not so great, but I got where I needed to go and, as we like to say….learned an important life lesson.

Actually, I knew the life lesson and usually try to live by it, but this time ignored it, and yes, paid the price.

Although….things might have turned out the same no matter what. But I doubt it.

So we’ll begin in the morning. I know that view does not look enticing, but view was not the purpose of the stay. Sleeping was. And at almost free because of points, even though the brand was not high end, the room was immaculate and even updated, so no complaints from me.

(On the points: I do not have a massive number of hotel points with any one brand, but small amounts with several. It’s never enough to get a room for free, but I can usually swing a pretty good “Money + points” deal. Which was the case here. I mean, Econolodge is not going to be expensive anyway, but if I can pay almost nothing and it’s a good room, that’s what I’ll do.)

My goal for the day?

Santa Rosa – Pecos National Historical Park – Chimayo Shrine – New Place.

I had considered throwing Las Vegas (NM) in there, but eventually decided it would be too much. As it was, there was no point in stressing about it since most of the plan didn’t happen anyway.

I won’t keep you in suspense. I ended up spending 2.5 hours in a tire shop in Santa Fe, that’s what happened.

My tires are were mismatched and probably worn – I bought the car used two years ago, and at least two of the present (well recent past) tires came with the car. Maybe three. Anyway, it was kind of mess, and my instinct had told me, “Get them checked out before you drive across the country, idiot” – but – you got it – I didn’t listen.

That was the only piece of advice my mother ever gave me that I took seriously: Always trust your instict, she’d say: about people, about the answer on a multiple choice test, whatever. She was right, and I’ve preached the same to my own kids. And didn’t listen this time.

So Monday evening I was speeding on I-40 W when I hit a pothole. On the interstate where the speed limit is 75. I immediately listened for wobbling and kept my eye on the digital tire pressure monitor, but..nothing. Okay. That’s good.

Then late this afternoon, I did notice a wobbling. I stopped, looked – and yikes. A big old bulge popping out of that tire. I was able to safely get to a tire store, which told me that Mazda calls for weird tires and they didn’t have any in stock which was the same message given to me by the next tire shop – and the next. I was starting to think I was going to have to get a hotel in Santa Fe for the night while waiting for tires to come in from Albuquerque, which is apparently where all the Mazda tires live now. But then the third tire shop came up with a workaround which I still don’t understand: Your Mazda calls for this weird size tire that we don’t have but here’s a list of ten other tires that would fit.

Well, okay.

Just replace all four. Go ahead. It needs to be done. Take my money.

I was, of course, not a priority, being a walk-in, which is fine. I caught up on my phone calls. The only thing I worried about was getting to my new place before dark – which I was obviously able to do.

I might try to hit Pecos and Las Vegas on the way back.

So what did I see?

On the feast of St. Rose of Lima, I went to Santa Rosa and saw the gorgeous little St. Rose of Lima Church. I mean – gorgeous. It just shows what love and faith and, I’m sure, sacrifice – can accomplish. A small church can be quite beautiful.

The main attraction of Santa Rosa is the Blue Hole – a naturally occurring pool that is quite deep and incredibly clear. People can swim in it (there’s a limit to how many at a time), but its main use is as for dive training. There were a couple of guys practicing there this morning:

All right! Time to go to Pecos! Drive along, enjoy the scenery, stop at small churches along the way. When I’m less tired I’m going to retrace my steps digitally and see if there is any interesting history associated with any of them.

Look at the beautiful doors on this tiny church. St. Anthony, of course.

This is San Miguel del Vado in the village of the same name – which was once not a village at all. A really interesting history: after Mexican independence, this was the first entry point to Mexico for traders from the East – the first point where the Mexican government collected taxes. At one point it supported 3000 inhabitants. Not any longer….

Wait.

That wobbling definitely feels…like wobbling, not the road.

Ah well.

All I can say is that I had probably driven 150 miles or so since I hit that pothole, so I am extremely grateful that it held as long as it did, especially since for a big chunk of today I was driving through fairly desolate landscapes.

But here I am for a few days, and it’s lovely, and hopefully I can get this head cleared and my mind opened up.

