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Rumilluminations January, 2011
By: Esther M. Powell
Posted on: Sat, January 01 2011 - 8:32 pm

January 31, 2011                                 Valparaiso, IN

I don't mind the idea of learning being neverending.  It is usually fun.

But oh, what disillusionment has been mine for the doing of it. 

Last year I learned I was not a WASP just because I used to be a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant.  It was a shock, but also a relief, because who wants to be a nasty old multi-stingered wasp, anyway?  (Really - look up the mechanism of a wasp sting!)

But just the other day, reading Robertson Davies, I learned something else that stung!

I don't have ancestors!  Hell, I thought everyone had ancestors!

But according to Davies only people with aristocracy or other illustrious folk have ancestors.  The rest of us only have forebears.  Good Lord.  Well, maybe if I don't have ancestors I won't have to revere them, and that will be a relief!

Another distinction I have been reminded of are the difference between a rooming house, which only offers rooms, and a boarding house, which offers meals also.

Of course, I am of lowly enough experience to know that a rooming house has less to offer than a boarding house.  I am surprised at the pretensions of those who would put the wrong sign on their premises.  The very nerve!

We had a non-eating guest for the winter last year who told a plumber he was a boarder.  I was surprised at his statement, because I thought "boarder" implied he paid rent.  Even "roomer" would be misleading for the same reason.  He did not sit regularly at the "board," however, let along at the table, so he was inaccurate in more ways than one!

These days maybe these words are archaic anyway.  Nowadays people want whole apartments, thank you, with a kitchen of their own!

And I, for one, don't blame them! 

January 30, 2011                                  Valparaiso, IN

There is an optical illusion which depicts what seems like a consistently shaded checkerboard floor.  When abstracted from its context, however, you can see that one shade of gray tile performs the role of light square in one part of the picture but dark square in another area.

It seems to me behavior can undergo a similar illusory transformation.  What is horrible behavior in some contexts is ordinary in others.

In fact, when it comes to behavior, the person who is horrified by a curse word in one social milieu might be considered inhumanly hard-hearted and judgmental in another.

My prayer for this Sunday is (or would be, if I prayed!) for flexibility and a sense of the appropriate, but also and mostly for the ability to play checkers (forget the impossible demands of chess!) on whatever checkerboard playing field I find myself!

January 29, 2011                                 Valparaiso, IN

This week was the week of the big semiyearly book sale sponsored by the Friends of the Library in Valparaiso.

This sale reduces the already dirt-cheap price of books for two days, then on the third day, Saturday, sells books for two dollars per paper grocery shopping-bag-full.  In the morning.

In the afternoon the price goes down to $1 per bag!

Admittedly the selection is not as great by Saturday p.m.  Eighty-some bags of books walzed out the door in the morning, and only the dregs of the sale remain by the afternoon.

But even the dregs of the sale include some quality literature!  Nobody who scans the offerings on a Wednesday evening (when only Friends are allowed to shop) can hope to glean all the really good stuff in one viewing.

One patron came upstairs to our normal room on Wednesday night and bragged about finding a signed John Eisenhower autobiography he said was worth $400.  (Another patron whispered to me, "Did you believe him?")

Sure, maybe potential semi-precious gems like that may be all gone by Saturday afternoon.

On the other hand, the quantity of non-fiction and foreign language books remaining showed that reading can be entertainment both edifying and dirt cheap.

With sales like this, no one can possibly have an excuse for not having books in the house!

January 28, 2011                                   Valparaiso, IN

It seems to be true that disparate people can unite in the face of a common threat.

Maybe race relations have eased in our country to the point that we could elect a black President because of a common threat we all face - Al Quaida and some hostile Mideastern states, which just happen to be basing some of their aggression from a radical Muslim stance.

Maybe the reason activist (evangelical) Christianity seems to be on the upswing in this country is in response to what many of our citizens perceive as a Muslim threat.  (I think this happened in the fifties also - a response to the Cold War.  Am I wrong?)

So now instead of being prejudiced against Germans and the Japanese (who suffered mightily in this country during and after World War II) we have decided to weigh in heavily against our latest perceived enemy, which for some reason puts its heaviest emphasis on religion.

It sure would be wonderful if we could stop being so reactive.  Just because "the enemy" makes war a religious issue doesn't mean we have to.

