Sunday, 25 May 2014

The Great American Adventure - Part Seven

The last instalment of my first ever trip to the USA.  Only a few YEARS too late!

May 31st 2011

Another early start.  Today we were to drive to another of the big sights on our itinerary; The Grand Canyon.  After breakfast, Mum and I went to the computer room to get a last minute update on my friend.  He was still in hospital, still having seizures multiple times a day.  His cousin had now told me that his right arm was completely paralysed but he was in a "stable condition".  She gave me the details of the hotel in Los Angeles, obviously convinced that I would find my way out there on one of the free days at the end of our tour.  But how was I supposed to travel the 200 miles from Las Vegas when I was on holiday with my parents without so much as a car?  It broke my heart as I would have dearly loved to visit him and I was "so close" (relatively, compared to England), but it was impractical.

I turned the computer off, practically in tears.  Mum and I sat in the lobby outside the computer room, waiting for David to return from our room where he was still packing his suitcase from the previous night.  Evan then came and started making fun of us for using the internet again.  "Have they locked you out of the computer room?  Or has David banned you from spending more than two hours a day on there?" he laughed.  Well, he picked the wrong moment, didn't he?  I glowered at him and if looks could kill, he would have fallen to the floor!  He obviously realised he had made a mistake.  "She doesn't look very happy...  What's the matter with her?" he said to Mum, as I continued to glare.  (Apparently men don't even dare speak directly to me when I'm in a bad mood!)  Mum explained about my friend and he was actually very apologetic and sympathetic, telling me that I could use his smart phone to check for updates whenever I wanted.  I don't think Evan actually meant any harm with his jokes, but these tour guides certainly seem to have a strange sense of humour!

We made our way out to the coach and saw a group of three horses wandering by the side of the road.  They must have escaped from a local ranch, I suppose.  I was very worried about them, scared that they would walk out into the road in front of moving traffic.  Then I noticed there were three dogs watching over them and trying to herd them back!  I hope their owner was able to find them and round them up before anything bad happened to them.


Our first stop of the day was the Cameron Trading Post.  Mum had to use the restroom which ate up a lot of our time there, but we still managed to get some nice souvenirs.


Once again, I got upset to see an animal on the loose.  This time a poor stray, mangy dog.  He was walking around the car park, looking very hot and thirsty.  I hated having to leave him there, not knowing what would happen to him.


We moved on into Grand Canyon National Park, stopping first at Desert View Watchtower.  Mum didn't feel up to climbing the tower but even without climbing the whole way, we still had a nice view.


We realised that David was no longer with us and had to spend a lot of time looking for him.  We eventually found him here, proclaiming that he was "bored"...


Seriously?  Was I the only one enjoying this trip?

We travelled on to the Grand Canyon after that, where we would spend the rest of our day.  Wendy kindly gave me some nuts to eat...which, of course, I couldn't touch with my braces.  Nevertheless, I managed to convince her that I had eaten them by carefully hiding them in the palm of my hand and making fake chewing motions!  Yes, I am a very silent nut cruncher...

It wasn't a long journey and we were soon as the Grand Canyon.  Mum was, as usual, "seriously underwhelmed" and couldn't be bothered with climbing the viewing tower there either!

Having said that, it had got terribly hot and I'll admit that it was a battle to even walk around for five hours or so in those temperatures, much less climb up tons of stairs.  We sat on a bench in the shade for a little while observing this poor little insect.


I'm afraid I have no idea what it was.  The poor thing had a damaged wing and couldn't fly.  I moved it to the wall where I hoped it wouldn't get trodden on and could at least spend its last hours in peace.

We eventually decided to get up and brave the heat.  I soon realised that I had neglected to apply sunscreen that morning.  Big mistake...especially as I was wearing my one and only v-neck t-shirt (about the most revealing thing I own!)  Pretty soon I was burnt to a crisp.  Oh well, it was worth it...even if Mum found the views underwhelming, the wildlife was beautiful.

From lovely lizards...


...Great Ground Squirrels....


...and Beautiful (BIG!) Beetles...


...we saw it all.  There were also magnificent butterflies and turkey vultures, but I didn't manage to get any photographs of those.

Oh, and I don't care what my mum says - the scenery WAS breathtaking too!


We joined a talk about Californian Condors which was a bit of a let down as it was aimed at young children and we didn't really learn much.  In fact, the ranger couldn't even identify the mystery beetles for us (even though they were flying all around and obviously commonplace here!)


