We’re almost out the door. I just have to get dressed and we need to put our suitcases and provisions in the car (we’ll be driving for about 14 straight hours, so we’ll need to be able to eat on the run) and we’re out of here.

So one last thing before I go. Our eldest furbaby, Alex’s diabetic cat with IBD, may very well now be Alex’s cat with IBD. When we were in California, his glucose was normal all week, despite not being given any insulin. And then, for the weeks since, we also didn’t give him any insulin. For those playing at home, that means that as of today he’s gone exactly one month without insulin.

black domestic medium hair cat with burgundy knitting on couch

Alex’s baby, circa 2003, with some of my knitting. I need to get back to knitting someday.

They tested his glucose today, and it was picture perfect. We’ll need to test his glucose again in another month and then every two or three months for a while, but it sure looks like he may no longer be diabetic.

My now-ex and I used to hate driving up Interstate 35 during the daytime. Even back in the days when we were on 35 fairly regularly (visiting family in Chicago or friends in Austin or Dallas), which would be nearly 10 years ago now, Interstate 35 was awfully congested. So on occasions when we were leaving Texas, we started the drive up 35 at night. This generally meant that we’d see Dallas in our rear-view mirror by sunrise. Since Omaha is pretty much a straight shot up Interstate 35, Alex and I are going to continue the tradition by leaving at 10:00 p.m. today.

So once I get my shower done, we’re going to do our last-minute errands. We need to board our senior cat (16 years old with inflammatory bowel disease and diabetes) and then pick up some Sugru to reinforce the ends of my phone’s charging cable. Then we’ll run up to Walmart to pick up a few other non-edible items, then to HEB for refrigeratable food (they have big containers of sliced Gala apples that Alex and I have basically been inhaling for the last couple of months). I’m pretty sure that’s going to be it errand-wise for today.

Then we have to clean. I need to vacuum my bedroom floor and we need to clean the bathroom. I failed to clean the bathroom once before I went out of town, and what I came home to was not pleasant. Then we’ll take a nap so that we’re fresh for our 14-hour drive (which will probably take 16 hours, what with bathroom stops and things).

I’m pretty much done packing. I’ve got five shirts and five sets of underwear (I always bring one extra, just in case, and I have actually needed it) and have packed Alex’s and my medications and our soap. I just need to pack my deodorant and shampoo and I’m done with that.

So here’s a short post, just to keep my hand in.

I think that my next language is going to be Russian. I have two friends who speak Russian and one might be forgiven for thinking, “She has built-in conversation partners if she goes with Russian,” but that’s not the actual reason.

Also, Russian is the eighth-most-spoken language in the world, so Russian would give me the ability to converse with, or read books written by, another 160 million people (on top of the 1.9 billion that I already have covered with my first five languages). But that’s not the reason, either, really.

I really would love to go to St. Petersburg someday. The chocolate Lenins are supposedly really good. But that’s not it, either.

My maternal great-grandmother spoke five languages, one of which was Russian. And having that in common with her would be kind of cool, but I already speak two of her five languages — English and German.

Nope. I want to learn to speak Russian because I have only two official languages of the United Nations to go, and I really don’t feel up to tackling Arabic yet. I know there’s technically one more, but  I’m putting French off for my very, very last language; the first two times I attempted it, tragedy followed, so I figure I’ll leave it for a point where I’ve achieved everything else I want in my life.

That was odd. I started this post and, just as I was finishing the title, I got a message saying that the backup version of this post was different from this one (which is kind of impossible, since I was just starting this post) then, as I typed the word “California,” the message disappeared and took with it everything after “I’m.”

Since public parks are one of my things, I did visit a few parks while I was out there: Griffith Park (of course), Hancock Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Leo Carrillo State Park, and Point Fermin Park, among others.

