Smorgasbord Letters from America – 1986 – New Mexico, Carlsbad Caverns and Halley’s Comet.

Over the next two weeks I will be sharing the article that I wrote for my parents primarily but with a view to adapting to send off to a magazine at a later date. We crossed Texas and into New Mexico to hopefully experience a once in a lifetime sighting of Halley’s Comet which only appears every 76 years. Our trip offered some wonderful opportunities to explore the area and here is part one.

Unfortunately at some point over the last 32 years, the photographs that I took have gone missing,probably when we lost a great many books and other paper items when our house was wrecked by a leaking pipe when we were away in 1996. However, thanks to and their free use images, I have managed to find a few to share with you.

New Mexico and some ambitions fulfilled.


We decided that the ideal time to make the long drive to New Mexico and the Carlsbad Caverns would be the weekend of January 19th, there was a holiday on the Monday and David and our friend Walter could take the time off work. The Weather Channel assured us of a dry, warm three days so instead of packing enough clothes for two weeks; I restricted myself to some jeans and a sweater for the cooler evenings.

We managed to leave Houston by 3p.m. and decided to take route 290 to Austin and then on to join the main East, West Highway 10. This was a mistake as we got caught up in Austin’s rush hour traffic and lost considerable time on what was going to be a very long trip anyway.

Matters were not helped by poor signposting through the town and by the fact that I complacently folded the map about a mile too soon. However, after leaving Austin’s limits, we made good time to the junction of the 10, especially as the three of us could alternate with the driving. By now it was dark so very little of the area could be seen, but thankfully the road was clear with light traffic and we managed to make Fort Stockton, 500 miles from Houston, by 1a.m. Here we stayed the night at the good value Rodeway Inn, leaving early the next morning, fortified by a large and excellent breakfast in a small but very friendly diner.

On to Carlsbad

There were 158 miles left of the trip to the Carlsbad Caverns, and a lucky choice of route took us from Orla, on the 285, miles across to join the 180 which lead into New Mexico and the Caverns. This winding road through the desert provided us with a spectacular view of the Guadalupe Mountains and Guadalupe Peak, at 8,751 feet, the highest point in Texas. The day was bright and with only a few clouds and the range was very impressive and a stark contrast to the vast flatness of most of the rest of Texas. For us it was the first bonus of this long trip.

Shortly after joining the 180 we entered the state of New Mexico and after driving parallel with the mountains for 15 miles we reached White’s City at the entrance to the Carlsbad Caverns road. Although the term one horse town would certainly apply to White’s City, it provided the only refreshment and accommodation for the immediate area and had obviously prospered from the thousands of annual visitors to the Caverns. We decided to explore this small town later in the day and pressed on up the canyon to the Cavern’s visitor centre where we signed on for the Blue Tour.

A brief history

It is known that the Indians in the Guadalupe area first discovered the entrance to the Cavern and relics and old Mescal cooking pits have been found in and around the entrance.

However, it was not until the late 1880s that any exploration of the enormous underground world took place. A local rancher, while looking for a stray cow, witnessed an evening bat flight from the Cavern. From this chance sighting, knowledge of the cave and its bats was passed on until several enterprising companies began to mine the rich bat guano, so prized for its fertilizing qualities. Over 100,000 tons of guano were removed, but none of the six companies were able to make it a profitable operation. However, one man who had worked for most of these companies at one time or another, James White, explored the cavern with a hand held lantern and with what must have been a great deal of courage. After this first primative exploration, discoveries were made deeper and deeper into the darkness, until now there are over 3 1/2 miles of lit pathways over 700 feet below the surface.

The Blue Tour

The Blue Tour lasted about 4 hours and consisted firstly of a Ranger guided tour down to the lowest point and then a self-guided tour with individual radios which picked up commentary along the route.

The drawback to the guided tour is that you are forced to go at the pace of 180 or so other tourists, which included quite a number of elderly people and small children. Most of these very small children were quite plainly terrified by the darkness and strangeness of the cavern and cried most of the tour. As there are excellent nursery facilities at the surface it seemed a little heartless of the parents to subject these children to the experience and it did spoil the tour for a great many people. However, the rangers did an excellent job of herding us safely to the bottom and were available to answer questions some of which were more basic such as “When do we get to the snack bar?” and “Where are the restrooms?”

The three of us were really looking forward to the self-guided part of the tour and having reached the bottom we were issued our radios. There is a large refreshment area on this level with gift shops and restrooms, many people took the opportunity to have lunch for the first time at 700 feet and then took the elevator back to the surface.

The more adventurous started out to explore the Big Room, a spectacular wonderland of stalagmites and stalactites. For over an hour we followed the path through this strange world, admiring the Temple of the Sun, the Totem Pole and the Crystal Spring Dome to name just a few. I enjoyed the visit very much, as we all did, but David felt it was too organized, and would have much preferred to have spent time in the newest cave that had been discovered, where hand- held lanterns and a more adventurous spirit was necessary. Of course safety is the key factor and very important with so many people wandering around on their own within the main cavern area.

It had definitely been worth the long trip from Houston, as was the incredible view that greeted us after our 700 feet elevator ride to the surface. From the Cavern’s car park you could see for miles across the desert towards the Guadalupe Mountains and we decided that this was the ideal place to fulfil the second ambition of the trip, to see Halley’s Comet.

Here is a short video about the caverns and the surrounding area. Courtesy ofGoTraveler

Our first night in White City

By now tired and dusty, we returned to White’s City and booked into the Best Western Motel which was as usual very good value and comfortable. After showering and changing our clothes we crossed the road to sample the local fare offered by the only restaurant in town, the Velvet Garter Saloon. In Houston we are used to the excellent food available and the good service and we were very disappointed by our first meal in New Mexico. We all had fajitas, one of our favourites, and were amazed to be presented with two tortillas and about three ounces of meat apiece and nothing else.

Hardly satisfying for three hungry intrepid explorers, not only that, but we were virtually hustled out of the place after finishing our entrees and were obviously not popular when we requested a dessert to fill the gap. Just goes to show what lack of competition can do to a town.

To compensate ourselves we returned to our motel room and downed some vodka and orange juice and prepared to return to the Cavern entrance armed with sweaters, a flask of soup and some borrowed binoculars from the obliging desk clerk. I am sure this varied wildlife on the surrounding hillside derived much pleasure from watching us humans lying on our backs from the car park, eves lifted heavenwards searching for the elusive Halley’s Comet.

We were very excited to find it after some minutes especially when you realize that it is certainly a once in a lifetime experience. It was a small speck but with binoculars you could see the tail and the three of us were absolutely thrilled that our long trip had been  well worth the effort.

While star-gazing we noticed a dark scuttling shape crossing the car park, after investigating with torches, we discovered a raccoon on a midnight prowl for food and about to make off with the rucksack. We obliged him with some of our soup, which he thoroughly enjoyed and then it was discovered that Sally had left both camera and flash back at the motel, a very careless move for someone so snap happy. After a couple of hours we retired to the motel and bed, happy with the first day of our trip and ready to tackle the day to follow, hopefully in the mountains.

I woke early the next morning and leaving David and Walter sleeping soundly, I drove up the canyon, this time with the camera, to watch the sun rising up over the desert. This little side trip of mine proved to be very rewarding as I was treated to the sight of a herd of Mule Deer grazing the hillside. I managed to get some photographs of these appealing animals and spent about half an hour watching them move lazily over the sparse terrain. I returned to the motel feeling fresh and ready for anything, particularly a good hot breakfast. A meal I always enjoy when prepared by someone else.

I hope that you have enjoyed the first part of our trip to New Mexico and next week McKittrick Canyon and the Living Desert centre.

You can read all the previous Letters from America in this directory:


Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Weekly Round Up – Who is referring others to your blog? Guests, music and laughter

Welcome to the weekly round up of posts you might have missed.

This week I got back into the swing of things and began the 2019 book promotions and the first of the Sunday Interviews. It was a terrific break but very happy being back to normal.

As always a huge thank you to my regular contributors and guests as well as the support on social media. Whilst managing the various platforms is time consuming and sometimes distracting, it was interesting to see, when I looked at the year’s analytic data, where the most referrals were generated from.

At the top end of the list and accounting for approximately 50% of the referrals out of 221,000 views:

  1. WordPress Reader.
  2. Facebook
  3. Twitter
  5. Other search engines.

The other 50% were referrals from individual bloggers.

This confirms a few things to me:

  1. That WordPress Reader is a very powerful promotional tool for promoting not just our own posts but also when we reblog and ‘press’ posts we enjoy by other bloggers. Since people browse the Reader looking for posts that are interesting, it is well worth making sure you titles and the short summary at the top of your post catch their eye.
  2. That my time spent on Twitter and Facebook is not wasted!
  3. That using key words and tags on blog posts gets results from search engines. (but need to do better)
  4. That connecting and becoming part of a supportive community is essential to the success of a blog.

A huge thank you to everyone who took the time to share the posts this year directly to their own blogs which resulted in referrals and to all of you who took the time to like, share on social media and comment.

This week William Price King shared the life and music of the legendary Duke Ellington.

This week Carol Taylor shares her favourite recipes of 2018… and they look delicious.

D. G. Kaye – Debby Gies shares a recap of her 2018 travel column with a reminder of the places you might like to visit on vacation.

Welcome to the first of a new season of Getting to Know You and my first guest for 2019 is Australian author Frank Prem who has recently released a collection of poems and short stories about his childhood – Small Town Kid.

I was delighted to review Fairies, Myths & Magic: A Summer Celebration by Colleen M. Chesebro.

I wrote the original Size Matters in 1998 about my 150lb weight loss… I did update when the book went digital but that was several years ago. After working as a nutritional therapist for the last 20 years, and having continued to research and study food and its role in our health, I decided that it was time to write the sequel.

It is 1996 and it is a year of change with a move to Brussels and Anthony Robbins Life Mastery.

I am had fun with Colleen’s Tuesday Poetry Challenge 118 with the synonyms this week of ‘Begin’ and ‘Fresh’

It is now 1986 and both David and my father have their birthdays back to back. We are also making plans for a day trip and a much longer road trip over to New Mexico.

New on the shelves this week.

Author update with recent reviews

The Gentle Detox

As part of a gentle detox it is useful to employ the power of nature as a cleanser for your liver and kidneys. Dandelion is powerful and has many health benefits.

It is a good idea to complete a gentle detox to find out what food triggers or environmental contaminants might be causing you to suffer from allergies or health issues.

Thank you very much for dropping in today and for your continued support. It keeps me motivated to keep writing.. thanks Sally.



Smorgasbord Letters from America – Christmas 1985 – Houston, Texas – Sally Cronin

Time to get back to the Letters from America series.

