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.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Priscilla Presley: back in Palm Springs, where the couple honeymooned

The Palm Springs home of Elvis and Priscilla Presley is a Celebrity Tours stop. Priscilla Presley
  talks about the couple's time in the famous home when she presents a one-woman show and chats about her life with "The King" tonight at Oscar's, Palm Springs.  The home is featured on tours, too.

 'The King' lives on in legend as Priscilla Presley shares their life
stories in the couple's honeymoon town where tourists
from around the world visit their "honeymoon home."




and courtesy of Graceland, the Elvis Presley Estate

THE MYSTIQUE of Elvis Presley continues to inspire awe, curiosity and new generations of fans years after his 1977 death.
Admirers of all ages have an opportunity to find out more about him in an evening with his only wife, Priscilla Presley, now 76 and touring an engaging show with images and commentary.
The show, said Presley, "gives me an opportunity to connect with my fans, to celebrate Elvis, and for people to maybe learn something they didn't know about Elvis."

Oscar's talented Dan Gore has a long
love of Hollywood lore, and says the
Palm Springs mystique is alive and well.

OSCAR'S, A LIVELY cabaret in the center of Palm Springs, California, is next on Presley's tour with a Nov. 11, show.  "I'm excited to be there," she says, about the inventive cabaret, known for its tea dances, lively shows and LGBTQ-friendly environment. Palm Springs has a long connection to Hollywood, from the days when studios demanded their stars be able to return quickly to Los Angeles for editing, rehearsals, photo shoots. Thus Palm Springs became a popular close-by get-away -- a calm, rejuvenating, relaxing, sunny alternative to the smog and bustle of Los Angeles.  "The mystique continues," says Dan Gore, owner of Oscar's.

GORE HAS garnered international attention for Oscar's inventive programming, with a focus on gay and trans entertainment. A creative menu and attentive service kick things up a notch, all thanks to Gore's show-biz savvy.  He is a veteran Hollywood producer, whose cabaret shows, dances and weekend brunches are a hit with locals and tourists alike.

Elvis and Priscilla Presley admire
their infant daughter, the couple's
only child, born  in 1968.

PRISCILLA'S LIFE with Elvis began Sept. 13, 1959, during Presley's much publicized Army career. The two met at a party at his home in Bad Nauheim, Germany. Hers was a military family and she was only 14 years old -- ten years younger than 24-year old Elvis. They kept in touch and Priscilla Beaulieu married Elvis Presley eight years later when nearing her 22nd birthday.
Elvis and Priscilla had
a 10-year age difference.

Her presentation, "Elvis and Me:  An Intimate Evening With Priscilla Presley," includes anecdotes about their courtship, including her dream of living on a horse ranch. But although smitten, she says, "I hadn't considered marrying one of the world's most famous rock stars." She'll tell the Oscar's crowd that she knew she was in love when "the king" waved goodbye to her as he left his station in Germany to return to the states.
Graceland has become a successful enterprise with
Priscilla Presley's guidance and business sense.
Below, she's with Leslie Nielsen in "The Naked Gun." 

"He told me he'd be looking for me," Presley remembers. Her presentation includes home movies and photographs of their life together, plus a question and answer period.

Elvis Presley's life with
Priscilla is on tap at
Oscar's Thursday.
"HE ALSO told me, 'I don't want any sad faces. I want a smile.' Just seeing him walk up the stairs, I realized my life would be empty without him."
Elvis and Priscilla were married for five years before they separated in 1972 and divorced the following year. He passed away five years later, in August of 1977. His possessive nature and her youth may have played into their  separation, but they remained friends and she has developed her own fan base. "I miss him very much, as many people do," said Presley, who crafted a successful life on film and TV as well as in the corporate world.  She is known for her business acumen and loyalty to her fans, whom she meets for presentations, tours and celebrations at Graceland.
HER INVENTIVE spirit and enduring affection for Elvis and his legacy have helped perpetuate the late star’s music sales and have made Graceland a world renowned mansion-turned-museum.
Graceland, the Elvis’ estate is still profitable four-plus decades after his death and Elvis is among the top highest-earning dead celebrities, along with Michael Jackson, Prince, Bing Crosby, Dr. Seuss and Arnold Palmer. Through Priscilla's shrewd business sense, his estate made more money this year than the singer had the year he died. And she has crafted a successful acting career, in "Dallas," "The Naked Gun" and many other shows.
More info about the Palm Springs Presley show and ticket options including a dinner-show package  and a meet-greet with Ms. Presley:;; Palm Springs Celebrity Tours: comfy fan, hotel pick-up, three hours, 50 celebrity homes, including Elvis & Priscilla's honeymoon home, 760 895-8005.   


The energy of Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles
prompted applause and standing ovations at a recent
sell-out concert at Oscar's in Palm Springs.
The world's only LGBTQ mariachi band is touring its sell-out show. We were delighted to be in the audience at Oscar's, Palm Springs for Mariachi Acoiris de Los Angeles. We take you inside this ground-breaking group, with a look at its ambitious goals and brave history, noting the precision of the players, their acclaimed, authentic sound and passion for acceptance. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each week for a fresh spin on the arts, nature, travel, family and changing times:

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Lewis and Clark Caverns delight, surprise

The eerie and colorful formations of the Lewis and Clark Caverns await inspection.

That's Cookie (with Nicky)
peering through the
Caverns entry billboard.

Cookie bundles up for a moist walk through
  Lewis and Clark Caverns near Whitehall, Mt.

STEP INTO a magical world inside a series of extraordinary caves. But, please, watch your head. And bring a sweater. You'll be bending and ducking -- and you might be chilly.  Even in summer, the Lewis and Clark Caverns are 48 degrees Fahrenheit. The breathtaking natural wonder is near Three Forks, Montana, a series of moist caves -- formed long ago by groundwater in beds of limestone.

THE CAVES date to the Mississippian age -- from a sea present in the area around an astonishing 325 to 365 million years ago. Fast forward past this mind-boggling data, through years of shifting and seismic change, to the late 19th Century.
Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park receives visitors
from all over the world, who usually take in Yellowstone
National Park as well as other northern Rockies sights.

Charles Brooke and Mexican John, both from Whitehall, discovered the cave entrance in 1882. They had heard of the great caves from local Indian legend and set out to look for them. They did not tell many people about their find, so it is not an "official" discovery.
Ten years later, two hunters  noticed a plume of steam coming out of the cave. 
They were Tom Williams and Burt Pannell, who are credited with discovering the wonder in the relatively recent year of 1892. Although famed explorers Lewis and Clark had been very near in both 1805 and 1806, they did not discover the mysterious, magical caverns, within a couple hours' horseback ride from their encampments. 
Lively commentary from well
informed guides makes the cavern
journey one of learning as well as fun.
But because they were so near -- along nearby Antelope Creek, a Jefferson River tributary -- the accomplishments of their remarkable journey impressed President Theodore Roosevelt and he named them in their honor. He noted that their journey took them within a few miles of the historic place east of Whitehall, Montana.
THE EXPLORERS would probably be happy to know that the caverns they came so near became Montana's first state park.  Montanans have been exploring the caves for over 100 years, proud to claim the largest known limestone cavern systems in the northwest and one of the few in the U.S.  
WE BASED our expedition at the nearby Sacajawea Hotel in Three Forks, knowing that the spectacular 
 geological stop would tie in with our visit to Yellowstone National Park.  We enjoyed the ride on US 287 through the backroads of the Madison Valley. 
THEN JACKETS over our arms, we journeyed into the impressive geological features: stalactites, stalagmites, helictites and columns, some named for people and characters 
The caverns are fascinating and elaborate, with a guided
tour offered several times a day. Sign up is required.
While the naming of Montana's  Lewis and Clark Caverns was inspired by the journey of the famous explorers, one feels like a modern day explorer entering the dark and moist caves. Viewing the caverns is a guided, two-mile breezy hike in an environment of natural underground air-conditioning. 
Tours are given daily throughout the summer. You may also camp, hike and bike on 10 miles of trails. You'll register through the park system which also boasts interpretive displays, two visitor centers, gift shop, and snack and beverage options. 
OUR WELL informed ranger took us on an interesting tour of the caverns, then we explored more of the additional 3,000 acres of this almost mile-high Jefferson County attraction.
 If you are afraid of enclosed places, sometimes slippery footing, or descending below the earth, this might not be the place for you. And if you're at all claustrophobic, you may want to pass on this outing and stick to the visitor centers or a pleasant hike above ground.  
Special holiday tours by candlelight offer a moody,
beautifully lit way to enjoy the caverns in December
FRIENDS WHO were reluctant to enter anything dark or "closed off," declined to take the tour with us.  But we felt comfortable entering the caves, feeling safe by staying close to the guide. Gripping my husband's belt with my hand, I didn't trip on the  little dips and bends in the walkway.
But we'd practiced for this -- in caverns in Malta, New Zealand, Vietnam, Scotland and other places.
 "Cool caves," we call them.
The park is open all year, except for a couple days. Closed Thanksgiving, Dec. 25 and Jan. 1.
Special Holiday Candlelight Tours of Lewis and Clark Caverns will be offered Dec. 17, 18, and 19 and Dec. 21, 22 and 23.

Elvis Presley's legacy lives on in a one-woman presentation by
Priscilla Presley, who was married to the legendary singer
from 1967 to 1973. She appears this week in Palm Springs.
Mention the name and people are still fascinated by the legendary singer Elvis Presley. 
Oscar's, a lively Palm Springs cabaret, and its inventive producer/owner Dan Gore are celebrating his life in its continuing "Intimate Evening" series. Presley's only wife, actress Priscilla Presley, appears Nov. 11, to talk about her life with the singer, whom she married in May of 1967. Tickets are still available, at various levels, including a "meet and greet" with Ms. Presley, an actress and entrepreneur who made Graceland famous.  Then we spotlight the world's only LGBTQ mariachi band, touring from its Los Angeles base. We talk with the players, whom we enjoyed at a sell-out Oscar's performance. Mariachi Acoiris de Los Angeles is a ground-breaking ensemble with ambitious goals and a brave history. It is critically acclaimed for its authentic mariachi sound and precise musical renditions. Remember to explore, learn and live, and catch us weekly: