The Great Amercan Vacation #5

Good times at the beach ......the kids eat at the kids table.

There is a wedding on the beach at the neighbor's next door.

Kids out in the waves.

Playing in the dunes.

Family members flying kites.

Hindu Wedding

Chapter # 29 of my glamorous life - In which the hubster and I attend a Hindu Wedding.

Above - the happy couple, grad students in the hubster's department at UNT, prepare to start the ceremony. Below, some little girls prepare to dance at the reception.

Below, not to be outdone, some little boys take the floor.

Below : Good friends share a table at the reception : all are members of the hubster's department at UNT. See hubby in the far back, left.

Below : We all toss flowers onto the bride as she processes by. GFT would be the only Anglo woman in this photo.

The hubster and I are blessed with a truly diverse and most of all, fun social life. A recent example of this would be the Hindu wedding of a grad student in hubby's department at work, which we attended.


The wedding invitation we received said the wedding started at 10 am on a Saturday, at a Hindu temple located on the other side of the DFW metroplex from where we live (it was held in Arlington, Tx.). Not knowing any better, hubby and I showed up at 9:45 am ( as you would for a WASP wedding, to get a good seat.). We were the only ones there, except for the priest, an ancient and dignified gnarled old man who was sweeping and cleaning the temple. As we looked around, in a clear state of confusion at the empty hall, he came over and said to us, " When Indians say 'wedding start at 10 am', they really mean, add 5-7 hours to that time. We make joke of it, call it 'Indian Standard Time.' ( IST) hahahahaha !!!! " Sure enough, around 2 pm, the bride arrived, and began to get dressed. She had several ceremonial attendants dress her in layers of beautiful silk saris and veils, drape her in flowers, and paint the traditional swirling designs of reddish henna on the soles of her feet and palms of her hands. Awhile later, the groom showed up - his sartorial preparations were much less involved.


Somewhere around 3 pm, the wedding began. In many ways, it was similar to the standard BCP Episcopalian wedding rite that GFT is familiar with. The wedding couple took vows, repeated important phrases, the audience and families of both wedding partners promised to uphold and support them, and there was a procession at the end. The design and layout of the temple was entirely different from the long narrow nave of an old style Christian churches, however- instead, the alter was in the center of the space, on the floor, covered with a sort of awning that recalled the Baldecchino of St Peter's. The families, friends, audience, and other witnesses sat on chairs or on the floor in a tight configuration around the altar, with a more casual sprawl of little children on the fringes playing with toys and skipping about. The wedding couple processed around and around, at the end , and all the audience threw flowers on them. They then processed into a large room next door filled with a dozen shrines to various Hindu deities. ( GFT made a supplication to Ganesh, her personal fave.)


The actual ceremony wrapped up around 4 ish. We were then told to go home and take naps, to get ready for the party, which would commence around 7 pm......"IST " . So hubster and GFT did exactly that. For part two of this adventure-packed day, we drove to what can only be described as an Indian shopping mall, in Richardson, Tx. This huge sprawling complex was filled with a multi-plex theater that only showed Bollywood movies, several restaurants and stores. The wedding reception was held in one of the restaurants , and was much like a traditional reception at any wedding in America : a great buffet with wonderful food, a dance floor, lots of family , friends and co-workers, all mingling, eating, and dancing. I think there might have even been an ice sculpture......the only thing missing, of course, was the booze.

Amsterdam,Madonnas/Leningrad,Rather Lovely Inheritance,Plainsong, Memory Keepers Daughter

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan
I loved this author’s novel, Atonement, so much that I decided to explore other novels he had written; perused the Man Booker list and found the one he won the prize for. I was about halfway through this book – distracted by other things going on in my life not in the novel, and thinking maybe I’d made a mistake. Where are we going with all this ? I asked myself. About halfway through the book, it hit me : this is a modern day re-telling of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar “. Suddenly, the whole story opened up to me and I saw how brilliant it was. If you were to take the basic plot and place it into the morass of modern day politics, this is what you’d get. I decided to re-read what I’d already read, and pay a lot more attention. Liked it so much, I think I’m going to teach it (alongside JC) later this year.
After realizing this is what the author was doing in Amsterdam, I started re-thinking Atonement, which I loved unblinkingly and without understanding why. I then realized that it is a modern day re-telling of “Romeo and Juliet”. Maybe a schtick, maybe brilliantly creative. Read them yourself and be the judge.

