Smorgasbord Blog Magazine Weekly Round Up – Good intentions by Grandmas, Bird Watching and Halley’s Comet

Doesn’t time fly when you are having fun. Well I am anyway and I hope you are too… It has been a busy week offline with various projects and also taking advantage of the cold but sunny weather. It is hard to believe that it is January 20th already but it is great that the evenings are growing lighter by a few minutes each day.

My thanks as always to you for dropping in so often and keeping me motivated and here are some of the posts you might have missed..

This week Linda shares the delightful!! coat that her Grandmother managed to find at the charity shop for her..

Getting to know you – Sunday Interview with author Denzil Walton.

The first part of our trip from Houston to Carlsbad Caverns and to see Halley’s Comet on its once in a lifetime visit.

The title of this series came about as I dipped into a Thesaurus to find some words for a poem I was writing. I noticed that a great many words that reflected (see what I mean) key elements in our lives began with the letter ‘R’. In this first post quite a bit about what I think about RESPECT

Chapter one of the sequel to my first book written 20 years ago which followed my 18 month challenge to lose 150lbs. I am told at 42 that I am unlikely to make 45!

This week I look at the nutritional elements of Asparagus and Carol Taylor turns this very healthy vegetable into some delicious meals.

Colleen Chesebro’s Tuesday Poetry Challenge.

I have chosen ‘Secret and Draw’ for my key words this week and I am also trying my hand at a Haibun… here is the link  where you will find a description of this form which is a combination of prose and poetry.


I have discovered the secret to eternal youth. I stand before the mirror. With eyes almost closed the image blurs. Wrinkles disappear. Hair regains its colour. The extra pounds fall away. I am tall and strong. A reflection of how I used to be. I draw the image towards me absorbing its essence.

Do not be deceived
Challenge the silver backed mirror
Remain young at heart.

New book on the shelves

Author Update -Reviews

Thanks for dropping by and hope to see you again next week… Sally.

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 – Letters from America – Houston – 1986 – Birthdays and Plans

It is now 11th of January 1986.. and David’s birthday and the day before my father’s in England.

Dearest M & D,

I cannot believe that we have been here a year as so much has happened and it has flown by. I am sorry that we missed New Year with the family, but it sounds like you had a good time.

The weather has turned very cold with sleet threatened… not something I expected as when we arrived here around the same time last year it was very balmy. And it did not get chilly until later in February so hopefully getting it over with now.

David says thank you for the card that arrived earlier in the week. We are going out to Pappasitos with the gang this evening to celebrate so possibly sore heads tomorrow. He doesn’t normally ‘do’ birthdays but the guys are not letting him get away with it!

We are having a small dinner party on Saturday for him and I may have to break into my New Year detox to have a glass or two… well perhaps three of bubbly!

Sunday, weather permitting, some of us are planning a day in Austin to stretch our legs, how early depends on when we get to bed on Saturday! It is 165 miles from this side of Houston so we want to get on the road early to get there my midday. Austin is the capital of Texas and apart from all the historical sites is on the Colorado River and there are some great trails and hikes. If the weather is as cold as it is today it may well be the movies instead!

I am glad that the cheque arrived safely to buy the champagne for your birthday Daddy, not sure that it will buy enough for the 28 you are expecting but hopefully you will keep a bottle just for yourselves. 70 is a milestone birthday and I hope you have an amazing day. I have posted a separate package of photographs from your trip to us in November which I was hoping would arrive for the day.

I spent the quieter time since Christmas putting all the photographs we have taken here in Houston and on our travels into an album, plus a separate one with over 250 postcards we have collected. I plan to write about our time here one day and it will provide a useful reference. I have put our copies from your visit into a separate album as that is very special.

You will be amused to know that your letters are shared with everyone as they are still talking about your trip. Walter, Monty and others have to be kept informed… so I think you were well and truly adopted. Sutherland Walter’s cat is back at the vet and is on anti-biotics for another kidney infection. If his stomach problems do not clear up within a week it looks like he is going to have to endure and operation. $150 already spent and with money tight I know Walter is worried about the cost. We have come to love having Sutherland over several times a week and he has made himself at home.. we will help where we can.

There will be a gap now for a week as we are heading out on our road trip with Walter to New Mexico to the Carlsbad Caverns and importantly we are hoping that the elevation above the caverns, and the lack of light pollution will allow us to see Halley’s Comet which is only visible every 76 years. It is 700 miles and we will share the driving, sleeping when we can. Really looking forward to it.

Happy birthday again Daddy.. look forward to hearing about the party.

love from us both.. S&D.

You can read the other letters from 1985 :

Thank you for dropping by and hope you have enjoyed this snapshot of our time in Texas.. thanks Sally.


Happy 4th July – Part Two – Houston Texas – 1986 – Halley’s Comet -Hawaii – Magnum PI – Top Gun

In celebration of our time in America and the wonderful people we met and still are in touch with, here is our second year living in Houston and some of the adventures we enjoyed. We actually ended up visiting all the East and West Coast as well as driving across country.. On this trip we wanted to see the once in a lifetime visit of Halley’s comet.

It is now 1986 and we were very aware that we only had a year left of David’s contract in America and that we needed to step up our explorations.  In that twelve months we visited the East and West coasts and made the epic road trip from Houston to New Mexico with a friend  to try and glimpse Halley’s Comet:

Halley’s Comet only appears every 76 years and being such a rare visit we needed to find a very special place to try and view this once in a lifetime event .  We opted for the car park of Carlsbad Caverns which is an enormous underground network of caves.

We explored the 119 caverns hundreds of feet below ground in the day; at night we returned to the car park miles from any light pollution and lay on ground sheets searching the star filled sky above us. The second night we were rewarded with the most amazing, if very tiny, sight of this elusive comet with our low resolution telescopes and just about with the naked eye. We had taken a rucksack with us with hot coffee and snacks and as we watched this astral display, we heard the rucksack being dragged off into the undergrowth. Fearing we had been targeted by large felines; we aimed our combined torches at the predator. A raccoon stared back at us challenging our refusal to pay the car park fees!  We persuaded him that this was not acceptable and were able to enjoy our breakfast at dawn surrounded by deer and a view that stretched for miles across the Chihuahuan Desert.

That year David and I also took advantage of the air miles he had accumulated on all his sales trips and flew to Hawaii for the first of several visits to these magnificent islands. I have to admit at this point that I have always had rather a crush on Tom Selleck…. Magnum P.I and I rather hoped that I might be lucky enough to encounter him on our trip. Whilst waiting for a glimpse of an earthbound comet…. we did some of the usual tourist activities and I splashed out on a wonderful MuuMuu which was set off by my 80s hair.


We also  discovered the delight of rum cocktails and completed pre-dinner tasting sessions. The outright winner is the Molokai Mule which is a drink not to be attempted on an empty stomach with the expectation of being able to stand up again afterwards.. It certainly has a mighty kick…here is the recipe for those of you brave enough to attempt!

Eventually my secret wish was fulfilled and the day before our flight back to Houston, whilst at a four way stop near Diamond Head, I was rewarded with a fleeting encounter with Magnum P.I. He was in a convertible at the stop opposite us and as we glided past each other like ships in the night I knew that 1986 had been a very special year!

The music of that year was great with many hits making their way across the Atlantic in both directions. Here is a small selection: Lionel Ritchie – Say You Say Me, Dionne Warwick & Friends – That’s What Friends are For, Robert Palmer – Addicted to Love, Pet Shop Boys – West End Girls, Steve Winwood – Higher Love, Simply Red – Holding Back the Years, Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer, Madonna – Don’t Preach, Billy Ocean – When the Going Gets Tough and Bananarama – Venus.

In honour of the passing years I have selected Simply Red for this weeks chart track from 1986.

Films were equally interesting in 1986 and we managed to get in a weekly cinema visit wherever we might be at the time. Aliens, Platoon (stunning) The Mission, Crocodile Dundee, The Name of the Rose (highly recommended) Star Trek IV- The Voyage Home, The Color of Money, and Mona Lisa (amazing). Without a doubt the film that followed in the wake of An Officer and a Gentlemen in the romance category, with action thrown in high in the skies for good measure, was Top Gun with the every youthful Tom Cruise.  Here is the theme song.. and 30 years later the soundtrack is still on my playlist.

Buy Top Gun:

Halley’s Comet Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License;

I hope you have enjoyed my step back in time in tribute to our American friends and the two wonderful years we enjoyed as guests in Houston.