There was also some kind of special event taking place that day which included demonstrations of traditional Native American dance.  The performance we saw was very good; even Mum was impressed!  The commentator explained the meanings and history behind the different dances which was also interesting.  We stood and watched for a while, despite the heat.  (I honestly don't know how they had the energy to dance in that weather!)


The highlight of the day though was seeing our own condor.  It was late afternoon and we had just walked away from the dancers.  I was feeling pretty ill from standing in the sun for so long and was staggering around the path.  In fact, I almost fainted twice!  We probably wouldn't have noticed it at all had it not been for a group of bird watchers standing with binoculars and telescopes.

The bird was quite a long way away - too far for me to get a nice photograph - but still near enough to see what it was.  What a thrill!


We watched the condor preening itself for a while, then I stumbled again and we thought it best to go inside and out of the sunshine!  I had long finished my drink so David went looking for something to quench my thirst.  He returned with the largest cup of milk I'd ever seen.  "She'll never get through that," Mum laughed.  Ten minutes later, an empty cup was thrown into a nearby rubbish bin.  Gosh, I must have really been thirsty!

Soon after that, it was time to board the bus again.  For once, we were quite happy to do so.  We all felt that we had seen enough of the Grand Canyon to last us a lifetime, especially with the skin peeling off of our sunburnt noses!  Mum was maybe a little too eager to climb aboard and RAN for the bus, certain that everybody must already be on it and she was holding them up.  It was only when she heard the voices of the Australian family from our coach party calling her back that she realised she had chased the wrong coach...and everybody was casually standing and waiting for ours some way behind her!

When we got back to our lodge, David discovered that he had lost ALL of the postcards we had managed to buy on our travels.  Having not had much chance to buy souvenirs anyway, we were devastated to think that we had lost the few we had got.  In fact, David was so distraught that he ran and found Evan to ask for the phone number of the previous hotel...just to see if the cleaners had found our bag of postcards.  They hadn't but promised to call back if any were handed in.  Later, we found that David had left the cards on the coach...along with Mum's bird books, which none of us had even noticed were missing!

It was still quite early so we decided to go for a little stroll for once.  We walked down to the cafe to see what was on offer.  Yes, shocking, I know!  I think my parents were finally starting to get into the holiday spirit now that it was almost time to go home!  We found that the cafe sold baked potatoes which meant that Mum and I could actually have warm dinner for once.  The potatoes were very nice; much nicer than those offered at our hotel a couple of nights previously.  David chose mashed potatoes instead and was not so lucky.  It was full of bits of red potato skin.  Ew...  It seemed to be intentional rather than pure negligence too.  Yuck.  Who eats mashed potato skins?!

David was still struggling to get through it after Mum and I had finished ours (proving just how disgusting it must have tasted!) so we decided to go ahead of him back to the lodge.  We went via the gift shop where we found a nice souvenir for my nephew Allan, a dear little toy car for his collection with "Grand Canyon" written on the side of it.  Once again, Mum got caught out by tax though.  She just couldn't learn that it wasn't included in the quoted price as it is in this country and kept thinking that things would be cheaper than they really were.

On our short walk from the gift shop to our lodge, we stumbled across a herd of deer grazing right next to the path.  They were so close and yet so unafraid of us, it was lovely to see them and walk amongst them.  What a shame it was so dark, otherwise I could have taken some beautiful photographs.


June 1st 2011

Today we would travel back to where our great adventure had started: Las Vegas.  I was already feeling emotional and knew I would be in tears by the end of the day.  I had experienced the best few days of my life and didn't want it to end just yet.  Still, I must hold my tears back.  I didn't want to waste a moment of my time on the right side of the Atlantic!

Mum didn't feel up to breakfast again so David and I made our way back to the little cafe where we had eaten our potatoes the previous night.  Instead of the usual buffet, we had meal tickets this morning.  We looked through the options - there wasn't much on offer for vegetarians but they did have cereal.  Tiny pots of it.  "Looks like this is all you're entitled to," David said, handing me a pot of sickly sweet Raisin Bran Crunch and half a pint of milk.  He then proceeded to make his way to the hot breakfast counter where he got himself a big plate of cooked meat...and then ordered another big plate full with Mum's unused meal ticket!  He could have used that to get something that we could have taken away with us for Mum to eat later in the day.

The comparison in our breakfasts:


For some reason, his cooked breakfast allowed him to have three cups of any beverage of his choice as well.  Is that fair on vegetarians?  Oh well, I said I needed a diet!

We did have one stop as we travelled down part of Route 66 on our way to Las Vegas.  That stop was Seligman where we visited Angel Delgadillo's Gift Shop.  Walking into Seligman was like walking into a time warp.  Everything looked like it came straight out of the 1950s.


We wandered around in the gift shop for a while and got a couple of nice souvenirs.  We also got a nice America-patterned bag which was just the perfect size for aeroplane hand luggage...which would allow me to carry some of our souvenirs along with my own handbag!

Angel's brother had recently passed away but his car was still parked by the gift shop.  The cars were the thing that added most to the atmosphere, I think.  They were so beautifully vintage, even with their Disney Cars-style eyes!


All too soon, it was time to board the coach again.  I quickly posed with the sign outside the gift shop just to prove I had been on the famous Route 66, however briefly!


Our lunch stop was at another branch of Walmart, much to the excitement of the non-Americans on the coach.  There was also a Big Lots next door which allowed me to tick another of my "US stores I've heard of but never visited" off of my list!


I had to giggle at this sign hanging in the drinks aisle in Walmart.  My punctuation is not great either, but I can understand why the blue pen holder felt irritated enough to correct this particular sentence.  The people of Walmart obviously have plenty of time on their hands!


We didn't have an awful lot of time in Walmart, especially after visiting Big Lots.  I still managed to find four cheap, pretty American t-shirts though (which I still wear to this day, as a matter of fact) as well as three MLP birthday cards.  Now I was glad that I had saved my spending money until this point in our trip!

The rest of our coach journey passed very quickly.  Evan had us all playing silly games (yes, even US - he was a good tour guide!), and continued to make ridiculous jokes about David's computer bag.  Well, at least I managed to get a recording of him saying my name!  Yes, call me crazy but I loved his accent and knew I would miss it once I got home to the land of the squawking cat people!  He made us all guess the total number of miles we had travelled on the coach and I'm proud to say I was in third place with my guess!  Alas, I now can't remember what my guess was or what the actual figure was!

I went a little crazy along the way, and began photographing and filming everything in a panic attack, realising that my time on "my continent" was coming to an end and this would be my last time seeing all that beautiful scenery.  Seeing all the signs to Los Angeles probably wasn't helping either.  So near and yet still SO far.  About 200 miles at our nearest.  Oh, if only...maybe things would have played out differently.  I guess I'll never know now.


Arriving back in Las Vegas, we first headed out to the airport to drop off the folks who would be making their way home that day.  Wendy practically ran off of the coach without saying so much as a "goodbye" to us.  I'm still not sure what we were supposed to have done wrong!

Then we headed back to the Hilton where we had started our journey almost two weeks earlier.  We had two more nights in Vegas before we had to head back to H*ll.  As soon as we were off of the coach and checked into our hotel room, I went and changed into my 'pretty little dress', much to my parents' horror.  I still don't know what they had against me wearing a dress but I'm sure they would have kept me in skin tight leggings forever if they could have done.  (Jeans were also out of the question back in those days...things must never change in the time warp of doom, you see?)  I can't have been more than 15 minutes in the bathroom anyway, but they were both angry with me for "wasting time".

"I don't understand why it matters what you wear," Mum said.
"Nor do I," David chimed in.

Well, if I felt more comfortable or somehow prettier and more confident in a different outfit, who were they to stop me?  They'd put me off throughout the entire coach tour so far, why shouldn't I dress up for our last couple of days in Vegas?

We went out for walk at around 5pm, but Mum was already too tired and hungry to take much notice of anything.  She said it was too hot and kept complaining that she wanted to go back to the hotel.  However, I persuaded her to keep going and she agreed so that she could "say she had seen Las Vegas".


We rode the monorail down to The Strip, but we soon realised that there was no way to see it all in such a short time.  Mum wanted to see a show while she was there but the tickets were so very expensive and she couldn't see anything she fancied anyway.  So we walked past the ticket booth at the station and out into the heat and crowds on The Strip.