Oh, and the other benefit of arriving three hours later than I’d planned? I saw the impact of the setting sun on the area around Santa Fe, and it is stunning. Since it had been raining off and on, I also saw the most impressive rainbow – instead of seeing so far off, as rainbows usually do, it was huge and seemed very close – so close that I imagined I could see where it reached the ground. Is that common here? I wouldn’t be surprised. It was gorgeous.

(No photos – I was driving, folks. Obey your instincts.)

Keep up at Instagram Stories and “Highlights”

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A day of driving, with a few stops along the way, one planned, the others impromptu, as it should be. That’s life: a mix of what you know and hope for is coming and then what you happen upon.

I had considered working Clear Creek Abbey into our July journey, but a friend who’s been there advised against it, saying that given the context and length of our trip, it would be too much of a detour – and she was right. It fit into this trip, though, so let’s go.

I had hoped to make Lauds at 5:45 am at Subiaco, but that didn’t happen. No excuses, it..just didn’t. I did manage to get up and out by about 6:45, with just a stop in the Abbey church while Mass was going on (I would be going to Mass later in the morning…if my plans worked out).

Here’s a bit more about Subiaco Abbey – it’s a Benedictine Abbey and boarding school for boys. If you are in Alabama, it’s similar to St. Bernard’s in Cullman, but larger – the abbey is definitely larger and the church is gorgeous.

They also have recently started a brewery and taproom! (Only open on Saturdays, sadly for me.)

Founded in 1877 – the history is here, and quite interesting. I stayed in the guest house, which of course regularly hosts retreats, but was I think essentially empty while I was there.  Reserving a room was very easy, everyone was quite hospitable, the place was quite nice and of course spotless. I didn’t eat any meals, but you can sign up and pay for that if you like.

I headed out about 6:45, drove in a semi-awake state over to Oklahoma and eventually – over a final stretch of gravel road – got to Clear Creek Monastery in time for their 10:00 Coventual Mass for the Queenship of Mary.

There is a lot of construction going on which impacts the upper church, although it took me a few minutes of sitting in there to figure out that no, Mass was not going to happen in this space, so perhaps I should find it – I saw some folks heading through a door in the back, followed them, went down some winding stairs, and there I was in the crypt.

I think there were about 30 monks there, plus 33 laity – 13 of whom were children. I assume a community of sorts is growing up around the monastery, which is on a beautiful piece of land which, you can see as you bump up the road, being cultivated and tended in various ways.

It was a Traditional Latin High Mass, of course.

Afterwards, I checked out the gift shop, saw Friendship with Jesus on the shelf, bought some bread (not great – the crumb was too crumbly and it had a hint of sweetness that I wasn’t expecting and don’t care for) and cheese – very good Gouda!!

(I have More Thoughts on the places I am visiting, but will store them up for later.)

Let’s hit the road again.

I had various scenarios in my head, but eventually decided that the best thing was to get as far as possible so I’d have to drive as little as possible on Tuesday. So I only made a couple of brief stops, both impromptu. I am, I reminded myself, driving back (although probably not the same way), so I can see Other Things then.

If you’ve driven that route, you know that one of the attractions is all the Route 66 stuff – I-40 runs alongside or replaced Route 66, so people like to see some of the remaining structures – gas stations and such – from the heyday, as well as some related museums. I…did none of that. But here’s what I did see:

I stopped for gas in Okemah, Oklahoma, saw a sign about Woody Guthrie, figured that what was there was about 2 minutes away from where I was standing, so of course:

There’s a little plaza set back from the sad downtown area dedicated to Guthrie, who was born and lived there through much of his childhood.

The childhood home is gone, but a tree standing there has been carved in memorial. I like it. It seems fitting.

(Remember, you can click on the photos and a bigger version pops up)

Moving on, of course I had to stop at the big cross in Groom – it might surprise you that in this land of evangelicals and mainliners, this was erected by an (independent) organization with a Catholic angle. But it was, as becomes very clear when you actually approach the cross and see it’s surrounded by the Stations of the Cross and there’s a Divine Mercy fountain. There’s a bit about the founder on the website, but not much that’s very specific. Stations of the Cross, Divine Mercy? Not Baptist, for sure.