I left off in October having shared my parents visit to us for three weeks. That took us in chronological terms to the end of November. I now pick the story up again in mid-December and my first letter home after their trip.

16th December 1985

Dear M & D.

I hope that your photos arrive safely and that this gets to you before Christmas. We will be thinking of you, especially at all the parties that are looming up on the horizon. Every time we see one of the gang, they all ask after you and are missing you. See what an impression you have made.

We have been very busy since you left, Sutherland has been over most days as Walter is working more shifts in the run up to Christmas. He sleeps a great deal and feels right at home. I do find him in some odd positions at times, but when awake he is great company.

We have also been entertaining some of David’s work colleagues over from England who were staying in a hotel for the last two weeks and were looking forward to some home cooking.

I have been to see Gone With the Wind at a classic cinema with some of the guys and really enjoyed. I know I have watched before many years ago but it was amazing to see again on the big screen.

This was followed up this Saturday by a trip downtown with Walter to a Mexican Bar and Grill where we drank flaming Mexican flags ( I am sure that Mexicans who live here must think that pretty insulting), which you are meant to down in one, after blowing the flames out! Oops.. Hot Lips! On Sunday, nursing slightly sore heads, we took a trip to San Jacinto to the battleground where General Houston defeated Santa Anna’s Mexican army. And then onto the  USS Texas, a 1914 battleship which is open to the public. We toured the ship from top to bottom and I don’t think I would have wanted to be at sea in her, particularly in rough weather.

We have put the Christmas tree up and presents have started to appear under it.  I also managed to buy some bunches of mistletoe by the roadside to complement the rest of the decorations and it is beginning to feel like Christmas.

It looks like we will be one of the few couples left in the complex until New Year’s Eve as most of our friends have homes out of state and will be heading off on the 22nd onwards. They don’t celebrate Boxing Day here, but most of them are taking holiday to extend their trips. Especially those heading for the northern states where snow has been falling for some weeks and travel is unpredictable. We have had our last Christmas party as a group and went off to our usual haunt of Pappasito’s. We are such a large group now that they corral us at the back of the restaurant now, no doubt to keep the noise down for the rest of the diners. We do have such fun though and as always the meal was amazing.

Sutherland will be spending time with us over Christmas which is nice as I do like having a pet around the place, even if it is only temporary. Wishing you and Diana, Robert, Sonia, David, Emma and Jeremy a very Happy Christmas and sending lots of love. We shall miss not being with you all but will call you on the day at 12 noon when everyone has arrived for lunch.

Sally and David.XXX

©sallycronin 2018

The other letters from America are in the directory:

Thank you for dropping in and another letter in the New Year….Thanks Sally

Smorgasbord – Letters from America 1985 -1987 – My Parent’s visit to Sam Houston Museum and #Galverston.

My parents spent over three weeks with us in November 1985, and having visited San Antonio and The Alamo museum, I took them up to Huntsville to the Sam Houston Memorial Museum during the following week, whilst David was at work.

Huntsville was about an hour way north on I-45 which was only a block away from our complex. My father in particular was very interested in finding out more about Sam Houston and my mother was looking forward to seeing the mock up of the house, furnishings etc in the various buildings at the museum. I didn’t take any photos whilst we were there but did buy some postcards to send home to the family and to keep as a memento of the day.

The museum today, judging by the website Sam Houston has not changed much and there is certainly plenty to see and enjoy.

Gough Photo services

Gough Photo Services

Gough Photo services

Gough photo services

The following weekend as a last night away we took my parents to Galverston since so far we had not shown them the coast. Although they had enjoyed some seafood locally in Houston we wanted to introduce them to shrimp at a restaurant recommended to us by our friends. Gaidos Seafood had been serving customers since 1911 and we certainly had an amazing meal. Here is a current day sharing platter… and if I could teleport I would be there frequently. Of you are lucky enough to live close by.. here is the website: Gaidos Seafood

Following that blow out dinner, we took a stroll along the sea walk……the end of a lovely day with more to follow…

Having spent 37 years in the Royal Navy, we thought my father would appreciate a visit to the Tall Ship Elissa moored in Galverston. He obviously had not been a sailor in the same era of the Elissa but he certainly appreciated the wonderful design and the way the ship had been immaculately preserved.

Here is a description of the ship and well worth visiting the Maritime Heritage Galveston

My parents being piped aboard…well we whistled anyway!

Elissa is a three-masted, iron-hulled sailing ship built in 1877 in Aberdeen, Scotland by Alexander Hall & Company. She carries nineteen sails covering over one-quarter of an acre in surface area. Tall ships are classified by the configuration of their sailing rig. In Elissa’s case, she is a ‘barque’ because she carries square and fore-and-aft sails on her fore and mainmasts, but only fore-and-aft sails on her mizzenmast. From her stern to the tip of her jibboom she measures 205 feet. Her height is 99 feet, 9 inches at the main mast and she displaces about 620 tons at her current ballast. But, she is much more than iron, wood and canvas…


According to the Marjorie Lyle, granddaughter of Elissa’s builder, Henry Fowler Watt, the name was taken from the epic Roman poem The Aeneid, in which the tragedy of Dido, Queen of Carthage, is the unifying theme of the first four books of that tale. Dido was originally a Phoenician princess named Elissa, who fled from Tyre to Africa and founded Carthage.

