Monday, November 30, 2009

Cretans, Cookies and Compassion

Beauty & the Least

Realizing that Thanksgiving is in the bag for this year...I am a nostalgic kind of guy and need to catch up on my thankful arrears. For my vast audience of 5 I recognize that this may be a somewhat tiresome topic...which is why they put the "next blog" button up in the corner. But it is my reality and thus, my talking point for the day.

If you have known us for any length of time you know that I am barking mad in love with Ann...and my two kids. The fact that we were married for 7 years before taking the baby plunge is ironic. We fully intended to be childless. We enjoyed our first years so much that we felt nothing was missing in life. Hiking, camping, scuba diving, work and God wrapped our life in fullness. Then, in the course of a few months we began to long for something more...she came along in a little package called Elle, (pronounced L for all of you who have corrupted the name). She was going to be my little tomboy until the princess in her showed up. Everything that Cinderella could be, she became, and more. The scent of Shakespeare, cinnamon and Pemberly has saturated my home now for over 17 years.
Elle, Her Mimi and Cookie Class

Thick headedness told me that since I was elated to have two girls in my life (and of course my Mom)...I would have been happy to have as many little red headed, blue eyed girls as we could manage.
Enter Stanley, (pronounced Mac for all of you who don't know his nickname). A screaming, fit-throwing little guy that turned into the finest young man I have ever known. He brought into our lives all the good things of bugs, barf and broken belongings and has been my buddy and calculated ambusher for 14 years.Stanley, His Papa and the Trojans

But those two pals of mine are hinged on the doorway of love that my best friend and kindred spirit has brought to the table. Who'd of thought that I would meet the love of my life in the sands and streets of Egypt? I still don't know what she saw in a ham-fisted cretan full of complexities...but I am damn happy that she did, and then stuck around for the last 30 years. She brought into my life everything an insecure and dangerously impetuous wanderer could ever hope for and more. Sometimes I wonder if it is not just some great experiment in celestial compassion.
So, there you have it on the last day of the Thanksgiving season, I don't deserve a single one of them, but as sure as I know how lucky I am...I also know that God must be crazy to give a guy like me a crew that puts up with my shenanigans and loves to wander by my side on the far side of the world.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Foul Weather Fowls

Years ago when I finally convinced Ann to marry me, we spent a lot of our early 20's buying antiques and birding. A decade ago, when we checked out of normal life....we gave all our furniture to friends and family, keeping only my Lazy Boy recliner. I have this fantasy about taking it to Istanbul...but it never seems to work out.
Now that we are back in Brea and have a yard, we put up several bird feeders and waited. Weeks later....still no birds until just a month ago.
Today Elle counted 11 finches standing on a shelf outside her window waiting for the feeder. It was a pretty organized system...kinda like last night in Walmart.
With the weather turning foul here in LA (its gotta be near 55 right now) it surprised me to see so many birds whooshing thru our yard.
At one point there were 50-60 of them perched all around the house and singing away. I know you think I have some pretty rough edges...but I enjoy watching them invade our bushes and trees. Ann and I have long loved birding and thanks to last year's hikes in Wales we decided it was time for us to take up a hobby that didn't have guns and bombs involved. So it was a little disappointing when one of my buddies showed me his "bird dog". At least he has no interest in the little guys that hang out with us.
I am going to make this short tonight so I can get warmed up for the trouncing of UCLA by the Trojans. Even got my soft jams on for this one.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Belated Bird

With Ann's stepfather in the ICU we spent Thanksgiving eve in San Diego. Yesterday we made the trip home and were running pretty low on morale and mental acuity. We are VERY Thankful today that he pulled thru after a series of resuscitation efforts.  The prognosis though, is not good...pancreatic cancer in an advanced stage. Just a month or two ago he made the run up to Los Angeles for Ann's birthday...and only found out last week that there was a problem. When we first got word of the problem on Wednesday evening...the initial report was that he had died. It was only after an amazing effort from the docs that he made it this far.
Tonight we celebrated Thanksgiving with a belated turkey. Gotta say though....too much work in the kitchen for the 15 minutes of fame. I will leave you with the list for our crew of four:

