Wednesday, September 23, 2020

R.I.P. Karen

Karen Baxter Kelemen self portrait
We like purpose-driven travel, whether it’s for an international service project or something as simple as visiting family or learning more about our world.  Driving 1400 miles to Denver, Colorado for our sister-in-law’s memorial service was a new reason for us. 

Karen Baxter Kelemen, 66, died unexpectedly in her sleep March 21, just days into Colorado’s lockdown.  It was hard on my younger brother Neal and 26-year-old nephew William.  Karen was racked by severe pain from a nearly fatal auto accident at age 22.  Yet, she powered through it to become a mother, writer, youth pastor, musician, and accomplished artist. She was such a beautiful person, inside and out.  (See her definition of success at the end of this post.)   In 2001, she wrote:


There is its gift,

Sometimes it is gnawing,

Like wild dogs breaking bones to the marrow.

Sometimes it is insistent,

Like someone pounding on the door who just won’t go away.

Sometimes it is unbearable,

Yet, somehow I endure.

We are consoled by her sky paintings which now grace our guest bedroom.

Skyscape Oil
Skyscape pastel from solo gallery show
at SOHO West

The socially-distanced service was simple and beautiful in the small park in front of Neal and William’s home.  And it was a nice opportunity to visit with siblings, cousins, and friends we haven’t seen in a long time.

Simple, distanced, and beautiful

The Bros and nephew William

Getting There

We lucked out getting there and back.  We departed Salem on Labor Day, heading east in the smoke and high winds against a bumper-to-bumper stream of Labor Day traffic.  Some of that traffic was undoubtedly evacuees of the Metolius River campground where we had planned to stay our first night.  We pushed on four more hours to Paige Springs campground in SE Oregon near French Glenn.  

It was too windy and smoky to eat outside.  We wondered if the smoke and winds were going to follow us all the way to Denver.  But overnight the winds shifted, and we awoke the next day to clear blue skies.  Unfortunately, that wind change was catastrophic for so many Oregonians and the communities we had driven through on Monday.  Without cell coverage, we were oblivious to it all and hiked 12 miles round trip to the confluence of the Donner and Blitzen rivers. 

Our  Paige Springs camp
Where the Doner and Blitzen Rivers converge


On that same day, much of northern Colorado and southern Wyoming were hit with up to 10 inches of snow—not a good omen for Karen’s memorial. We drove through snow and camped in mud at Rock Springs Wyoming, but when we arrived Friday afternoon, the weather was perfect.
Somewhere between Bridger and
Evanston, WY

Rock Springs fairgrounds.  That town
has to be the armpit or anus of Wyoming

Following the memorial service, we camped just outside Rocky Mountain National Park with my younger brothers, Mark and Neal.  RMNP was my very first camping experience at age 7, and I fondly remember that trip vividly.  My last time there was in 1968 when I climbed 14,259-foot Longs Peak with Mark and sister Sandra.  I couldn’t believe the crowds, but then in this era of COVID I guess I should.

Moraine Valley, RMNP

Bear Lake.  (Mark's Photo)

Longs Peak in the distance, elevation 14, 256.  From
Trail Ridge Road, at over 12,000 feet, the
highest paved road in the world. It was cleared of
snow just a day before we drove it
Three of the four bros and kathy.
Near Trail Ridge Road visitor center, elev. 12,000

The last evening there, our Uzbek daughter, Feruza, and her boyfriend from New York had dinner with us while on the way home from a Utah camping road trip.  It was so nice to see her in person, if only briefly. And it was the first time Mark and Neal got to meet her.

Kathy, Feruza, and Ron

Getting Back

Our original plans were to take our time getting home, savoring the golden aspen foliage, and possibly driving north along the coast of California on Highway 1.  But I got a hernia in late August following an epic morning at the gym.  Although surgery was scheduled for October, it was getting worse.  So, we called the surgeon and got the date moved up to the 28th and took a direct route home.  Just as well, as the fires in California made the Highway 1 route no longer possible.

As we drove through dense haze in the Columbia gorge, we couldn’t see the river.  Fortunately heavy rains started in the Willamette Valley the night before cleaning the valley air.  By the time we got to Salem, it was a steady deluge, and the damp air smelled wonderful.  Once again, we lucked out!