We first visited the M&Ms shop which was "not half as good" as Mum had thought it would be.  She did have a good laugh when a member of staff dropped a box of the sweets down the escalator.  Packets rolled everywhere and crazy tourists (not us, I should point out!) began madly scrambling to pick them up while staff yelled at them that "the candy was not free".  Why on Earth would they think it was?!

We observed another grackle standing atop a nearby wall.  Unfortunately, the sun was so bright that my photographs wouldn't come out, but you can see his silhouette against the brightness beyond.


I had some kind of obsession with getting my photograph taken with the MGM Grand Hotel due to a promise I had made to my friend (the one who was now in hospital), who had stayed there a couple of years previously and had his photograph taken on the balcony with the very same camera I now had in my possession.  When he had given me the camera, he had asked that I "take it as near to that spot as I could and have my own photo taken...to make us feel closer".  It seems stupid as it turned out, but I didn't want to let him down.

Of course, I couldn't get anywhere near the exact balcony anyway, but I tried my best.  I doubt if he'll ever even read this blog post now but *I* never break promises, unlike certain people.


Walking across the bridge in the last photograph gave my parents an excuse for another attack on my choice of attire.  An unfortunate gust of wind blew my skirt up Marilyn Monroe-style!  I didn't say a word but, as I struggled to hold it down, Mum snapped, "Don't lose the camera.  Forget your dignity, that's your own fault!"  Geez, she really didn't like that dress!

She got in a further bad temper about the quality of the above photographs (which she took, of course).  She was "upset that she couldn't get a good picture for me" and said that I was "in a bad mood about it".  Me?  I was just trying to enjoy my time in Vegas, and ignore all of the petty arguments that were brewing!

She didn't want to see anything of Las Vegas really anyway.  She had decided that it was a total let down; "cheap, tacky and synthetic", she called it.  "How can they compare it to Blackpool?  Blackpool is much better!" she cried.

Well, I guess it did look a bit synthetic, but I thought that was what Vegas was all about.


We wandered into a mall where we had found out that the nearest branch of Lush was located.  We walked through corridor after corridor of boutiques and gift stores.  I laughed at the "World's Greatest Sock Store"...


Then we found our destination.


Here we hoped to buy the American exclusive product for my sister as a souvenir.  The lady who worked there promptly crushed that idea, telling us that there WAS no exclusive product.  She advised us to buy a type of soap which was no longer sold in the UK (although it had been available here before) which was what we did.  I got a small piece for myself as well, but I am not really keen on Lush soap to be honest.  I am more of a bubble bar and ballistics girl!

I couldn't even tell you all of the places we visited after that.  We walked for what seemed like hours and didn't cover anywhere near as much of it as I'd hoped.  I think I shall just leave you with a collection of my favourite snapshots taken that evening.


I also made a lot of films that night but all include a backing track of Mum's moaning voice saying how she needs to find somewhere to sit down and is bored and tired!  Because of this, I have just picked out one video, showing the dancing waters outside the Bellagio Hotel.  (I think you only hear Mum moaning once on this one!)



At last, we returned to the Hilton.  We ordered a very expensive baked potato.  Yes, one potato.  We couldn't afford more than that.  That's how expensive it was!  The potato arrived on its own table as if we had ordered a banquet.  For all of the pomp and ceremony though, it tasted awful.  Absolutely coated in salt and black pepper.  I couldn't even taste that it was a potato!  (Perhaps it wasn't, considering how many preservatives they seem to cram into things over there!)


 My parents were delighted to get back to their beds, but I felt unfulfilled.  All that way and we hadn't seen half the stuff I'd wanted to see.  I hadn't even seen the famous "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign.  *Sighs*  Oh well, there was always tomorrow, right?

June 2nd 2011

Our last full day in the USA.  And oh, what a waste.

We were supposed to rejoin the remainder of our coach party for an optional excursion to the Hoover Dam in the morning.  We had paid for it and everything.  But Mum declared herself "too tired and uninterested" to go.  David wanted to go alone but she screamed at him how unfair he was being, and so all three of our tickets were wasted.  She even refused to get out of bed to comb my hair so that I could go downstairs for breakfast.  (I was too scared to comb my own hair due to it thinning out so badly)  David got snappy that she was stopping HIM going to that lovely Hilton breakfast buffet.  He asked why he couldn't do my hair for me.  (Crikey, if I was going to let HIM near it, I might as well comb my own!)  He also told me that "there was nothing wrong with my hair" and that "it looked no worse than usual".  Charming.

