Thursday, May 16, 2013






     After traveling in a Honda Civic for three weeks through eight states and clocking 5,300 miles on the Western swing of their Christmas Card Road Trip, Sue Phillips and Nancy Appunn still -- miraculously -- are  talking to each other. They are even plotting the next leg of their Christmas Card Road Trip: a journey along the Eastern seaboard, scheduled for June with Nancy driving.

      We last left Sue and Nancy in Waco, Texas where they had just learned about the fertilizer plant explosion in the nearby town of  West. (See Nancy's account in the 

The Odd Couple: Nancy (at left) is an outgoing 82-year-old who lives in Florida where she is an active member of her church. She says she is bad at planning & would just as soon eat at McDonald's as a fancy restaurant. Eighty-year-old Sue (at right) lives in Sonoma Wine Country. She is a self-described introvert, spiritual but not religious and an obsessive planner. Oh, and a committed foodie.

previous post.) After Waco, the two octogenarians checked off visits to friends on their Christmas card lists in Irving Texas; Benton, Arkansas, and Manhattan, Kansas. In Kansas, the weather turned nasty, but they soldiered on, getting as close as they could to Denver, an important stop for Nancy. Despite a blinding snowstorm, they made it to a Best Western in Limon, Colorado, just short of their goal.    

     Holing up for two days at the Best Western, Sue faced down her fear of driving in snow, which also had time to melt a bit, and the two continued on to Denver. The next day they crossed the Rockies and headed west into Utah as planned. Utah is now Sue's pick for the state with the most beautiful scenery. They survived the casinos of Las Vegas (Nancy is now a crusader against them) and arrived safely at Sue's home in Healdsburg, California, the point of their departure. 

       Like the Pony Express riders of old, nothing could deter them from their appointed rounds.

        Here is Sue and Nancy's account of the second half of their Western Christmas Card Road Trip:  


SUE: After lunch with Nancy's friend's Alethea and Piers in Waco (they are vegans, so Alethea made a cream of carrot soup, using groud-up cashews instead of cream, we head out, passing a town called West where a fertilizer plant has exploded causing many deaths and lots of destruction. We expect problems, but the road is clear.

From: Waco, TX To: Irving, TXWe stop in Irving, between Dallas and Fort Worth, to visit my friend Philomena. Born and married in Sri Lanka, she has had an interesting life in the U.S. Foreign Service, first working at the U.S. embassy in Saudi Arabia. I met her and her husband when we were both working at the U.S. embassy in London. Later she divorced. I visited her in Abu Dhabi and we toured Jordan and Damascus together. After retiring both she and her ex-husband settled in the Dallas area where their son was living. The son married, had a daughter, divorced, and tragically died. Philomena and her ex-husband are now raising their granddaughter. Philomena is a very committed Catholic. She spends most of her time helping at her church and a nearby hospital. We go out to eat at a nearby Chinese restaurant where the food is served cafeteria style. There are many dishes to choose from. This is new to me, but Nancy says there are similar restaurants where she lives. All is well until dessert, at which time I make a pig of myself with the ice cream.


Before Clinton became a vegan?
SUE: After Irving, we pass through the middle of Dallas and its impressive skyscrapers with no problem. The lush emerald green of northeast Texas is such a contrast to all the sand and sagebrush we’ve just gone through. Lots of large ranches here. It is a relaxing drive. I notice that throughout this whole trip I've been trying to stick to the left lane. Almost all the roads are in bad shape -- bumpy, wavy and deteriorated – but generally the left-hand lane is a bit smoother because of less truck traffic. We desperately need better roads in the U.S.  My other complaint is Texas drivers. Until Texas we've experienced polite drivers, but here we find some of the most macho, aggressive and rude.

Crossing into Arkansas, we notice the town of Hope on our map -- the birthplace of Bill Clinton. We decide to lunch there. First we visit the tourist office in an old railroad station, which is crammed with Clinton memorabilia and watch a video on Clinton. Then we have a good hamburger and milk shake across the street.

Our destination is another 70 miles down the road: Benton, Arkansas and the home of Joan and Alan who live with sheep, chickens, ducks, dogs and three lambs, one only one-week old.

NANCY:  Long drives are tiring but after walking into Joan's warm colorful kitchen with good smells and bowls of fruit I feel the wearies drop away.

Joan and Alan Dubois live on 26 wooded acres north of Little Rock in a house they designed and built. Joan's directions lead us up a narrow winding pebble drive to their craftsman-style home surrounded by meadows and trees. A Vermont wood stove heats the house. (Only $245 for enough wood to last the winter.) 