This was the month we were supposed to be in London providing day care for our six-month old granddaughter, Hazel.  But the COVID upended everything for everybody, and compared to many, we still have it very good.  We hope you do, too.
Hazel's first book

Solid food fun!

"What We Can, While We Can"
"What We Could, While We Could"
(It’s still WW2 either way.)

Karen’s definition of success 
(and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s)

To laugh often and much,
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children,
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends,
To appreciate beauty,
To find the best in others,
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition,
This is to have succeeded.To know that even one life has breathed better because you have lived.

       Karen Baxter Kelemen

     By that measure, Karen  was a huge success!  R. I. P. Karen.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Getting Out of Dodge

Like most people 4 ½ months ago, we thought things would be mostly back to some sort of normal by now.  We hoped we’d still be able to fly to London in May to see our first grandchild and fly there again for some extended daycare starting late in August.  

Our only non-selfie of two road trips

We thought we’d still be able to spend a week at our daughter’s mountain home in the Berkshires and take in Ringo Starr and Judy Collins at the Tanglewood Festival.  And my brother Neal and I were supposed to be backpacking this week in southern Colorado.  Not to mention in-person Rotary, Assistance League, and Capital Manor meetings, hosting dinner parties, going to concerts, and dining out.

Please don’t feel sorry for us, as we have it pretty damn good.  Unlike so many others during this Covid crisis, we are healthy and solvent, and so are our kids.  We don't have to go to work.  We are merely inconvenienced.  At first, we enjoyed the novelty of it all with new recipes, romantic dinners, binge watching, sleeping in, video calls, in-home workouts, and books.  We’ve done our part to isolate, distance, and mask up.  But that said, every once-in-awhile, it feels so good to get out of town, or even out of the house.  Time for a socially-distancing road trip or two! 


Camping alone at a Harvest Host
winery near the Columbia Gorge

With self-service gas, a full trailer pantry and fridge, and self-contained toilet and shower, it was easy to maintain distances in the wide-open west.  Not since we left the Peace Corps in 1980 with four months of unstructured travel through Burma, Nepal and India, have we traveled without a destination or itinerary.  Very liberating!  And there is something very therapeutic about the expansive horizons or the West.

The John Day Fossil Beds and Painted Hills in June

We haven’t been to this area in decades, and it was better than we remembered it. The Painted Hills are beautiful! 

One of many colorful views
We kicked it off with a first night at our favorite place in all of Oregon—the Metolius River near Camp Sherman.  We’ve made it a point to camp there every year for the past 35 years, except for last year when we were on a cross-country road trip.  

Wizard Falls on the Metolius River

We also hiked in the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness outside Prairie City.  Also better than we remembered, but more crowded.  
Strawberry Lake Wilderness

Here are some of our best photos of that one-week trip, mostly in chronological order.


The Columbia River, Idaho Panhandle, Montana, and the Beartooth Mountains in July

We went up through central Washington, following the Columbia River to the Canadian border. The stunning road to Grand Coulee Dam is like a mini Columbia River Gorge, but without all the heavy traffic.  


Steamboat Rock, below the Grand Coulee Dam.  We camped
in the trees on the other side and climbed to the extensive top.
(Photos from the top are available in the photo link below.)
Driving toward the Grand Coulee Dam

Here's a link to a few photos from the Columbia River segment.

After we got to the border in a week, we decided, “What the heck—let’s head SE.” 

NE Washington and the Idaho panhandle, while beautiful, creeped us out.  Too much in-your-face flag waving and open-carry firearms, even in the local Saturday market. (Dude, do you really need a 45mm, large clip military pistol to sell us some organic lettuce??)


Camping (Glamping) at a brewery

Fortunately, much of Montana was less politicized and more beautiful.  One night we stayed at a Harvest Host brewery outside Livingston. (Harvest Host allows self-contained RVs to stay on their farms, wineries, ranches, and breweries.)  In one of our rarer encounters with humans, a local Harley rider helped us level our trailer and gave us some travel tips.  As we were picking up our pizza, some other masked locals told us what roads to avoid and what we absolutely had to see.  What a stroke of luck!  

We changed plans and saw the Big Hole National Battlefield and some historic sites.  Our masked conversations at the brewery sadly reminded us of what is lost in this whole Covid world—the opportunities that result from random connections with friends, acquaintances, and strangers.  And the social nature of camping has also changed.  Our Airstream has always been a conversation magnet with fellow campers.  Now, everybody keeps to themselves.