In the end, he went downstairs alone.  Mum perked up when he was gone, jumped out of bed, got washed and changed and combed my hair for me.  But hey, I wasn't allowed to go down to the breakfast room unassisted, of course.  What if I got lost or kidnapped?!  And so, I still had to wait for David to return before I could be chaperoned back.  By that time, Mum was back in bed where she stayed all day while David slept on the floor.  I sat on my bed, fighting tears of frustration.  As they were both sleeping, they even kept the curtains closed...but I kept walking to the window and peering down at the world below to remind myself that, although I was trapped in a prison cell as ever, at least I was in the right timezone for once.

I wrote a letter to my hospitalised friend on post-it notes (the only paper I had to hand), doodling little boats and other things I thought he might appreciate with the two pens I had brought with me.  It wasn't much but at least it made me feel closer to the person I wished I could be with while my parents slept on.  In the darkened room, I managed to get ink on my pillow!  Oops...I turned the pillow over and prayed that the staff wouldn't notice (not that they were allowed in to clean the room that day anyway).

I was already miserable about having to go back to the "wrong" side of the Atlantic and wasting this last day was killing me.  I kept crying and Mum kept shouting at me for doing so.  SHE was "miserable in the USA but she wasn't complaining"!  SHE "had only come here for me"!  Well, great.  Not much point going there and spending your whole time locked up in a hotel room.  David just kept complaining that he "wasn't looking forward to going back to work", which was very unlike him.  I said he was lucky to have work since I had no qualifications or prospects of finding a job and nobody to even help me to get on the right track to doing so.  He turned on me and said I was the one who had "wasted his money" by "changing into my dress the previous night".  This was apparently the reason that Mum had been too tired to go to the Hoover Dam that morning.  That dress had a lot to answer for, it seems!  We "don't understand the value of money as we've never had to work", don't you know?  Again, I pointed out that I WANTED to work but didn't know how to find a job with no education or work experience behind me, but he just ignored me.

Then, at around noon, David developed an earache.  It worsened over the course of an hour or so until he was yelping in pain and had to dash off to the local hospital by taxi.  I would have preferred to go with him rather than sitting in the hotel room (at least I might have seen something out of the window on my journey!) but Mum wouldn't allow that either, of course.

David returned (with antibiotics for a dental infection which had caused the earache) at almost 7pm which is when I finally got out of that place and into the world I'd waited so long to see.  We were only out for less than two hours when Mum decided she wanted to go back again though so we saw next to nothing.

Again, instead of going over the details of the trauma that was my rushed couple of hours in Vegas, I will just let you all look at the pretty pictures.


As you may have guessed from the images above, we visited The Volcano at The Mirage Hotel.  As usual, Mum thought it an enormous let down.  We waited for around fifteen minutes for the show to begin and, when it did, she thought that all of the spotlights appearing out of the water were actually synchronised divers!  I think her expectations of Las Vegas were a little high...


It was still a fun show, even if it didn't include live performers!

All too soon, it was time to head back to the hotel.  I cried as I headed towards the monorail that would carry me away from my last brief walk on American soil.


More tears fell as I saw the neon lights above our hotel.  It had all come and gone so quickly, and now I knew for sure that I belonged on this side of the big pond.


As we walked back to the hotel entrance, we saw dozens of cockroaches crawling over the pavement and outer walls of what I presume was the hotel kitchens.  Hmm...nice.  But even that didn't put me off.  I didn't want to go back to England.

June 3rd 2011

The day of doom.  The day when I would have to say goodbye to the place of my dreams and head back to my rotten little home in London.

I overslept, having been up most of the night staring out of the window at the big city below and daydreaming that I could stay in this country forever.  I finally got to breakfast at 10am.  There was only one mini box of Raisin Bran left, much to my dismay.  I knew I wouldn't taste it again once I got back to the UK and was going to treat myself to two boxes on the last day!

On my way back to our hotel room, I managed to find a stamp dispenser, allowing me to finally post my little letter to my friend.  Silly really, as I would be back in England and able to call him before it reached him, but I had promised his cousin that I would write again before I went home.  I only hoped that he was okay.


We signed out and dropped our cases into reception downstairs, then we called a (very expensive) taxi.  While we waited for the taxi to arrive, I had my photograph taken with The King.  After all, what's Vegas without Elvis?!