After all, Osama bin Laden is, primarily, not a Muslim but a sick puppy.  A big, dangerous possibly rabid sick puppy with big teeth, maybe.

The poisonous wellspring of his behavior, however, is not spirituality.  It is dysfunctional family dynamic.

Same for the attempted killer of Gifford.  Christian, Muslim, what difference does it make?

Sick puppies, all.

How about if we try to unite against the misuse of children (including the crime of discounting and ignoring them) instead of being so religion-centered?

January 27, 2011                                  Valparaiso, IN

Update on innovative (if environmentally or otherwise inappropriate) techniques for modern living.

A friend of my daughter's saw a man pouring a liquid on his iced-over driveway.

"What on earth is he pouring water on his icy driveway for?" she wondered.

Then she watched drop-jawed as he took out a match and threw it onto the "water." 

The whole driveway burst into flame.  He had used gasoline to clear his driveway of ice!

Luckily his car, which was parked nearby, did not join the party!

January 25, 2011                               Valparaiso, IN

Are we colder (emotionally) in the winter?

Do we smolder in the summer?

Do we trip and fall more in the autumn and skip in the spring?

If we travel to Australia during the Northern winter, are we Summering in the South?

If the East never meets the West, and poles are opposites, how come the poles meet?  (Weatherwise.  There it is basically winter all the time.  Is that like the political Far Right and the Far Left meeting (behaviorally)?  Maybe we should call them the Far North and the Far South.)

My partner prefers the summer simmer to winter waste.  I prefer the temperate spring and fall and would just as soon migrate.  Hummingbirds go to extremes when it comes to migration.  Do they have a littlebird complex?

Maybe they have the right idea when it comes to the temperate ideal, though I'm not so needy of moderation that I have to cross national boundaries.

Of course, the hummingbirds do it for free, and aren't required to carry passports.

January 24, 2011                              Valparaiso, IN

My mom would like to have kept everything the way it was before my father died.  I'm trying to remember if there was ever a time I wanted to keep everything the way it was.  Maybe sometime, for an hour or two or a month or two.

My mom hasn't been able to stop change.  I never wanted to.  Perhaps it's just as well.  Trying to keep things the same is like trying to stand still in the surf.  The water just keeps washing the sand away from under your feet.

January 23, 2011                              Valparaiso, IN

Ah, the joy of Sunday morning!  No loud traffic, no - but what do I hear?  It sounds like a vacuum sweeper.  But certainly a vacuum sweeper from another home wouldn't be audible all the way over here!

I look out the window.  Someone is clearing the sidewalk of a light coating of snow with a leaf blower!  Very innovative - I could kill him!

Well, not really, even though my partner swept the sidewalk this morning with a broom and I bet the neighbors didn't even notice.

I don't get it, though.  Do people not even want to move their bodies when it is below 10 degrees?  Seems to me it might be the perfect time to swing a broom to keep warm while outside doing a chore.

Sometimes I think that people just don't even think of the old ways of doing things:

"Oh, you mean I could walk to the store a quarter mile away?  That's what these heavy things hanging from my lower body are for?"

"The dishwasher's broken.  What are we going to do?"

"The Internet is down.  I'm cut off from the world!"

No, when the Internet is up you're cut off from the world!

January 22, 2011                               Valparaiso, IN

I can't imagine a better way to spend a bitter snowy day in the teens than to think about gardening.  And that is what I did, thanks to the Master Gardeners' Eighth Annual Garden Show at the expo center.

Too little time to enjoy the displays and booths between lectures given by the likes of Vincent Simeone and Christy Webber of Chicago who specializes in roof gardening.  I bitterly resented having to choose between "A Melange of French Gardens" and what I thought would be a more technical lecture about getting perennials out to the buyer.

I chose the latter mostly to hear about the greening of their business, and it was touched upon (parasitic wasps to combat pests and recycling of pots is practiced), but not enough to prevent me mourning the French gardens.  Why did they make us choose?

Well attended and well-stocked with interesting exhibits, I could have spent the whole day there.

Keep an eye out for this great escape next January!  If you don't live in Valparaiso, there may well be a great equivalent in your area.

