Laguna–Then and Now

I’m sitting on the front porch of my husband’s family home on Griffith Way. It’s early June, and I’m wrapped in a sweater and a hoodie. The air is clean, the breeze cool. I am instantly taken back to my first visit to Laguna. We had been dating for six months, and decided to drive from Albuquerque to Laguna so that I could meet his mom and brothers. My first sensory impression when we drove through the canyon was the air: cool, clean, somewhat humid, but with the smell of the sea. When people think of California, they think of sun and surf, but what they don’t realize is it gets cold in the morning and evening. And the marine layer can take time to burn off in June. You need a jacket.

On that first trip, we went to the Sawdust Festival. Arts and crafts lined the walls of each booth and the floors were indeed covered in sawdust. Laguna had an amazing artist community back then, and there was a bohemian feel to the village. Griffith Way is named after one of those artists. Just walking through the eucalyptus tree-lined streets I loved watching families on their porches with friends drinking wine and listening to music from a not so far off past. Lemon trees and succulents thrived in this environment, and they still do. The difference now is I see fewer families on verandas and miss the small village feel. The camaraderie of neighbors seems lost. Everyone is still friendly, but so many of the locals from the past have left, and we don’t recognize too many people now when we stroll along Main Beach. 

Heisler Park still has a wide swath of diversity. Inland families come to the park and cook out, play music, and relax with one another. The variety of flora is remarkable and the views are the best in the world. The families, the flowers, the view gives way to PCH. It is crowded and cramped with fast moving Lamborghinis, Maseratis, McLarens, and Ferraris. Don’t get me wrong. I love the artistic value of a beautiful car, and it is like a parade of the most magnificent mechanical creations on earth. But I can’t call Laguna quaint or even a village.

On my first trip here, I remember my mother-in-law volunteering at the polling center as well as the library. She embraced her community, and it embraced her. She brought her sons here in the 70s from Albuquerque, so that they would have the best schools and a safe environment to thrive in. My husband and his three brothers all graduated from Laguna Beach High School, but back in those days the sports teams were called the Artists. Now, they are the Breakers. I’m just wondering, did they need a more macho sounding name? Were the Artists too passive? Can you be a winning team with a name like the Artists? 

Somehow our most memorable, simple, and comforting spaces have been overtaken by new faces and sometimes celebrity and wealth. When they took out The Jolly Roger (where the waitresses remembered you, and knew you would order the sourdough french toast so that you could get an extra slice), a landmark was erased. Then the Laguna Beach cookie company that sold broken cookies at a discount was gone, along with Treasure Island, the artist’s and surfer’s trailer park that was replaced with the Montage. Then Acords Market fell to Whole Foods. Acords made the best pastrami sandwiches in the world, and we would always get one before walking down to the beach. But maybe, just maybe, Bushard’s (my favorite apothecary) will stay on Forest Avenue forever.  

The community that was prevalent in the 1980s is gone, and a new kind of Laguna has emerged. Of course, it is inevitable. But what can’t be removed is the slow, hushed glide of a line of pelicans moving gracefully across the sky. There will always be June gloom, which can deter tourists until July, and then that crisp, fresh breath of sea air, and a peaceful blanket of marine layer that can make your morning more than a mere meditative moment. It can be a transcendental experience that sticks with you and sustains you even as you get back on the airplane back home.


February 26th Lesson

  Write a paragraph using the vocabulary words below. First, find out what the words mean. How can you arrange the paragraph by using them in different contexts?
  • voyage
  • trek
  • journey

The Clock Stops




Three fragmented images keep coming to mind when I think of my brother, Duane. Short clips like a slideshow giving a glimpse into his last days. These snippets are what became of the week leading up to that one last sad event. My brother had a premonition. A feeling so profound, he told his wife he could not shake it. So he went out and bought her a good car with a solid transmission. He somehow knew she would need it to make several long journeys without him. The next thing he did was insist that his dog, the one that always jumped into the truck to accompany him on the road to Greenriver, stay home. And last, minutes before he began the 200 mile drive to work in a factory that makes baby’s diapers, he tried to call our mother. She wasn’t home, so he left a message, hopped into his truck, sans the dog, and took off on the last trip of his life.

Tragedies happen to people all the time. But when it hits close to home it feels like time stands still. The world whirls around you, but you are only aware of that single painful emotion welling up from deep inside. It squeezes your heart as you choke back the tears, and the clock stops, as memories flood to the surface.