SW Montana countryside.  We drove the
scenic byways  nearly the entire trip

The Beartooth Mountains in northern Wyoming on the border with Yellowstone were spectacular. In fact the 68-mile white-knuckle road was probably the most beautiful drive we have ever experienced in North America. (Jasper to Banff is now second.)  The steep roads and countless switchbacks were so worth it. And the mosquitoes thought we Oregonians were delicious.


Switchbacks and the 6-8% grade on the
68-mile Beartooth Highway (not my photo)

View from our campground at Island Lake

Beartooth Peak in the distance

Here is a link to curated photos of the Montana countryside and the Beartooth Mountains.


During long stretches of road when we weren't navigating switchbacks, we listened to the biography of Frederick Douglass. While it waded into the weeds with too much lengthy detail, we learned just how brutal slavery was and how the North and our churches were so complicit with it—way more than we were ever taught in school.   And the same with the Jim Crow laws and racism.  Although we have always believed that Black lives matter, this biography reinforced it big time.  Plus, we learned a lot about what daily and political life was like in the 19th Century.  

 We’re glad we went, but glad to be back home in our queen bed and our three-butt kitchen with a large fridge!

Note:  You can see more photos and detailed commentary on my Facebook page and on Instagram @Kelemenron.


 One of our bright spots since mid-March is to wake up to what we have named “Hazelgrams.” Shanti and Alan in London delight us nearly every morning with a Whats App photo or video of Hazel, now over four months old. She's talking up an incoherent storm and learning to crawl backwards.  Hopefully we’ll get to meet her in person someday….

Hazel Hampson-Kelemen 
@ 4 months old
Finally getting Hazel registered
at Town Hall, on Shanti and
Alan's 2nd anniversary at the
same location

Morning routine
Morning selfie

“What We Can, While We Can.”

 (Or should our motto now be “What We Could, While We Could?”)

Friday, March 20, 2020

It's a Girl!

Celebrating all three of them home
When I was a financial advisor, clients would eagerly show me the latest photos of their grandchildren. I tried hard to be interested, but they could all sense that I wasn’t as enthusiastic about their new grandchild as they were. “Just wait,” they said. “You’ll get it when you have one of your own.” Well, guess what? I get it now.

Our first grandchild, Hazel Hampson-Kelemen, was born in London last Sunday, following a difficult 28-hour drama as Shanti’s husband, Alan, tried to keep his Australian parents and us appraised on What’s App. Hazel weighed 4 kg (8 lbs., 13 oz.), but spent her first few days in the NICU because of a buildup of meconium in her lungs. (BTW, Hazel is the name of Alan’s grandmother who had a huge role raising him as a boy.)

Hazel Hampson-Kelemen

Proud and happy parents, Shanti and Alan

Thursday was a big day, because all three of them now live as a family in their London flat. So, in all this doom and gloom, there are still moments of joy and beauty. And speaking of beauty, the first full day of spring is one for the record books in terms of beauty.

The Oregon State Capitol

Cherry blossoms and azaleas on the capitol mall 
Unlike so many people who are going to be physically and financially devastated by the Covid 19 outbreak, we are merely inconvenienced. We’ve been social distancing with walks and bike rides, and pleasant unstructured time together. We feel as close as ever and are making more effort to check in on others and find humor wherever we can.

I’m enjoying even more creative time in the kitchen and playing/practicing more on my electronic drum set. Kathy is busy knitting baby stuff and with a lot of technology/computer/video conferencing things for Assistance League. And we’re both probably spending too much time online and watching the news, but every now and then, we find something hilarious or heartwarming. The reality of a quarantine will really hit home for us when we start cleaning our closets, the sock drawers, the spice cabinet, and some old files in the den. Meanwhile, we have enough toilet paper, rice, beans, soap, chocolate, and alcohol to see us through, and we hope you do, too.

So those are our bright spots, circa DCV (During Corona Virus). What about BCV?