The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean
This is the most recent book I have been recommending to all I meet . Basic construction is two stories, side by side (alternating chapters), same set of characters : one tale is set in the 40’s, during WWII, during the siege of Leningrad. A museum curator and her family take refuge in the basement of the Hermitage during the bombing, are starving to death, and have packed all the great works of art away. To pass the time, she invents a game where she trains herself to remember ALL the paintings and other art, in order, where they used to hang. And everything about them ( analyzing the work of art, all its symbols, construction, shadings, colors, etc.) Contrast the modern chapters, where she is very old, has Alzheimers, and her grown children are caring for her, with no knowledge of her past, what she went through, experienced, or accomplished. Complete irony in the abililty of her mind as a younger person, contrasted with her diminished capacity as an older person. The younger generation does not fully appreciate the complexities of its elders. Several little mini-chapters, discussing the symbolism of particular paintings, foreshadows the meaning of upcoming events. Absolutely brilliant, and beautifully written.

A Rather Lovely Inheritance by CA Belmond
I was browsing a table of recent fiction at my local B & N, looking for some fun casual reads for an upcoming trip to the beach. Grabbed this one b/c it seemed quintessentially “me”: France, mystery, adventures, what’s not to like ? It was cute and fun escapism and totally effortless to read. Never mind that several minor plot points were just skipped over and never resolved – it delivered what it promised. An easy, fun, charming romp through fantasy. Had I known it is classified as a “romance” – argh ! I’d never have bought it.
Plainsong by Kent Haruf
Spare and beautifully written, this is a tale of a small town in the middle of nowhere, and all the hapless forlorn folk who live there. If you are from Texas, you know these people: many of the small intertwined plots are reminiscent of “Secondhand Lions” , “Last Picture Show”, or “Addie Pray” . A beautiful little book.

The Memory Keepers Daughter by Kim Edwards
I started this book and it’s central premise – that a Dr delivers his own twins, and b/c one has Down’s Syndrome he gives it away to be destroyed - angered me so deeply, I could not finish it. Could not get to the heart-warming redemption at the end, b/c the sheer presumptuousness of the man filled me with rage. I’ve been blessed with two healthy children, but have devoted a fair portion of my life to serving disabled children, and I am thankful we live in a day and age and society in which all humans are valued because of the content of their character, not the color of their skin (or abilities of their minds).

The Great American Vacation #2

While on this incredible journey that took its participants across half a continent, stops were made in the evenings at hotels (buildings with many rooms, where you can pay people to let you spend the night, if you are far away from home ) and at mealtimes at restaurants (buildings with many tables and people who cook, where you can eat if you are away from home). A fun thing to do, back in the olden days when people travelled and took vacations ( before the Great Oil Crisis of 2009 stopped virtually all automobile travel and the car way of life ended forever), was to eat at different kinds of restaurants than those that can be found near where you live. Here, a typical American family in 2008 eats at a famous Memphis BBQ joint, known as Neely's. This spot is so famous, it even has it's own tv show. Our critique ? Deservedly so.

Upon finally reaching their destination, a popular family vacation area known as the "Outer Banks" ( a chain of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina), full of spacious beautiful vacation homes (not the primary places a family might live, but a second home , to be visited on vacation or holiday time only). Our typical American family used to own one of these homes, but was forced to sell it a few years previously. Now they rent one each summer, instead. It was common, back in the Automotive Era, for families from the East Coast to return to the same houses, or at least houses in the same area, year after year, much like the swallows return to Capistrano.

The first thing to do, upon arriving at the beach house, was to toss all your belongings on your bed of choice, thus "staking" your territory from others , tug on your swim suit, and run to the beach as soon as possible.

A middle aged American father enjoys some quality time with his mother, in Corolla, NC. July 2008.
The teenagers in the extended family have been waiting for this moment all year - the chance to roam the beach with complete freedom, checking out "babes".

With that special radar known only to teens, the "babes" somehow know they are being checked out, and mysteriously appear. It is a ritual as old as time.

The Great American Vacation #3

A week at the beach, back in the olden days, meant a time of family togetherness , a time to experience the joy of long lost relatives in close proximity for seven glorius days. Here, the guys all discuss important things, while the sister-in-law, her husband, and their child explore the ocean one fine summer morning .

