99. Springtime Symphony in the Apple Orchard

99.  Springtime Symphony in the Apple Orchard

Across a small open field south of the house there was an old orchard with big gnarled apple trees. I would sneak through the tall grass in the orchard, and hide and dream under the trees.

 

SPRINGTIME SYMPHONY

The black bug sat in the apple tree,
Strumming a banjo on his knee.
He sang a love song melody,
To a ladybug as pretty as a bug could be.

While he sang the beautiful melody,
A beetle added harmony.
A grasshopper fiddled and fiddled with glee,
Rubbing his legs enthusiastically.

They all sang high in the key of C,
With the bass notes hummed by a bumblebee.
They sang of Bonnie over the sea,
Of Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee.

They sang of life’s sweet mystery,
Of battles fought and victory.
They sang of the West that used to be,
With pulsing rhythm and poetry.

Sometimes they sang a little off key,
With marvelous creativity.
The butterflies danced so prettily,
In a swirling aerial fantasy.

I close my eyes for the memory,
To relive that childhood reverie;
Of a wonderful springtime symphony,
And a boy in the grass ‘neath the apple tree.

98. Once I Was a Kid – The Farm

98.  Once I Was a Kid – The Farm

It was 1942.  Pearl Harbor was attacked the previous December, and the United States was at war.  For a seven year old boy, a move from “Big City Detroit” to my grandparent’s farm in the country near Ionia Michigan, was like moving almost to heaven.

The farm was a wonderful place to be seven.  “One hundred sixty acres,” Mom said.  The house, barn and buildings were on forty acres west of Michigan Highway 66 that ran north and south dividing the property.  East of the highway was 120 acres of fields divided by a lane that stretched to distant trees.

The house was a big old, two-story farmhouse my grandfather built at the turn of the twentieth century, finishing about 1903.  Mom said that Grandpa had somehow used work horses to combine three houses to make the house.

The bigger part of the house had three bedrooms upstairs, three bedrooms downstairs, and a living room with a front door that was rarely used.  The smaller part housed the kitchen, dining room, and an unheated work room we called the “back room,” which had a back door and porch.  There was an attic over the kitchen.  The kitchen door was our main entrance.

Two tall pines stood guard on the front lawn; and two more at the northeast corner of the house next to the rock garden that spilled down from the north porch.  When we turned in the dirt driveway, there was a waist high trellis on the left where vines grew up each summer and gave us juicy blue grapes.

The driveway curved behind the back porch and by the front of Grandpa’s big shop building.   It went almost one hundred yards; past the windmill and a big sweet cherry tree, to the granary and the barn, where it turned back out to the highway.

The garage was attached to the side of the shop, and a tiny brick chicken coop sat in the shade of a tall mulberry tree behind the garage.  Daddy later built a big chicken coop connecting the back of the garage to the brick coop.

Big maple trees by the driveway and behind the house framed the picture-postcard view of the grassy field to the West, with the green lawn of the backyard in the foreground.  A huge old weeping willow tree was the centerpiece and backdrop for the view from the kitchen window.  The branch on the side toward the house had been cut off to provide an unobstructed view.

It was in this setting that I had more delightful experiences while growing up than a small boy could ever imagine.

97. Once I Was a Kid – Introduction

Blog 97.  Once I Was A Kid – Introduction

Hello Blog followers:  I am turning back the clock to my childhood to share events in my life from age seven to about twelve or so, when we lived on my grandparent’s farm.  I’ll be sharing the episodes that comprise my unpublished book, Once I Was A Kid, With the Wild Things On Grandpa’s Farm.

Here is what my editor wrote about the book for the back cover:

In “Once I Was a Kid,” Robert Z. Hicks shares stories from his childhood adventures growing up on a farm in Michigan during the ’40’s.  Whether or not you lived in that era, and whether or not you lived on a farm, you will love the warm and humorous stories from Bob’s memories.  Bob’s encounters with cows, bees, birds, raccoons, skunks, and many more of God’s creatures will entertain both children and adults.  His sometimes hilarious encounters with God’s creatures will stir your imagination.

In between the stories, Bob treats us with his gift for rhyme with humorous, poignant, and delightful rhyming stories written as he relished the memories from his childhood.  Step back in time and imagine when life was sweet and innocent, and sometimes spiced with a bit of mischief here and there.

Imagine too, the lessons Bob learned from Mom and his experiences, that imagination and empathy are key skills for good relationships and communication, and that God’s creatures are born to be free.

It all began when…

I raised my foot to stomp on the ants on the big rock by the house, when Mom grabbed my arm and said, “Wait!  How would you feel if you looked up to see that giant shoe coming down on you?”  I squinted my eyes shut as I looked up into the bright summer sky, and imagined the bottom of my tennis shoe gradually filling the sky above me. Scary!

Mom and I got down on our hands and knees and watched the ants going back and forth.  She asked, “What do you suppose those ants are doing?   Look at that one, he’s carrying something.  Maybe it’s food for the queen.  Imagine how important you would feel if you were carrying food for the queen!”

Yes!  Imagine!  Imagine, indeed!  My lifelong journey with imagination, and empathy for God’s living things had begun.

96. Looking Back

96.  Looking Back

Betty and I lived in Hawaii twenty-four years where I taught at the University of Hawaii, first at the Hilo Campus, then two years at the main campus on Oahu, and then seventeen years at the Windward Community College in Kaneohe.  Here are some of the things we experienced that stand out in my memory.

We stood on the rim of an erupting volcano — at midnight!  We boarded a WWII pocket submarine in Hilo Bay to give the sailors some pineapples.  The Lord’s provision for housing was free house-sitting on Halai Hill overlooking the town, and at the end, very cheap housing in a condemned building right on Hilo Bay next to the hotels on Banyan Drive.

On Oahu, we snorkeled in the warm waters of Waikiki, and above a giant manta ray bigger than I am at Hanauma Bay.  I watched a giant humpback whale breach just offshore of Sea Life Park on the south end of Oahu.  We sailed in our small boat alongside dolphins off Waikiki.  We ate lunch at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, and danced to the live music of Trummy Young at the top floor nightclub at the Ala Moana Hotel.  The Lord provided us elegant free house-sitting in a mansion at the top of Tantalus Mountain, overlooking Honolulu and Pearl Harbor.

Betty and I helped found and manage Christian Vision, the music ministry of Randy and Gay Hongo.  Christian Vision has supported them to travel around the world singing and spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, and making many recordings of their music.  Being connected with Randy and Gay gave us the fun of meeting Waikiki entertainers, and having breakfast with Billy Graham.

Our doctor introduced us to the industry of network marketing which opened the way for a world of adventures we never would have imagined.  Amway gave us an opportunity for personal growth, meeting uplifting positive people, and fun trips such as to a resort on Orcas Island.

Sunrider provided opportunities to travel and to earn extra perks.  We qualified for a trip to Taiwan and Hong Kong.  We climbed the Great Wall of China!  We walked where the emperors of China walked in Forbidden City.  We watched as a typhoon buffeted Hong Kong, and savored exotic cuisine aboard the Jumbo Floating Restaurant in Aberdeen Harbor.

The owners of Sunrider loved cruises for leadership conferences.  We earned the requirements for five cruises.  We cruised the Caribbean aboard ships to Cozumel, Grand Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Belize, Costa Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands where we chartered a sailboat to sail and snorkel at St. John.  We had two cruises down the Mexican Riviera, from Cabo San Lucas to Puerto Vallarta.  Finally, we got to see both the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean in the same day by transiting the Panama Canal.

Everyone who does a network marketing business hopes to make a lot of money, but we learned that the real secret of network marketing is the experience:  the journey, and building relationships with positive ambitious people – not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Betty and I continue to enjoy the relationships we’ve made, and are making, with the company we are with now.  Good health is our passion, and we gravitate to companies that make nutritional products from the plants that God has provided.

God has provided, protected, and pushed us through a lifetime of amazing experiences!

Looking Back:  The last time we went back to Hawaii, we stood at the edge of the cliff looking down into Haunama Bay, our favorite snorkeling spot, enjoying the vista of the half-moon beach, and the gentle waves spilling over the reef.  We spotted the channel where we swam through the reef to visit the schools of flashing fish that hovered and fed above the coral heads outside the reef wall.

Just a few feet from our faces, a couple of Brazilian Cardinals hung tenaciously to a swaying branch in a bush buffeted by the strong ocean breeze.  As I pointed my camera, they turned their bright red heads to the sea, and their backs to me.  That picture will remind me, that to hang on, we must face the buffeting forces of life, because ahead of us is where we’ll live, not behind us.  Treasured memories are the “pictures” looking back – but life is lived to the fullest facing into the winds of today and tomorrows!

God has provided, protected, and pushed us through a lifetime of amazing experiences, and I know He will continue to do so as we face the winds of tomorrows!

95. Panama Canal

95.  Panama Canal

Aboard another Carnival ship, we cruised to Panama, then north to Costa Rica, and Belize.  In Panama, we took the shore tour, transferring to a smaller ferry to transit the Panama Canal.  Did you know that ships travel 48 miles west to east to go from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean?

Most of the time is going up and down – 3 lifts up to Lake Gatun, a single flight down at Pedro Miguel, and a two-step flight down at Miraflores on the Pacific side.  Twenty-six million gallons of water have to flow by gravity into the chambers to lift a ship.

We saw a ship loaded with Hondas from Japan going the opposite direction in the parallel lock.  It was going very slow because there was only 2 ft of clearance on the sides.  An expansion project to accommodate larger ships began in 2007, and opened for commercial use in 2016.

Ahead of us, sharing the chamber, was a small sailboat, perhaps 32-35’ in length.  I imagined they were on a round-the-world cruise like I dreamed of when I was young.

Once on the Pacific side, at Miraflores, we transferred to buses for the ride back to the Caribbean side, and our ship.

There was a short cruise to Costa Rica, then on to Belize.  At both stops, we did not take shore tours.  At Belize we rode the tender ashore and sat on the dock to get a closer look at the colorful storefronts prepared to attract tourists.

A year later, we had our last cruise, going to Montego Bay at Jamaica, Cayman Islands, and Cozumel.   Well, we hope it will not be our last cruise; only a pause to get ready for another.  Cruises are too much fun!  Betty enjoys not having to cook or do laundry, and I enjoy eating.  Maybe we can justify going on another cruise so I can gain weight!

Next week is Halloween, so for a change of pace, I’m planning a surprise!

94. Puerto Vallarta – Mexico

94. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Our 3rd, and last shore tour on our Mexican Riviera cruise aboard the Royal Caribbean “Visions of the Sea,” was at Puerto Vallarta, a still picturesque fishing village.  Tourism began in 1964 after Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton made the movie, “Night of the Iguana,” there, and bought homes.

When the young woman who was our tour guide got on the bus, she announced, in Spanish, “This tour is conducted in Spanish.  Is that a problem?”  A man behind me replied, “Es un problema grande!”  (That’s a big problem!)  Then the gal said, “Well, then I guess I will try doing it in English.” (In perfect english.)  There was laughter and a sigh of relief!

Puerto Vallarta had a grand promenade along the wide beach, with bronze statues punctuating the view along the walk.  The last statue was of a boy on a seahorse, a landmark signature point of the city.  Across the cobblestone street, two-story restaurants and gift shops with balconies, presented a picturesque glimpse of days gone by.

Betty went with the group for a walking tour to the local cathedral.  When they got off the bus, Betty stopped to take pictures of traditionally dressed dancers performing on the beach walk.

Because I did not leave the bus with the group, I was treated to a private ride around back streets and over the river to “Gringo Gulch,” where affluent Americans, including Liz Taylor & Richard Burton, had purchased homes.