Our taxi arrived and we were driven to the infamous sign that I had longed to see for so long.


Alas, I couldn't get near it due to a wedding party and the fact that the taxi clock was ticking.

We drove downtown after that to see "all the tacky little wedding chapels" that Mum wanted to see.  We got out and had a brief wander around one of them.  No offence intended, but who would want to get married here?  Maybe I'm just bitter that I'll never get married now, and believe me, I'm not one to want to make a lot of fuss even if I had done, but somehow it would seem more sincere just to go to the registry office than to walk into one of these neon-lit pink parlours!


I was sad to have to drive by all the lovely little shops downtown - gift shops where I might have found a "Nevada" souvenir (I'd only managed to get an ornament marked with "Las Vegas" itself!) and massive thrift stores.  *Sighs*  What a waste.

Upon our return to the hotel, we had to sit in reception and wait for our cab to take us back to the airport.  I shed a few more tears but tried to enjoy my last few minutes in "my" country.  The sticky heat, the hum of the ceiling fan that made no difference, the "ka-ching" of the one armed bandits in the hotel's casino.  I took deep breaths, as if inhaling American air would somehow mean that I wouldn't have to go back.

But of course I did.

David asked the taxi driver if he could drive past the sign again (maybe there wouldn't be a wedding party there this time), but he apologetically told us that Milestones - our tour company - made him keep to a set route so that he could keep his expenses in order and charge them a flat rate.  And so I never did get my photograph taken with that welcome sign.

David managed to embarrass us at customs again by dropping tissues absolutely EVERYWHERE around the x-ray machines.  How many tissues was he even carrying in his pockets?!  Oh well, at least they didn't find a spare screwdriver in his bag this time!

I felt physically ill as we reached the boarding hall.  The common "Lan-dan" accents surrounded me once more, and I stuffed my MP3 player's headphones in my ears to try to block it out for a little longer.  "Shut up," I muttered under my breath as a gambling chav leered at myself and another young girl sitting near to me, making unsuitable comments about our appearances to his friends.  "What's wrong?" Mum asked.  "Your Canadian lot are common, you say.  Why doesn't somebody tell them to shut up?"  This had nothing to do with common.  Hearing the accent this time was like listening to my own death rattle.  I did NOT want to go back to the place where that accent originated!

The friendly chap who checked our passports as we boarded was cracking jokes with everybody.  I smiled and laughed at something he said to the lady in front.  "What are you all laughing at back here?" He winked at me and I smiled back as he pronounced my name correctly first time, something people back in my own country rarely do.  He gained extra brownie points for being the last person I'd hear speaking with that lovely accent.  Mum made a sarcastic comment about how "even he had noticed that I had been crying" (hence mentioning me laughing).  She didn't believe that I actually had been smiling at his jokes.

A final view of Vegas...


A last glimpse of the desert below...


A hazy image of the fading land as we soared higher...


And then it was out of sight.  Well, not quite.  I spent a long time filming and photographing aerial shots of the lakes of Manitoba which looked just beautiful.  I was gutted that we didn't fly over Saskatchewan this time so I had no chance at a glimpse of that little piece of water known as Candle Lake.

They put the lights out on us after that to get us used to British hours.  You can imagine how happy that made me too!  My mood worsened when my MP3 player's battery went flat, meaning I could no longer block out the surrounding English people with the American and Canadian voice clips I had brought with me.

I suppose my crazy emotions could have been blamed on hormones as it was that wonderful time that all women must experience each month.  Because of this, I really needed to use the bathroom on the plane, but Mum wouldn't let me stand up (apparently standing up on an aeroplane is signing your own death warrant or something).  She told me to sit on a pair of red socks that Virgin had given us instead!  After two hours, I defiantly told her that I was going to the bathroom, whatever she thought.

I had to queue for around five minutes but then it was my turn.  The toilets were surprisingly clean and comfortable compared to what I'd expected.  I sat myself down on my throne...and immediately heard an announcement.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we appear to be going through a patch of turbulence.  Would everybody please sit down and fasten your seatbelts?"  Just my luck!

And so ends our Great American Adventure.  Only three years late!  Perhaps I can start catching up with the less interesting stuff at a quicker rate.  Then again, don't keep your fingers crossed.  You might not hear from me for another three years and your limbs will have gone numb by that time!

Best wishes,
Desirée  xxx

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