The chickens, sheep, dogs and ducks plus the gardens have brought them back to the land after careers as a museum director in St Petersburg and Little Rock for Alan and in nursing education for Joan. Both grew up on farms in New York. After their move to Little Rock, we kept in touch with Christmas cards. Their cards often feature Alan's beautiful black-and-white photography.

I remember seeing torn-up roofs and uprooted trees along the highway on the way to their place and ask if they are worried about tornados. Yes, they are. They have devised a safe room with a steel door that doubles as Alan's dark room.

Son Ron and his wife Hillary live on the property. When Hillary was called with the National Guard to fly helicopters in Iraq, Joan became a surrogate mother for two grandchildren. But, a diagnosis of myeloma (a blood disease) changed all that. Treatment and stem cell implant at the myeloma center in Little Rock left Joan without an immune system so for a year the children couldn't come for Nana's cookies and attention. Even the dogs were farmed out. Now she is on one treatment a week and feeling much stronger. She and Alan have resumed their grandparent roles.

Joan's pork roast with colorful roasted vegetables, followed by fresh apple pie and ice cream, hits the spot. Hillary joins us for dessert with daughter Claire and a friend. The girls dance us out to feed the lambs and chickens. Alan drums on the food pan and the sheep come running. What a wonderful place for children to grow up. I would like to stay here for a longer time, but the others on our Christmas card lists beckon.

Scene from the movie Winter's Bone

SUE: Today is our day in the Ozarks. The terrain is quite lovely, even with all the shacks and mobile homes nestled in the hills. It reminds me of the movie Winter's Bone. And so many churches. Most of them are Baptist; the others are evangelical and pentacostal.

The accents of the locals are the most extreme that I've heard in many years.  A constant worry is tornadoes.  We see a couple sites where everything is completely demolished.  

We drive past Branson, Missouri -- a town where thousands of tourists are bused in to hear and see an assortment of country-western singers and others. I am happy that Nancy decides she doesn't want to drive into town and see it all.

NANCY: On the way to Springfield we turn off the interstate to eat our picnic lunch when we notice a restaurant across the road, Lambert's Cafe, drawing a crowd from the immense parking lot. A man walking by seems friendly and we ask him about it.

"If you've seen Lambert's Cafe and Bass Pro you've see the two famous places in Springfield," he says.  It seems that Lambert's Cafe is world famous for it's "throwed rolls" and all you can eat for a low price. We have to go in and take a peek at this slice of Americana. It does appear that most of the customers have been to an "all you can eat" place before. Big folks at long tables chowing down. A human version of the feed lots? Waiters come by offering more steak, beans, chicken, dessert and, of course, those flying rolls. We return to our cheese and crackers.


SUE: We drive to Springfield, Missouri to meet with Mary, Linda, and David, with whom Nancy stayed in New Zealand. David is an itinerant Baptist preacher and missionary. Daughter Linda has opened a restaurant called Mama Mary's Navaho Tacos, a small, very homey place with family mementos on the walls. The restaurant uses Mary's recipes to make and serve Indian fry-bread dishes. She is doing very well and has thoughts of franchising. The food is tasty!

Bass Pro headquarters store
After dinner the family takes us to the Bass Pro headquarters store. It is immense, the size of a whole mall, filled with every kind of sports equipment, clothing and accessories. Among all the merchandise are many large stuffed animals -- bears, moose and others -- all in natural settings, as well as many live animals and fish. It is an amazing sight.

Between Branson, Lambert's throwed bread and the Bass Pro extravaganza, Missouri seems to do everything in a big way!

NANCYThe last time I saw Mary and David Moody and their daughter Linda, they were pushing me in a wheelchair to the US Air gate in Auckland, New Zealand. Let me explain.

I was traveling in New Zealand when two Maori teens knocked me to the ground, grabbed my purse and ran. My arm and elbow were shattered. My passport and money were lost. After two weeks and two surgeries in the hospital in Wangerai, the doctors told me I could leave. But, I had no place to go.

Into my ward walked David Moody, a Baptist missionary. He had seen the front-page story about the mugging in the local newspaper. "Do you need a place to go?" he asked. "Yes," I said, tears not far behind. We check out of the hospital with no bill to pay. "We take care of people who get hurt in our country," said the doctor. Needless to say, I became a fan of socialized medicine.  