My brother was a simple guy. He loved to hunt, fish, and spend hours in his workshop creating beautiful things. He was an inventor. He made a weird-looking gadget to extract metal fence posts from the ground. In the west, ranchers use metal posts to mark off their property, then they fence the area with barbed wire which is strung tightly between each one. Every now and then you have to move a fence, and that can be impossible without the right device. Duane had severe OCD and ADHD but he managed to invent this device using an old American car jack that extracted the posts with ease. He then got it patented.

At one point in Duane’s life he had been a biker. He had a bushy beard, long hair, and a bike with extended forks like the ones in the movie, Easy Rider. I would like to say he was one of those free spirits that took to the road to find himself, but for my brother who never quite fit in, I believe he was really trying to run away from judgment and ridicule. We had moved from a beautifully pristine country life in the central mountains of New Mexico down to an ugly little corrosive eastern desert town. People were harsh and petty and let us know that we did not fit in. I was eight when we moved there, and Duane was fourteen. My brothers and sisters hated it, and none of us ever wanted to stay. So, as soon as we could, most of us got out.

Later on when our parents divorced, the entire family fell apart. We all scattered, trying to understand the bad news. At that time I was seventeen, just graduated high school and decided to move to California. One summer day, Duane showed up at my door. He also was living in California, but farther north. We had not seen each other in several months, but we were still reeling from our family’s collapse. I guess moving to California was a way to distance ourselves from the chaos. We went to lunch in one of those non-descript cafeterias. As we went through the line picking out mashed potatoes and over-cooked green beans, the silence between us was deafening. We tried to fill the uncomfortable gaps with a few shared family moments, but we were empty, unmoored, and lost. We moved mechanically through our lunch both trudging through impossible emotions.

On the way down from Bakersfield, his bike tire had popped and he’d hitch-hiked all the way to my place in Long Beach from the outskirts of LA. We walked to a motorcycle store and he got the tire patched. He needed a ride back to where he’d stashed his bike. I had a friend with a car and she agreed to give him a ride. How my brother knew where the chopper was hidden along the 405, I’ll never know. But in the dark, on a non-descript freeway he knew the exact spot where he had dragged the bike up a hillside, and covered it with brush. For a guy who struggled to read and transposed his numbers, his instincts were spot on. He put the tire back on, and was gone.

He was like that. He could study anything mechanical, anything electronic, take it apart, then reassemble it without a hitch. When he rode off, hair flying behind him (no helmet), the growl of the chopper fading into the night, I ached for both of our empty lives. We were grieving strangers from a shared childhood. We were damaged and lost. Neither knew exactly why our family had disintegrated, but somehow for years we knew it was coming. We had not yet examined those circumstances closely, maybe because we had hoped for a better outcome. One that would give us strength and comfort, and a foundation that was solid. As it turned out, the inevitable happened, and I couldn’t comfort him, and I didn’t understand him. But, as he drove away that day, I hated myself for being cold. I hated myself for being empty. I hated myself for not giving words of comfort and support.

After I moved back to New Mexico to go to college I had a little apartment in Albuquerque. I had not seen my brother for several years, but once again he appeared on my doorstep. This visit was much like the one in California, only this time he was in a cast from his waist to his neck. He’d been in a bad motorcycle accident. He and his girlfriend, Drifty, had gotten behind an old truck with a load of crap in the back. The truck had slowed. When my brother sped up to go around, the truck turned in front of him. No blinker, no warning, just a quick turn to the left. Duane tried to avoid the truck. The bike slid to the ground and my brother slid with it, but Drifty didn’t make it. She landed under the truck and died instantly. I didn’t know how to talk to my brother about the death of his girlfriend. I felt that old familiar void, but this time I was angry.

Why was my brother lost in this kind of limbo? Where were my parents in all this, and why wasn’t he in college, or some kind of training? Why was he still wandering around flirting with death? I listened as he told me what had happened. I listened as he made a phone call to his girlfriend’s family, sobbing, and saying how sorry he was. He needed forgiveness so that the open wound of grief would heal. I couldn’t say anything. I was as stuck as he was, and maybe that is why I had nothing to give. My only emotion was anger and that was directed at the two people who had abandoned us to a very unforgiving world.

Duane’s broken bones healed, but he was changed. When he finally settled down and decided to get married I was happy and relieved. He’d bought several beautiful acres of land in Basin, Wyoming. He and his wife were expecting a baby. When his son was born, my brother transformed. He taught his boy everything that he had had to teach himself: how to fish, hunt, and how to create things. Duane spent time with his son and gave him every bit of the love and affection that he himself had been denied. My brother was finally finding peace and stability in his life.

I too had married and had a son of my own. My husband was going to graduate school in Austin, Texas. We had only been in Austin for eight months. On a pleasant March evening, before the humidity had set in, my husband, son, and I had gone out for a walk in the neighborhood. When we got back my dad had left an urgent message on our answering machine. When I called back, I was immediately gripped by the painful, lost, and lonely episodes my brother and I had shared. Only now I realized, I would never have the chance to see him again, or to say I was sorry for not being there when he needed me.

I was told Duane had left Basin to drive to Greenriver. He had a small trailer there; he worked Monday through Friday and came home on the weekends. He had graduated high school, but that was all he had for formal education. Everything he knew he had taught himself, so he was forced into taking blue-collar jobs far away from home to make ends meet. On the road to Greenriver my brother followed a short distance behind a pickup. They were traveling at a safe speed. Coming toward them was a big welding truck, speeding. The woman who was ahead in the pickup later said in court she saw the welding truck weaving and then it crossed the yellow line into my brother’s lane. Welding trucks weigh anywhere from 10 to 12 thousand pounds. As this one swerved it hit the driver’s side of Duane’s Ford F-150 with such impact that the cab was blown apart and my brother thrown out. Duane never wore a seat belt because my dad said they did more damage than good. The guy in the welding truck was so drunk he never knew what happened. He barely got a scratch.

My brother had had premonitions. This fact weighs heavily on my heart and mind. He was six and a half years older than me, and growing up we weren’t close. As adults we had even less in common, but what I understand now is that throughout my brother’s life he overcame the miseries of his childhood. The learning disabilities, the judgment from others, and isolation only made him a better man, which was evident in the way he treated and loved his family.

In his last days, dark clouds hung over him and he sensed something was not quite right. He knew he needed to get that clean running Buick for his wife, he knew the beloved dog had to stay safely at home, and he knew he needed to speak to our mother. He placed that last call, wanting to talk, but only leaving a message.

Walk Through Fire


FEBRUARY 23, 2020

In the pond above our house, the water could be smooth as glass, except for a few water skippers that glided across the surface. My brothers, sisters, and I would gather flat stones and throw them into the still water, and watch the waves roll to the shore. One wave would come in, then another. The effect continued until somewhere along the way it softened, and eventually there was nothing more than a gentle lapping. Certain experiences in life soothe us like the soft caress of a spent wave, but others are forced upon us, hitting us like a stone breaking a still surface of water. At the age of five, my idyllic country life would be shattered, the gentle calm overcome by a sudden force followed by a series of crashing waves.

The day started as nondescript and ordinary as any other. Driving back from my grandmother’s house in Carlsbad, I heard my dad grumble to my mom that he had to check on the Weed Tower cattle guard. My brother and two sisters sparred in the back seat. My mother stared out the window. I could see her downturned mouth. But my dad’s short, clipped statement meant he was going to get the job done. For my siblings in the back seat, that signaled that they’d better quiet down, stop fighting, or someone would be crying any minute. What my dad couldn’t have known at the time was our family would be irrevocably changed with that one decision. We would feel the sting of lost innocence. We would live through it, but the warm, insulating life we once had would be gone.

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My childhood home

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Stone Fireplace–Our only heat

My dad had been good looking. He was proud of his curly, dark hair and strong physique. He had worked hard in the potash mines for years, and now he had a chance to put that kind of labor behind him. He took a job with the forest service and ranched his own land. He had built a good life in the bucolic mountains of New Mexico. He wanted us to be happy because his own upbringing had been less than perfect. He waxed in and out of depression, often becoming anxious and restless. One minute, euphoria, the next a deep melancholy that not even his children could pull him from. He’d talk of great men and their ability to make their mark on the world. He wanted to be someone, a man of prestige, clout, and affluence. He didn’t realize that the people sitting in that Dodge sedan was everything he needed to be happy. But his memories of living in poverty after his mother left his father zapped his confidence. Then, at fourteen, he learned the mean trick of irony. Right outside a desolate town called Hope, his father, Henry, had driven his diesel truck too fast around a bend and lost control. Henry died in that wreck, and my father could never quite put it behind him. My dad’s physical strength didn’t translate into internal strength. His mood frequently clouded over, and gloom would set in. 

We had been in the car for two-hours driving from my Grandma Julia’s house in Carlsbad to our home in Sacramento. In those days, cars had bench seats in the front and back. I could spread my little five-year-old body out with my head on my mother’s lap and dangle my feet over the seat edge. But on this day, I kept pushing my heels into my dad’s side, and he kept brushing them away. His brow tensed, and he snapped, “keep your feet down.” In the back seat, my sisters and brother were still punching one another and laughing. My dad turned off the main highway onto the forest service road to Weed Tower. Rocks spit from the spinning tires, and the engine growled as we climbed the mountain. He took the curves tightly, twisting around ever so often to backhand one of my siblings. They bobbed and weaved, knowing the trouble they were in, but unable to contain their restlessness. My mother never said a word. Discipline was dad’s domain. 

After winding up the hill a little too fast and trying to subdue the troops in the back, he skidded to a halt. The car lurched forward as he put it in park. Without a word, he jumped out and walked over to the tented cattle guard. My mom waited in cold silence with us. 

In the west, cattle guards are used to either keep cows in or out of a particular area. A deep pit is dug in the middle of the road then lined with cement. Parallel metal bars are laid long ways across the pit. Each bar is spaced four inches apart. The bars are sunk into cement at opposite ends. Above the ground, posts at opposite ends are strung with barbed wire fencing. This device replaces a gate; cars can pass over the cattle guard, but cows recognize the potential hazard of breaking a leg and won’t step across. 

It was one of my dad’s jobs to make sure the cement didn’t crack in the cool, New Mexican evenings. We were at an altitude of 8,000 feet. When cement cures, it shouldn’t fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. A fifteen-foot long tent was placed over the top of the cement with a furnace inside. My dad had to check the furnace in order to keep the temperature just right.

Growing up in a little mountain village—with cows, horses, pigs, our dog Rebel, beloved cats Tiger One, Tiger Two, and Toughie—was as good as it gets. We lived across the field from my dad’s mom, Grandma Mame. She never followed the rules, which we loved. As we hopped rocks to cross the gurgling creek to get to her house, she would stand with her hands on her hips and laugh. On many occasions we sneaked over to watch Elvis movies, mostly because my mom was in an extreme religious phase and didn’t approve of his gyrations or suggestive songs. My oldest brother, Ronnie, and I loved Elvis, and so did Mame. 

Our house was a log cabin. It had original hand-hewn beams with interlocking ends and plaster that filled the crevices. It was rustic, but beautiful. I remember people coming up our drive just to take pictures of the old place. About a quarter of a mile above the house was the pond, fed by an underground spring. In the summer we would put on our swimsuits and jump into the frigid water. In the winter it became a frozen sheet of ice. 

I loved my home. I embraced the beauty of it. I was just a child, but it was perfect. Even when my parents fought and my mom threw plates at my dad, I knew my brothers and sisters would take me to a massive tree swing where a thick-corded rope had been hung. We would swing and talk. My oldest brother, Ronnie, would reassure us that no matter what happened, he would take care of us. Eventually, after my mother’s temper calmed, and the threat of flying plates were over and the white flag was raised, my dad would come up the hill and tell us, “mom has cooled off.” He knew he had once again pushed her too far. We had some crazy moments, but we were loved, and we were safe.

But then the stone crashed through the calm surface of the pond and the waves rushed out, hard and fast with repercussions for years to come. My dad disappeared into the tent just as one of our neighbors pulled alongside the Dodge. His name was Charlie, and we had known him for as long as I could remember. Sometimes we would go to his house where my parents would play cards with him and his wife, Pansy. I would play with their only son, Lonnie Joe. Charlie got out of his pickup truck and my mom got out of our car.

Charlie and my mom chatted. I played with the blinker on the steering column, pretending to drive, when something caught my eye. I turned to look at the tent. The sides sucked in as if it were a living, breathing beast. Then, without warning, the tent exploded, exhaling fire high into the air. I watched a scene my mind could not quite comprehend. What I did realize all too soon was that my dad was still inside. 

We all saw it. But it was my mom who ran toward the tent, shouting my dad’s name. Charlie pulled her back. Just as suddenly, he took out his pocketknife and began cutting gashes into the canvas so there would be a means of escape if my dad could find the holes. The fire burned Charlie as he kept slicing into the tent. The trench underneath was engulfed in flames. Inside the car, we were four stoic soldiers. No one moved. It was as if we all knew this would be a severe and dramatic change, and it would be painful.

The flames darted higher, and my mother screamed my dad’s name. In the car, we held our collective breath. Suddenly a charred and blackened form staggered from the inferno. He couldn’t have been in there that long, but his appearance said otherwise.

Charlie grabbed an old horse blanket from his truck and extinguished the last of the flames from my dad’s body. He and my mom gingerly sat my dad in the backseat of the Dodge. My mom got into the driver’s seat. Charlie said he would go to the nearest phone and call for an ambulance. Alamogordo was the closest town. Mom said she would look for the ambulance on the way, and we were gone. She pressed the accelerator and we sped down Denny Hill, descending 3,000 feet in a matter of minutes. 

Dad sat in the back with my brother, Duane, and my sister, Larena. My oldest sister, Ragina, got up front with mom and me. Dad kept talking, his words fast, repetitive. He’d gasp, then he’d whistle. His body shivered and shook. He was cold, but couldn’t stand anything near his burned skin. The flesh on his fingers hung in loose ribbons. I looked back at him. Like a slow movie frame, that moment pressed into my mind with the smell of burning flesh, skin hanging off of his hands, his once handsome face, red and swollen, and now unrecognizable. 

He kept saying, “It’s going to be okay, kids. Don’t worry about your old dad.” Instinctively, I knew nothing would be okay.

We made it to Alamogordo, never passing the ambulance that Charlie called. Later we heard that they had taken a different road, which can happen in the country. 

My memory is vague after that. I was five. But I do remember my Grandma Mame being with us. We were sitting on the lawn of the hospital, and it was dark. Mame said, “look up at that window. That is where your dad is, and you need to say a prayer for him.” It’s hard for a five year old to know what to say to God when your dad has just walked through fire. In a moment like that I should have cried. As far as I know, none of us cried then, or ever.

After almost a year of hospitals and skin grafts, my dad finally came home. He had third degree burns over 90% of his body. He had no hair, no eyebrows, and barely any eyelids. Skin had been grafted to rebuild his nose. I wanted to run up and hug him, but my mother stopped me. “You can’t; it’s too painful.”

It would be years and many surgeries later before he healed physically. The new skin on his hands continually cracked and bled. Eventually his hair grew back, but his nose looked like stretched putty. Raised patchy welts (which would later become raised patchy scars) covered his arms and legs. His skin was a mottled red and pasty white. 

He stayed home for some time after the accident. When my mom went to work, my dad felt like half a man. Then came the assumptions that she couldn’t face his appearance, then accusations that she wanted someone else. When a person’s identity is torn away, they say and do hurtful things. He had lost who he was. That handsome and physically strong man was now weak and broken. His insecurities mounted day by day. When my mom worked late, we stayed with dad, and I dreaded his sulking, surly tirades. After the fire, he could be quite mean. 

We stayed in Sacramento two years after the accident, and then my mother could no longer deal with the depression—his or hers. After much debate, and Mame’s disapproval, we left our mountain paradise to move to Carlsbad, where my mom and dad found jobs. By that time the marriage had been damaged even more than my father’s features. My dad got his job back in the underground potash mines, and he hated it. My mother took classes to become a nurse in the ER. We came to a town where people looked at my brothers, sisters, and me like hicks from the hills (and we were). When my parents divorced, the split wasn’t just between them; it split us all. Soon we dispersed like ants out of an anthill. My oldest brother left for Texas, and Duane took off on his chopper for California. My sisters married too young, exchanging opportunity for an endless cycle of child rearing and bad decisions. My path was circuitous, with its share of self-inflicted suffering. The slap of the waves continued to hit again and again, and we fought to stay afloat. But still the tragedy that was forced on us would somehow be softened by the memory of that calm, placid pool of our peaceful mountain life.

Going to Manchester via Iceland

This past Christmas we went to Manchester, UK, but it took us five days to get there. We bought a roundtrip ticket on Icelandair, which meant we had to fly through Keflavik Airport. Icelandair touted a two night excursion into Reykjavik where we could sit in hot springs and see the northern lights. We thought this would be a fun thing to do on our way back from Manchester. As it happened, we ended up flip flopping, and our stay in Iceland was going to be at the front end, and not by design. What we didn’t know is that one of the worst winter storms in ten years would be passing over this North Atlantic island, making our trip just a little different than what we had planned. 

My first indication that we might not have smooth sailing was the day we were to leave (Dec. 17th). Our flight was canceled. We went to the airport to see if Icelandair could put us on a different flight and reroute us through a different airport. To our surprise, no one seemed to be working at the Icelandair check-in counter. We waited for an hour before someone showed up. The agent immediately sent us over to jetBlue, their partner airline, to find a flight. Then jetBlue sent us back to Icelandair. Well, you get the picture. There was no help, until we persisted and the agent finally rerouted us for a flight the next day going through Boston on jetBlue. The caveat was that we still had to fly Icelandair out of Boston to Keflavik to make our Manchester connection. 

We made it to Boston, but I got another ominous message from Icelandair, that our flight would be delayed. We went to the gate to check, and they immediately started loading us on the plane with no explanation. I was confused. When we started to descend into Keflavik, I realized something was wrong. We bounced around like a balloon in a windstorm. I had not experienced turbulence like this in my life, and I had actually been a flight attendant in my thirties. The pilot set us down quite well, but I was ready to get off the plane. I felt like my stomach was in my throat, and I needed to be on solid land. I kept looking for the jetway. It never happened. I’m guessing because of the strength of the wind rocking the aircraft made it impossible to connect it to the door of the plane. We made our way down stairs so slick that in America a lawsuit would be in the works. We got on a bus that scooted us off to the airport. Now, it was cold, and not just cold and windy, but biting and sharp, with gales howling mad. 

We all piled off the bus, again, careful not to slip and break every bone in our bodies. Once my husband and I made it inside, we were again hit with a realization that something was wrong. The airport was dimly lit, people were sleeping on the benches and in chairs, and there were very few people working in the shops and restaurants. We landed at 6 am and were supposed to catch our flight to Manchester at 8 am. It was now December 19th. About 6:30, someone who was actually working, came on the loudspeaker and announced all flights out of Keflavik were canceled. And there we were, stranded for three days. 

The first night we spent on a bench alongside all kinds of other people. We met Monica, who was from the Netherlands, but lived in Boston. She was on her way to meet her daughter to ski in Austria. Then we met Preston and his wife. They were from Manchester and were trying to get home. Preston was most convivial and terribly entertaining. We discussed everything from Donald Trump to Megan Markel. He had us all laughing and kept us busy during our airport stay. 

We also discovered the best creamy lobster bisque with succulent bits of shellfish, and a hint of sherry on top. The food court was really quite good. Before retiring, I discovered a shop with pizza and beer. That was dinner. Afterward we rolled out our coats and extra sweaters onto the padded bench (we claimed it as soon as we realized we were stuck in the airport) before going to sleep.

That first day we learned that all roads were closed in and out of the airport. We couldn’t get to Reykjavik. We also learned that with no gate agents and no customer service agents to help us, we were sunk. Sleeping that night wasn’t too bad, but it wasn’t great. The next morning the roads were opening up and finally some agents appeared. We stood in line for hours just to be told we were not getting to our destination. Planes were flying in and out, but we were going nowhere until . . . a very kind woman, obviously someone who had some pull within Icelandair, took pity on my husband and me. We had been told that we were not going to get a flight to Manchester. Everything was too backed up. This was December 20th. Our only recourse was to get a flight back home. That would mean spending Christmas without our boys. My oldest son was on his way to Manchester to meet us, so we could all spend Christmas with my youngest son, who is in school at York. 

Finally, after waiting another forty-five minutes, this kind woman scheduled us on a plane out of Keflavik to Manchester, but it was going to be leaving December 22nd. We took it. Then she suggested we go downstairs, get a taxi, and stay in the little town of Keflavik. We did just that. We got in the taxi, but the road looked like solid ice and the wind was still blowing. The driver maneuvered with ease through a narrow lane with four foot high snow banks. When we got to the hotel, little did we know, he let us out at the back. We pulled our roller bags and pressed our bodies into the wind and flying snow, dragging our belongings over frozen sidewalks. We tried to get into the hotel but the side door was locked. I could only guess that with the powerful winds that entrance could not be used. Luckily someone walked by and we banged on the door and he pressed it open. Once inside we found the main lobby. The women at the counter were so helpful and comforting. My husband asked them if we could have a room for two nights. The woman said of course that they had rooms available, but if they had not had any, she and her colleagues would have put us up in their homes. We were stunned at the kindness and generosity of the Icelanders. Even with all of our travails, I was falling in love with this place. We stayed two nights, ate delicious food, and even did a little shopping. It was cold, but the people were so warm, friendly, and hospitable that I cannot wait to return when all the blizzards are over and the snows have melted.