Monthly Archives: March 2020

Skagit Valley Tulips

DSC07800The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival can bring 1,000,000 people to the Skagit Valley in a good spring.  This year’s gathering would have brought tulip lovers here all of April, 2020, but not this year.  COVID-19 has caused its promoters to tell people not to come to Mount Vernon, which has no roadside services, for the 2020 festival.  Stay home and stay healthy they suggest.

The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival began 112 years ago.  An Englishman named George Gibbs moved to Orcas in the San Juan Islands about 30 years before and found the area especially well suited for growing tulips. By 1905 he had 15,000 bulbs from Holland to experiment with.  After World War II a man from The Netherlands named William Roozen, a successful bulb grower, brought tulip growing to the Skagit Valley between Seattle and Vancouver BC, others tulip lovers followed, and display gardens and the festival grew.

We are told to avoid super-spreading events and maintain social distancing while coronavirus rages, but a Washington State choir ignored this advice earlier in March and held a rehearsal.  They maintained social distancing and were careful about contact.  There had been no cases of the virus in Skagit County when 60 members of the Skagit Valley Chorale showed up for the rehearsal that lasted for more than 2 hours.  No one appeared sick, but 2 chorale members have since died from COVID-19.  Three weeks after this rehearsal, 28 singers tested positive for this virus and another 17 members showed symptoms but were not tested.  Experts believe that this gives credibility to the belief that this virus can be transmitted via microscopic particles in the air.  When people sing, they open their mouths widely and inhale and exhale a lot.

Be warned and only look at pictures of tulips this year.  Up top is “Blooming Tulips” by Chris Ward of Jerome, ID.  She made this hooked project that Ruth and I saw in a craft shop in Tillamook, OR.  I took the photo of it and the other 2, one just above and the other below.  I snapped Jeff Koons tulip sculpture when Steve Wynn first had it on display under his resort-casino in Las Vegas.  The 3rd photo, a field of tulips, proves that this flower does indeed grow beautifully in Washington State.


Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie was born into a poor Scottish family and became one of the wealthiest men in the world.  He was very complex.  He promised his mother that he would not marry as long as she was alive and remained a bachelor most of his life.  His mother lived with him.  A year after her death he married Louise Whitfield.  Andrew Carnegie was then 52.

After moving to the United States, he worked many low level jobs before creating the Carnegie Steel Company.  He sold it to US Steel Corporation at age 65 for $200 million and became a philanthropist who said, “The man who dies rich dies in disgrace”.  At the time he was said to be the richest man in the world.  He founded Carnegie Hall in New York City, Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and spent $60 million creating libraries.  1689 of them conformed to his construction dictates that included a suitable site in a city that agreed to provide money equal to one-tenth of the construction grant each year for maintenance and book buying.

My 2 favorite Carnegie Libraries are in Port Townsend, WA and Bryan, TX.  The library in Port Townsend is uptown at 1220 Lawrence Street, and it’s a traditional library built in 1898.  An addition that completely conformed to its architectural style was added in 1990.  The one on Bryan has a specialty.   I did not know about it until our 2020 visit.  Upon entering, Ruth and I were asked if we had a particular reason for being there.  As it turned out the 2nd floor is devoted to genealogical research.  Opened to the public in 1903, the Bryan Carnegie is where we met a Texas couple doing a family search.  Ray Picklo said that his wife Terry was the genuine researcher, but then he told me that he had spent more than 20 years finding out about his central European roots.  They helped me learn a bit about Harbaugh roots and told me how to continue on, among other websites.

The last time we were in New York, Ruth and I toured Carnegie Hall.   Andrew Carnegie funded it in 1891 while living in this city.  The Carnegie family owned it until 1925. Composer Pieter Tchaikovsky was one of 2 conductors at its first concert.  Carnegie’s home across the street from Central Park is now New York City’s excellent Cooper Hewitt design museum.  Part of the first floor still looks like it did when Andrew Carnegie lived there.  Both Bryan and Port Townsend are fine destinations as are their thriving Carnegie libraries.



COVID-19 and the World

Most countries in the world report cases of coronavirus.  Russia and countries in Africa, for some yet-to-be-explained reason, have fewer victims.  As of March 27, there have been 85,356 cases of COVID-19 in the USA and 1,246 deaths.  That’s why The New York Times headline reported the inevitable U.S. VIRUS CASES TOP THE WORLD. The state with the fewest victims is South Dakota, and New York has the most.  Both Dakota states has experienced at least one death.

There have been 2,519 deaths from COVID-19 in Iran, which has had more than 35,000 overall cases.  News reports say that almost 12,000 Iranians have recovered in hospitals.  At the same time Iran has recently experienced 2,197 cases of methanol alcohol poisoning from drinking and 244 deaths.  Iran!  Ironically, a top cleric Hadi Khosroshahi, who blamed Trump for the COVID-19 virus, has died from it.  A recent report said that 25 Iranian politicians and officials have been infected.

In a related new event, the Olympic games scheduled for Tokyo have been officially postponed until 2021.   Whether the death of Iranian discus star Ehsan Haddadi, an Iranian national hero since becoming an Olympic champion, influenced this decision has not been speculated on.  Yet.  That China has sent medical aid to Iran to combat the virus, however, has been officially acknowledged.

John, our Australian friend, has sent us some more information about what Australians are doing to reduce the chance of getting COVID-19.  In the “why not try it?” realm of thinking that suggests things to try that are both practical are doable, he says that this virus hates heat and dies if exposed to temperatures greater than 80 degrees Fahrenheit.  As a result, hot drinks like broth and tea and coffee should be consumed regularly during the day and cold drinks and ice water should be avoided.  The mouth and throat should always be wet and never dry.  It’s recommended that everyone sip water every 15 minutes.  This is certainly a good idea, easy to do, and might help.  Even if the virus makes it into your mouth, it might get flushed down to your stomach where gastric acids can destroy it.  This virus, he reports, survives on hard surfaces for up to 12 hours so avoid touching hand rails, door knobs and the like.  Don’t touch anything that gets lots of public use.  This is especially good advice on a cruise ship, an industry that has been severely impacted and might never recover from the COVID crisis.  “This virus” John says, “can survive on your hand for only about 10 minutes, so touching your face or rubbing your eyes are to be avoided for now.”  This is good advice but hard to do.

Since there are so many voices out there telling us what to do I have decided not to write about COVID-19 again unless something happens to change my mind.  In the meantime, if the United States is like other nations, we are about to experience fewer new cases.  This  will make the above New York Times headline old but still historic news.


PS  Ruth thinks the bear above is still the perfect rep for what all of us in isolation feel.  I prefer the shark.

Astronaut Families

The New York Times had what I thought was an interesting article by Dan Bilefsky about Vancouver, BC within the past week.  It’s about a phenomenon I have been aware of for about 25 years and have seen unfolding every time I have visited Vancouver, the so-called ideal city in Western Canada.  It’s about one of those less-than-ideal situations that sounds like a problem solver but leads to trouble over time, Astronaut Fathers.

When Great Britain announced that it was turning Hong Kong over to China by 1997, many Chinese men with families in Hong Kong and Taiwan began moving their wives and children to this Canadian city while continuing  to work in Asia.  They feared that Communist China would negatively impact their city’s entrepreneurial spirit after the transition.  Because they spent so much time in airplanes going to Vancouver on weekends and such, they became known as astronaut fathers and their wives, who felt responsible to raise children alone in a culturally alien environment, became known as astronaut wives.

These parents were attracted to Vancouver’s schools and easily gotten passports for family members.  They had plenty of money and began transforming the social atmosphere of this Canadian city by buying  up property.  This eventually made Vancouver one of the most unaffordable cities in North America.  Ruth and I noticed that the area from downtown to the international airport was transitioning to an urban Chinatown with many signs in Chinese and shops catering to their needs.  The article points out that many Chinese families bought property in Richmond, a city near the airport.  A couple of generations later the astronaut children of these astronaut parents are feeling more Canadian than Chinese.  They have been spoiled, defy parental authority, and feel the loss of family intimacy.

BC authorities fought back by increasing taxes on foreign homeowners, but the wealth of the immigrants mitigated that.  But then the coronavirus struck.  There are 659 confirmed cases in BC and 14 deaths in one care center with 9 senior centers affected by the virus.  The situation is fomenting discriminatory behavior aimed at the Chinese immigrants while making commuting far more problematical for them.  Race, class, and income inequality could tear Vancouver apart.





DSC08453One of the trips we had to cancel because of the coronavirus was to New York City.   Ruth & I would have been there beginning March 17 for one week.  I’m glad not to be there because New York City now has the largest number of cases of COVID-19 in the USA with almost 18,000 people affected.  The actual # earlier today was 17,856, but that number has surely been passed.  There have been 285 deaths in New York State, which has the largest number of confirmed cases among the 50 states.

Our last trip before quarantine was to St. Louis.  Being a child who grew up near the Mississippi River, I was highly interested in this current exhibit at the Missouri History Museum named “Mighty Mississippi”.  Being a  river rat, I thought I knew a lot about the 4th longest river in the world and didn’t need to see this exhibit.  I was wrong.  Within 5 minutes I learned its widest point and the fact that it still provides the water supply for 50 cities along it.

DSC08430The Mississippi has had many names.  The Kiowa tribe called it Xosau.  The Ojibways called it Misi-ziibi, giving it its most enduring name.  The Ojibway Nation also was the source of the name for this river’s current widest point.  The Mississippi is 11 miles from shore to shore as part of Lake Winnibigoshish in Minnesota.  Near the information about its water-providing function in this free exhibit is a mobile of plastic discards hanging from the ceiling and news about this waterway’s pollutants.   Pesticides and chemicals find their way into it, and much of the plastic items tossed into it end up in the Gulf of Mexico in shocking concentrations.  It’s no wonder that despite the fact that in excess of 138 billion gallons of water per day flow down it, bottled water is a big seller in those plastic bottles.

DSC08457.jpegThere are exhibits about floods, freight, riverboats, the Piasa bird, the innovative Eads Bridge that still exists, and this river’s impact on the St. Louis area.   My favorite exhibit was about the great St. Louis fire that I knew nothing about.  History books usually mention the Chicago fire, but in 1849 most of downtown St. Louis disappeared slowly after a small fire ignited the White Cloud.  The burning White Cloud steamer drifted downstream setting fire to cargo on the levee and 23 other steamboats.  When it died out, 430 buildings, which was most of the city at that time, had been destroyed.  Who knew?   I didn’t.

If an exhibit about this important river sounds like something that would appeal to you, it will be in the Missouri History Museum until April 18, 2021.  This museum, of course, is currently closed due to the virus, so that closing date next year might be extended when the museum reopens, whenever that is.  “Mighty” is certainly the word to describe this river that forms the core of a system that includes many other impressive rivers-Red, Illinois, Ohio, Arkansas, Wisconsin, etc.  I also learned recently that the 5th longest river system in the world is Siberia’s Yenisei-Angara.  Again, who knew?