Wednesday, December 29, 2021

New Year's tips in COVID times: For a fun, safe, virus-free 2022!

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers off to board 
a Cessna for a fabulous tour around the island of Kauai, Hawaii.
Entering the state called for patience, QR codes and long lines.

Keller and Cookie put a lei-clad cap
on 2021, with caution, masks and hope.


TRAVEL TODAY in Covid times is unlike anything we've experienced anywhere in the world.
It calls for courtesy, patience, flexibility, adjustment -- plus the ability to land on one's feet.
If one wants to travel again -- and we do -- it's important to soldier on, obey the rules and pick up the pieces of life "B.C.," (before Covid.) 
On our current trip, we found entry to Hawaii to be time consuming and stressful.  We're here now, spending a couple weeks during the year's busiest travel season.  It's much like entering Europe, Asia or South America and takes equal time.
While as U.S. citizens, we don't have to contend with a customs line, travelers must line up to show IDs and QR codes -- an electronic version of health documents, verifying vaccination.
QR codes must be shown
entering Hawaii. Rules change
quickly so check the website. 

WE SPENT nearly 90 minutes in a line at Honolulu International Airport, waiting to show we'd followed the "Safe Travel Hawaii" protocol to prove vaccination and allow us entry into the state. Because of the delay in working up the long line, we missed our connection to Lihue, and had to  rebook for a flight to Kauai two hours later. This involved retagging our bags (another long line) which resulted in our nearly missing that second flight, too.
Although this sounds like a lot to contend with, it's nothing compared to intra-Europe travel.  Israeli friends tested a half-dozen times on a recent trip to the Greek Isles and Italy, then a trans-Atlantic sail to Madeira and on to the U.S.  Vaccination proof was carried with passports for frequent use.
IT'S BEEN TWO years since Covid introduced us to our new reality: masking, distancing, vaccinations, cancelled trips, frustration, testing and worry.
Our Hawai'i resort on Kailua Kona required our QR codes, proving
 vaccination. We must also wear bracelets and masks on the property.
We knew when we booked this trip, it would be a close call to make the inter-island connection. We were grateful our Hawaiian fire dance banquet was the next evening -- or we might have missed that, too.
 Other aspects to note:
*Hotel maid service is bare bones as the industry recovers from closures, lay-offs and employee shortages.  Our pricy resort requires 24-hour advance request for room cleaning and provides bags for setting out our own trash and towels.
*Many hotels now require proof of vaccination; the word is that airlines will soon follow suit.
ALTHOUGH OUR "travel wings" have been clipped, we are "triple vaxed," and back on the road, writing this piece from a hotel overlooking Kauai's Wailua Bay at Kauai's lovely Hilton Garden Inn, and the splendid, showy Hilton Waikoloa Village.
Roosters and parrots are singing, greeting a splendid time in paradise.  We've had sporadic rain for days -- "liquid sunshine"  -- but are thankful to be traveling again.  
A few weeks ago, masks briefly off at Palm
 Desert's Living Desert Zoo and Gardens.  
Who would have guessed our pandemic purgatory would continue into a third winter?  "First Covid winter, second Covid winter," our niece Amarylla says. Now we embark upon "third Covid winter."  Instead of lions and tigers and bears, oh my, we have masking, distancing and fears. Double oh my!

A few years ago, New Year's Day in Rome before
masking, at the beautiful Trevi Fountain. 