Well, it was fun while it lasted. Ever since we returned from Sri Lanka on Feb 4, our lives have been full of typical winter activities: Pilates, kettle bell, and group workouts, drum lessons, Rotary, Assistance League, Capital Manor board, socializing, wine tastings, fund raisers, and the 70th Annual Salem First Citizen Awards banquet, where our good friend (and my successor) Brenna was named Salem’s Outstanding Young Professional. (We’re so proud of her. Click Here to see a short-but fun  video intro to the evening.)
Brenna, Salem's Outstanding Young Pro of the Year
with husband Ben and us.  We clean up well.
In between all of that, we went to Breckenridge Colorado for five days to celebrate my 69th birthday with daughter Skyler and Spencer, her boyfriend for the past 12 years. His family lives there, so we had some unbelievable meals and some outstanding snowboarding. I can’t believe I held up for three full days on the slopes at 11,000 feet altitude. Maybe I will make it to age 70 and beyond as a snowboarder, albeit slower and off the double diamond runs.

Breckenridge, Colorado

With Skyler, my 33-year old  snowboard bud.  We started learning 
together in 1998.  Over all these years with our various injuries and
surgeries, we're still matched for speed, ability, and egging each
other on.

Hang in there. Be kind. Be generous. Keep distant—but connected.

“What We Can, While We Can”

Friday, February 14, 2020

Sri Lanka Between the Cracks

At a Hindu temple overlooking Triconamalee on the East Coast
Not everything we experienced or observed in Sri Lanka fits into the narrative of our previous five blogs. Some topics need their own mini blog or at least a photo. Here are some answers to questions we were asked, plus a few things we found interesting during our three-week trip.  The most common one we got was from an unlikely source--an older American Airlines pilot on the hotel shuttle at the Portland airport.  "Where is Sri Lanka?" he asked. (It's off the SE tip of India, one-third the size of Oregon.).  I guess geography isn't part of the navigation curriculum in flight school.

I think it means we're in Ohiya,
1,774 meters above sea level
Most Sri Lankans speak at least two languages, often three.  Since most of the people are Sinhalese Buddhists, Sinhalese is often the main language, followed by Tamil, a South Indian language.  Both were unintelligible to us, and the long names of people and places are tongue twisters.  However, nearly everyone who made it through grade school speaks English, making it easy for tourists.  We had fascinating conversations with maids, waiters, tuk-tuk drivers, museum guards, shop owners, and our Rotarian friends. 

Minor traffic on a side street at lunch hour in Nuwara Eliya

What can we say?  The narrow roads, variety of vehicles at different speeds, and driving on the left side can be nerve wracking. But we soon learned to just relax. Except for bus drivers, Sri Lankans rarely honk their horns.  They are mostly mellow and cut one another some slack, often with just inches to spare.  For as many close calls as we experienced, we saw few—if any—dented or scratched vehicles.  To really get a feel for it, click on video link at the end of this post to see the “Standing on a Street Corner” video.

The employee parking lot near the 
defense ministry. Some of the tuk-tuk 
owners try to pick up extra business
on the way home.
On a supped up, heavy duty tuk-tuk in a fishing village
And speaking of traffic, the three-wheeled tuk-tuks and their often-crazy drivers are what makes the traffic so quintessentially Sri Lankan. With a population of 21 million, Sri Lanka has over 1.3 million tuk-tuk drivers.  The government recently banned imports from India, hoping that more young men would go into construction and manufacturing instead.  About halfway through our trip, we realized that some of the tuk-tuks we saw weren’t for hire.  Rather, they were just a cheap means of transportation compared to a car.  Our link of photos at the bottom has a few shots of them.  Also, check out our clip of a fun ride in one of them at the end of this post. 

Sri Lankans love dogs.  Most of them are mellow and look alike.  Dogs are also part of the traffic equation.  They think nothing of taking a nap on a busy road or jaywalking. We saw so many near misses.

Typical looking dogs that seemed to belong
to our jungle camp in Yalla.
"Temple dogs" at a Buddhist temple

I can't remember if this was breakfast, lunch, or dinner
at Gihan's home, but it was fantastic!
If you followed us on Facebook or Instagram, you no doubt saw some of our food porn photos.  The rice is flavored with lentil, fish, and green bean curries, hot but not that hot.  The curries were unique, but they resembled a combination of Thai, Malaysian, and South Indian dishes.  They are best enjoyed eating with your right hand fingers and thumb. We
loved it, and often had curry-rice morning, noon, and evening.  Sri Lanka is clean, and so are its kitchens and eateries.  Even eating in the cheap dives where only the locals went for lunch, we never got sick.  Bottled or filtered water was available everywhere and in every hotel room.  