After the town tour, the bus took us down the coast to a lookout point above Banderas Bay for a photo stop.  The foliage and vistas were reminiscent of Hawaii.  It was another fun day on our cruise.

Then back to the ship for good times at sea as we went back to San Diego.

93. Mazatlan – Mexico

93.  Mazatlan Mexico Ole’

South of Cabo San Lucas on the west coast of Mexico, we went ashore for a bus tour at Mazatlan.  Mazatlan is a large resort community, which became of note when the mountains rising behind were the inspiration for the movie, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” which became a classic Humphrey Bogart movie.

Mazatlan is a famous place for sport fishermen, boasting year around fishing for marlin and sailfish.

First we visited the 19th century Imaculada Concepcion Cathedral.  The cathedral is the main religious building in the city of Mazatlan, and is located in the historical center.

Construction of the cathedral began in 1856, by order of the then bishop Pedro Loza.  Construction was interrupted, and a parish priest Miguel Lacarra took over and concluded the cathedral in 1899.  The church had amazing architecture with a facade of carved volcanic rock, and a breath taking interior sanctuary.

Our last stop was a folklore show at an outdoor theater.  We saw the famous Mexican Hat Dance, and songs and dances from ancient and colonial Mexico. The performers were dressed in their colorful traditional costumes.

The high point of the show, (no pun intended) was the Papantlan Flyers, a ceremony passed down for generations. Five men who were the “flyers” climbed a very tall pole.  Four of them tied ropes to their waist and ankles, and then descended upside down swinging in widening circles as the ropes unwound from the pole.  The older man played a flute and danced on the small platform at the top of the pole.  It was an impressive and daring ceremony from ancient Mexican traditions.

 

92. Cabo San Lucas – The Mexican Riviera

92.  Cabo San Lucas – The Mexican “Riviera”

Life aboard Visions of the Sea, a 900 ft+ Royal Caribbean cruise ship sailing the “Love Boat Route” from San Diego California to Puerto Vallarta Mexico, seemed like a week-long fantasy.  We went this route twice, the second time on a Carnival ship in 2005, sailing from Long Beach.

Our first of three shore excursions in Mexico was at the Land’s End of Baja California, at the small city of Cabo San Lucas.  A power lift dropped me from deck to gangplank level, and with crewmen holding me port & starboard, I stepped gracefully aboard the rocking ship’s tender for the ride to the dock.

I rolled my walker across the dock to the small glass-bottom boat for our 40-minute trip out to the Land’s End where we saw the striking rock formations of Los Aros.  We passed a pelican rookery, and a pile of seals resting in the shade of the rocks.  We paused near a large sea lion basking on a ledge, and our boat driver yelled at him, “Hey Pedro, wake up!” Pedro rolled over, sat up and posed disdainfully while we took pictures. When the boat turned away, Pedro laid back down to resume his nap.

Cabo San Lucas looked much like any small Southwestern US town, but with major housing construction underway.  Giorgio’s Restaurant, where we stopped for a free beverage, was perched on a high point with a magnificent view of the Land’s End rocks, the great curve of yellow beach along the coast in front of the city, and the harbor with our ship anchored in the center.  You can see our ship just to the left of Betty, who graciously climbed on the rock so I  could get the picture.  Behind Giorgio’s were rows of giant vacant-eyed stone monoliths —pastel high-rise condos standing like Easter Island monuments, quiet, empty, and unfinished.  (Perhaps it was siesta time…I saw no activity.)

When we arrived the second time at Cabo San Lucas, we rode the tender ashore, and sat a while on a bench on the pier and watched the world go by.  It was a beautiful sunny day.  Is it part of getting “older” that we enjoy “being” as much as “doing”?  Got a great picture of a pelican resting on a small boat right in front of us to keep us company.  Two Mexican marines standing at the end of the pier with automatic weapons reminded us of the real world out there.

Cabo San Lucas was exploding — a lot of new buildings and construction.  We watched the parasails, sailboats, buzzing jet skis circling, and tenders coming and going to our ship.   A great cloud of pelicans and gulls followed a fishing boat returning, obviously after a successful day!

91. The Gala Buffet

 91.  The Gala Buffet

I’d bet that most of us think of food as something we eat for nutrition, that pleases the palate, and is best when it also pleases the tummy.  Food on board cruise ships gave us another perspective — food prepared to have visual impact, and not just the presentation on the plate.  I think the chefs liked an opportunity to show off their culinary skills!

Take a look at the Gala Buffet!  We were told that the midnight Gala Buffet would be prepared for photographing at 11:00 pm.  Bring your camera, BUT DO NOT EAT ANYTHING until seating begins at midnight!

We were first given a tour of the galley, and watched the sculptor chef starting on an ice carving.  The ice carving turned out to be a large sea monster, the first thing we saw at the buffet, along with the good ship melon.

Yes, I think the bowsprit on the melon boat is a potato.

Further down the buffet was a seafood fish, with scallops as scales, and shrimp fins on top.  The orange fruit cups are, in fact, oranges.

 

At the end of the line, if one is not impossibly full — dessert! Whew!

 

The master chef who spearheaded the amazing displays, also gave demonstrations to teach vegetable carving.

I think it would take great skill, and a lot of time, to make such beautiful fruit and vegetable displays!  It was fun to see, and marvel at their creative skills.

 

90. Aboard the Royal Caribbean

90.   Aboard the Royal Caribbean Visions of the Sea

Life aboard Visions of the Sea, a 900 ft+ Royal Caribbean cruise ship sailing the “Love Boat Route” from San Diego California to Puerto Vallarta Mexico, seems like a week-long fantasy!

Consistent with cruising lore, food and the dining ambiance was a major element.  The food was gourmet, and elegantly presented.  Buffets had “floral” displays made with fruit and vegetables.

Our cabin was a short elevator ride right below the “Windjammer Cafe”, the ship’s alternative smorgasbord.  For breakfast, Betty just rode up the elevator and returned to our cabin in minutes with fruit, oatmeal, scrambled eggs, pancakes and a Belgian waffle.  The Windjammer was a circular restaurant with a grand view over the bow of the ship.  Large beautiful models of classic windjammer sailing ships graced the entrance.

For dinner, we sat near the spiral staircase in the two-story main dining room, the Aquarius.  Many, if not most of the waiters appeared to be from the Middle East or India.  Our waiter was Ismael from Turkey.  The live dinner music close to our table alternated between a string trio and David, the piano player who caught our attention with old favorites of our time — romantic music by Mancini.

Imagine sitting down in a 5 star hotel restaurant with a menu of International cuisine.  Gourmet appetizers of fruit, salads, soups both hot and cold, topped by entrees that were both unusually elegant, and elegantly served.  You can order anything, as much as you want.  Betty asked our waiter if they had papaya — “yes,” he could get it.  He brought a saucer with two long slices of papaya; obviously from a “watermelon” papaya, from its appearance and taste.  We ended up with a saucer of 4 slices of papaya waiting at our places for a pre-appetizer every night.

I read the exotic entrees, and then spotted the Ala Carte “always available” section — broiled Norwegian salmon, baked or mashed potatoes, and Caesar salad.  That’s what I had most nights except the night I had a Burrito as well, and the trout almandine.  The meals were always delicious! Macadamia nut and butter pecan ice cream were impossible to resist!

One of the fun things we enjoyed doing that enhanced our cruise experiences was to get acquainted with crew members. We met some interesting people.  A lady playing piano bar was a retired music teacher, “playing” her way around the world by playing on cruise ships.  Our cabin housekeeper was from San Salvador.  He said he could work two years, and then be able to take care of his family.  The executive chef was from Croatia, and was a career cruise crewman.  We actually saw him on another cruise where he was promoted to Maitre ‘de.  His plan was to work on board for twenty years, and then he and his family would get a sailboat and cruise on their own.