Thursday, December 31, 2015

Here We Go…2016!

We wish you all a gloriously healthy and happy New Year!


We returned to Whidbey Island from our Thistle travels last year at the end of May.  Since then it has seemed like we'd never get back on the Thistle Adventure Road.  First one thing and then another.  In mid July we opened our doors to an Airbnb business and have been slammed with visitors...meeting  one delightful guest after another.  We enjoyed an amazing trip to China and Thailand.  We celebrated the holidays with eating and decorating and family and friends.  Plus, we are trying to put garden and home  in order so we can leave again.  You know, it's called living life...

We finally saw the possibility of driving away in early January, but then Ed was called for jury duty.   With a whole lot of luck we might still make a mid January departure, but late January is looking more and more realistic.

In the meantime, life is good and the holidays were wonderful.

It's fun to be surprised!   And with the arrival of Brad and Yessi in their Chinese-Wedding-Red-Silk-Pajamas for Christmas morning,  we were delightedly surprised.

Rather than heaps of gifts under the tree, these past several years we've limited ourselves to stocking stuffers only.  Well kinda.  Cheating is a big part of the game so we switched from stockings to large shopping bags.    We squeal with delight, still, at the excesses of jams and vinegars and chocolates and pens and doodads.  And who can be blasé about WD40 or the ugliest joke gift imaginable?    

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?

Showing off the new socks. 

Benton loves celebrations with all the excesses of
snuggling and doggie treats!

How do we rate the holidays?  Well, by the food…of course!

Greg wears the crepe chef hat this year.

The house empties out after breakfast as Greg and Deb depart for snow at the Pass and Brad and Yessi depart for his Dad's in North Bend.   With so much snow, guess who couldn't stay away from the Pass, with North Bend just being down the road a bit? 

Brad just had to get a little white
stuff fun.


"Love doesn't make the world go 'round; love is what makes the ride worthwhile."

~ Shannon L. Alder

Monday, December 28, 2015

China Reflections

China - #11

It is important to spend time thinking about the places we've been, especially when they take us far from home. There are always things we like more or less about the spots we visit, in contrast to home. And there are ways for us to nudge ourselves into altering our lives, depending on our experiences or observations.  If one returns from a trip to China, for example, without a serious addiction to Chinese tea, they simply weren't paying attention.  

Many small shops serve tea.

My thoughts about China are conflicted.  Getting to know our new family and experiencing their amazing generosity has been a link with China and Yessi's childhood home for us to cherish and nurture.  And Xiamen is a city to love!  World class by any measure.   The city is thriving economically;  offers unlimited dining, sightseeing and shopping; plus provides numerous life experience opportunities, including a large university. 

Xiamen University Campus

One of my favorite features of Xiamen is the landscaping, especially the wide  pathways  for walking and biking.

Elin and Brad

A waterfront path circles the island.

The boulevards are well landscaped too.  Xiamen is one of the top ten busiest port cities in China and is visibly prosperous.  Admittedly Xiamen is one of China's finer cities, but we saw evidence of modern infrastructure on our travels to other parts of China as well.

Dedicated bus lanes.
Photo by Karl Fjellstrom
Landscaped boulevards.

The bullet train, coming and going from ultra modern and architecturally distinct stations, is a juxtaposition jolt along side the congestion on the streets, including the presence of hundreds of bicycles and scooters .   One minute we're boarding a 200 mph train...

And next we've seeing families piled onto one bike; riders without helmets or night lighting; and others carrying  impossibly huge loads.  


The driving custom in China is to honk to let other drivers know you are approaching with  the expectation that the other drivers will permit you to merge.  There is none of the angry honking, yelling or finger shaking of American drivers, simply a single honk to announce one's presence and an adjustment by other drivers.  Our perspective is that the drivers crowd but it is done respectfully and responded to cordially.  One outstanding driving rule in China is their zero tolerance policy regarding alcohol.  

Crowding seems to be the rule for pedestrians as well.  Boarding buses, planes or trains was crazy.  There is definitely no grasp of queuing up and even when others do so, many will boldly squeeze in at the turnstile.  The confusion and delay from this crowding doesn't seem to stop it from happening and getting off a plane in China is painfully slow with the untangling of gridlocked bodies.  Amiably?  Not always.

On the flip side, Ed and I were always offered seats on crowded buses as the elderly are honored in this way.

It seemed to be an unspoken fact that becoming involved with the Chinese police was not pleasant, yet the police appearance on the streets was scarce.  Most of the policing was done with surveillance cameras and no matter where we went we were photographed and our passports were copied over and over again. There was no question that our presence was noted and recorded. Changing itineraries was not easy, and came with penalties, which is one of the reasons we abandoned our original plan of bullet train travel from Xiamen to Beijing.   To miss that leg of our round trip air flight would have resulted in a huge extra cost.   That's when we regrouped and headed for Thailand…and the beach!  

It was interesting to ask, when we found an English-speaking person, what they knew about Chinese politics.  It turns out very little.  The Cultural Revolution wasn't of much interest nor is the operation of  today's government.  Without a way to participate, combined with active government censorship, the  manner  in which the government functions was of  little interest.  I returned home with an increased gratitude  for having a voice here in the U.S. -- voting, writing letters, signing petitions, attending meetings, speaking my mind.  My patriotic spirit was awakened.