Unlike some tall ships of today Elissa is not a replica, but a survivor. She was built during the decline of the “Age of Sail” to fill a niche in maritime commerce. Over her 90-year commercial history she carried a variety of cargos to ports around the world, for a succession of owners. Her working life as a freighter came to an end in Piraeus Harbor, Greece, where she was rescued from the scrap yard by a variety of ship preservationists who refused to let her die. The story of Elissa’s discovery and restoration is nothing short of miraculous, and is beautifully retold in photographs and a video presentation at the Texas Seaport Museum.

Today Elissa is much more than an artifact from a bygone era. She is a fully-functional vessel that continues to sail annually during sea trials in the Gulf of Mexico. Thanks to Galveston Historical Foundation and its commitment to bring history to life, combined with the dedication of hundreds of volunteers who keep her seaworthy and train each year to sail her, Elissa and the art of 19th Century square-rigged sailing are alive and well.

Elissa’s wake is over 135 years and counting… Come experience her magic at Texas Seaport Museum, Pier 21, Galveston, Texas. Courtesy of the Galveston Attractions Maritime Heritage Website

Like me, my father was a food magnet and he could sniff out good coffee wherever we might find ourselves.

The following Wednesday my parents flew back to England and it would be March 1987 before we would see them again. In the meantime I kept up my weekly letters until August of the following year when I returned for a week’s visit to the UK and we then began to call every Sunday and talk in person.

Next week, back to those letters and more of our travels around America.

You can find the other posts in this series here:


Letters from America – 1985- 1987 – My Parent’s visit – The Alamo and Natural Bridge Caverns.

After the drama of the aftermath of our anniversary party Fire ants and nearly lights out…we headed to San Antonio for a visit specifically for my father.

My parents enjoyed going to the cinema and they passed their love of movies on to us. My mother was more into romantic dramas, and my father loved thrillers and westerns, so we got introduced to a great mix. My first real memory of going to the cinema was my fifth birthday, which was in February and usually cold and wet. My mother told me we would catch the bus and go to Portsmouth and go to the beach. I think she actually had a day’s shopping planned at the then Handley’s (now Debenhams) department store. However, it tipped down with rain and instead she took me to Fareham, our nearest town to the cinema.

I can remember the film vividly, even if I did not understand a thing about it. The Key was set in 1941 and starred Sophia Loren, William Holden and Trevor Howard. I remember wartime action at sea, and also Trevor Howard banging on the door to Sophia Loren’s apartment and shouting loudly. I never did like him as an actor from then on!  Following this, during our time in South Africa from the age of 10 to 12, my father, in addition to his other duties at HMS. Afrikander, was film officer. This meant that my brother and I would go to all the Saturday morning children’s movies (Lassie etc), and he would also bring home a projector and the latest film doing the rounds to bases and ships. It was usually either a musical or western and would be the after dinner entertainment for my parents and their friends. I would sneak up the corridor and sit cross legged outside the door to the lounge which was left slightly open to allow the cigarette smoke to dissipate! If someone got up to visit the bathroom I would scuttle back down to my bedroom and then resume my position when safe to do so. This meant I watched a lot of films, but missed chunks!

Later on back in  England Saturday afternoons were reserved for my father to watch a football match on television. This clashed with the musical or Hollywood epic on BBC 2 that my mother wanted to watch. We would all settle down to watch the football, with my mother and I nonchalantly sat on the sofa. About ten minutes into the football match, my father who had enjoyed his steamed steak and kidney pudding and apple crumble with custard, would drop off in a post carbohydrate slumber, snoring away happily in his recliner. With that my mother would give me a nudge, and I would dash across to the television, switching it to BBC2 and the musical (no remotes in those days). A sign that my father was stirring, was usually indicated by a change in the snoring tempo. My mother would nudge me again and I would dash across and turn the TV back to the football. It was a lucky day when we got to watch most of a musical, and I would turn back the television to the end of the match, a few minutes before my father woke up and remarked what a great game it had been!

This was unless there was a Western showing on BBC2 instead, particularly if it had John Wayne, in which case my father would forgo the football and watch the film instead, remarkably staying awake for the entire movie. His passion for cowboy films included the film The Alamo released in 1960, produced, directed and starring John Wayne (his idol). We must have seen that film ten times, and I knew that taking my father to the actual Alamo would be very special for him. We kept our destination a surprise and just told my parents to pack for a night away in a hotel.  Once he saw the sign posts to San Antonio he cottoned on to our surprise and was thrilled by the prospect of visiting the museum. They were also blown away by the Marriott with its magnificent atrium with part of the river diverted through the foyer. A stunning location and I am sure equally so today.

When we visited the The Alamo museum in 1985 it was not as extensive as it is now, and I do recommend that you take a look at their website and try and time your trip to when they have one of their re-enactment weekends.

However, we spent two hours there with my parents and it was extraordinary for me to see the look of wonder on my father’s face as he stood in front of the museum for the first time and during his slow and studied tour of the exhibits . Over dinner that night in one of the Mexican restaurants along the river walk, he could not stop talking about it, and seeing his animation and delight was such a treat for us. It was also their first introduction to Mariachi music and seeing their enjoyment still makes me smile 33 years later.

On the way back from San Antonio on the Tuesday we stopped off at the Natural Bridge Caverns 30 miles north of the centre of the city. My mother was a bit claustrophobic (well a lot) and had no wish to go underground. But my father was definitely up for it, so we left Mollie at the coffee shop (I think it was not very big at the time unlike today) and we went into the bowels of the earth.

Amazing experience and one I can recommend for all the family. I seem to remember it being pretty basic then but it has been expanded and is now well lit and offers a great many more experiences and tours.

Not sure I have this photograph the right way up.. I am sure someone will tell me!!

Thanks for coming along on this trip down memory lane.. next week we head to the coast during the last week of my parent’s stay.

You can find the other posts in this series here:



Smorgasbord Letters from America 1985- 1987 – My Parent’s visit – Rennaisance Festival, Anniversary Party and nearly lights out!

Last week I shared the arrival and welcome party for my parents when they visited in the November of 1986…Yellow Roses and Stetsons

After the welcome party we had a day of relaxing before taking my parents to one of the spectacular events held every year in Texas. The Rennaisance Festival was started in the mid 1970s, on an abandoned strip mining site at Todd Mission about 50 miles Northwest of Houston. By the time we visited in 1985 with my parents, the festival had grown considerably, and was packed with great stalls selling crafts and food, as well as parades of street performers dressed in medieval costumes. Thankfully not an overly hot day and we did take plenty of opportunities to sample iced tea and delicious BBQ.

My father loved his food, and he made a beeline for the turkey drumsticks on one of the stalls, and despite evidence to the contrary… he is not being greedy, just holding David’s drumstick so he could take this candid shot. He does however look like the cat who got the cream, whilst my mother was trying to retain her ladylike demeanour whilst chomping down on this outsize snack!

It was quite a long day, and as I look at this photo, I realise that my parents at the time were only three and four years older than I am today! We enjoyed our time there, but unfortunately the rest of the photographs from the day, including the parade are somewhere safely packed away in the attic.

The rest of the week saw us pottering locally as David was away, but it gave Mollie and Eric a chance to relax, enjoy the pool and for my father to experiment with making his own Chi Chis…

We also were invited out to dinner at our friends Bill and Sylvia and my father definitely approved of Sylvia’s cooking.

It also gave me time to prepare for our 5th anniversary party on the Friday night. Most of our friends were coming with assorted courses organised between them. We had got into the habit of sharing the menu between us so that no one person was landed with either the cost or the labour, and it worked really well. It also offered us the opportunity to sample different dishes we might not cook ourselves. David arrived back on the Thursday and after a last shop for the starters we were providing, beer and wine we were ready to go.

I managed to get a quick shot of David and my parents before the guests arrived.

Because of the number of guests we had a menu that either involved a fork or a spoon and as you can see the place was packed with seats at a premium.

The complex was keen that people were not disturbed after 11pm, but after most of the guests had left and my parents had gone to bed, David and one of our friends decided to go for a run to clear their heads, whilst three of us opted to sweat it out in the hot tub in the recreation area just outside our block. Although November was a little nippy at night, it was pleasant enough sitting chatting on the side of the hot tub with our legs dangling in the water, whilst we waited for the others to return from their run.

Suddenly I felt movement over my thighs and up my back. I immediately reacted by jumping into the middle of the very hot water up to my waist which resulted in the most agonising stinging across my upper body. The reason for my panic was a severe allergic reaction to wasp and bees stings as a result of a childhood encounter with jellyfish.

When I was seven, and living in Malta, we kids used to swim at the naval station lido, jumping and diving off a wooden raft, attached to four oil drums for buoyancy. We could also dive under the raft and come up under the decking into an air gap between the drums.

Great fun until a swarm of jellyfish had the same idea. I got very badly stung and diving back and out into the clear water, I started swimming to shore screaming my head off. There was a hessian covered plank that was used to haul yourself out of the water and onto the rocky shoreline. Unfortunately, as I swung under the plank before hauling myself out, I met up with the rest of the jelly fish who were clinging underneath. My screams had alerted one of the naval fitness instructors who doubled as lido attendants. He came running with a first aid kit luckily, along with my mother, wondering what mischief I had got myself into this time.

This was long before the epi-pen(epinephrine) but I seem to remember being given an injection of adrenaline fairly quickly, which my mother told me saved my life.

Back to 1985, and within a few minutes, it was clear that I was going into anaphylactic shock and my friends with me recognised my attackers as fire ants and got me out of the tub and onto the path. My husband and other friend arrived back thankfully at that point. Nobody had mobile phones in those days and a rush up to an apartment to call an ambulance would take too long. We had also all been drinking, were dressed in either bathing costumes or running gear. Except for our friend Monty, who could not drink and despite being in his bathing costume, had his house and car keys on the side of the hot tub. His car was parked close by next to our block, and with David and the others holding me up, we piled into the car and we raced out of the complex onto the main road. Monty knew that there was an emergency centre about a mile away in one of the strip malls that was open 24 hours, but by the time we got there two minutes later, I was in a critical condition.

David tells me that one of our friends dashed in and returned with a gurney and doctors who raced me into resuscitation. This is where it gets a little weird, because I do clearly remember watching the activity from above, as they pumped me full of epinephrine and tried to keep me breathing.

Once I was in the clear, they wanted to keep me for a few hours to make sure that I would not have more problems. Our friends went home, and David stayed with me until I was discharged about 7.00 in the morning. Although not having any means of identification or credit cards they had treated me anyway, which I am eternally grateful for, and David returned later that day with details of our company health insurance.

My lower legs and back were not a pretty sight as the bites developed, and I felt incredibly sore and tired. We went home, and I went to bed and left David to explain to my parents what had happened,downplaying the details.