The typical American dad and his son visit and dig in the sand.

Come on in ! The water is just the perfect temperature, cool but not too cold. The waves are great for body surfing on a boogie ( short ) board.

The kids give a week at the beach two thumbs up !

You may notice the relative lack of people around - this is a "private" beach, open only to the folks who rent the homes along its shores. No cars allowed.

The Great American Vacation #1

Once upon a time, long long ago - before the Great Oil Crisis of 2009 - American families used to drive cars. They drove cars everywhere : to work, to buy groceries, to the doctor's office, even to take vacations. What is a vacation, you ask ? Well, it used to be, back in the olden days, that families all got together to go on a trip, they packed their suitcases ( a large bag or container in which you put your clothing and other items needed when not living at home ) to see new places, or to visit one another if they lived far apart. Parents used to think it was healthful for the children to actually go to the ocean, for example, to swim and play in the waves and breath the fresh non-polluted sea air, instead of merely watching videos of the ocean on tv, or simulating swimming on your "wii fit" video game.
Taking an old-fashioned American style vacation, where dad loaded the family up in the car, and drove across the country , required a great commitment from each member of the family, in terms of time, money, and the inconveniences of a large number of people living in close confines with each other. This was all happily sacrificed in the name of " family togetherness".
Children had to learn to entertain themselves on the long journey that driving across American by car entails. Traditional past-times for this type of trip included reading, napping, watching movies, listening to music, talking, and playing games.

Here, DK plays his micro-KORG, Monkey eats candy while watching a movie on his personal DVD player, and Stallion dreams of all the girls he will finally get to see, nearly naked, at the beach.

Back in those old-fashioned days, so very long ago, people had to rely on some very primitive technologies to make these journeys. Here, the ship navigator investigates what was called a "Magellan GPS" , for maps of which roads to take. The small device attached to the windshield is a "Sirius satellite radio" , which allows you to listen to music or people talking even in the middle of nowhere, such as driving through the mountains of Appalachia.

The Great American Vacation #4

Family togetherness is not only experienced on the beach. There is a special bonding that happens when men come together to cook. Stallion watches Rickie and Mickie in the kitchen, discussing tonight's dinner menu.

Big brother grills while little sister supervises.

Meal time is a special time. Fun and variety come with the designation of "theme" menus : hamburger night, Mexican night, Polynesian tiki night, seafood night, German bratwurst night.

If only all the youth of today would listen to the wisdom of the elders. They have so much to share.
A typical morning of lazing around....arguing politics. Now that's family togetherness.


Rocket Space Ship Park

photo by REX C. CURRY/Special Contributor Dallas Morning News


Today's Dallas Morning News reports that a beloved park located in Richardson , Texas and known technically as "Heights Park", but colloquially to children all around the north Dallas and Richardson areas as "Rocket Spaceship Park" , was to be closed today and the old space age jungle gyms town down. This is such a momentous local event that the actual demolition made the six o'clock evening news. Various tearful moms with tots were interviewed, and news footage showed a few aging baby boomers with video camcorders, taking a last little bit of footage of the small neighborhood park as the bulldozers did their work. The roving news reporter explained that this park, built in the early 60's, chose the space-themed jungle gyms in honor of Texas Instruments, a local employer famous for computers and technology, and also also to tie in with the "Let's Put A Man on the Moon" NASA space missions of that era. The roving reporter went on to explain that the park did not meet current safety standards, and had to be torn down. City officials promised to save the rocket ship and turn it into art, "some day".
It's a sad day for all of us who grew up in the shadow of this park. I spent my young childhood in Richardson, living near Heights Park , before my parents moved a few blocks away to Dallas when I was six . I remember Rocket Spaceship Park as a very special place. As a little kid, my mom would take us here on hot summer afternoons, after swimming lessons . My sister and I licked ice cream cones while climbing the 4 story rocket ship jungle gym , dangling off the dangerously tilting Jupiter , or swinging hand-over-hand along the yellow submarine - you had to finish your cone before you tried that feat -and somehow survived without impaling ourselves, choking, falling off, or breaking a bone. As a teenager, the place still lured us . My friends and I often ended up here late on Saturday nights, climbing around again, pairing off with dates and making out in the very top level of the space ship, or swinging in the swings in the nude. ( Sh ! Don't tell the park police ! ) I loved that park so much that when Son # 1 was born, I took him there several times as a toddler, and let him play, too. He probably doesn't remember it, but even at the time, I felt it was an important place that needed to be experienced. I took his picture there, and put it in his baby book. Sort of a one generation, passing something of itself on to the next, sort of thing.
All things are impermanent, someone once said. New England has its famous author's homes, historic churches and town halls. In Texas, well, we've got the Alamo, and that's about it. So we tend to get a little sentimental over inexplicable things sometimes. Below is the news story from the paper, for anyone who wants to read it :