The Moodys tended me, fed me, even gave me the shirt off David’s back. Literally. The huge cast on my arm with screws sticking out made dressing impossible. So they altered one of David's Hawaiian shirts to slip over the cast. Two weeks later on the plane home I was still wearing it. The Moodys also welcomed the Maori chief whose son had stolen my purse. The chief had his son apologize to me and then invited me to return to New Zealand with my family; he promised to give us a tour of Maori territory like no tourist ever gets to see. Believe me, that trip is on my list.

When I realized the Moodys were home on sabbatical in Springfield, we added them to our Christmas Card Road Trip stops.

Tasty offering at Mama Mary's Navaho Tacos
Linda and Mary meet us at our motel. It is moving to see the dear faces that had hovered over my bed with encouragement and love. Linda, on returning to Missouri, opened a restaurant, Mama Mary's Navajo Tacos. Mary had learned to make Indian fry bread on an Indian reservation and that recipe inspires the menu. After two years they have a solid customer base including Native Americans who say the tacos taste just like their Indian mama's bread.

Of course, we must have dinner there.

Brother David is working the crowd. In New Zealand he used to sit in a corner at McDonald’s, listen to people's stories and invite them to church. He laughs when I give him some chocolate bars and a can of Vienna sausage, treats he had shared with me in New Zealand. He loves hearing that when I returned home from my ordeal, I told my Presbyterian congregation that I had been saved by a Baptist.  

I ask Mary how to make the Indian fry bread. She admits that the recipe is readily available on the internet, but says the method of cooking that makes it delicious -- the oil temperature and timing -- is her secret. Mama Mary's fry bread is so good that an Indian tribe has invited her to cater their pow wows.


Wahoo Fire and Ice Grill - Manhattan, KSSUE: We drive out of the Ozarks and turn west to Manhattan, Kansas, to visit my cousins, Krista and Darin. Their family also includes cute one-year-old Palmer. Darin is a chef who has opened his own restaurant. Krista has a master’s degree in animal behavior and works as a zookeeper.

After dinner we visit Darin's restaurant, Wahoo Fire and Ice Grill. The decor is striking, the menu eclectic; it appeals to the nearby Kansas State University students. We enjoy a backstage viewing of the kitchen set-up.

I know we are not visiting a real cross section of Americans, but I am pleased by the diversity of the people on our list.  Even those close to Nancy and my age have distinct lifestyles.

That night we each sleep with a cat for company.

Sunset Zoo
Animals at the Manhattan Zoo in Manhattan, Kansas
SUE:  In the morning we have another backstage viewing, this time at the Sunset Zoological Park. Before having her child, Krista oversaw a section of animals at the zoo. The snow leopards are her favorite. Now she works part-time in the zoo commissary. We visit as she chops vegetables into containers for specific animals.

All the vegetables, meats, grains, and treats are specially bought and prepared for each animal. I find it ironic that while Darin is busy preparing food for the humans of Manhattan, Krista is busy preparing meals for the city's animal inhabitants. Before leaving we visit the chimps, my favorite, which include a cute two-month-old baby.


SUE: We set out for Denver with foreboding after hearing about expected storms and snow. Crossing Kansas, we run into some fierce rain, then fog. We want to get as close as possible to Denver before stopping and before the snow begins. 

From: Manhattan, KS To: Denver, CONANCY: We drive, and drive across endless Kansas heading toward the Rockies. But instead of the Rockies, we see big black clouds full of icy wind and snow. A sign warns us that there is no place to stop for 115 miles. Oh dear. The maps shows a small town, Limon, with a Best Western so we hunker down and make it there as the temperature drop to the 30s. 

SUEWhen we find our motel in Limon, it still is snowing a lot. The bitter cold wind is ferocious. When we go next door to a restaurant for dinner, I am so glad that I had stuffed my big quilted coat from China into the trunk at the last minute. It is like the Arctic going to and from the restaurant. We treat ourselves to steaks after our hellish drive, but the meal is mediocre.

NANCY:  The next morning the snow is deep. Sue who is terrified of ice and snow says, “Forget Denver. We are going south. I will not drive the Rockies.”

SUE:  I am ready to head due south for a southern route via Santa Fe and west from there. No way am I going to drive across the Rocky Mountains on snow and ice!  The last time I drove on snow was thirty years ago in a heavy Volvo with snow tires, not a Honda Civic. I slept poorly last night and gave myself a migraine headache worrying about this. But Nancy is adamant about seeing her friends Ruth and David  in Denver, two hours farther northwest. So we decide to stay another day in our motel, hoping the ice will melt.  