January 20, 2011                               Valparaiso, IN

Lately I have taken up with a new video game, Mahjong Dimensions.  Addicted though I have become, I try to start playing when there will be a natural limit on the activity, like laundry switches and meals.

Still, when I close my eyes I see those pretty tiles.  In bed, I start having dream imagery about solving the puzzle and different kinds of ways to make my moves.

It makes me wonder about people who play violent video games for hours a day.  Do they dream warfare?  Do the games tend to induce you to want to shoot first in real life?

Do they increase paranoia or result in post traumatic stress syndrome?

If the games are impossible to win (or never-ending open-ended) do they make their players discouraged about the possibilites for peace and survival?

Or looking in another direction, do the games I play make me more or less capable of solving everyday human problems?  Would my world be incrementally better off if I were spending more time looking at my community to see how I can help and attending political meetings to promote changes I think are important?

There is no doubt that I would regard myself more highly if I were more community-minded.

But I already have my duties and they seem like burdens enough for the time being.

I can't help but wonder, though.  Am I too escapist?  Am I spending my dreaming hours solving the wrong kinds of problems?

Should I really be looking for a group called VGA - Video Gamers Anonymous?

January 18, 2011                                Valparaiso, IN

Growing up, I was taught to respect others.

It was great in theory, but in practice my family members did not really treat each other with respect.

No wonder that I had trouble treating my own children with respect!  (Even though, of course, I respected everyone!)

Maybe really respecting others means treating yourself with more self-abnegation than you ever thought possible!

But, oh, wait!  We have to respect ourselves first!

Maybe a developmental study is the way to go in learning how we respect ourselves and respect others.

I have a feeling that they must go hand in hand all the way.

I believe in mutuality.

January 17, 2011                                 Valparaiso, IN

This morning, taking a dip in my dreams, I fished one of my ideas from the ocean that is my memory.

No wonder I forgot it!  It is a rather slippery critter, this thought.

When do you say yes and when do you say no?

Do we have trouble saying yes to ourselves in the ways that count, at the same time failing to say no to ourselves when we desperately need to hear that internal admonition?

The reason my idea surfaced in the first place was that, after all the holiday indulgence, I started saying no again to excess sugar in the form of ice cream and fat in the form of animal fats.

Then, when I was asked to extend my hours in the book sale room on one of the book sale days, I found it easy to say no.  Three hours in that room is a long enough shift.  Maybe it was easier to say no to someone else when I'd just said it to myself.

Saying no to both of these things was saying yes to myself in a larger sense.

See why I'm confused and confusing?  There is an ionic sea of yes/no out there!

January 16, 2011                              Valparaiso, IN

I did have an idea this morning.

I wish it were as easy to look for as my phone recharging cord, which I lost yesterday.  Even though it took two of us a while and my partner was the one who found it, it still seems easier to find than an idea.

Sometimes I look for an idea the same way I would look for my keys.  Going into the area where I had the idea and trying to get into the same activity sometimes triggers it.  Often not.

Usually I try to be cavalier about the loss.  "Oh, well.  It will come back to me."  And sometimes it does.

But other times I'm not so sure.  It could very well be that not writing an idea down when it comes to you is more like throwing a ring into the ocean than losing your cell phone in the house.  You may well never stumble upon it again!

January 15, 2011                             Valparaiso, IN

Chance, dance, prance - words with a lot of romance!

Lazy, crazy, hazy, how come there is no word amazy?

Foolish, pulish, mulish, these describe nothing coolish!

Would you rather your son William be called Will or Bill?

Is Elizabeth going to be Liz or Betty, Liza or Beth?

Do these appellations have associations with different stations?

January 14, 2011                            Valparaiso, IN

Now answer me this.  How come we can get people to sit in their rooms alone with their computers, talk on their phones in the countryside far from a telephone table, send email in a few minutes if not seconds, play with an interactive screen, and not get them to change their eating habits?

Why are we soooooooooooo attached to food when we (well, not I) so easily let go of commemorative stamps and the physical sensations of mailing and receiving real letters?

Explain it to me.  I don't get it.  Sure, food is wonderful.  New internet experiences are wonderful, so why can't new different (oh, and incidentally healthy) food experiences turn more people on?

How come?  Why do we hang onto religion, guns and old-fashioned food?

January 13, 2011                                  Valparaiso, IN

We had hoped to visit a college friend and roomate of mine when we went through Texas over the Christmas season.  In the end, we had the energy to crawl, not swoop, and kept north of Dallas/Fort Worth.

She sent me a CD made by her son, and today I found time to listen to it.  I recommend it highly.  It begins with some chipper and humorous Santa Claus songs for kids which were fine, then I started reading Internet articles and got distracted.  The song "That Tree" brought me back to attention.  I could just hear his mom, my old college friend, saying the words in the song.  It is a fine song, and brought me to tears.

What a fine mom Ara Eissler has!  You can see what he is up to at but don't just stop with the video.  There's a lot more to what he's doing.


January 12, 2011                                   Valparaiso, IN

Last week when we arrived home after our vacation and picked up our mail, we read a letter of season's greetings from some Arizona friends who mentioned the reelection of their representative, Gabby Gifford.

It was very eerie, because though I had never really paid attention to her name before, I did this time.  She had been shot just the day before.

We just witnessed the service mourning the deaths and celebrating the lives of those who died and those who survived.  President Obama and many heads of state were there.  He, as always, spoke incredibly eloquently.  His was a sermon, actually, and I guess at such a ceremony that was appropriate.  He is so good at taking the high road.  He exhorted us Americans all together to live up to the high hopes of the little girl who was killed.

The service was begun with a Native American prayer, so it was not only Christian.  It would have been nice if there could have been prayers from several religious faiths, but already the service was long.  If you missed it, you missed some opportunity for inspiration in the aftermath.  In the shadow of all this, what do I have to add?

Natter on about all the snow we shoveled today?  Must be the tears of those in Arizona, frozen and fallen here.

January 11, 2011                               Valparaiso, IN

When I had exercise-induced asthma and a chronic cough a dozen years or so, my doctor gave me Singulair, which instead of fighting histamines, tries to calm down (or get rid) of leukotrienes, which trigger the production of histamines.  It worked like magic.

Recently one of my relatives has experienced a painful condition that is a result of her bladder being allergic to her own pee!  I tried to read the Wikipedia article about leukotrienes and couldn't follow much, but what I read made me think that leukotrienes are active in the smooth muscle locations in the "gut" as well as the respiratory system.

At this point my relative has to avoid a plethora of foods and drinks which trigger her body's painful response.  I'm thinking that maybe Singulair (generic name montelukast) might be redesigned to be most effect in the regions of the digestive system.

Maybe Singulair might also become Singupee!

P.S.  Aha!  I just Googled "montelukast bladder" and read an article in  (forward slash, etc. etc.) that states a small study did try Singulair on patients with intercystial cystitis and it did help for the three months of the trial.  So, my dear relative (and anyone else who suffers from this painful condition) talk to your doctor about Singulair!  It is already approved for airways, so taking it will not be a singular error!


January 10, 2010                               Valparaiso, IN

I'm a virtual nobody.  I know it.  Compared to the hundreds of millions of potential viewers, I am more of a nobody online than I am off it.  But who cares?  It isn't real...  or is it?

I read via The Week via an unnamed tabloid that an Italian woman reported a virtual theft from her virtual home.  She paid $140 for the furniture, so she argued that a crime was committed.

It certainly is a reasonable argument.  And hacking is already a crime, isn't it?  Do we try to obtain financial recompense for financial losses due to hacking?  I'm sure we do.  So why not virtual theft?

But how far can we take this kind of thing?  In real life someone can sue for alienation of affections (although I'm inclined to agree with those that maintain that it is impossible to do this.  We're not talking about a crime committed by someone with a gun held to his or her head!)

If someone kills a game character in virtual life that you are fond of, can you sue for deprivation of companionship?  Or even if a Facebook pal who lives 2,000 miles away gets killed in real life, do you have grounds for a suit?  That may be someone's real best friend!

Maybe it is time to set up virtual courts of law.  Render up to the virtual Caesar what is virtual Caesar's!  I bet online you could get real (er virtual) legal representation for free.  Now isn't that a potential irritant?

No, I'm afraid criminal acts via the Internet are limited to hacking.  Having your virtual furniture stolen is just part of the virtual game.

People who lose friends, furniture, their Avatar's life, or virtual popularity are just virtually out of luck!


January 9, 2011                               Valparaiso, IN

Are you debugged or do you consider yourself bedugged?

Are you delighted and bedighted, or benighted and deknighted?

Feeling bemuddled or defuddled?  Besmattered or detattered?

How can you be besotted but not desotted?  Becoming but not decoming?

Clues can be deciphered, but I never heard of agents beciphering them!

Well, maybe these prefixes are outdated anyway.  Were they ever indated?  I'm indecisive about the matter, but no matter how sure I am, I'm never outdecisive!  You may outdecide me when it comes to the outcome, but incoming is always a gerund, unless you're talking about money.

Which I don't understand.  It seems to me money is much more outgo than income!

January 8, 2011                                Valparaiso, IN

Epiphany came and went with no epiphanies, at least for me.  We are now back in snow country and a week into January.

Swept the walk twice today, and observed that while people and pooch paws compact the snow, bunny steps for the most part do not.

After having pre-Thanksgiving turkey, we are now having post-Christmas holiday turkey.  At $1.29 per pound, we could not resist the temptation.  More turkey feasting will help us get through January, and a turkey in the oven will keep the kitchen warmer - a real boon in twenty-degree weather.

Are you fa-la-ing or ho-humming?  Does the New Year fill you with a sense of new beginnings or seem like just another opportunity for dismal defeat?  If you don't like the way this year has begun, the Chinese New Year starts February 3.  Begin again!  Feng shui advises a change of bedding for the new year, if not a whole new bed. 

On the off-chance that even Chinese New Year doesn't leave you feeling swift and swank, there are innumerable Indian New Years in April.  So here's to new beginnings!

January 7, 2011                                 Valparaiso, IN

Arrived home safely yesterday afternoon, in spite of seeing a tanker overturned in the median.  The aftermath, that is.  The all-too-predictable accident held up traffic for a half hour or so, and I don't know if anyone was hurt.  Why predictable?  Because all day on I65 trucks had been hurtling by us at five or ten miles above their speed limit.

A few miles later, another semi was at the side of the road, damaged and incapacitated.  So far there had only been snow flurries, but the road must have been unexpectedly slick.  Today we are congratulating ourselves on our timing because there is more snow.  Back home again in Indiana!  (The Wabash was wide and beautiful, by the way.)

We spent the night of the fifth in Florence, Alabama, then drove up to Nashville, lingering and malingering along the way.  Places of note include the bustling little cafe across from the courthouse which greets visitors coming into Columbia, Tennesee.  Lively, warm and visually stimulating, it also bewitches your tastebuds with a scrumptious chocolate pecan pie.

On the day we were at an antiques mall nearby, it was presided over by an elderly woman who reminisced about taking 116 girls on an overnight in a nearby campground.  Now there's temerity for you!  She was laughing about how one of the six-year-olds washed her hair in ice water one night.  She still sees many of those girls, now grown, around town.

An unusual feature of the region is graveyards as bedecked with flowers (obviously false in January!) as any I have ever seen - including - the ones I saw on the Day of the Dead in Mexico!

Of course, I was in Mexico decades ago.  Maybe they are even more extravagant now than they used to be, and I thought they were very generous with their memorial offerings then.

And speaking of burials - what is with the mailboxes positively enshrouded with clouds of pink net and ribbon?  There is more net on them than on a ballet dancer!  It seems to me it is for a cause, but what I don't know.  Breast cancer?

Well, those augmentations might scare away anything - including the mailman!


January 4, 2011                                  Pine Bluff, AR

I woke up from a dream in which I was opining, "I hate awards! They are given for stuff which you supposedly love doing anyway."

So of course this started me thinking about the difference between awards and rewards.

Off to the etymology dictionary (er, is that correct usage?)

As I suspected, the word "award" implies something coming from the outside, as from an objective observer.  The idea of watching is strong here.

The word "reward" has different implications entirely.  Work is considered rewarding in itself or part of the deal is to be rewarded for doing it.  More of a contract is implied in the word.

Of course I love rewards!  I have not worked for nothing in the jobs which supported me.  But in a sense, the rewards should come more or less automatically.  Like virtue, perhaps work is its own reward!

Having said all this, however, my dream was only a dream.  And if anyone were to choose to award me in some way, (ahem) I assure you I would modestly try to hide my extreme repugnance to being presented with an award... hell, come to think of it, some reward beyond the intrinsic would be fabulous!

January 3, 2011                                 Pine Bluff, AR

We left Tejas this morning determined to take it easy.  We had lunch (and a picnic leftovers dinner tonight!) provided by Zapata Grill in Texarkana.  Our waitress, a charmer named Martha, was very sweet and the food was good.  How long had it been, I wondered sitting with a cloth napkin on my lap, since I had a napkin I couldn't blow my nose on?

We found a State Park to hike in this afternoon the main feature of which, mineral springs, we missed in favor of the longer (two mile) hike.  Logoly State Park specializes in environmental education and is available for primarily group camping.

There was no day charge, and we had a very pleasant time crunching through the dry leaves in the fifty degree weather!

Much of our drive this afternoon has been through what seems to be pine nurseries.  White pines in various stages of maturity have lined the road (Highway 82, then 79) almost the whole time.

We also passed numerous churches, one of which advised us via a sign, "God loves you whether you like it or not!"  To which my partner responded, "We've evolved from the apes, whether you like it or not!" 

After the relative luxury of the Hampton Inns, we were a little concerned about finding a comfortable place to spend the night, but this Days Inn in Pine Bluffs seems fine!

January 2, 2011                                 Paris, TX

We took a walk in downtown Paris today.  We tried to do this in Wichita Falls, but there was a lot of construction going on.  Maybe we missed the center of town entirely there.  At any rate, we were kind of in a hurry to hike at Arrowhead Lake.

Paris definitely has a downtown!  We saw the most palacial Methodist church I have ever seen.  There was a central block with no businesses surrounded by mostly active shops - but not on Sunday!

Except for the churches and a 7-ll a block or so away, downtown was closed.

The Sunday shut-down and the sulphurous (?) water seem to be the biggest draw-backs to life here.  Last night at Golden China I was inclined to blame their pipes until we came back to the hotel and found the tap water to be the same.  Bring a gallon of water if you come!

The architecture of the houses around the downtown area is highly varied and fun to look at.  Being barked at and pursued by a small but unleashed dog in Bywater public park (very unusual, graced by a neoclassic unroofed structure) while its owner placidly looked on from a bench half a block away was not so nice.

In fact, most of the dogs who graced us with their attention here were very miniscule.  Chihuahuas, miniature Dachshunds, and assorted other teenies seem to be a local hobby.

There was so much police presence in our wanderings that we began to wonder if we were under special suspicion or protection, but aside from the strangeness of walking from the richest mansions to the humblest of hoarding abodes within the space of two blocks, our time downtown was uneventful.

January 1, 2011                                           Paris, TX

Well, we wanted to go to Paris, France, but this is the next best thing.

Since Hampton Inns are of the Hilton Family of Hotels (whatever that means) we are in Paris Hilton!  Heh, heh.  Well, maybe I should make a New Year's Resolution not to make bad jokes.

Not going to happen.

After leaving Wichita Falls this morning we decided to visit Arrowhead Lake State Park.  Two deer crossed the road - one leaping, the other running like hell.

There are many different kinds of birds to be seen also, for those who are willing to stop and see them.  We were in hiking mode, so we didn't identify any but a Great Blue Heron, a couple of Canada geese, and a pair of white-crowned sparrows.  Maybe a meadowlark or two.

What we saw at Arrowhead Lake that I have never seen before were 1 1/2 - 2" papery tear-shaped sacs that looked like little nests hanging in the low trees.  They had golden spider-web filaments around them.  What creations inhabited them I do not know.

Back on Highway 82, I saw what I realized was the first turkey vulture I had seen in days.  We have seen more hawks than ever, but no turkey vultures.

The solution to this puzzle?  Faster, multi-lane highways make more roadkill, supporting more vultures.  That's our theory.

After checking into our hotel, we researched restaurants and found an interesting prospect described by a map locator as half a mile away on the other side of the street (seemingly).

In truth, I walked down the road a quarter of a mile or less and found it!  Beware automobile directions.  Sometimes a little foot exploration works better.

The restaurant was closed, but on my same voyage of discovery I saw in the distance the gleam of gold!  Another quarter of a mile and I found the Golden China restaurant - open on New Year's Day!

I think my successful quest bodes well for the New Year - and the food is good, too!

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