  • Turkey (obviously)
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Gravy
  • Homemade Bread
  • Stuffing
  • Corn
  • Candied Yams
  • Beef and Homemade Noodles
  • Tomato Sauce (for the noodles of course)
  • Cranberries
  • Cranberry Bread
  • Chocolate Cake
  • Sugar Cookies
  • Homemade Fudge
  • Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • Gingerbread Cookies (my Grandma's recipe)
And all of that on the heels of Tata's hospitalization. My sweetheart is one amazing girl.
In the end...I was the first to bail from the table, can you guess who was last?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

All Charged Up

I love the mail box (which is coming in a later post) and most of the time I can say I look forward to what's coming. Right now, things are a bit snug for us so the mailbox is in a gray it bills today or checks? Today brought neither. But what it did bring was pretty cool.
One of our Silk Road Nomads sponsors (JF) and his new bride surprised us with a flexible, foldable and lightweight solar panel/charger  that will keep our sat phone and laptop running while we are in the outback of the Silk Road.
I have an idea of what these things cost....and had wanted one for years. Amazing that it was the exact item that our friends thought we could use. So, to Jeremy and made our day and mailbox happy, and....if one day we finds ourselves lost in one of the canyons or passes along the Silk Road and use your gift to call for help. I promise to make sure your's is the first number I call.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Smitten by a Furnace

Not too far from our ancestral homeland in Scotland is our favorite decompression destination of Aberdyfi, Wales. A bit south is a village clustered around a 16th century Ironmaster's furnace that funneled water to turn its giant waterwheel. 
Why am I bringing this up today? Because we ran across some of the pics we took last year and were smitten (not a sissy word) with the beauty of the waterfall.
No great news today....tomorrow our home will be filled with the smells of cookies, cranberry bread and the cheer of the holidays. We will have a fire roaring in the fireplace even if we have to turn our SoCal a/c on to keep us from roasting.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Conundrums of a Car Commander

How can I look so young...and yet see me doing things that old people do? Coming up in just a few weeks is our 29th anniversary of the day we started dating. I took me a while to make her mine legally, but the day is significant because it was the day I fell in love for the first time.
As the Alpha male, I was always the driver of whatever vehicle we were the years before we were married I drove, after we were married I drove.
On only two occasions did Ann drive while I was in the car. The first time was when we almost lost our lives on our honeymoon when she fell asleep and caused a semi/tractor to brake hard, and lose his load all over the freeway......that woke me up quick.
The second time she drove (with me as passenger) was 15 years later on the way home from the hospital with me in a body cast from back surgery  (I still think I could have moved my feet enough to drive on that one).
In all the years of traveling I said, now at 29...I have driven. It was my roll. My job.
But in the past few weeks I have been so weary of the travel than on a couple of occasions I have actually asked Ann to drive for me. In fact she is driving on the I-5 right now returning to Brea from San Diego as I write.
My mother-in-law (who by the way I dearly love and adore, and am sure has lost weight even though she denies it) once thought me chauvinistic  instead of chivalrous. Sometimes she has some pretty good insights into what makes me tick.
But this is the stuff I see all the old men who wear baby blue doing....sitting on the passenger side of the car while Besse drives him to his doctor and pharmacy. In Elle's  vernacular, 'I so don't want that."
So here we are. If Ann drives me another 2 hours I will be approaching a complete 24 hours of being driven by my wife in the course of our togetherness. That means that in our (almost) 3 decades of hanging out as lovers, she has driven for one full day with me as a passenger. Where do we go from here? I have no lane change options, she hates it when I lean over and lay on the horn, she lets me control the climate....but all the horsepower and navigation is hers.
See, this is a giant gray area for me. Do I lose my position of car commander if she crosses over into chauffeuring me for an hour or two a year? I have so many questions...Dear God!....she's  braking hard and I have no baby blue on.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Baubles & Bibelots in Brea

Christmas came to LA today. With just 1 out of 4 years stateside...we figured what the heck?  PJ's, candy canes, peppermint bark and lights lit up our day and spiced up our spirits. We know its early. Yes, this is the week of Thanksgiving and the Turkey is still in the fridge. But with Wales off the docket for this year, and being forced to re-wear last year's kilt, we caved to the kids and...Mele Kalikimaka. Christmas is here. Bette, Bing and Beyonce are belting out tunes that buoy the being and we are smack dabbed Hollywooded up.
Can you guess who's who of the baubles and bibelots?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Widgets n Gadgets

Ok...I messed with the template today. Like or no?