After 40 years, playground equipment at Heights Park in Richardson to be removed
12:00 AM CDT on Monday, July 14, 2008
By IAN McCANN / The Dallas Morning News
RICHARDSON – The Heights Park rocket ship will close for good this week, more than 40 years after children here first climbed aboard.

Because of safety concerns, Richardson city officials will have the outdated but beloved playground equipment removed and put into storage.
Michael Massey, the city's parks and recreation director, said city leaders knew the equipment had outlasted its expected lifetime, usually considered to be about 20 years. But until a safety audit was conducted this spring, the extent of the problems wasn't clear.
The Heights Park equipment is by far the oldest in Richardson; the city's emotional and historical attachment kept it in use for more than 40 years, an official said. Much of the equipment presents serious dangers, including head entrapment, impalement and entanglement hazards. In addition, the equipment doesn't meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.
"The detailed audit really explained the depth and breadth of the problem," Mr. Massey said.
Though it's unusual for a city to have equipment that's more than four decades old still in use, ever-evolving safety standards often mean that playgrounds don't meet current guidelines.
But several North Texas parks officials said that regular inspections, maintenance and replacement can keep playgrounds free of most hazards.
"Some cities may be more aggressive than others," said Doug Evans, Grapevine's parks director and president of the Texas Recreation and Park Society. "We're all in it for the safety of our children."
In Richardson, Mr. Massey said a few pieces meet current standards and will remain. The city is working with a consultant to design new playgrounds, but there isn't a firm construction timeline. "What we don't want to lose is the play value in the park," he said.
The rocket ship and other technology-related pieces will eventually be made into art pieces as reminders of the city's deep ties to the tech world. They'll be reinstalled as the city completes an overhaul of the park as envisioned in a new master plan. At least part of that work is expected to be funded by a bond proposal anticipated for 2010.
John Crosby, a spokesman for the National Recreation and Park Association, said the level of maintenance and frequency of playground inspections varies city to city. In most states, he said, there are no required safety standards to meet – only guidelines. "It's absolutely in a municipality's best interest that it not only meets the guidelines but that they're doing regular maintenance," said Mr. Crosby, whose organization certifies inspectors. He and others noted that no matter what standards equipment meets, parents must play a role in keeping their kids safe.
"By nature, kids are a little more risk-taking," said Kristen Beckworth, a health educator for the injury prevention program at Children's Medical Center Dallas. "We always recommend supervision."
Mr. Evans, the Grapevine official, said his city replaces equipment at its 30 playgrounds every 12 years, which helps to ensure that they're current without being prohibitively expensive. And in much larger Dallas, where there are 216 playgrounds, the goal is to replace equipment every 20 years, said Leong Lim, manager of site development for the city's park department.
Mr. Lim said that once projects from the 2006 bond proposal are finished, Dallas will meet its goal.
"We have replaced more than 150 playgrounds in the last 15 years, and there were 50 more included in the 2006 bond," he said. "That should complete our cycle, then we'll go back and do it again."
The Heights Park equipment is by far the oldest in Richardson. Mr. Massey said the city regularly replaces its playgrounds, but the emotional and historical attachment to the Heights equipment kept it in use. "Heights Park is a special place," Mr. Massey said. "We maintained them to the best of our abilities. The question is, how long should a piece of playground equipment last?"

* * * * * *

Behind all this official blathering, the question I ask myself is, If they plan to return the rocket spaceship to the park, someday, as art- why not just close up the opening, leave it where it is, and call it " art" - NOW ? When the park official said they were taking it to storage, I couldn't help but think of that final scene in the first "Indiana Jones " movie, where the Ark of the Covenant is taken to a giant government warehouse , lost in the stacks, never to be seen again.