I also had the opportunity to visit a doctor in the Los Angeles area. I accidentally smacked myself in the eye with my knuckle while drying off after my shower and scratched my cornea. It was healed by the next day, but I was terrified at first that I would have to spend my entire vacation holed up in my hotel, or limited to however-many sites I could get to by public transportation in a day. I didn’t even have to stay home for one day, since I could see okay and wasn’t sensitive to light.

I got to visit the desert for the first- (and second-) ever time. The only desert in Texas is considerably west of here and I don’t think I’ve gone that far west yet. I think that the Salt Lake City area is also subhumid and I don’t think we got into the actual desert at all there, either.

I’ll start going through all this in a more orderly fashion beginning in another couple of days. Probably.

Every time I think about posting here, I remember how long it’s been and put it off again.

Welcome to procrastination.

I think I’m going to stop recapping absolutely everything I read in National Geographic. So much of what they are writing about now, all of the scientific research stuff, particularly, is interesting to me to read, but not so interesting to blog about. So I think I’m going to limit myself to travel articles.

I’ve been stressed out by work and my elderly animals. Diabetic cat, Cosmo, has been losing weight and we’ve slowly been decreasing his insulin. Long story and I need to get to bed. We’ve added gabapentin to our arthritic dog, Foxy’s regimen. Another long story.

Why do I need to get to bed?

Because in about six hours from right now, Alex and I will be off to Los Angeles for our annual “big trip.” In less than 12 hours from now, we’ll be starting our trip along the Pacific Coast Highway starting in Orange County and working our way northwest. I also plan to stop off at Sweet Cup in Garden Grove for an ice cream taco in the morning, as well. So I hope to have a bunch of adventures to share with you once we’re back. I may make a post or two while we’re out and about.

Oh, and I’m doing the Samsung Health Global Challenge for the second month running. I ended June somewhere in the low 100,000s and right now I’m in the low 80,000s (with 194,000 steps so far this month). Hopefully we’ll find lots of opportunities to walk over the next week and I’ll be able to keep and improve upon my standing. We’ll see what happens down the line.

 

Upon digging through my subconscious, I remembered a high school trip to Pella, Iowa, and, several years before that, a trip to one of the Amish settlements in Iowa. I don’t have pictures from either, which is why I didn’t remember them. And to make things worse, I’m not entirely sure where in Iowa the Amish settlement was. I’m almost certain that the actual place we were visiting was a Girl Scout camp in the Rock Island/Moline/Davenport/Bettendorf area.

Actually, looking at the map, I think we were in Iowa City, which means that the Amish community was probably Kalona? And Kalona does have guided tours of the Amish community, which sounds like what we did.

Now, is there a Girl Scout camp in Iowa City? I don’t see one, but we’re talking about, oh, dear God, how long ago was that? 1979? 1978? I dropped out of Girl Scouts before the 1980/1981 school year, so no later than early 1980. A lot of things may have changed in the Iowa City area in 37 years.

The only thing I really remember about the camp was inside of the cabin we slept in. I guess I’m going to spend some time looking at photos of Girl Scout camps in Iowa. If I can ever figure out where in Iowa we were, I’ll be able to tell you which Amish community it was. And if I can’t, I guess I’ll just make a post “Amish Community, somewhere in Iowa” someday.

I really don’t know if I’m getting any better at all at this, but I’m putting a pretty decent amount of money aside this way.

So far, I’m up to Duolingo levels: 15 in Spanish, 13 in Italian, and 11 in German. And in 16 more points, I’ll be at level 12 in German (so tomorrow night, probably).

In Rosetta Stone Vietnamese, I’m just a little more than halfway done with the whole course. Halfway is the end of Unit 2 of Level 2 and I’m about halfway done with Unit 3 of Level 2. It took me six months to make it this far, but I haven’t hit the wall yet, which surprises the heck out of me.