But it beats the cold
rain and fog of Oregon
in January-February!
Unless you are in the tea country up in the hills, it is hot and humid.  Every place we stayed had air conditioning, but Sri Lankans are very judicious about its use because electricity is very expensive. It can be upwards of 30% of a large household’s budget.

Getting there and back
Coach airfare and economy-plus are relatively cheap. It just takes a long time to get across 13.5 time zones.  Our outbound trip, with layovers in LA, Tokyo, and Singapore took 44 hours.  Returning without the Tokyo layover took 30, but we had a 15-hour flight from Singapore to LA.  That said, Singapore Airlines is the best we have ever flown.  And no matter what, it was so worth the effort.

Our hotel near Badulla, complete
with a swimming pool.
Once you get there, Sri Lanka is a bargain.  Nice hotels cost less than a budget hotel near the Portland airport. And there are some very spectacular ones on pristine beaches or with stunning views in the tea country hills.  All provide breakfast. Eating like locals, we’d often spend less than $5 on a huge lunch, maybe $10-15 for a fresh seafood dinner including drinks.  Western style restaurants and fast food chains cost more.  You can rent a car and driver for $50 per day, but trains and busses cost much less.

We traveled over 800 miles by car.  Some of our drivers had a thumb drive of mellow Sri Lankan music which we enjoyed.  Others cranked up the radio.  But for the Sri Lankan English accents, it sounded just like the top hits, oldies, or I-Heart Radio stations here with the station breaks, promos, commercials, etc.  (Booming voice: “All the music you love right here on FM 98.5 Radio Columbo where the hits never stop!”  Music jingle: “98.5—top hits.”)  Then Kelly Clarkson.

Fellowship after the brief Rotary meeting
Our visit to Sri Lanka was because of Rotary.  We hosted the leader of a Sri Lankan Rotary Group Friendship (RFE), exchange in October.  They reciprocated big time, driving us from place to place, hosting meals, and sharing insights.  That said, it is very easy to experience Sri Lanka without the help we had from hospitable Rotarians. Sri Lanka and “nearby” Maldives have about 62 clubs. They usually meet over dinner and drinks.  The one we attended had only 12 attending, but it was fun and very social with some coconut whiskey and snacks afterward.  Because of Sri Lanka’s diversity and languages, English is the official language of the meetings.
The banner they presented us

Open for Business
The world’s memory of the Easter Day bombings of churches and hotels in 2019 has fallen through the cracks. Over 250 people were killed and many more were injured.  Nine months later, tourism is still way down, despite CNN and Lonely Planet naming Sri Lanka the best destination of the year. In a couple of cases, we were the only guests in small lodges or a jungle camp, and we were among just a few in larger places. For those Sri Lankans dependent on their 10% tips from tourists, or who own a tourist-related business, life is hard.  And the loss of Chinese tourists will hurt them more. We felt safer in Sri Lanka than we do at home.  Security is tight, the people are friendly, the country is clean, the scenery is spectacular, the culture is unique, and bargains abound.  We’d go back in a heartbeat.  The only downside?  The long flights to get there.

And for those of you we met in Sri Lanka reading this, thank you so much!  You made the trip so special.  Bohoma istouti (ඔයාට බොහෝම ස්තූතියි) and in Tamil, mikka nandri  (நன்றி மிகவும்). 

(Note:  In case you missed our previous five Sri Lanka blog posts, simply click on blog archive to the right.)

Photos and Videos
These carefully curated photos capture the essence of our trip and many are our best shots.  They should be viewed on something larger than a mobile phone.  Sit back with a cup of tea (preferably Ceylon with milk sugar, and cardamom) or a scotch or a coconut whiskey and enjoy!

Link to our best shots and the essence of our trip, click HERE

Link to six videos:  Inside a Buddhist cave, Monkey business, standing on a street corner, Hindu Puja ceremony, samar deer fighting for dominance, and a wild ride in a tuk-tuk.   click HERE
"What We Can, While We Can!"

Reclining Buddha., part of many sculptures in a cave; all
carved from solid rock, including the cave, near Dambulla, 
starting in the 1st Century BC.