NANCY: The next day the desk clerk, Nathan, eggs us on. "Not a big deal," he says as we look at the drifts and slush outside the door. "Would you send your mother out in this?"  I ask him. "Yes," he says, "but remember we're Canadian."  We wait two more hours, then Sue decides to give it a try. On the way out the door I say, "Wish us luck, Nathan."  "Just take it easy and you won't die," he shouts back. Some comfort.  


NANCYWe finally make it to Ruth and David Craig's house in Denver. It's an important visit for me and also for Ruth. She confesses she was planning to drive to see us at the motel if we had chickened out because of the snow.  

Ruth's son Rob is now vice president of Communications International, a company my husband George Appunn founded to teach communications skills to executives and government personnel. For eight years George and I traveled together throughout the Southeast and California offering the two-day seminar on public speaking that he had created. After his death from Lou Gehrig's Disease, I became director of the company. Later I sold the business to the Craigs. The business now has grown to 30 employees with many government contracts. They are living my husband’s dream.

As we sit around their coffee table with drinks and hors d’oeuvres, Ruth says to her son, "Rob, show Nancy how we begin our company meetings."  Rob stands up.  "A toast," he says, as we pick up our glasses, "to George.”

I am overcome.


SUE: The Craigs are a very gracious host and hostess. David is convinced that we can make it over the Rockies tomorrow with no problems. He shows me the current photos of the roads on his smart phone.

NANCY: The next morning we decide to go ahead and cross the Rockies instead of going south. We head west and experience a beautiful drive through snowy, pine-covered peaks. 

SUE: Heading west into the Rockies is a visual treat. The trees look a bit like Christmas tree that are decorated with artificially white branches, but this is the real thing. We drive past lots of ski areas with detours through Golden and Vail.

2013 Utah Scenic Calendar, available for sale at
But as beautiful as the Rockies are, when we continue west into Utah, the scenery becomes even more spectacular. I expect Indians with bows and arrows to appear on top of the rocks at any minute. Not only is it rocky, but the rocks often have been formed by winds into shapes that resemble castles or other man-made forms. And they are so colorful -- often dark red with accents of tan and black. Totally amazing!  Idaho used to be the state I thought had the best scenery, but now I must give Utah that honor.

We drive as far as a small town called Salina. Actually we never see the town. Just the cluster of franchised restaurants, motels, and gas stations that appear at the exits of all the main highways. This time we find a touted Mexican restaurant next to our motel. My eyes are bigger than my stomach, and I end up with two big plates of Mexican food. Not being a fan of Mexican food to begin with, the quality of the food is lost to me.


Bonnet - Adult
Bonnet sold at the St. George museum.
NANCY:  The day's trip from Salina takes us through an ever changing desert with miles of straight road red cliffs on either side. I get to wondering: How did the pioneers manage? I imagine months of sand and heat, water shortages, babies to care for, monotonous meals, dirty clothes. How did they do it? The words perseverance and endurance come to mind as well as the word long-suffering.

The AA travel book alerts us to the Daughters of Utah Pioneer Museum in St. George. To pay honor to those long-suffering pioneers, we swing off the highway and spend lunch time looking at photos of some of the men and women who made those long journeys. There they were, handsome and serious looking down from the walls at the two of us -- we who find a rainstorm or a hot day an annoyance. I now have greater respect for the thousands of rugged souls who rolled for months across the plains and deserts.


SUEWe continue across the desert to Las Vegas. It is huge and complicated with maniac drivers. But we find our motel in the northwest part of town: a Marriott Courtyard, much more expensive than where we have been staying but no better. I think our best was a Best Western, but I can't remember where it was.

We find Mark and Evelyn in an attractive gated community. Mark and I both worked at the U.S. embassy in Beijing from 1995-97. Evelyn loves roses and has planted many in their yard. But her handiwork really shows in the contents of their house. While Mark worked at the embassy, Evelyn shopped.

Their house is a treasure trove of Chinese furniture, dishes, vases, silk flowers and quilts. At least two shops could be fully stocked with the contents of this house. Evelyn explains that since she is originally from the Philippines, the Chinese did not charge her Western prices.

They show us another part of Las Vegas: a casino for locals. 

NANCYTonight I make a vow. I will work for any group fighting to prohibit casinos in Florida.

Evelyn works at a casino and she takes us to a buffet dinner there. This is not the Strip I'm talking about. Area casinos circling the sprawling city cater to the outlying neighborhoods and local people. This one has a bowling alley with 64 lanes, a theater with live shows, several restaurants, an immense bingo parlor, child care, shops and an all-you-can-eat buffet for $12. The mall to end all malls.

To get to the buffet, Evelyn leads us through hundreds of slot machines, roulette tables and black jack tables, passing hundreds of elderly people staring at the colorful electronic slots. These slots are quiet, not like the old-fashioned ones with an arm to pull and coins plinking when you win.

Over dinner Evelyn tells me that people who work at the casino often lose all their pay in the slots. "They hit one on the way in to work and again when they go home. They think it's fun," she says. "But some have lost their homes. I never play. It's a addiction for too many people."

On the way out through the maze of gambling machines, I notice an old woman, drink in hand, cane at her side, staring blankly at the slot machine, punching the button, over and over. There are hundreds like her. Not high-rolling gamblers with blondes at their sides, but old men and women risking their Social Security checks.

I know the Indian tribes have casinos in Florida and after what we did to their nations I don't blame them for grasping an opportunity to make money. But I don't want to see Florida, St Petersburg in particular , dotted with this curse. Casinos are a cancer wrapped in neon band-aids. They make for wasted and ruined lives.

Not everyone agrees, I am sure. But we can have opinions and this is mine. No casinos in my home state Florida.


Las Vegas TourismSUE We drive down the famous Las Vegas strip on our way out of town. So many wild and weird buildings and shapes crammed together assaulting our senses. What a crazy city. And can one forget the sad, forlorn people sitting at the machines, hoping to turn their lives around?

We head out to the Mohave Desert -- a long, dreary drive back to civilization as we know it.  By this time I have a cold and cough and am anxious to get home. It is interesting to note how much one looks forward to trips and then looks forward equally as much to returning home.

We both agree we are tired of deserts and are glad to see the agriculture of the California Central Valley. We drive to Kettleman City where we spend the night.  The next day we drive by way of Livermore with all its wind machines, the East Bay with Oakland, and the Richmond Bridge, then back to Sonoma County and the Wine Country,

My cat Douglas and I are happy to reunited.  My roses, bearded iris, lavender, and calla lilies are all blooming. My citrus trees are loaded with fruit. The small town of Healdsburg with its plaza, charming shops and great restaurants is waiting for me.

I settled here after retirement, knowing no one and never having lived on the West Coast before. The area is truly a cross between Provence and Tuscany with its wine and olive culture and laid-back life style. I have not made many wise decisions in my life, but choosing to live here was truly a good one.

Healdsburg Sonoma County CA - Mustard in vineyards
Healdsburg: a cross between Provence and Tuscany
And now it is time to think about all the places and people we enjoyed on this Western segment of our Christmas card road trip. Everything went exceedingly well. There is no reason being over 80 years old will keep us from continuing in June on the next segment along the East Coast.

NANCY: Three weeks and 5,300 miles later we are back in Healdsburg. Home welcomes us with pets and gardens that need tending. It's spring in California everything is in bloom.  Sue's twenty-year-old rose bushes are knocking themselves out with blooms. We pick a few to brighten the breakfast table. 

Sue's home reflects her steadfastness. She has mid-century chairs that I remember in her first home is Cleveland. "They were good then, they're good now," she says.  And she holds friends the same way. If you were ever on her Christmas card list, you stayed there. Years may fly by but the bonds still hold.

Reflecting back on the trip, I think the daily routine we established worked well for us. Sue had picked up Tour Books and maps at the AAA in Healdsburg and drew our route with a marker. Every night she spread the AAA maps out, plotting our route for the next day. I checked out the towns we would pass in red and read about the history and museums.

We had three weeks to cover 8 states and 5,000 miles. Timing was critical. We had called each of our Christmas Card friends and set up the day and time we would arrive. One spontaneous diversion for dinosaur tracks or an Indian reservation and the plan wouldn't work. 

We stayed most nights at our friends' houses. Our guest rooms were well supplied with towels, snacks, good beds and books. We stayed in hotels on the other nights.  Up at 7:30, a hearty breakfast and on the road by 9. Lunch was picnic style at rest stops or shady town picnic tables. Sue had a cooler with Boursin cheese, crackers, fruit, V-8 juice and Slim Fast. The dinners at our friends' homes or in restaurants were major events.

I could write an ad for the Honda Civic. Sue's 8-year-old Civic purred along for more than 5,000 miles with no trouble at all. She had it completely serviced before we left three weeks ago. But still, at 85 miles an hour for long stretches, it's an amazing car. We drove safely all the way home, but almost lost it when we drove to town for ice-cream in Healdsburg. An idiot made a left turn in front of us and we screeched to a halt with inches to spare. I wasn't wearing a seat belt either. After all, I thought, we were home. Only after our close call did I remember reading that most accidents occur within a mile of your house.