In Rosetta Stone Mandarin, I’m at the Milestone for Level 1 Unit 3. I’m trying to keep Mandarin quite a ways behind my progress in Vietnamese because I’m afraid of getting the two languages confused. I’m pretty sure that I won’t, because I’ve been working on my Mandarin for nearly 10 years now, but the languages have some commonalities. Both languages have “measure words,” for example, which go before countable nouns. Like in Mandarin, “a dog” is “yī zhǐ gǒu.” The “zhǐ” is the measure word. In Vietnamese, “a dog” is “một con chó” and the “con” is the measure word. As a result, the structure of the courses are pretty similar.

Finishing both Rosetta Stone courses should bring me somewhere in the Bs of the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages). I’ve heard that a three-level Rosetta Stone course takes you to the end of B1 and that it takes you to the end of B2. One thing said that it only takes you to the beginning of B1, but whichever way you slice it, I should have made or at least be ready to make the leap from Basic to Independent User stage.

I bought El Leon, la Bruja y el Ropero (the Spanish-language translation of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe) as an ebook from Amazon.com, and while on a road trip yesterday, I made it through 22% of the book.  Since that’s a 200-page book (give or take), that 22% was 44 pages, so I paid myself 44 cents. I also found a translation error. The room that contains the wardrobe is empty except for the wardrobe and a dead bluebottle on the windowsill. The translator made bluebottle into “botella azul,” which is a blue bottle. A bluebottle is a kind of fly.

And I spoke Mandarin to a patient today. I only gave her the amount of her change in Mandarin, and it took her a few moments to assimilate the fact that the pharmacy technician had just spoken Mandarin to her, but I did it. And someday, I might actually be comfortable with this. I’ve already made that leap in Spanish at work. Now, will I ever get my courage up enough to speak Vietnamese to my Vietnamese patients?

I’ve tried a new-to-me site called Language Zen, and it has me pulling my hair out. Almost literally. You can only study for 15 minutes then you have to stop for three hours unless you want to pay money, and every time I go to the site, I have hundreds and hundreds of words to work on (right now, I have “less (sic) than 580”) and I get the same damn questions every time. I fully accept that las noticias apenas duran unos segundos. I really do. Stop asking me. Part of why I have so many words and keep getting the same questions may be because I don’t spend much time there. But I don’t find it particularly rewarding. I’ve been doing the questions in another tab while writing this, and I now have “less than 575 words” to practice. I need to give myself a whole lot more than 30 cents (which is my current top payment, for a Rosetta Stone core lesson) to make me come back to that site more often than I have to.

So far, I’ve saved up more than $180 from this project and been paid a whole $0.64 in interest. I’m not going to make my fortune at this this way, but just maybe the profit motive will be enough to keep me going until I can turn this into a skill that I can get paid a decent amount for and I’ll make my fortune that way.

I finally made it to exactly one Fiesta event this year, the Fiesta de los Reyes at Market Square. The “Reyes” of the title is, specifically, the Rey Feo (literally “ugly king,” but some of our Reyes Feos have been quite attractive in my opinion). From what I can gather, the man who becomes Rey Feo is the one who raises the most money towards a scholarship program.

The Fiesta de los Reyes came across as a pretty standard street festival. Fortunately, I love street festivals. There were several stages set up (one under Interstate 35, one on San Saba Street, and at least two down Produce Row).

Okay, you’re going to need some kind of a map. I may have zoomed in on this a bit much, but here it is:

1908 San Antonio Map of the Market Square area

Map of San Antonio from 1909 (and thus in the public domain) showing where Interstate 35, San Saba Street, and Produce Row are (also Houston and Santa Rosa Streets and Milam Park, for reference).

Interstate 35, of course, wasn’t there yet in 1909, because the Interstate System wasn’t even authorized by Congress until 1956. The US Numbered Highway system (things like US Route 1, US Route 6, US Route 30, etc.) wasn’t even in place yet in 1909.

Probably St. Anthony, Market Square, San Antonio 2017

I’m pretty sure that this is St. Anthony. I’ve been to Market Square a couple of times in the past, but never noticed that little alcove up there before.

The bands that were playing when we were there in the early afternoon were a Mexican group called Dynastia Moreno (unfortunately, I’m not that familiar with Mexican musical styles to be able to identify their style of music. They sounded good, though), a Christian gospel/blues band called, well, Rev. Blues (they’re Texans, but blues bands always make me homesick for Chicago), a cover band of what looked like teenagers that was playing “Enter Sandman” as we walked past, and some other band at the Santa Rosa and Produce Row end of Market Square on a stage on the steps of the old Museo Alameda, which is now the Centro de Artes of Texas A&M – San Antonio. Unfortunately, it was too crowded for me to be able to read the signs giving the names of those groups. I figured I’d be able to look them up later, and I’m having no luck at all with that yet.

The Museo Alameda was an experiment on the part of the people at the Smithsonian. The Museo Alameda was a museum for Latin American art that was a full affiliate of the Smithsonian. It didn’t really catch on, unfortunately, and only five years after it opened, the Museo Alameda closed its doors. San Antonio still has a Smithsonian affiliate, though. Since 2014, the Witte Museum has been a Smithsonian affiliate.

That reminds me, the new upgrades to the Witte are done and Alex and I visited it and took even more pictures. I have to post that soon.

An overhead view of the crowds at Fiesta de los Reyes, 2017

See what I mean about the crowds?

And, as I said before, Market Square was packed with people. It was a lovely day in the mid- to high 70s, so Alex and I had more energy than we do during the summer months, but it was even a little crowded for me, and I generally love the hustle and bustle of public festivals. So we walked once around and got a little of the fiesta spirit, took some pictures, and then went home. The “walk once around,” by the way?  Took an hour and a half.

 

Fiesta is the biggest party of the year in San Antonio and I’m afraid that I haven’t fiesta-ed nearly as much as I should have as a travel blogger.

I guess we probably should go back to the beginning. Well maybe not all the way to the beginning, because that’s when groups like the Apache, the Comanche, the Caddo, and the Coahuiltecans were the only humans in this area of North America, and that’s beyond the scope of this post (I may share some of that part of the history of the area when I write about the various mission).  In the 17th Century, the government of Spain decided to expand New Spain, which was located in what are now Florida and Mexico, into the mainland of what is now the United States.

In 1810, Mexico (which included most of the southwest of the United States, which included parts of Colorado and Wyoming) began an 11-year process of gaining independence from Spain.

Well, once Mexico had its independence, Texas apparently decided that this was a pretty good idea, and so they fought a roughly six-month war against Mexico from October of 1835 until April of 1836 (you see that April there? we’ll be coming back to it in a minute).

The first major battle was fought in San Antonio on October 28, 1835. This was the Battle of Concepcion, so called because it was fought on the grounds of Mission Concepcion. The Mexican soldiers took comparatively heavy losses and retreated, making this a win for the Texians (yes, that “i” is intentional — it was the demonym for Texas back then).

Things wouldn’t go so smoothly on March 6, 1836. This was the date of the Battle of the Alamo, in which somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 Texians  were killed and Mexico was declared the winner. Most of the bodies of the slain Texians were cremated on pyres near the site of the battle. The exact sites have been lost to history, but I have heard that the place where the San Antonio Fire Museum is currently located may have been one, and others may have been along Commerce Street.

Then, on April 21, 1836, the two armies faced off for the final battle of the war near present-day LaPorte. Ultimately, the battle, known as Battle of San Jacinto for reasons that I can’t quite get confirmation of, took 18 minutes. The Mexicans retreated and the Texians reportedly chased them down, killing as many Mexicans as they could. Nobody ever said that the Texians were good winners.

In the late 19th Century, the city of San Antonio decided to mark the anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto with, well, a party. Originally called Fiesta San Jacinto, the centerpiece of Fiesta was the Battle of the Flowers, which was sort of like the Tournament of Roses Parade, if people would rip the flowers off of the floats and throw them at each other. Look, I’ve lived in Texas for 24 years, as of next month, and sometimes I suspect that I’m no closer to being able to explain Texans now than I was back in 1993.

Fiesta San Antonio decorations, 2014

Plastic papel picado decorations on the River Walk, Fiesta 2014

The name was changed to Fiesta San Antonio in 1960 and Fiesta is now ten days long, beginning the Friday before April 21 and ending not that next Sunday, but the Sunday after that, so an entire week and two weekends. The day of Battle of the Flowers Parade is a day off for many, including all teachers, staff, and students of the schools of San Antonio.

In my 24 years here, I’ve never gone whole-hog for Fiesta. I’ve been to Fiesta events at the Botanical Gardens and I think maybe the zoo once. My mother and I went to Fiesta San Fernando, which is music, dancing, and food in Main Plaza one year, I even attended the Battle of the Flowers Parade in 2014 (it was a parade; except for the Fiesta princesses on some of the floats, it didn’t look much different from the Fourth of July parade in my Chicago suburb home town), but not much else.

I began writing this post on April 28, which was Battle of the Flowers Day, but it took several hours to compose and so now it’s Saturday. Later today, if I can get the energy up to do so, I hope to rectify some of my Fiesta non-participation. I hope to make it to Market Square for their Fiesta event and if I can hack the hour walk there and back, I might check out the King William Fair, as well.

But, before I can even consider doing any Fiesta-ing, I’d better get some sleep.

I think I’ve updated y’all on the plans. At first we planned to go to Europe this year. We planned to fly into Amsterdam, then visit Rotterdam, then into Germany, where we would go to Berlin, Munich, and Heidelberg (stopping at Neuschwanstein just because). After that I had hoped to visit Brussels before going back to Amsterdam for the flight home. In my dream version of this trip, I hoped to stop off at Baarle-Hertog and Baarle-Nassau, the two towns of Belgium and the Netherlands, respectively, that are sort of intertwined with one another.

Late in 2016, we scaled that trip down to a trip to Canada. The plan was to fly into Toronto, then drive a rental car to Quebec City, where there is going to be a tall ship regatta this summer. But Alex made a friend in California and really wanted to visit there, so early this year, we scaled it further back to a week in Southern California.

I just realized this last week that one of our traditional July trip destinations is a national park. In 2011, we went to the National Mall; in 2012, it was Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park; in 2013, we had Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, the Wright Brothers National Memorial, *and* Cape Hatteras National Seashore; in 2014, it was Parco Nazionale del Vesuvio; in 2015, it was Statue of Liberty National Monument; and in 2016, it was Golden Spike National Historic Site and, of course Yellowstone.

But what to do in Southern California? I was hoping to get to Catalina Island while I am in California, since I’ve never been to Catalina before, but it’s expensive. Channel Islands National Park is less expensive so it was tempting, but apparently you have to pick one island, and the closest island is still an hour away by boat, and the boats leave from Ventura, which is an hour from our hotel. So that’s a four-hour round trip. And apparently there’s not really anything to do on the islands unless you like to kayak, which doesn’t seem like my sort of thing. There’s not even a place to take shelter from the rain on Anacapa, which is the one that’s only an hour-long trip.

If the boats traveled more like the ones at Statue of Liberty National Monument, where you could take one boat to Anacapa, then another in an hour or two to Santa Cruz, and so on, it might be worth it. Take a boat to one island and be stuck there for the rest of the day is less exciting for me (oh, and apparently the seagulls are nesting on the island in July, so it’s apparently noisy and smells like seagull poop). This means, of course, that if I want to go to an island, I’m back to considering Catalina.

In contrast, our hotel is about two hours away from Joshua Tree National Park. I’ve been looking at pictures and doing some reading, and you can see the San Andreas Fault from there, and there are a couple of oases in the park.  So if I’m going to spend four hours in a rental car to get to and from a national park, Joshua Tree gets my vote.