lifelong travelers, born and bred.  Keller grew up with an Army dad and adventuresome mom.  He spent the first two years of life on a military base in Europe.  Cookie's dad was a pilot and her mother loved travel, too, so she grew up in the back seat of a Cessna, taking family train trips to New York to see plays, baseball games and a memorable 1964 World's Fair.
Traveling domestically with elderly Yorkie Nick is nothing
compared to traveling to Hawaii in COVID times.
When Keller and I met 14 years ago, we began a tradition of "holidays on the road."
It has taken us to New Year's Eve climbing Sydney's famous Harbour Bridge in Australia, to Singapore, Barcelona, Rome, the Austrian Alps, Iceland for the Northern Lights and on many cruises. Last year -- before our first vaccination in late January -- we spent the holidays in southern California, at our nearby Hotel Del Coronado.  We brought our aging, loveable Yorkie, Nick, and with the vaccine still weeks away, we were in full-out masking mode, using room service, making our own hotel bed.  
New Year's Eve just before Covid, December of 2019.
Since then, we've had six cruises cancelled and continue
to rebook and hope we'll be cruising again by spring. 
MANY OF OUR friends in Europe, New Zealand, Israel, the UK and Asia were disappointed when trips cancelled. English friends had planned to be in Austria for the beautiful Christmas markets this year, but that plan fell apart because of high Covid numbers in Austria. Our Israeli friends experienced their British Air flight from Washington, D.C. to Tel Aviv cancelled.  They had to rebook on El Al, at a much higher price, lost their business seats and departed from JFK instead. Says our friend, a seasoned traveler, "As far as I am concerned, traveling in COVID times, especially long trips, is a 'No No'."
Full vaccination is required for anyone travelling abroad and we recommend it for domestic travel, too -- in fact, any travel at all, even a simple auto or train trip within the same county, state or district.  The CDC advises against travel unless fully vaccinated, and as of Dec. 6,
Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers brave
the 2021-22 holidays at Hilton Waikoloa Village.

insists that international travelers show negative Covid test results.
WHEREVER YOU are as the ball drops Saturday in New York's Times Square, may your 2022 be filled with love, kindness, caution and good health. 
For the mandatory state of Hawaii travel and health form, go to: You'll need to create an account, upload required documents and receive a QR code to present upon entering Hawaii. It's a long, laborious procedure.  You'll register with Safe Travel Hawaii, and follow instructions. If you don't, you'll be pulled aside and mandatory quarantine will be strictly enforced. for the most recent recommendations and rules.

Cookie and Keller set sail in Key West, about to board a
famous boat, "When and If," designed for famed Army
general Patton, for "when and if" he could sail after WWII. 
UP NEXT:  Key West calls.  The furthest point south in the United States is a lively place with plenty to do, plus history, cats, roosters and museums. We recently spent a week in this lively town, famous for watersports, an energetic nightlife, beaches, historic sites and its lovely pastel, conch-style architecture which reminds of the nearby Caribbean.  Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on nature, dining, travel, the arts, family and more:

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Holiday happiness: food, fun, family and a cherished recipe

Bruce Keller displays the cookies he begged for and which the non-baker
Cookie provided. He pronounced them "incredible - far beyond edible


Grandmother Olive's vintage cookie cutters.

I AN NOT A BAKER. The art demands a precision that most improvisational cooks like me lack.
But I can still picture helping my grandmother make holiday cookies in the 1950s. The ritual was about  much more than sweets.  It was about sharing, learning, being together with my siblings and one of our all time favorite individuals.
The memories come happily alive. As I enter her well lit, geranium filled kitchen, I smell cookies baking, see  ingredients and utensils on the green counter. 
My grandmother, Olive, places a large yellow earthenware mixing bowl on the kitchen counter.
She holds her long wooden spoon like a conductor's baton, directing each grandchild to a specific task.
"Peny, beat the eggs."  "Cookie, measure sugar." "Rick, soften butter -- use a mixing spoon, not hands."
The little kids had separate "ingredients" -- flour, water, sprinkles to make their own faux cookies. 
"Watch how I sift the flour." "Here are measuring cups and spoons."  "Add an extra half-teaspoon of vanilla."  Then we mix the dry and moist ingredients. The first of the chocolate cookies cool on the counter and we children hurry to sample. 
We sing Christmas carols as we work.  Soon the counter is a mess of spilled sugar, wayward spices, egg shells. There's flour on the floor, in our hair. (Gran wears a pair of her clean pink knickers on her head, which makes us giggle.) The happily cluttered kitchen cupboard bears witness to our endeavor.   For me and my siblings, it's a cherished memory. 
Grandmother Olive
Nystul  (minus her
classic hair net.
CHRISTMAS COOKIES are a tradition in many families, and for mine, the cookies were several kinds: ginger snaps, sugar cookies and the family favorite: filled cookies, usually mincemeat and dates, with walnuts or pecans, sometimes coconut. Gram was a great improviser and encouraged that in all of us youngsters -- not only in the kitchen, but at the piano, the garden, in life in general.  
Her notes are priceless, and I've included them here.
    Dry ingredients: Mix together: 5 tsp baking powder, 4 cups sifted flour, 1 cup raw oatmeal, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp cinnamon, optional nutmeg, cloves, ginger or allspice 
  • In separate large mixing bowl, mix: 2 cups butter, 1 cup milk or buttermilk, 2 eggs. Cream these 3 ingredients with 2 cups packed brown sugar.)
  • Add sifted dry ingredients to creamed mixture. Chill dough a half hour.
  • Filling (have fun, improvise): 1 l/2 cup of dates, cup of jarred mincemeat or raisins, half-cup walnuts, 3 tbsp brandy or liquor of choice, 2 tbsp flour, 1 tbsp brown sugar or honey. Coconut, cranberries, grated orange rind. Chocolate or caramel chips make the filling too "goopy." Nice idea.
  • Grandmother Olive's filled cookies create family ambiance,
    teach baking skills and and leave lasting memories.

    If pressed for time, substitute 3-4 nine-inch prepared pie crust for dough. (No need to announce this.) Roll pastry thin on floured surface.  Pre-heat oven 350 degrees. Cut in circles or squares, top of large glass works well.  
    Separate dough into four or five rounds; refrigerate, remove one at a time. Fill each cookie with generous spoon of filling, pinch edges. Bake 10-12 minutes or until edges are golden brown.  Can store dough for a week or more, if covered. Store cookies in air tight jar. In our house, they don't usually last more than a day or two. This is a great recipe for introducing kids to the art of baking. 
"Keller and Cookie" on the road at Christmas time, off
to catch some sun, bound for a holiday away from home.
Happy holidays and a joyous New Year! We've spent many a New Year's Eve on the road, ushering in the next day on Bali, in Buenos Aires, Berlin and in Big Timber, Montana!   We take a look at the traditions and fun of celebrating this festive season and the turn of the year -- from Europe to our own back yards in San Diego and the West Fork of the Stillwater River. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a fresh spin on travel, nature, family, the arts and more: Please share the link with like-minded folks.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Morro Bay: play, stay on the bay, with seals, otters and great seafood

Morro Rock stands imposingly and majestically in the waters, as it has for centuries, welcoming
tourists and modern-day explorers. The rock is beloved by locals for its lore and ancient history.

A regal seagull checks out the surf near Morro Rock.

AN ANCIENT landmark, revered by native people and photographed by tourists, greets curious visitors and charms locals in Morro Bay, Calif.
Explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo named the towering 476-foot rock known by sailors as an imposing navigational aid.
It stands sentinel above the entrance to Morro Bay.  Cabrillo's "discovery" was made during his voyage up the California coast in 1542 --50 years after Columbus made his famous voyage to the new world on the other side of the country.
Cookie and Keller enjoy a bay stroll near sunset.
THOUSANDS of years before, native  
people fished the rich coastal waters and traversed the land of long-extinct volcanoes which formed the historic landmark.
Morro Rock goes back 23 million years. The "Gibraltar of the Pacific," is the last peak of the Nine Sisters, which extend from San Luis Obispo to Morro Bay. The rock was mined until 1963.
Still today, there's a feeling of age and mystery about the rock's place on the beautiful bay, shrouded in fog as it often is and looking like a movie backdrop.
ONE CAN picture long-ago Spanish galleons, when commerce relied on the sea for transport.
Farmers came to work the land, and miners worked the hills and caves. 
Morro Rock is an imposing sight from the hotel balcony.
Located as it is midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Morro Bay is a stopping off place for us and many others on our drives up the coast from San Diego. California's renowned Pacific Coastal Highway runs right through the center of this quietly satisfying little beach town.
Everything seems to center around the beach, where high school students work out and can easily walk to or from their school.
Morro Bay is a fishing town. Dozens of privately owned boats on hitches line residential streets and you can't go wrong ordering seafood at the dozen or so popular restaurants.
Morro Bay is a fishing and tourist town. The
seafood is abundant and delicious everywhere.
WE GOT GREAT tips from our hotel check-in clerk at Ascot Suites, a charming, centrally located hotel with an abundance of English country art.   We took our happy hour drinks to the rooftop sundeck with a beautiful vista of the bay and rock.  We lingered to enjoy a perfect sunset with gorgeous shirt sleeves weather in late October.  Locals say the pleasant temperatures last through the holidays.
Thousands of people visit Morro Bay each year so there are over a dozen hotels, plenty of B&Bs, and assorted other rentals -- from simple and rustic to plush and expensive.
After a day of play on the bay,
Bruce Keller enjoys sunset.
FOR A TOWN of only 11,000 there is a surprising amount of activity and entertainment.   We happened upon live music on the bay -- and asked about the town's other landmark: three large smokestacks.  They're from an old power plant and can be seen from almost everywhere in town. We nature lovers delighted in the wildlife, too. We saw harbor seals, sea lions, sea otters, snowy plovers and peregrine falcons which nest on Morro Rock.
More info:;  
Gran Olive's filled date and mincemeat cookies.
We'll share her recipe next week. Please "tune in."
UP NEXT: A non-baker finds courage to restore a family tradition: making Christmas cookies, grandmother's recipe no less.  After a day of kitchen duty for Cookie, Keller is munching his way through the holidays with the results. We share a favorite family recipe -- my grandmother's delicious date and mincemeat filled cookies. We also travel the globe in search of foodie fun to celebrate the holidays in style with other cultures.
Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a fresh look at family, travel, cruising, nature, the arts and more. Please share the link and tell your friends:

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Astoria Maritime Museum offers superb look at Pacific Northwest's stormy sea connection


Crossing the fabled bar where the Columbia meets the Pacific is the focus of several exhibits
at the engaging Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon.  

Life-size exhibits draw viewers from around the world
into the story of Astoria's stormy relationship with the sea.


The museum's exhibits artfully blend photos,
artifacts, three-dimensional art and more.
Here, high-tech underwater diving of yore.

THE MARITIME history of Astoria, Oregon, is one of tumult, terror and triumph.
Many a ship and sailor have been pummeled by the surf -- thrown against the shoals on the treacherous Columbia River bar.
We learned at the Columbia River Maritime Museum that the river has taken at least 2,000 vessels and nearly as many lives.
MERGING OF river and ocean take on mythic proportion at the splendid museum, which does an excellent job of explaining the fascinating reality of meandering river meeting a wild ocean.  
A museum visitor notes the warning given as
ships approached convergence of river and sea.
This section is so rugged because of the huge volume of water as the river spreads nearing the ocean. It washes sands and sediments from many miles away against thrashing tides. As the 1,243-mile long Columbia reaches its mouth, its drainage basin is enormous -- almost the size of France. So when the swelling river meets the Pacific, it's a big deal. It began quietly in British Canada, gathering speed and ferocity before colliding with the turbulent Pacific. From the days of dugout canoes to the early 1900s, lives were lost in this crushing convergence.
Installation of great boulder-mound jetties more than a century ago made the area safer, but before that, the treacherous "bar" was a dangerous five miles wide and filled with changing channels and shifting shoals, making it a navigational nightmare.
A lighthouse lens designed by Fresnel is
artfully displayed in the Astoria museum.

