from Sandy Needham

Monday, August 29, 2016

USA Travel Dispatch: Southwest

I begin the story of our US Summer 2016 travels with the story of our last three days before leaving Natal.

We were preparing to host a home exchange couple and some relatives while we'd be away. The wooden shelf above the kitchen counter was so full of critters eating it from the inside that sawdust kept falling right where food preparation would normally take place. So we called the carpenter who has done a pretty good job for us in the past to order a new shelf made of Formica, to be delivered posthaste. Once the carpenter was standing in our kitchen, we went ahead and designed new cabinets to be installed under the granite counter, where sawdust was also falling from the drawer tracks. These were to be delivered 2-1/2 months later upon our return.

In the meantime, we realized that the faucet was leaking. We bought a new fixture and had Marcos, our caretaker, install it. The problem turned out to be the old pipe, and now we had a virtual flood streaming into our kitchen. We called a plumber who also does tile work, as the wall would have to be broken open. All went well until I discovered that he positioned the replacement tile at a slight angle below the tile above it. I'm visual.

On Wednesday-before-flying-off early Saturday, the carpenter appears with the new shelf and...surprise! They managed to make the new cabinets, too!! Well, I have three days already filled with trip preparations, and the strip of raw wood trim along the new doors and drawer edges has to be painted - not only for aesthetics, but also for protection while our guests use the kitchen. I am too stunned by this inopportune timing to even bring up the fact that the new shelf Formica is pure, bluish white and the cabinet Formica is the long-discussed, desired off-white. I mean we had talked about off-white for fifteen minutes.

I get busy and painstakingly place masking tape along the edges between wood and Formica for eight drawers and three doors, in order to start painting the next morning. (I am the only person who paints edges in the house - Marcos just doesn't understand the boundary between wood and Formica.) 

The cleaning lady arrives the next morning before we're downstairs, somehow misreads the situation, and rips off all the masking tape to be helpful. I almost faint when I discover this. Because she's a bit rough, the stacked drawers also now have a couple of dents and nicks. I have two days, starting again from scratch. I paint the trim yellow - one coat; two coats; three humidity. It's now Saturday morning and while I am frantically throwing the last items into a suitcase, Newton is installing the drawers in the cabinets and frantically throwing all the utensils, tea towels, etc. back, approximately in their former configurations. Off we fly.

I never had a chance to assess the new cabinets and drawers until we returned 2-1/2 months later; they're very nice! A pity they don't match the shelf.

Newton and I covered quite a swath of USA geography between us this trip. We started in Austin, Texas for Newton's trade show.

As an Austin man I met later in NYC described it: Austin is a little blueberry in a big red state. The vibe is never lost on me - I love the place. I had a Sunday afternoon of superb live music with tacos in the shade while Newton was setting up the trade show. My dinner out with the company was amazing: traditional Southern American food at the Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill.  

My cousin, Linda McCracken Knight, daughter of my mother's twin brother, picked me up in Austin for some great second-hand shopping. She has a new award-winning farmhouse outside Temple, Texas. I had a fun overnight there with her and Wade, her heart surgeon-husband. He is trading his scalpel for cows, tractors and hay bales nowadays. Linda does anything and everything a home, farm and community might require!

Cowboy boot store in Austin

Cousin Linda!
I got a kick out of going to the US Post Office in this rural area. It is open from 7:00-9:00am only, and the woman on duty is very friendly and talkative! The two packages I wanted to send were going to cost over $100 at the United Parcel store in Austin. After my using Linda's wrapping supplies, the US Post Office gave me the educational rate: $6.68 for the two. They both arrived in three days!

Sun room with tractor seats
The farm is named for our Grandfather McCracken's farm in Oklahoma City: "Sunny Lane"

Newton planned to fly off to Asia after Austin while I visited my hometown and reunited with three college friends in Wisconsin, but he and his partners decided it was better to postpone the Asia trip. Newton quickly zeroed-in on a last minute, single spot on an 8-day rafting trip on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. He had done this in 2001 and it had been his favorite thing.

My 4 days in Tulsa, Oklahoma were sheer bliss! I stayed with my old, dear friends, Vivian and Mike Nemec, who live on my old street! I am still unable to turn my head when I walk or drive by my old house because it has been altered; I had such a happy childhood there, I prefer the memory to remain intact. The tree-lined neighborhood is as beautiful as ever, and the familiar, fragrant smell conjures up all my carefree summers!

Vivian, Mike & Rusty

Vivian & son David - world traveler and fascinating conversationalist!

Amazing hydrangeas in their garden
I hope my second Tulsa breakfast with Vivian and our dear high school friend, Jan Rogers Magee, signals an ongoing tradition!

I had the great privilege of joining the entire Nemec family at the 40th birthday party of their son, Adam. It was a super-special evening in a wonderful, sophisticated house adorned with photos and artifacts of Adam's own world travels.

Ack and Velcro
I also spent some good times with one of my old fav's, Tom Ackley (aka Ack, Tom Bob) and his remarkable wife Susan. They moved back to town after 8 years of running a bed & breakfast in Costa Rica, so it had been a stretch since we had compared notes. I loved joining the long early morning walk with Ack and Velcro; partaking of one of their famous breakfast recipes from B&B days; gabbing; third world bitching; political commiserating (Ack was a Bernie Sanders delegate in Philadelphia soon after!); soaking up the can-do vitality, grounded good sense and soaring spirits of these two people. Just had to go back for "the perfect burger" barbecue and more gab, joined by a long-lost classmate, Dick Day. 
Ack & Susan's back yard

Ack & friends making a 50-year high school reunion video with Lynne
I visited my high school gym teacher, Lynne Morgan, who keeps in touch with many former students and provides a network for all of us! Her daughter Katie just covered her eighth Olympics with NBC, in Rio. Katie always writes hilarious and informative insider dispatches from these experiences.

Lynne & Katie

Throw it back!
My darling nephew Mark moved to a new house with a pond in nearby Owasso, Oklahoma. I had dinner with him, his beautiful wife Jenny and one of their three beautiful daughters, Taylor. Apparently the copper from the street lights has been stolen out there, so I had pitch blackness and, coincidentally, phone reception failure when I ventured back to Tulsa. What a relief the phone directions kicked in soon after I missed the correct highway!

Taylor, Mark & Jenny

Oklahoma is overrun with social conservatives and Big Oil, competing for "US state becoming Third World the fastest" - mostly by unconscionably defunding the schools that were so solid in my day. But I swear, I know some of the best people on this earth there!

Meanwhile in the Grand Canyon, Newton was having a riot on the rapids!

And awaiting me in Chicago...a stretch limo and champagne!



  1. What fun! Loved hearing of your "at home" adventure and the pictures are wonderful. Nice job with both the visual and the narrative. I'll wait for the next installment. Max

  2. I guess if you have to be in Texas, Austin is the place to be. I understand it is the one oasis in the state.

    None of my close friends from my Tulsa days still reside there, but it nice to visit on occasion. I avoid driving down the street where I grew up. When my Mom died and we sold the house it was completely changed. Trees were removed, a wood fence was put up, and the red brick was painted yellow. We have a picture of the house I knew hangin in our entryway and I prefer to remember what it was instead of what it has become. I must say that Newton, got the best end of the deal. A trip down the Colorado through the Canyon has been something I've always wanted to do.


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