Wishful Thinking

Down for the Count....Wishful Thinking

As you can see by the pic....I am having a real struggle with winding down. OK, we were just fooling around, but I would love to fall asleep that easily. Which brings me to today's topic. After seeing the doc more than I wanted, we seem to have finally found the elephantine bolus that works to knock me out. So, for the past 2 weeks I have rejoined the living and am (mostly) coherent and keen of eye during the day and very thankfully, sleeping at night.
Doc said that half of one of the few that I take would put him on a respirator....not sure if he was serious or not. Normally Ann can just look at a pill and feel it working. But thick headed explorers sometimes need a whacking to get to sleep.
I mentioned a few days ago the sense of living one life in 3 locations and constantly facing or at least being conscious of culture shock and homesickness. So, with the insomnia issue dealt a blow, it has given us cause to cast our hopes to returning to Turkey early next spring. We are compiling lists of supplies, buying gifts for our Istanbulu friends and beginning to flirt with airfares.
I had just started our outdoor fire on our patio in Brea, which reminded me of the incredible days of Oregon therapy we just finished, when I caught the gleam of a star and crescent out of the corner of my eye. Glows & Flickers of Turkey

My emotions careened east by about 8000 miles and to my friends and flat in Istanbul and immediately brought me back to full power and thinking of all the things we need to do, get and finish to return to Istanbul according to schedule.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Birds, Souls and Making Our Lives Matter

Coffee Creek, Montana (photo not ours)

Today I am sentimental. Over the past few decades, we have worked very hard, at not working hard, not lazy....we just want what we do to matter, to matter to us, and to others. Not that we ever would have made much money...but a job that paid well wasn't worth being prisoner of a job and schedule that was soulless. Sold out of SoCal in the 90's and moved to Oregon. Drilled for 2000 feet and had no water. Moved on to Montana, thought we'd buy ourselves 500 acres of prime anchoritical inducing land. But....ended up living in Marseille within a few months of trying out Montanaism. Nothing wrong with Montana....There are still moments I yearn for a little bend in the road called Coffee Creek, just a bit north of the thriving ford of Stanford Montana.
When we were first married we had a little cabin in the mountains outside of San Diego. Lake Cuyamaca, 4500 feet in elevation, and lots of privacy. We surrounded the cabin with bird feeders and baths....and for a few seasons had quite a flock of birds hanging around.Waiting, Waiting, and Waiting

Trying that in Orange county hasn't been quite as rewarding. But today, with 4 feeders up the birds finally found 3 of them. Of course the 4th one (the most expensive) and the one I have a view of...they are ignoring. So, you get the same pleasure I get today.
So, what have I done today that matters? I waited for birds to show up and eat some fresh black sunflower seed, I entertained you with my hackilism (new word) and I said "hi" to about 50 people that walked by the house today. Did we make a difference today? No clue. But I hope your day was as exciting as mine.

The Magic of Ovens and Little Girls

It's Not Istanbul....but it Works, Really Well

Well, since you have seen the office-of-the-moment SoCal. I figured it wouldn't be complete without the office-of-the-moment SoCal.....but on the inside. Tonight, the fire is in the fireplace as opposed to the fire ring in Oregon. Elle is in the kitchen (shhh....don't make an issue of it) and I am ecstatic that she has discovered that brownies come out of the oven. This is the second creation she has jumped into today. And to think I was worried she would never find the kitchenThe Miracle of an Oven and a Little Girl

Office of the Moment

View from my SoCal Office of the Moment

So the new office is working out well. 70 degrees, light breeze, flags fluttering and a view of the apartments across the street. Not quite Grants Pass and the Steward Outpost....but it'll do. Khave is hot, and friends have been stopping by.
Getting into the swing of resting takes work. I have a list of things I need to do to catch up to where we should be, but were unable to due to our schedule.