There’s a bookstore/gift shop, but it was closed by the time I arrived.

One of my minor hobbyhorses is the wish that Catholics – local churches, religious orders, what have you –  would set up roadside shrines/rest stops along major highways and interstates. Well, here you go! Mega-sized!

Oh, I don’t have photos, but I also stopped at a rest stop outside Amarillo, which screamed, “THIS IS TEXAS WE ARE TEXAS AND WE ARE THE BIGGEST AND THE BEST.”  I mean – it was actually quite tasteful and beautiful, but it was certainly the most majestic state rest stop I’ve ever seen. Even the grills were shaped like Texas, though.

Sorry Texas, not staying this time. Instead, I moved on to a Better Call Saul episode, I guess.

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Folks, time is flying. It was about a month ago that we set out on that last trip, so perhaps I should finish up my posts on said trip – because there’s more coming.

So let’s review:

We were on a journey from June 14-30, most of which was to England but which began in New York City. Explained here.

So let’s talk about where we stayed.

First of all, who are we? Because that matters. In just a couple of weeks, my travel-type posts will shift in emphasis because I’ll mostly be going solo, and believe me, in the short bit of time that I’ve spent pinning down some stays for the fall, it has been most enjoyable because...it’s just me. And I am very low maintenance (as you will see if you continue to follow me), and can basically stay in a corner of a room or hell, probably the back of a car for days, if not weeks at a stretch, and it’s a lot different making those arrangements than it is to figure things out for a 61-year old female Me, a 21-year old male and a 17-year old male.

But for this trip, well, it was three of us and no regrets, but still, it was three of us – three adults who did not want to share a bed, no. And booked and paid for by a cheapskate, so there’s that, too.

So here you go:

New York City: The Wall Street Inn: This was a new one for us. In the recent past, we’ve most frequently stayed at the Leo House in Chelsea – a unique Catholic guest house for which I’ve usually been able to score some deals because I’ve booked and paid for the stays ahead of time. Not so this time – I suppose demand was higher, and there just wasn’t anything available. So, via booking.com, I found this one, and it turned out great.

Wall Street Inn, NYC

We are familiar with and fairly frequent visitors to NYC (my oldest lives there) so there was no need to have some definitive Midtown or Times Square experience, plus he lives not far from the Financial District, so it worked out. Three of us fit in one room for a bit under $200/night, the place was very clean and nicely run – by…I hate to say it in the current climate, but judging from accents either eastern Europeans or Russians (not sure which, sorry), and I’d definitely stay there again.

England!

Oxford: The Red Mullions Guest House Staying super close in to Oxford would have been quite expensive, but this lovely guest house was about a ten-minute bus ride from the center. We had breakfast one morning, and if we were breakfast-eaters, would have done it more. The proprietors were friendly – making a great deal about the elder son’s “‘tache” – (not ‘stache’ – no – “‘tache'”) – and helpful, the room spacious and clean, and the food excellent.

York: Airbnb. This was fairly dramatic. We were to go to York on Monday, and on Saturday afternoon, I got a message from the owner of our rental that she was cancelling on us. There was work being done, she’d thought it would not be a problem, but it turned out it was.

O -kay. What does one do?

Well, luckily, another was available – and Airbnb came through with a refund and a coupon to make up the difference – and this one had a washer and dryer, which was a bonus. It was a lovely apartment with lots of space, which is what we needed.

Photos 1,2: Interior. 3: the street where the apartment was located; 4: the city gate to the area; 5: the view at the ridiculous hour of something like 4 am from my skylight.

Hexham: The Station Inn. The point of this stage of the trip? Hadrian’s Wall. This was not the most luxurious hotel, but who needs that? It was just what the name suggests – a hotel for travelers near the train and the bus station. The room was clean, the people at reception were super helpful especially on the next morning when I was trying to get us the heck out of there on the day of a rail strike – and yes, I’d stay there again.

Seahouses: The Bamburgh Castle Inn The most, by per/night measure, expensive stay, but that’s because it was a good hotel in a popular vacation destination. The room was nothing spectacular, but it was clean, with three separate beds and a nice view.

Edinburgh: The Mackenzie Guest House– Again, if you are into fancy hotels, or even higher mid-level American hotels, you would probably not be pleased, but it was fine – we had two adjoining rooms – one with a double for me, and then another with two twins for them – with a shared external bathroom – on the top floor of the guest house. A nice breakfast with a very helpful and kind proprietor. If you want something else, you can pay $200/night more, but I’m not going to….

London: St. Athan’s Hotel: Another shared bathroom situation, this time with more folks, but again – no problem. We had one room with four beds (including a bunk), and there were, I think, maybe four floors of the hotel with four bathrooms for each two floors – that were kept very clean. I think these proprietors were either Turks or Syrians (again apologies for not being able to nail it), and it was located in an area near King’s Cross that had lots of these small hotels. I’d stay there again, no question.

Photo 1: – stairs from our floor to one of the two sets of bathroom that were in between each floor.

It’s expensive to travel, especially with a family. If we weren’t moving around so much, of course my first choice would have been an apartment. But honestly – we didn’t have a bad experience in any of these stays. Probably the Station Inn in Hexham was the “worst,” but even that was fine. You just have to adjust your expectations – the Residence Inn is not the global norm, guys…..

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And now, sheep.

Because we’d never been to Scotland, and we really didn’t have the time to explore much, it seemed as if sticking to Edinburgh would be the extent of it. But once I started hunting for reasonably priced accommodations, I was flummoxed. There was hardly anything available – reasonably priced, as I said, suitable for our needs (three beds). I figured it must be because it was a weekend – the first weekend of the summer holidays. Finally I settled on a guesthouse with two rooms next to each other on the top floor, sharing a bathroom, and when I mentioned to the owner my difficulty in finding a place, he said, “Oh, that might be because it’s the weekend of the Royal Highland Show.”

Oh, and what’s that?

Well, it’s this – a big national agricultural show. With sheep, cattle, competitions, a “Scottish Larder” featuring food and food samples..

Well….we’re definitely going to Edinburgh that weekend. No doubt about that now!

(It was also Pride, as we discovered upon arrival. So, yay and that probably had an impact, as well.)

We were staying on the east side of Edinburgh, very close to Leith, and the RHS was on the west side, near the airport. No problem – there was dedicated public transportation, both buses and trams going back and forth constantly, so we hopped on the bus on Sunday morning and off we went.

It was a delightful day. As I said about the museum and Castle experience, what I learned from that was a sense of the Scottish national identity and pride. The Royal Highland Show made that even more clear. 

We walked amid loads of sheep, cattle and goats – mostly sheep, encountered breeds we had not idea existed, not that we knew much about sheep to begin with. There were sheep that reminded us of cattle, those that had heads like pigs and others that seemed to be little stunted llamas.

The cattle were impressive, too – some huge ones, and the favorite, native Highlands.

We sampled cheese and various types of whiskey and meats and jellies and jams. We had burgers from Angus beef. We watched sheep-shearing and show jumping and pole-climbing competitions, and while we didn’t stay until the very end and therefore didn’t see the grand finale (we were ready to leave and were not interested in dealing with crowds exiting all at once and competing for a spot on the buses), we did catch a bit of the final parade of cattle breeds which wound its way around and around the arena, the announcer explaining the history and value of each breed as they came out.

A lovely day, and not what I expected to experience when I booked an Edinburgh weekend, but really, what better way to spend it?

We returned to the city early enough to wander around town a bit more, and then have dinner at a tiny little Italian place not far from our apartment that was quite good – the first antipasto/charcuturie plate I’ve had in a while that didn’t seem as if the kitchen had simply phoned in a Publix order and called it a day.

My view a week ago today…

You can see video of all of this at Instagram in the Story “Highlights.” Or this post.

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Now things get complicated. And they also get stupid because of my mistake.

First off, let’s review. I had built in a potential almost full day for Hadrian’s Wall sites, with us then getting to the next stop (Seahouses) in the early evening, and doing the activities in that area on Friday. It would be tight getting them both in on one day, but I was pretty sure we could swing it.

But after our afternoon at the Roman Army Museum, a bit of the wall and Vindolanda, it was decided that this was enough. More would have been great, and perhaps will be another time, but given the complexities of travel, especially on a strike day, we thought it best to just get going Thursday morning in case we’d end up having to take a bus all the way.

But…how?

The original plan had been to ride the train from Hexham to Newcastle, and then Newcastle to Alnmouth, where we’d get a taxi to Seahouses. There are buses from Alnmouth to Seahouses, but honestly, I just didn’t want to bother with figuring out and coordinating with one more schedule. It seemed as if it all work out – but then the strike was declared.

So..plan B. We’d have to take a bus from Hexham to Newcastle, since that train would not be running. However, there was limited service along the Edinburgh-London route, with a stop at Alnmouth. That would do fine.

Early Thursday morning I got the bright idea, though, of doing a taxi to Newcastle. It was only 22 miles, for heaven’s sake, and the bus would be almost an hour and a half. (78 – yes 78 – stops). The hotel clerk called a couple of services for me, but the answer was the same: “They’re all out taking kids to school and won’t be available until 10.” Taxis take kids to school in England? Okay, well good for them, bad for us, time to get up and get going to the bus station.

Newcastle train station was almost empty (of course. There’s a strike!) The ticket-taking gates were wide open. A train arrived at the right platform, destination Edinburgh, we got on for the 20+ minute ride to Alnmouth. Our tickets were never checked. We sped along. And kept going. And going.

Past…Alnmouth.

I walked up and down the cars. There was no one working (it’s a strike!). I asked one of the four other passengers on the train if he thought the train would stop. He said maybe at this place…but also maybe not. But why? Was this an effect of the strike?

No, idiot – you got on the wrong train, that’s what. Which happened to be an express train to Edinburgh. Geez. Lesson learned. If a train pulls up and leaves early – that is probably not your train. And if you are not sure…ASK. (if you can find someone)

I had already booked tickets for a boat trip out to the Farne Islands from Seahouses that would be leaving at 1:30 that afternoon. Even getting to Edinburgh and getting on another train immediately to come back down south would not get us there in time. I did some rearranging, the boat company kindly transferred our tickets to Friday – and they didn’t mind because that freed up three more seats on an afternoon boat that was sold out. The taxi driver was kind and sympathetic, and even though I told him to charge me, he refused, and just asked for a good review instead – which he got and deserved. I was pretty upset about my stupidity, but it really did turn out fine. We just were able to flip our plans around, doing what we planned for Thursday on Friday, and Friday on Thursday….

So on we sped to Edinburgh, which would have been fantastic if that had been our train. Luckily, there was a train back leaving in about twenty minutes, so we just were able to get on that. It wasn’t stopping at Alnmouth, however, but at Berwick-on-Tweed, which was north of Seahouses, rather than south. Which was fine – we’d get there sooner, but not soon enough.

Arriving at Berwick-on-Tweed, I was really relieved to see a taxi stand. I went to a random driver, who was sitting in his car with his mate and explained the issue and the plan. Could he A) Take us from Berwick-on-Tweed to Seahouses so we could check into our hotel and drop our luggage then B) from Seahouses up to the Holy Island or Lindesfarne and C) get us a couple of hours later on the Holy Island and then take us back to Seahouses?

(There is a bus from Berwick to Seahouses, but you know – it’s a bus, with a schedule, and then I’d have to find a way up to Lindesfarne and back, which required a car on this particular day, since the tourist bus wasn’t running – so might as well use the same driver.)

They worked it out, consulted on a price, which was very fair, and off we went!

So yes, those were our two destinations on this very short leg of the trip:

Lindefarne, or Holy Island, where St. Aidan came from Iona to found a very early monastery, the Vikings invaded very early on, and the source, of course, of the famed Lindesfarne Gospels.

And

The Farne Islands – off the east coast, islands which David Attenborough said were his favorite place to see nature in the UK. Every spring through early summer, hundreds of thousands of birds nest here, including….

Well, that’s enough of this nonsense. Let’s do Holy Island in another post.

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