THE MUSEUM takes a colorful look at the river and its importance to its host town and beyond -- a massive region between Washington and Oregon.  
 More than a traditional repository, the Columbia River Maritime Museum is a unique combination of seafaring vessels, maritime artifacts, and exquisite paintings, enhanced by exhibits, three-dimensional displays, live demonstrations and hands-on activities.
A giant ship's anchor is a focal
point outside the museum, and
often photographed by visitors.
One of the paintings, "Smoky Sunset on the Columbia River," is breathtaking -- a ship at full sail on one wide and a canoe on the other, all framed by haunting land and light. For my sailor partner and me, it was an engaging history lesson about boats, equipment and the hazards of the sea.
THE MUSEUM naturally focuses on the waterway that gave birth to Astoria and the northwest region of Oregon. But its scope is broader. Anyone with an interest in the sea and its dangers, challenges and pleasures will enjoy this creative gem of a museum.
The famous Morro Rock stands proudly in the harbor of
a quaint seaside town with shops, views, plenty to amuse.

UP NEXT: The pretty coastal town of Morro Bay, California, attracts hikers, drivers, sea lovers and tourists from around the world. Located midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, this lively village is home to world-famous Morro Rock, which serves as the backdrop to an enticing abundance of year-round outdoor activities. We explore the options -- kayaking, surfing, boating, golfing, hiking and biking. We also look at some quaint hotels and visit Morro Bay State Park, home to lagoons, trails and a rich bird-rich saltwater marsh. Remember to explore, learn and live at

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Astoria Oregon offers culture, fun, food, maritime wonders, trolley

The Flavel House and Heritage Museum in Astoria, Oregon, is one of Astoria's proudest structures..
It is named after Captain George Flavel, early day Astoria ship captain who navigated the Columbia. He was also an entrepreneur and the city's first millionaire. The museum has tours and a gift shop.


The Astoria Column was restored to celebrate Astoria's Bicentennial --
1811 to 2011. Several fund-raising endeavors rescued the historic piece. 


JOHN JACOB ASTOR  never made it to the charming Pacific Northwest town that bears his name. But the millionaire's investment in the region's booming fur trade in the early nineteenth century left an important legacy. 
Based at Fort Astoria, the Pacific Fur Company  established several other posts in the Columbia River Basin
The beautifully situated
Cannery Pier Hotel and Spa
welcomes guests on the
scenic Columbia River.
Several intriguing hotels
including Bowline await.
ASTORIA REMAINS a vital 21st Century town,  proud of its distinction as the first American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains. While the town carefully preserves links to its early 19th Century founding, it also offers "big city" pleasures -- fine dining, a world class maritime museum and the beautiful, award-winning Cannery Pier Hotel and Spa, with its bird's eye views of the mighty Columbia River. Astoria's Bowline Hotel is also on the river and looks lovely. Locals and tourists enjoy a popular trolley and carefully restored Victorian and Craftsman hillside homes dot the hills. The town boasts variety and vintage, attractive contemporary buildings which blend nicely with historic homes.
The town rose on prime land on the south shore of the Columbia River, near the Pacific.  The legacy of the first John Jacob Astor lives on in its well kept residences, a graceful mix of offices, shops, eateries and a splendid tower known as the Astoria Column.
BEAUTIFULLY RESTORED in several recent fundraising campaigns, the column stands sentinel over the town, a towering hilltop monument with murals depicting significant events in Oregon's early history. It survives 80 inches of rainfall a year and driving gale winds sweeping off the Pacific. 
The south shore of the Columbia River is a picturesque sight,
 where the majestic river meets the Pacific Ocean. 


WE CLIMBED the unique landmark,  which rises majestically to overlook the mouth of the Columbia River on Coxcomb Hill. Completed in 1926, the imposing concrete and steel structure is part of a 30-acre city park, well loved by locals and a "must see" for tourists.
Astoria's trolley is popular with locals
as well as the lively tourist trade.
Painted by Electus D. Litchfield and Attilio Pusterla, the column is a series of murals, boasting 32 scenes from the history of the region, including Captain Gray's discovery of the Columbia River in 1792 and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The idea for the column first came about in 1898 when the city decided that an electrified tower in a small town could attract attention, even rivaling the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It took nearly three decades to create the column with its panoramic views. 
ASTORIA'S ETHNIC mix is Scandinavian, Chinese and many other races, including the native American Clatsop tribe which helped Lewis and Clark survive a seriously dreary winter in 1805.
 WE ARE MUSEUM buffs so the Columbia River Maritime Museum attracted us.  Beautifully laid out, its dramatic displays showcase the fishing, shipping and military history in a dramatic waterfront building. (More on that next week.)
American Pride anchors in the waters of the Columbia River.
Then making use of our brief time in Astoria, we took in  the Flavel House Museum, a lovely, restored Queen Anne style Victorian mansion built by a clever ship captain and real estate mogul who also had an eye for period furniture.  His wife's manicured gardens live on as volunteers maintain the grounds and beds as they were.
ASTORIA ALSO has its share of bawdy history.  Along with its elegant architecture, it was also home to its share of brothels, breweries and opium dens.  That was long ago and today Astoria's trolley, a main attraction, winds past the onetime rowdy area.  The trolley is beloved by its residents, so we took a ride along the water, stopping for fish and chips then ice cream at a pair of the many inviting Astoria restaurants.
The Liberty Theatre has long
been a favorite vintage building. 

The 1925 Liberty Theater was another highlight for the two of us theater buffs. Built three years after the 1922 fire that destroyed much of the city, the one-time Vaudeville house was restored with nearly $9 million in donated funds. Astoria boasts some deep pockets and a "can do" spirit that the original J.J. Astor would certainly endorse and be proud of. We'll be back to this welcoming, interesting town, a happy blend of old, new and nice.

More;; (Maritime Museum);;; 

Beautifully rendered displays of nautical life are
part of the charm of Astoria's Maritime Museum.

UP NEXT: While we're on the Columbia River, and only 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean, we take readers inside the Columbia River Maritime Museum, considered one of the finest maritime museums in the country, and home to the largest collection of maritime artifacts in the Pacific Northwest.  More than 20,000 items, paintings, exhibits, drawings and memorabilia welcome visitors in a beautifully designed space.  Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, the arts, nature, family and more:

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Giving thanks: Family, friends, fitness, travel, the arts and vaccinations

Montana's most recent "gathering of the clan" --  50 people for Cookie's birthday celebration before
Covid. Today, we give thanks for each of these  loved ones -- who came from all over the country. 



WE SANG this song with gusto, to please our grandmother Olive who taught us the melody and her revised lyrics. Her favorite holiday was Thanksgiving. Coming shortly after her Nov. 19 birthday, it was an extension of that -- a bonus time together to play music, Scrabble, pinochle and cribbage, to visit, cook and feast.
Thanksgiving aboard Celebrity Century, with niece
Amarylla, mum Ellen, sister Robbie, and Cookie.
Friends were invited -- "strays," as gran called them.  That included the Catholic priest, widowed neighbors, a favorite teacher -- divorced and alone -- later college and newspaper friends whose families lived on the other side of the country.
MY GRANDPARENTS lived next door, so we didn't have far to go -- not "over the river" or "through the wood" but "down the steps and across the grass," our revised lyric. We were lucky to grow up with grandpa
Keller's and  Cookie's first Thanksgiving
 together was on the road at a Cuban restaurant.
rents steps away.  Having two homes was a luxury and our grandparents' plant and antique-filled house was safe haven from the tumult of our own hectic digs.
But there was joy in the chaos of our home, and I miss the holiday activity -- rehearsing in the music room for our traditional after-dinner concert, the wallop of ping pong paddles and balls in the garage game room, the milkman's faithful trudge up the back steps bringing beverages, cheeses and butter right into the kitchen, the reassuring slap of the morning paper against the front door, cats jumping on our beds to awaken us, dogs bringing their favorite fetch toys, fish to feed, plants to water, phone calls from those who couldn't make it.
One of Gran's beautiful tables.
OUR PARENTS would chat and tease, making appetizers and drinks for their open house. Next door, grandpa Gus whistled "Red River Valley" while helping gran Olive stuff and tie the the bird. 
We relished that alluring smell of turkey roasting, pumpkin pies baking, her famous mincemeat cookies cooling. I was in charge of setting several tables in the dining room, living room and kitchen-- two or three small ones for the kids. Granddad carved after sharpening his knife on a slick black stone.
Then, a weekend of leisurely prepared leftovers, including gran's famous "Turkey Wiggle." Everyone raided the frig for sandwiches  -- turkey, cranberry, mayonnaise, lettuce, swiss cheese, stuffing, sweet potatoes and pear chutney. Tupperwares of green and black olives, radishes, dill pickles, cucumber chips.
IT ALL SEEMS very Norman Rockwell, or "Father Knows Best."  Of course our lives were more complex than that. There were arguments, losses,
Thanksgiving for Keller and Cookie is usually on the
road -- here at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
disappointments, illness, sorrow. As I grew older, married and embarked on my newspaper career, there were more empty chairs at the family's home table. With grandparents gone, Thanksgiving began to include a a trip somewhere.  Siblings and friends scattered across the U.S., as our Thanksgivings split into smaller groups, not one massive gathering as in days of yore.
THIS THANKSGIVING -- spending time with my beloved Keller, we're relaxing with my Georgia sister and brother-in-law in Florida. I'm thankful for those wonderful memories -- corny, sentimental, glorified by time, knighted by my affection for those departed and still on Earth.
Cookie and Keller on Thanksgiving Day at 
Malta's Blue Lagoon. Thanksgiving tradition
now is a trip somewhere for these travel writers.
LET'S CELEBRATE friendships and family, those old and deep bonds with people we may not see or talk to except on holidays, but hold dear in our hearts and memories.  This year, let's be especially thankful for science, which has given us vaccinations to withstand the virus and hope for a brighter future.
We're thankful to be "triple Pfizered," with our boosters and certificates in hand.  We're thankful to be fit enough to exercise, walk, travel, explore the world.
I'm thankful for masking, and for others who have the courtesy to respect that. 
Thanksgiving 2021: Celebrating with David and
 Misha Minesinger, Cookie and Keller in Atlanta.
Keller and I are orphans, the senior members of our families -- his small one and my giant, scattered clan.  We miss our elders, and sometimes don't feel ready for our positions.
Our friends feel the same -- all miss their families and carry sentimental memories of Thanksgiving Day.  Although I've not been a regular church goer for decades, I always play this wonderful old Dutch hymn on the nearest piano -- whether on a ship, or a host's home:
Cookie plays piano Thanksgiving ship board. 
We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known;
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing;
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

FOR ALL my blessings, I  am thankful: health, travel, music, friends, family. In my heart, we are ever together.  
This splendidly preserved Victorian house is a museum
now in Astoria, Oregon, where we visit next.

UP NEXT: Astoria, Oregon, is named for John Jacob Astor the first. He is revered, although he didn't found this charming oceanside town or even visit.  But his descendants have visited -- along with millions of tourists from all over the world. Find out why the town is so appealing as we take you there for a trolley ride, a climb up an intriguing tower for a bird's eye view of the Pacific, Victorian architecture and a world-class maritime museum and a foodie's paradise.  Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on the world of arts, music, travel, family, nature and more:


Thursday, November 18, 2021

Magnificent mariachi band tours, delights, breaks ground for LGBTQ


Founder and band leader of Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles, Carlos Samaniego, is a talented,
classically trained musician who formed the world's first LGBTQ mariachi band. 


Natalia Marie Melendez is a first-rate mariachi musician,
the world's first trans woman player in the genre.

IMAGINE A GIFTED young violinist -- gay, Hispanic, bullied as a kid.  Picture this talented guy dreaming of forming his own band as he experiences discrimination, derision and bullying.
Then imagine the courage it took to organize such a group, an unorthodox ensemble of  top quality musicians.  The dream is a reality now, as Mariachi Arcoiris is gaining an international reputation, emerging brilliantly and distinctly apart from and beyond the macho world of Mexican folk music.
THIS IS no movie script or fairytale.  It's the true, real-life story of  mariachi musician, Carlos Samaniego. He directs this unique ensemble, which boasts an all-LGBTQ lineup -- including the world's first trans woman mariachi player.  The group is getting raves around the country with Samaniego also singing and playing lead violin as the ensemble's concert master.
Individuality and diversity are the trademarks
of the colorful ensemble and its players.
Arcoiris, which means rainbow in Spanish, embodies Samaniego's love for the beloved musical genre held in reverence in Hispanic culture.
Says Samaniego, "It is a beloved genre in our culture -- distinct, powerful, dramatic -- a staple at Mexican events and celebrations."
HAVING HEARD my share of mediocre mariachi in hotels and folk festivals in Mexico, I was completely unprepared for a recent, flawless concert at Oscar's in Palm Springs, California.
Oscar's owner, Dan Gore, invited the group after it garnered lively publicity for playing three gigs in May in the Los Angeles area. Gore lived many years in Los Angeles and heard of the gifted ensemble during celebrations for the Cinco de Mayo holiday. The music and its message appealed to Gore, whose Oscar's programming encourages  acceptance and honors the rainbow theme
Carlos Samaniego founded
and directs Mariachi Arcoiris.
espoused by supporters of the gay community.
Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles is the brainchild of Samaniego, who studied classical violin and singing and has a 20-year history with the gay music industry. He talked engagingly about growing up in a macho culture, being a "different kid," and wanting to share his talents in an environment that accepted his sexuality and saw him as a fine musician. 
Mariachi Arcoiris (Rainbow Mariachi) is available for tours, bookings.  
Oscar's has a new
chef and  tasty
menu options.

SUCCESSFUL GIGS at a gay Latino cowboy nightclub gave him and others a leg up, but the machismo continued and became depressing. So by 2014, Samaniego formed a 10-member group identifying itself as "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, non-binary, asexual and pansexual," Samaniego said.

ACCORDING TO  Gore, "There's a real need for a platform for this caliber of entertainment."  Oscar's is known for its programming diversity, welcoming a heavily gay audience for its drag cabaret, brunches, strip shows and tea dances. It's a
Oscar's owner Dan Gore runs the lights for
productions, here for the mariachi band.

place where people feel safe on both sides of the footlights, and because of this has a loyal, supportive clientele.  

Natalia Marie Melendez is the world's first transgender woman mariachi musician. The Lawndale resident has joined the ensemble for Pride celebrations around California and hopes her speaking out is "a positive moving force in the world -- not just for us, but for generations to come." As the world's only transgender female that plays mariachi music, she says, "It's been difficult. There is a definite machismo culture in mariachi."
There was no machismo the night we heard these splendid mariachis. The appreciative crowd leapt to its feet in immediate standing ovation, begging an encore after Samaniego announced the finale. So of course there was another number. 
EACH MEMBER of the troupe performed a cameo, show-case number -- some singing, some instrumental,  in a range of repertoire than included "The Impossible Dream," from "Man of LaMancha." The audience sipped and supped through the relaxing, well tuned evening and buoyed by the evening's success, Gore said he hopes to book the ensemble again.

 MORE INFORMATION, to book the mariachi band or an Oscar's reservation:; 

Keller and Cookie give thanks for being vaccinated, for
being together, and able to travel and enjoy the world.
UP NEXT: Thanksgiving is a time for reflection and appreciation. For Cookie and Keller, Thanksgiving has been "on the road" for their 14 years together -- sometimes with family in California, Oregon, Montana or Georgia, sometimes in Europe or Asia, maybe seeing a show in Las Vegas  or New York. It's also a time for memories of family-friends Thanksgivings in a happy Norman Rockwell world of long ago. More on a nostalgic Thanksgiving Day when we publish our weekly post -- a fresh spin on travel, cruising, nature, family and the arts. Please share the links:
HAPPY THANKSGIVING! May we carry the spirit of kindness into the holidays of December, giving thanks for our life on Earth, our friends, family, talents, travels and many blessings.