Is that what they mean by resting?'s the Stars & Stripes and the Star & Crescent Flying
Anyhow, being back in your own bed counts for something. Came home to a pile of junk mail that our neighbor has sifted through for us....taking out the important stuff and leaving the fluff in case we wanted the ads....but we refused to peruse the postal refuse.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Weft and Wool of Goodbyes

Last Fire in the Rogue Valley

Goodbyes make me least for the moment. It seems that a few miles distance, or a closing door turn our view to look ahead...not behind. For me, I guess, the hard part of the ramp-up to goodbye, is knowing its coming.
Our crew says goodbye on a pretty regular basis. Goodbye to relatives, new friends, old friends, homes, apartments deep in Istanbul, and the list goes on.
I guess the reason this is on my mind is that tomorrow we say goodbye to my parents and the Rogue Valley. I love this is home. But, so is Istanbul and Los Angeles. Kinda hard to figure that one out, but it is best said as one life being lived at three locations.
A weaver of Turkish rugs once told me how the day of the weaver goes, so goes the weaving. The personality of the weaver is wound up in the weft and wool of her, as this woman in some village or another, goes about her day of cleaning, cooking, gardening, tending to the children etc., she also weaves. And that the quality, or lack of, the weaver's day is transferred to the rug.
Not the tangible quality that we would call skill....but the earnestness of each knot that is tied, the emotion and physical state that was present as they were cinched into place...that is what makes hand-tied rugs so valuable. They are an extension of the life of a weaver. The larger the rug...the longer the period of time in its making and the more of the weaver's heart, soul and emotions will be knotted into place. The tears of the weaver can sometimes stain the knot. Grief. Loss. A loveless marriage. Who knows?

But, I didn't intend to go there......

Tonight I am burning the last cedar I will burn for this run in Grants Pass. Cedar burns fast and I am sitting here listening to the crack and sizzle of the wood, knowing that just 3 hours ago it was whole, and round, until Stanley and his grandpop split it right down the middle.
Is is smarmy for me to connect that to goodbyes? Maybe so.
But tonight as this load of cedar makes it music, it reminds me of the cycle of coming and going, It reminds me of the (only) silk rug I own, today, waiting for me in a dark and lifeless apartment on the Asian side of Istanbul. And, it reminds me of tomorrow morning and somewhere along Interstate 5 when my parents will follow us as far as they can. And we will say goodbye again.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Wolf Creek, Boys, Guns and Growing Up

The Infamously Famous Wolf Creek Tavern
Now let me get this straight from the get-go.....there is nothing unseemly today about the WCT. But gallop a century or so in the past and this was the wild....really wild west. Indians, stagecoaches, homesteaders, land grabbers and bums. All of them were here.
For an honest look at the history of the area grab a copy of First there was Twogood (Mclane) at Oregon Books in Grants Pass. You will see that quite a few of the Steward Clan's more unkindly recalled characters like Pappy Newman who ran the stage from Frisco to Portland, or my grandfather Mac, who lied his way into the Navy at 14 are in its pages.
Today we took a cruise back into our family history and revisited our kin in Wolf Creek. Stopping first at the little cemetery (where my plot has already been paid and laid) to visit a dear uncle who passed away during our time on the road. As a little boy Stanley would lay on Uncle Phil's comfy stomach and watch TV and then fall asleep....Phil loved Stanley and at 5 years old, gave him an old family Crack Shot 22, and a pocket full of rounds and said...walk east and shoot east till you can't climb anymore. For months, Stanley took off almost everyday with 50-100 rounds and shot the daylights out of Sin Bu Peak and its imaginary cowboys and indians.
My Great Grandfather

For most of a year we lived on the property with Uncle Phil and Uncle Phyllis (as Elle named her). Our kids learned to be gun and wilderness savvy during our stay in Wolf Creek. Today, we cleaned off Uncle Phil's headstone and thanked him. Elle thanked him for making her a crack shot by lining up rotting pears on our propane tank and picking them off one by one, scared to death that she was going to hit the tank and blow us all up. Stanley thanked him for the love and confidence in the woods Uncle Phil had given him.
Then Ann and I thanked him for allowing us to live and see the roots of the quickly vanishing Oregonian Steward. People who were loving, but tough and durable, and not too abashed to do whatever it took to get something done. Nuff said.