I had anti-histamines to take for a period of time, and it was recommended that I rest for several days. However, we were booked into the Marriott in San Antonio from Sunday to the Tuesday on a very special surprise for my father, which was to visit The Alamo. My parents knew that we had planned time away, but not where, and were all for cancelling the trip, but I was determined that a few fire ants were not going to ruin things. By Sunday morning I was still groggy, but I covered myself in calamine lotion, and took some pain killers and we headed off. I slept the entire 200 miles, except when we made a short stop for coffee, and then went straight to bed on arrival at the hotel. Thankfully by the next morning I was much improved, and eager to take my father on his adventure.

P.S. The exterminators were called in to deal with the large fire ant nest that they found under the decking of the hot tub on the Sunday morning, and there was an upside to my attack that night. That day, a children’s party was going to be held in the recreational area, and the kids would have been in and out of the tub for several hours and things could have got very much worse.

Next week – San Antonio, the Alamo and the Natural Bridge Caverns.

You can find the other posts in this series here:

Thank you for visiting today and as always I look forward to your feedback.. Thanks Sally


Smorgasbord Letters from America – 1985 – 1987 – My parents arrive – Part One – Stetsons, Yellow Roses, Pappasito’s and Chi Chis

It is now early November 1985 and we had not seen my parents since Christmas when they stayed with us in our home in Tring, Hertfordshire. Those of you who have been following my weekly letters home to them, will know that we had been planning for their trip for months, and on Thursday 7th November they landed in Houston.

I was waiting for them as planned as they came out of immigration and customs, and there was quite a bit of kissing and hugging before I gave them their welcoming gifts. For my mother a bunch of yellow roses, which whilst not the state flower of Texas (The Bluebonnet) have historical significance in this part of the world. The real story behind the song The Yellow Rose of Texas is a fascinating tale of subterfuge and the exploitation of a powerful man’s weaknesses. There have been many efforts to debunk the story that circulated about the part a certain Miss West played in the defeat of Santa Ana. However, I prefer the romantic and daring version to the ‘historical’ account. The first words out of my mother’s mouth when receiving the bouquet, was to announce that she was now officially a Yellow Rose of Texas. This resulted in a little history lesson in the car back to our apartment, about the inadvisability of announcing that to any Texans that she might meet.

To my father, who had been bald as long as I could remember, I presented a straw stetson to protect his pate from the still hot Texan sunshine and he wore it everywhere. It returned to the UK at the end of his holiday and over the years, at any sign of sunshine he would wear his stetson. He was a life-long Western film lover and was one of the reasons I bought that style of hat instead of a baseball cap. Just one of the cowboy themed surprises for their visit.

Here is a picture of them both by the swimming pool, and if you look at my mother, you will see that she had liberated by own red straw stetson that I am wearing in the header photo.. Somehow I managed to hang on to that when she returned home.

I was well aware of how tiring that transatlantic flight could be, combined with the usual stress of travel. However, both my parents were used to long haul flights and sea journeys, as we had lived abroad all through my childhood in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) Malta and South Africa.  I also knew that both of them enjoyed a party, and after a day to recover, on the Friday night we invited some of our friends over to meet them.

Over the next couple of days we stayed close to home with with lunches out, including to our favourite Mexican Cantina; Pappasito’s on I-45 about ten minutes from the house. We were regulars there by this time and were able to point my parents in the direction of the tastiest dishes on the menu.

Whilst we certainly enjoyed indulging in shared appetizers when we visited the cantina with our friends, we were not sure how my parents would find their first experience of Mexican cuisine. We need not have worried as both tucked in and declared the Quesadillas and the Fajitas to be fabulous. In fact my father took home a cookery book with him so that he could recreate the dishes for friends.

The Margaritas were not so popular, but my father who was not much of a drinker, discovered the joys of American beer whilst my mother settled for some white wine. We experimented with cocktails for them both over the next week or so, discovering my father’s achilles heel…Chi Chis…made with vodka, coconut cream and pineapple juice, which played straight to his sweet tooth. After David had mixed a batch and given my father a glass, he emptied quite quickly and eagerly accepted a second. David told him that it had vodka in it, but my father shrugged that off and consumed enthusiastically. It was the first time I can remember my father being slightly tiddly, and for the rest of his visit he would enjoy at least one chi chi before dinner or ordered when we were out. It was lovely to see his face as he took that first sip through the straw as the sweetness hit his taste buds, and it is one of those memories you cherish.

I inherited the shopping gene from my mother, and whilst my father relaxed with a book and David was at work, I would pop out for a couple of hours with her to one of the big malls. Thankfully my father had the good sense to leave some luggage space for the expected purchases, and my mother went home with a several skirts, tops and dresses and pairs of shoes, none of which she really needed!. To be fair they came from the discount mall where you could buy top of the range fashion at a fraction of the price.

Our friends were very kind and invited us out to lunch that first week, or over for drinks in the evening. By the end of the first week my mother and father felt quite at home and ready for more ambitious adventures.

David was going to take the second week of their visit off from work so that we could go further afield. We also planned to have everyone over for our wedding anniversary party on the Friday night 15th November, before heading out to San Antonio for a two day visit on the Sunday. Apart from wanting to show my parents this lovely city, it was an opportunity to give my father a chance to fulfill one of his boyhood dreams, to visit The Alamo.

Little did we know that events on the night of the party would nearly scupper that plan!