China Flag

U.S. Flag

My patriotism aside,  American citizens often believe voting is of little importance and writing a letter of concern is not seen as a privileged freedom.  We are lackadaisical about our rights and neglectful of our responsibilities.  It is good to be reminded of this as we prepare to elect a new president. How grateful I am to be able to voice my displeasure with a number of candidates and to know, even if one of them wins, it will not be with my vote.  I will be able to publicly voice my dissatisfaction and in four years I will vote to banish the evil doer.

Many of my observations are cultural, but they are also about change -- political, environmental, economic.    I was left with several questions about America's position in the world.  How do we revitalize our American dream?  Are we hanging onto the past with complacency and fear?  The Chinese are not.  They are striding into a new world -- a world of advancement for them personally and for their country.  There are side effects, of course, environmental consequences and lack of participation in their country's decision-making readily come to mind, but the excitement of change is in the air.  It feels to me like the Chinese are trying to move into the future while we are trying to hang onto the past.


"Our country, right or wrong."
 When right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right." 

 ~ Carl Schurz

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Sharing Joy

It seems like sharing joy is what this season is all about and, for me, religious diversity feels as American as apple pie.   

Admittedly, it can be confusing to respect and acknowledge each person's faith, especially when we find ourselves in the middle of a red and green coffee cup battle, seen as too Christmas-lite.  But, here's the predicament.  From November 1 to January 15 there are approximately 29 holidays observed by seven of the world's major religions.   Bodhi Day is celebrated by the Buddhists.  Christmas is celebrated by the Christians.  Many Atheists and Native Americans celebrate "Winter Solstice".  "Yule" is often celebrated by  Pagans.  And the Jewish celebrate Yom Kippur.   Just to confuse it even more, we have added to the mix non religious holidays like Thanksgiving and New Year.  Our country is rich in celebrations.

I consider myself fortunate to have friends and family of many faiths with both traditional and non-traditional customs.  Our family puts up a Chrismas tree but we do not attend church.  The ornaments on our tree range from angels to santas; ferry boats to clowns.  We honor Buddhism and with our new Chinese family, it is a family faith now.    We have Jewish friends.   We celebrate the solstice.  In our home not believing in God is as respected as believing in God.

Brad, Yessi , Ed & Fran

The season's greetings we pass out are with a smile and our loving best wishes.  Our words are not carefully calculated, although they will be neutral, as the all inclusive shoe fits us best.

To a joyful present and a well remembered past.  Best wishes for Happy Holidays and an exceptional New Year.
Love, Fran & Ed & Benton too!


"This is my wish for you:  peace of mind, prosperity through the year, happiness that multiplies,
health for you and yours, fun around every corner, energy to chase your dreams, joy to fill your holidays!"

~ D. M. Dellinger

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


One of the many things I love about Thistle is the built-in connection with like-minded folks.  Because only 250 Sprinter-Westfalias were imported back in 2005, they are rare.   In purchasing a Westie, we've already narrowed ourselves down to similar vehicle life styles, so ready-made friends come with the deal.

When we needed house and Benton sitters while in China, I remembered an e-mail from Leslie, fellow Westie owner, mentioning she and Al might like to settle for a short spell in one place, having been full-time on the road for two years now.   I contacted them, and sure enough, on their way south from Alaska, they agreed to rest from travel for a spell.  Here's the blog posting of their time in Langley.

Al, Leslie and Benton, in front of haRVy.

While we were in China, there was even a mini Westie rally at Keystone.  Drat, we would have loved to be there too.

haRVy has the kayaks on the back.

Benton & Al

We've been home for a short spell now and already we're ready to head south.  It's wet, cold and dark  -- all in abundance, as only a northwest winter can provide.  Leslie and Al, smart people they are,  are now in Santa Barbara, CA basking in 70 degree weather.  By the time we got home, they'd already had a huge wind storm and a 41 hour power outage.  Didn't take them long to see the writing on the wall.  Although they'd made  lovely connections in Langley and with Benton, the weather easily persuaded them into a quick getaway.

Thank you Al and Leslie.  We so appreciate the safekeeping you provided to Benton and our home.  Come mid January, jury duty and holidays behind us, we're heading south too!  Hope we can hook up.

Hot off the press, arriving just as I was finishing this post, is an update on Al and Leslie's adventures.


"When we establish human connections within the context of shared experience we create
 community wherever we go."

~ Gina Greenlee, Postcars and Pearls:  Life Lessons from Solo Moments on the Road 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Farewell China

China - #10

Farewell China.  We will miss you!


"The return makes one love the farewell."

~ Alfred de Mussel

Ko Samet Island, Thailand

Thailand - #2 or  China - #9

Ah, the beach.  After a long, slow bus ride from Bangkok, we board the ferry to Ko Samet Island.  When we arrive, we are ready to do -- nothing!

Ferry to Ko Samet Island

Ko Samet Island taxi service…

Seat belts?  

Pile in...

If not getting about in a taxi, then a scooter will work…

Ed and I explored for a couple of hours one afternoon.
Brad and Yessi used this beast for hours and hours for
 both day and night exploration. 

This is what greeted us…

This is where we stayed...

And this is how we played…

Skin diving boat.  Would you believe they filled this boat
with 30+ folks, making five stops for diving, one for lunch.
It was crowded!  

One of our diving locations

What felt absolutely devine, was just doing nothing...

There isn't a lot one can say about unwinding on a beach, except to say, we found the Thailand people the most friendly and welcoming people anywhere.  The water was so warm we could swim for hours and so salty we floated high.

Beauty prevailed...



               "The serenity of the lulling ocean is a wondrous thing to behold..more precious
                               than the gems coveted and covered in platinum or gold…"

                                                                    ~ Oksana Rus