Wolf Creek's Cemetery

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Plight of the Pelt

Stanley and His Pelt

We seem to have a libertine for a son. Since returning from Istanbul in February our normal, twice monthly coiffure at our Turkish barbers fell victim to our schedule. We managed to get past a couple of hack jobs passing for barbers and into one (in retrospect) "seedy" establishment where the female hair attendees be offering more than just a shave and a cut.
After this last cut at the hair bordello, Stanley declared that there would be no more haircuts until he returned to Istanbul and his barber, Celal. Not really worrying about it I gave it the thumbs up...but now with 4 months between hair and shear. I am not so sure.
His sister Elle thinks it is hip, his mother isn't saying anything and for one of the few times, I don't know what to think.
Our Istanbulu clan thinks its a great idea and the barber shop in Kazasker and the neighborhood is following the plight of the pelt with passion. Every few days they ask for him to Skype them so they can see how long it is growing. Please send us home. Quickly.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Perpetual Rookie

Stanley at School...Hot Teacher

Its been awhile since we got back into the groove of allowing you to peek into my world of nuance and notions. We are working our way back into being a bit more settled....even though today I write 600 miles from the address we are officially calling home for the next few months.
Life is funny. Just about the time you get good at something....things change. I have been a rookie photographer in my youth, a rookie cop in my younger days, a rookie explorer in mid-life, and now it seems that writing and snapping pics is something that I am a rookie at.
Does it ever stop? Do those of us, who are normal people, ever get to a place where we do what we do very well...AND enjoy it?I'm not so sure. I have a dear friend who is in the business of teeth. Even though it has provided him with a comfortable lifestyle, the ability to be generous, and a sense of helping people....the job for him became, over time, a ball and chain (his words).
I watch these guys that go out in suits and ties each day to jobs where the break-lady is the highlight of their mornings. Lots of these people drive really nice cars, have nice houses with nice mortgages. They put their kids in school and allow someone else, someone they really don't know fill their kids heads and hearts with values and information that may not reflect the parents.

I really just don't get it all.

I was listening to Stanley talk to a guy at a lecture we gave a few weeks ago....this guy, probably a WWII vet, asked Stanley what it was like being an American and living in Turkey.....Stanley's response set me back. He said "I'm a Turk, I'm also an American". I am still thinking about that and what it means to Stanley, but his confidence and global view is so much deeper and informed than my views were, maybe more so than they are today.
It must be in the way some of us are wired...even though our crew is pretty worn out right now we are all trying to suppress the excitement of returning to Asia next spring, being with our Turkish family and then diving into a brand new adventure...hiking 500km's of Paul's footsteps to visit the villages and do what we do best.....listen and learn from the locals. I am, sitting outside at my folk's house in Oregon, pouring rain, raging fire in the fire pit, and after three weeks of this I am finally getting good at writing each day. I am updating my Facebook page daily and finishing writing projects I started in Istanbul. just a few days I will leave this therapeutic and inspiring place and head back home.
And then there, I will start the process all over again, trying to get back into a groove of writing each day, once again, a rookie in my own home.

Common History

As we were driving thru town this morning I noticed this old familiar sign....warms my heart every time I see it. Grants Pass to us is home...even though our Steward kin took a 50 year swing thru SoCal there is history here of our family that dates back well over 130 eastern Oregon, even longer.
The outside fire is roaring, the rain is pouring and before this starts to sound like a rhyme....I'm off on to other business.
From the outpost...this is how you power-down.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Rainy Day

We spent most of a rainy day today sorting out what was left of the normal life we left 9 years ago. Today we got it down to about 4 Rubbermaid totes which will be stored at my parent's house.
It is nice having time to get some things done and behind. A new Newsletter is, or will, be on its way as soon as we get the address list up to date. You need to update us with a new address or E-address? Shoot us a note.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Busy but Kool

Another semi-lazy day.....tons of E's to tend to, and a trip to a half dozen stores. But in the end the ability to post these pics of Indian Mary Park I took yesterday made it all kool.

Living, Traveling, and Wandering on the Far Side of the World

Living, Traveling, and Wandering on the Far Side of the World