I hope you have enjoyed this first part of Mollie and Eric in Houston… and will tune in again next week. Thanks Sally

You can find the other posts in this series here:

Smorgasbord Letters from America – 1985 – 1987 – Have a Nice Day… In the Big Apple by Sally Cronin

This week one of my articles that I wrote and sent to the family about our first trip to New York.  I hope you enjoy the trip and the photographs I have managed to dig out.

Have a Nice Day… In the Big Apple

As with any flight the best part is reaching your destination. The final ten minutes of my flight from Houston was definitely spectacular, passing over the city of New York with its millions of lights that reminded me of a lady’s sequined evening dress. It was a slight anti-climax, to then have to wait for three hours in LaGuardia airport, for David who was flying in from Kansas, but I spent the time people watching, one of my favourite pastimes, and drinking airport coffee, which is not.

However, by 11p.m. we were on our way by taxi, through the city that never sleeps. It was a rather rapid transit, and slightly hair-raising experience, as I am sure our driver was a moonlighting kamikazi pilot. We arrived at the brand new Marriott Marquis on Broadway with a flourish and a sigh of relief. In my teenage years, I did have aspirations to one day be a musical star and headline on Broadway… I fear this is the nearest I am going to get! We registered and retired to the bar for a much needed sedative.

The hotel is certainly impressive, from the outside it really looks like any other skyscraper in New York, but once inside your are greeted by the amazing sight of a forty-five storey atrium. A central column dominated the view, carrying brightly lit glass elevators; a ride to the top was not for those suffering from vertigo.

The revolving piano bar, which took you out over Broadway once an hour, was certainly the ideal place to start our first visit to the Big Apple…

Of course, like any good New York tourists, we set out after breakfast the next morning, intent on seeing as much as possible of the city. Street life was quite a shock at first, and the traffic was horrendous. We were very pleased that we had decided not to hire a car for our stay, but our decision to use the Yellow Cabs was probably equally as hazardous! We walked to the Empire State Building and were duly impressed by both the building and the fantastic view over Manhattan. From ground level, the aspect is very much one of a concrete Grand Canyon, but from the top of the Empire State Building, you get the impression that you are looking down into Lilliput.

If you want to buy a camera, New York is certainly the place to buy one. There are camera shops on every block, but watch out for the salesmen. They are on commission only, and we saw several who dealt with time-wasters in a very abrupt way. Service with a smile was obviously not part of the deal, more service with a snarl. I have to say it rather took us by surprise as our experience so far had always been very different. We have had a fair amount of practice now at negotiating when buying expensive items and I don’t think we got rooked too badly, and we did try to do it in good humour!

Of course I did persuade David that I needed to visit the famous Macy’s, just to look you understand!

Saturday night is show night on Broadway, and after 3 p.m., half price tickets can be bought for the evening performances from a makeshift ticket office right in front of the Marriott. Unfortunately, the shows we were interested in, 42nd Street and Cats, were sold out. After consulting our guide books over a great coffee and salt beef sandwich, we decided on the French Revue and dinner at the Cafe Versailles. With its small stage and ornate decoration, it certainly gave you the impression of being in a Paris nightclub and the show was certainly entertaining. The showgirls of course were beautiful but the best part for me was a rather aged female impersonator who mimed to Madame Butterfly, while fortifying herself with every drug and drink under the sun, unusual but very funny. A quick revolve around the piano bar on our return to the hotel, ended a very tiring but fascinating day.

With out time being limited, we deposited our bags at the hotel and took a cab to the pier, where we embarked on a three hour river tour all around Manhattan. It was very good value for $12 each and I kept my new camera busy recording the truly impressive sights of the Statue of Liberty and the famous skyline. After the trip we treated ourselves to lunch in a small Italian cafe before returning to collect our luggage.

One thing to remember if you are leaving by air from New York on a Sunday afternoon, is that everybody else is leaving by air from New York on a Sunday Afternoon! The road to LaGuardia was packed and the trip took over an hour, so leave plenty of time.

I am sorry that we didn’t have more time in New York, but I don’t think I could live there all the time. Stamina and nerves of steel are essential, and you know what? All those and films and cop stories you see on television about the Big Apple, they’re all true!

©images Sally Cronin 2018

I hope that you have enjoyed this trip down memory lane… some photographs have got lost in the moves or packed away in the attic, but I was delighted to find this handful. Thanks Sally.

You can find all our other adventures in the two years we lived in America in this file:



Smorgasbord Letters from America – 1985-1987 – Trip to Seattle – Mountains and State Park

This week are first trip to Seattle, long before the long-running series Grey’s Anatomy and certainly after the still clammy warmth of Texas, it was a shock to the system to feel the autumnal chill and all the rain. As I type this up it is hard to believe that my mother at the time had just turned 68 years old, just three years older than I am now.

9th of October 1985 – Marriott Seattle

Dear M and D,

I hope my birthday card arrived safely Mollie and that you had a wonderful birthday. I am sure that you enjoyed your dinner dance and weekend away. A great way to celebrate and we have organised a welcome combined with birthday party with all our friends when you arrive. We have scheduled for a couple of days later so that you are over your jet lag.

As you will see this is written from the Marriott hotel in Seattle. As usual we managed to have a few hiccups getting here, with delays at the airport and then waiting to get our hire car. We arrived eventually at midday rather than 10.00 a.m, but we drove to the hotel and dumped our bags before heading for the mountains. David’s first meeting is not until tomorrow morning and we want to take full advantage of our short time here.

