“I see by your outfit that you are a birder”


‘On the Streets of Laredo, way back when — and now’

Nobody goes to Laredo,” says my Texan Friend. Well, call me ‘Nobody’ then, because I’ve not only been to Laredo, I’ve been there twice.

This most recent time shouldn’t really count, since The Dude and I were there not even a whole day, Laredo being merely the ‘end point’ of our birding adventure to the Rio Grande Valley, tales of which I will regale you with another time. Or not. But count it I will, since we did in fact “go walking on the streets of Laredo”, to quote the Immortal Johnny Cash.

We didn’t spy any “young cowboys all dressed in white linen”. Or any cowboys at all. Well, except for these hombres:

The only cowboys we spied. And they were hanging out at the airport, not walking on the streets like any self-respecting Laredo cowboy

No, the time I spent in Laredo that really counts is the time I went there as part of a trip made with my Gramma and Grampa Peterson and my Aunt Marilyn.

Another Road Trip, another time. That’s Aunt Marilyn perched on the hood of our station wagon, G’ma and G’pa there on the right. I was probably in the car, sulking

This trip (which was, of course, a Road Trip) was a gift from my Aunt Marilyn in honor of my graduation from eighth grade. Which meant I was thirteen at the time.

The plan was to drive from Northern Illinois to Mexico. Yes, I said drive. My Aunt Marilyn made a memorable plane trip to Sweden once with my Aunt Net. But my grandparents, as far as I know, never set foot inside an airplane.

Aunt ‘Annette’, with me on her lap. We kids thought she was called ‘Net’ because she wore a hairnet

My grandparents, both the Petersons and the Henrys, were farmers. Which meant they never ever went on vacation. I mean, somebody had to be around to milk the cows. I’m still not sure how they managed to go on this trip. Maybe they and some other Farmer Relations had some arrangement to cover for each other, cow-wise.

My Henry Grandparents on ‘vacation’: cleaning up at poker in their kitchen

So. Back to this graduation-gift trip. Like I mentioned, we drove. Since we couldn’t, naturally, drive all the way to Mexico in one go, we stopped along the way at these places called ‘tourist courts’. These were inexpensive motel-like places, usually with rooms in a row or sometimes even little cabins. Sort of like the Motel Sixes of their day.

My Gramma and Grampa had one room, and Aunt Marilyn and I would share another. I remember after one particularly long day of driving Aunt Marilyn tossing her suitcase onto our chenille-spread-covered bed and raising quite a cloud of dust.

Me with Peterson Grans on the occasion of my Lutheran Confirmation. Same year as 8th-grade graduation, but even more important

My grandparents weren’t cheap, but they had scrimped and saved all their lives and weren’t going to change their ways while on vacation.

We did stay at a fancy resort in the Ozarks on this trip. I’m not sure how my grandparents had heard of this place, but I do know that the attraction was that we could stay there for free. All we had to do in return was listen to a presentation about buying time shares in the place. As if.

Many of the details of this trip are understandably blurry, this being Way Back When. I do recall that while in Texas we visited the LBJ Ranch. Why, I’m not sure, since my grandparents were diehard Republications. In fact I remember that my Aunt Marilyn had a framed photograph of Dwight Eisenhower hanging in her bedroom. I kid you not.

We also visited the Alamo. I distinctly remember my Aunt reading the plaque inside the very tiny fort (I think my living room is bigger, and I honestly don’t have a very big LR) and remarking, “We lost? All our guys died? Then why do we ‘remember’?”

And I remember that we would stop to eat wherever my Grampa saw trucks parked. (No, there were no fast-food places then. The closest thing to a chain was Howard Johnson’s, and that was way too fancy for Grampa.) He said that truckers knew where the best food was. Probably still true, though I haven’t checked in a while.

Anyway. We finally made it to the Mexican Border. Which is right there in Laredo. These days there is a humongous towering gate-like structure there, right next to an even-more humongous outlet mall.

Big honkin’ border tower. Even bigger honkin’ outlet mall

But back then you could just drive your car over the bridge to Nuevo Laredo, and voila! you were in Mexico. Which is what we did. Grampa P parked his Ford and we walked around a bit so we could say we’d been in Mexico. Pretty exotic stuff.

I don’t remember what we did there exactly, except for the walking around. But I do remember that when we got back to the car, it was surrounded by all these little Mexican kids. They had buckets and cloths and were washing the road dust off that Ford and shining it up real nice.

My Grampa looked a bit bewildered and amazed at this outsize gesture of foreign hospitality. We smiled at the kids, they smiled back — and then we got in the Ford and drove on back over the bridge to the good old U S of A.

To the end of his days, I’m sure my Grampa thought the reason they were holding their hands out to us was to wave goodbye.

Another picture of my Grampa P. Just because I have it, and it’s cool

New York City. April 2018







Crocodile Dumdee


‘What you don’t know can hurt you.’

A couple of years after The Dude and I got married, we took a trip to Australia. This was a very long time ago. So long ago that when I googled ‘Crocodile Dundee’ after coming up with that groaner of a title, I found out the movie came out after we took our trip. So we weren’t familiar with lines like That’s not a knife…this is a knife’, much less with the fact that practically everything in Australia can pretty much kill you.

Speaking of my punsterific headline, let me say right off the bat that I don’t mean to pick on The Dudeman. It’s just that the photo of him in his Crocodile hat looks, well, more ‘DundeeLike’ than mine.

Me, sporting my Crocodile Dundee (er, ‘Dumdee’) hat. And not much else. I’m perched by the pool that had all the snakes in it, soon to be described in horrifyingly hissy detail

Because, let’s face it. We were both pretty dumb on this trip. Granted, this was long before TripAdvisor or (probably) even the internet itself. (Not sure; I’ll have to ask Al Gore.)

At any rate, we were young, we were naive, and we were game for pretty much anything. We were also pretty poor, but I had oodles of frequent flier miles from all my work-related plane-hopping for Ogilvy. (See ‘Around the World in 80 Shoots’) So we cashed ’em in and flew Qantas to Cairns. Where, before we could even grab a rental car, we were ourselves grabbed — right there in the terminal — by a couple of guys who said “Hey, wanna go diving on the Great Barrier Reef? Come with us!” (Use your imagination for the Australian accents.)

No, we didn’t buy the Brooklyn Bridge. But yes, we did hop right on this dive boat

Nope, we were not certified divers. In fact, I had never even tried diving before. But we strapped on that gear and dove right in. There are still marks from my fingernails etched into that boat’s wooden sides.

Yup. We stuck our hands into the shells of giant clams. And wait — that’s not all! Dude Man actually followed our leader into an underwater tunnel, not realizing that Mr. Leader’s flippers would stir up the sand in said tunnel, thus rendering Dude effectively blind. “I just stayed calm until the sand settled,” he said when later queried by Worried Me. I would have had a watery seizure.

I could write a whole post about that diving boat. But I have to save room for dangerous tales of the dry-land variety.

Having survived the diving boat, we started our Road Trip. Our Plan was to drive to Sydney, then ditch the rental car and fly home. The Very First Day was turning into The Very First Night — and we were remarking on how easy it was to drive in Australia because the roads were so empty — when we had to turn on the wipers. Clouds and clouds of bugs were dive-bombing our windshield. So many that we absolutely could not see. Our measly wipers not up to the task, we pulled into a gas station. Where the attendant said, “What are you doing driving at night? Nobody drives at night. That’s when the bugs come out!”

We had no choice but to stop at the first motel we came across. Exhausted from steering into an insect-strewn sunset, The Dude threw his suitcase onto the bed — only to see what he thought was a kitschy decoration scamper off the pillow. It was the biggest tarantula he’d ever seen. He was wise not to tell me about it till we were back in our squashed-bug-coated car and on our way to the next motel.

Outside (maybe) the next motel. It, too, had a Big Resident Creature. But at least it was a mammal

But enough about bugs. And spiders. Let’s talk snakes. Which, as you may know, are my least favorite of God’s creations. (See ‘The Year of the Snake’ for how The Child almost did not come to exist.)

We knew, somewhat vaguely, that there were poisonous snakes in Australia. What we didn’t know was that we’d get up close and personal with any. We had stopped one day for a picnic at a roadside park with a nice refreshing-looking pool.

There was absolutely no one else there. Australia, at least off the Beaten Track, is remarkably free of people. Or it was then. We would stop at beaches where there were showers and changing rooms — but no people. We found out only later — after frolicking in the water at said beaches — that this was not only because of the sharks, but because of the jellyfish.

How can I resist sharing another view of the Snake Pool? This is (obviously) before The Dude jumped in. Or I absolutely would NOT be sitting there

But about that pool. There was no one around to ask “Hey, are there snakes in there?” So The Dude just jumped right in. And the minute he did, swarms of snakes came out from behind some rocks and surrounded him. “I just stayed calm and slowly climbed out,” he said as I tried to refrain from shrieking.

The Dude and I at a winery in the Hunter Valley. No doubt toasting our good luck at being alive (till that point, at least)

This story is getting about as long as our Road Trip itself. So I’ll skip the bits about the shells that poke you with a poisonous spike when you pick them up and you die in thirty seconds and about the man and lady whose boat capsized and the lady got eaten by a crocodile (not named ‘Dundee’). Things we found out only after we had been on that beach and beside that river.

Not sure if that was one of the trees filled with bats as big as cats. If it was, I obviously didn’t realize it at the time

But did all of this danger scare us away from Australia? Hardly. Both of us loved it so much we wanted to move there. But, as you may know, the Aussies have their standards — and their ‘Occupational Ceilings’. They could have used a few more Ad Girls, but were full up with ophthalmologists. So here we stayed. In nice safe New York City.

New York City. April 2018

“What should I write on this name tag?”


‘That time I helped out at The Child’s School.’

This past weekend the Northeast got socked by a big ole Northeaster. Maybe you heard about it. Heck, maybe you were even in it. Like any sensible person, I rode it out tucked up safe and dry indoors. (Though an alarming number of people who got nailed by this storm were also indoors — they got squooshed by big ole trees falling on their houses.)

Inspecting the damage the day after the N’Easter. Yes, that cliff got majorly undermined. And no, you’re not supposed to stand that close to it

I did my best to distract myself from the swooshing of sideways rain and the rattling of windows withstanding 55 mph gusts by engaging in some serious house cleaning. And then, as a reward, I started a very good novel. (Pachinko, if you’re interested. One of the NY Times Book Review’s Ten Best Books of 2018, and deservedly so.)

But it was hard to concentrate. Instead of losing myself in a story about Koreans in Privation in the Far East, my mind wandered to Kids in Private School on the Upper East Side. Specifically, it wandered to that time I handed out name tags. Maybe it was the pillow: Continue reading

Working for Doctor Dude


‘The job I was just not cut out to do’

I’ve worked at a lot of jobs, over a lot of years. I worked at ad agencies in New York and, before that, in the Midwest. Before that I worked at my hometown newspaper. And before that I was a babysitter. Heck, I’ve even worked as a “cleaning lady” — and not just in my own house. Oldest Younger Brother Scott and I ‘did’ my Dad’s office back when I was a kid in grade school. (I can’t remember what we got paid, if anything.)

But nothing I had worked at before in all my many years of working prepared me for serving as a receptionist in my husband-the-doctor’s office.

Yup, The Dude is a doctor. An eye doctor (an ophthalmologist), in fact. If you’re going to be a doctor, it’s a pretty good kind to be. For one thing, there are hardly any emergencies. No matter how often your mom warned you, it’s really not that often that kids poke each others’ eyes out with pointy sticks. Another thing that’s good, at least from The Wife’s perspective: no one gets naked. Nope, you’ll hardly ever hear an eye doctor say “Let’s get that top off; I need to examine your retinas.”

The Dude’s extremely adorable office mural, made for him by the extremely adorable Child

Continue reading

The friend who had a nanny for her dog


‘Way up on the Upper East Side’

One of the many things I enjoy about living in New York City is the, well, mix of people. Where I grew up in the Midwest — at least when I grew up there — a brunette was pretty darned exotic.

But here you get to rub elbows (and sometimes much much more) with a wide variety of folks. Some of whom live on a scale that can take some getting used to. Like, one day The Child came home from nursery school with this to say: “Mommy, Helen’s mommy has a couch in her bathroom!” Me: “How nice for Helen’s mommy!”

And I once shared Safety Patrol duty with a very congenial fellow mommy who, it turned out, had the same last name as a whole wing of the Metropolitan Museum. (No, she wasn’t named after it; it was named after her.)

My mommy friend’s namesake

And you may recall (from my story “Three, and You’re Under the Host”) that when The Child was attending that Quite Distinguished Private All-Girls School, we were invited to some pretty swell parties. (All the parents, not just us, were invited to these parties. But still.) Continue reading

Like oil and river water


‘We’re one crazy mixed-up couple’

They say that opposites attract. Well, The Dude and I have been married more years than most of you Dear Readers have been alive. Which is pretty amazing in and of itself. But it’s even more amazing given how, well, opposite the two of us are.

In fact, I’d call us bi-polar opposites, given that our differences often drive us crazy.

Okay, there’s the easy stuff. I’m coffee; he’s tea. I’m radio-on-in-the-car; he’s I-want-to-appreciate-the-silence. I like parties; he’s I’ve-worked-hard-all-day-and-want-to-crash-at-home. I like novels; he only reads non-fiction. (‘Why would I want to read something that someone made up?‘) I love art; he only likes art that looks like what it’s supposed to be and/or looks like it was very hard to do.

Pointe Hilton by Jack Mendenhall. Meets both The Dude’s criteria: looks like what it is, and indeed looks like it was very hard to do

And what is it with hot and cold? Has there ever been a married couple who agrees on the thermostat? There he is, in the dead of winter, wearing a tee-shirt and turning up the heat; I say put on a sweater — preferably one of the many I’ve knit for you. Continue reading

If your friend jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?


‘Sometimes it’s best not to follow the leader’

I have this Teddy Roosevelt fixation. Maybe it’s because my name is Alice*. (In case your history’s a bit rusty, Teddy’s daughter Alice Roosevelt Longworth was a lively cigarette-smoking rebel who grew up to be a famous elderly curmudgeon. She had a needlepoint pillow that read ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me.’)

*Yes, ‘Lutheranliar’ is really named ‘Alice’. After my Gramma. Middle named ‘Celia’. After my other Gramma, whose actual name was Cecelia. But my mom said she shortened it so I wouldn’t spit on people. Go ahead; try it: “Alice Cecelia”. I rest my case. Or my mom does anyway.

And Teddy? Well, he did crazy things like wander off into the wilderness all alone and lead charges into battle on horseback. And he still found the time to read two books a day — even while he was busy being President.

Teddy almost died of malaria making the same (gulp) trip we did a couple of months ago. Read about his trip in ‘River of Doubt’. Read about ours in ‘Eat. Or be eaten’ or ‘The Curse of the Potoo’

One of the coolest things that Teddy did (or at least I think so) was how he evaded the pesky ole Secret Service. Since Teddy had actually become President when the guy before him, William McKinley, got shot,  there were lots of Secret Service agents following him around to make sure that this kind of thing didn’t happen to him, too.  Continue reading

The Red Shoes (on)


‘When saying it wrong is too cute to correct’

I was feeling kind of empty, the Australian Open being over and all (oh where will I get my Federer Fix?), so I called my Mom.

(Let me say right off the bat that I am ever so grateful to have a Mom, and that having one as smart and funny and almost-always-available by iPhone as mine is, well that’s just cosmic icing on the cake.)

So, anyway. After discussing various relatives and their illnesses and books and movies and baseball (she doesn’t follow tennis, but I love her anyway), and the Fate of the Nation in General, we got around to my blog. And the fact that my Mom had, yet again, tried to post a comment that didn’t ‘take’. (We won’t go into technical details, except to note that my Mom is extremely tech-savvy, more than I am, in fact. She has personally designed her own emoji. So I am stymied about why/how she can’t post comments. Sigh.)

My Mom and Dad and my Peterson Grandparents, when I was adorably small and in no need of shoes, red or not red

Her comment? It was in reference to last week’s post which, if you recall, was about me feeling like it was about time already to be giving away certain stuff in my closet and was titled ‘At least it’s not a dead-squirrel stole’. Continue reading

At least it’s not a dead-squirrel stole


‘On knowing when it’s time to let go’

Now, I haven’t gone so far as to embrace ‘Swedish Death Cleaning’, which, if you caught my post from a couple of weeks ago (“Out with the old year, but not out with the old stuff. Yet.”) you know is this thing where Swedes give away their stuff so that their kids don’t have to go through it after they die. Honest.

But lately I have been going through my clothes and offering what I consider choice items to The Child and her pals. They are, after all, in their mid-twenties, which is how old I was when I acquired, say, those paisley corduroy pants. Or the orange-and-white striped cashmere sweater. Or the fancy black dress shown in these photos:

I’m not what you’d call a Clothes Horse, but if you’ve been a grown woman as long as I have you tend to have a pretty packed closet. When an Event comes up, I don’t go shopping, I just dig around in there and find something that’ll ‘do’.

For a recent rather fancy wedding: dress I wore to Niece Ella’s christening in 2000, jacket I got in London when I was working there in the 90s, plus sunglasses scored on an LA shoot in the 80s

Continue reading

“I write, therefore I am”


‘You read, therefore I am grateful’

I was sitting around the other morning, trying not to think about how weird it is that it’s not even 12 degrees outside and I’m scratching away at chigger bites (from our recent Panamanian Adventure; see last week’s post for deets and pix), when I noticed I got a ‘pingback’.

Our two lovely guides plus one irritating Panama tour participant who, among other things, insisted on being addressed as ‘Raven’. She got chigger-bit too. But she deserved it

For non-members of the Blogosphere, which would be darn-near all of you, bless your Faithful Little Hearts, this ‘ping’ meant somebody cited my blog, good ole Lutheranliar looks at life, in their blog. Which is an incredibly nice thing to do, and doesn’t happen all that much. At least not to me. Before I go on, I simply must thank this nice Blogger Person, Orla by name, who writes “Fancy Paper: little things that make you happy”. When I checked that ‘pingback’, I found that she had nominated me for something called the Blogger Recognition Award. (It’s protocol to thank your nominator, but I like to think that I would do so anyway.) Thank you, Orla!

What does happen to me? Cats hiding in plain sight. Or Sitting on Guys’ Heads in Times Square

Again, according to protocol, we Nominees are also supposed to say how we got started blogging, give two tips to beginning bloggers, and last but not least, list some blogs we like and follow.

Whew. Let’s dig in. So, how did I get started? Continue reading