Whilst San Francisco is my favourite city so far, this has to be the most beautiful state we have seen next to Hawaii. Of course it is the right time of year being autumn, the trees are magnificent and the scenery breathtaking. Back in Houston the weather is still quite warm and muggy and I am still swimming every day. Here is it cold with snow on the upper slopes and I had thankfully dug out my winter clothes that have not seen the light of day since we arrived in Texas in January.

We drove about 150 miles and ended up in a state park. It was amazing to watch salmon and trout cleverly evading the solitary fly fisherman up to his waist in the freezing water. They did say that we might see bears but thankfully we were the only spectators. We also found a shop selling the most beautiful semi-precious stones that you can scoop out of a barrel and buy by weight. A natural reminder of this amazing place rather than some of the souvenirs also on display.

David’s meeting is over by lunchtime hopefully leaving us another four hours to explore Seattle before heading to the airport. Certainly a place that I would like to return to at some point and spend more time in the wilds.

Your visit is getting closer and perhaps in your next letter you could confirm your flight number and arrival time. It can be a little confusing on arrival as there are a number of stages to go through – Immigration, collect baggage, go through customs, deposit luggage again and then go downstairs to pick it up again.

I will be waiting for you when you have been through customs. We can then go down together to reclaim your luggage.

In my next letter I will enclose David’s business card and our home address as you have to fill in a form on the plane. The immigration people will ask you the length of your stay, whether it is business or pleasure and where you will be staying. They will also ask to see your return ticket. I will enclose some dollar bills for the luggage cart from immigration to customs. I will send several as they are notorious for not accepting some bills that might be torn or damaged.

It is all very straightforward really but less stressful if you are prepared. Get that over with and we can get on with enjoying ourselves. All our excursions are planned and booked and one of the treats that I am looking forward to is going to the Renaissance Festival which I have heard is spectacular. Also Daddy… hopefully we will fulfil one of your boyhood dreams…

A week on Friday I am flying to New York to meet up with David and his boss in the middle of their grand tour touching base with their potential customers. Another iconic city to add to the wish list and I am excited by the prospect of seeing the Empire State Building etc.

Well that’s about it for now, under four weeks to go and we are looking forward to seeing you both very much.

Take care and all our love Sally and David. X

©Sally Cronin 2018

Thanks for dropping in and hope you have enjoyed our Hawaiian adventure…All the letters are in this directory:


Smorgasbord Letters from America – Houston 1985-1987 – Curry Parties and Booze buys.

Over the last couple of weeks I shared our trip to Hawaii.. and two weeks later we are back in Houston.

29th September 1987

Dear M & D,

I hope you are well and my long missive about our trip to Hawaii has arrived safely.  We are more or less back to normal, although it has taken a little while to come down from the high of our holiday. We have had a lot of visitors since we came back all wanting to find out how we got on, and most of our friends have never visited the Islands but I think they will go now. We brought back a fabulous post of Hanauma Bay and have just had it framed. It is in pride of place in our dining area. We have collected a number of these posters to add colour to the apartment and will bring them home as a reminder of the places we have been.

There are hardly any Indian restaurants here in our part of Texas, and to be honest we have not found many on our travels except in Las Vegas. However, David has got out his famous curry recipe and it has become a hit. We are off to a party tonight with a giant pot full and a large container of rice for about 20 people. I have spent all afternoon chopping tomatoes, onion, and hard boiling egg to go with the other bits as garnish. It was almost impossible to find mango chutney so have had to substitute with some pickle. Dessicated coconut is available and I will chop the bananas and sprinkle with lemon juice last thing.  Some of the guest have not tried curry before, but if they have eaten spicy Mexican food they should be fine.. if not… then tomorrow will be interesting.

To dampen the fires, we are also taking along a gallon bucket of Mai Tai. Rum, Rum and more Rum with a sniff of pineapple juice! We may end up sleeping on their floor rather than driving home.

I start French, Spanish and shorthand revision on Monday so that should we come back in the New Year, I am employable. I love the leisure time and the chance to travel around the States, swim and play tennis but I don’t want to get too mentally lazy. I am writing short stories and articles about our trips and that is keeping me occupied.

David’s proposed trip last week was cancelled, but next week he is going to Seattle and I am going with him. Due to all the mileage he has clocked up with one of the airlines, he has been awarded a companion ticket. Seattle is the furthest north point in the USA and it is $500 dollars return so we would not afford for me to go normally. We leave on the 7 a.m. flight which will give us most of the day sight seeing before David’s meeting the next morning. The temperature in Washington State is already 40 degrees, so it will mean getting out my tights and winter clothes for the first time in 7 months.

Yesterday we went and bought all the booze for your stay.  I am not implying that you drink a great deal, but we are planning on several parties while you are with us. The prices go us here by 15% from Tuesday so a good time to buy. We bought the fixings for all kinds of exotic cocktails including margaritas and Chi Chis… more about those when you arrive. I hope you enjoy Canadian whisky Mollie since they don’t have much Scotch in the store, and we did get 3 litres!

Today we are going to the cinema with one of our friends and his girlfriend and then tomorrow we have a water volleyball game. However, it has been raining and it is only 75 degrees….brrrrrrr.

It is only five weeks until you arrive and getting very excited.. some road trips are booked and our friends are really looking forward to seeing you.

lots of love Sally and David.

Thanks for dropping in and hope you have enjoyed our Hawaiian adventure…All the letters are in this directory: