This Will Scare You More Than the Election…. Haunted Philly

I don’t know if it was the first presidential debate or the appearance of 10 Pound packs of fun sized candy at Target that scared us all into Halloween season, but here it is. Regardless of your candidate choice, there are plenty of boos to go around here in Philadelphia. So let’s free the skeletons locked in the Philly closet.

By US standards, Philadelphia is one of the oldest cities, founded in 1682. Philadelphia has the makings of a steroid infused, marathon- style school trip. Independence Hall (that housed the continental congress and saw the signing of the Declaration of Independence), the Liberty Bell, and the birthplace of Mother’s Day are all walking distance from each other. The first HBCU, Cheyney University, saw its founding here in 1837 as “The Institute for Colored Youth.” If doing an audio tour of the Constitution Center armed with a water bottle and fanny pack is your version of a nightmare, I’ve got something for you.

Since 1821 one of the main tourist attractions in Philadelphia also happens to be its scariest.

The Eastern State Penitentiary.

The architect, John Haviland, postulated that a building which instilled fear in the hearts of those that gazed upon it’s imposing Gothic castle inspired walls, was in itself, a deterrent to crime. At the time, it was located two miles outside of the city. No one could really see it in this remote and isolated location which perhaps prevented would be criminals from being scared straight.

It filled up immediately.

It wasn’t long before it got the attention of that Metrosexual man about about town, Benjamin Franklin. He and Dr. Benjamin Rush formed the “Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons” which is still in tact today as the “Pennsylvania Prison Society’ which promotes correctional reform and social justice. Back then it was more about keeping them alive in prison long enough to fulfill their sentences.

In its day ESP was a tourist attraction. In 1836, it had sophisticated plumbing and sewage systems, and was equipped with the latest rage in building- central heating. It was an equal opportunity place to get locked up housing men, women, and children. A dog, Pep, was even incarcerated for killing a chicken owned by the governor’s wife. Other than the fact that prisoners were basically kept in isolation and not allowed to talk, this was the swankiest apartment building in town. Each cell had a personal gym known then as an “exercise patio.” 

In 1858, 10,000 visitors came to gawk at the inmates. I find this fact fascinating given that travel at the time involved loading a wagon and buckling in the horses for a five day journey.  Of course, they didn’t have iPhones to keep themselves entertained so it makes sense.

Word spread among the French that the sophisticated US penal system had advantages over rounding people up and chopping off their heads. Gustave de Beaumont and Alexis de Tocqueville visited in 1831 with much pomp and circumstance. A humorous fictionary telling of their visit is in the book ” Parrot and Olivier in America” by Peter Carey.

Charles Dickens, a man who’s ideal vacation consisted of visiting insane asylums and prisons, claimed seeing the  Eastern State Pen and Niagara Falls were his two reasons for coming to the US in 1842.

It was all fun and games until around 1900. Al Capone’s visit lasting from 1929-1930 created a more menacing culture inside the walls. Scarface had an office cell next to the guard station yet separate from the other inmates. This is what is believed to be the VIP cell.img_7787

The layers of paint reflect the tastes of the various occupants.

It closed in 1970 and was literally left to rot. It looks today like the last guard locked the door with everything still inside and walked off whistling. Nature took over as the caretaker, ceilings fell in, and trees grew in the cells. No sound except the shuffling of ghosts in black striped outfits.

The current fright meter for the Eastern State Penitentiary is somewhere between spending the night in the Amityville horror house and taking my mother to the knit shop. “Terror Behind the Walls” has been a Philadelphia Halloween staple for years, scaring teenagers in to sleeping with the lights on for a month or so. COVID has robbed me of this parental pleasure. 

I went on a Friday morning. It was just me and two other couples that day. Gave it that “Don’t accidentally get locked in – no one will hear your screams” vibe.

So, turn off the lights, light a candle, and let’s go…..


The view.
Counting paint chips is one way to fall asleep.

One of the blocks has several artist installations.

Lots of time for doodling.
Feels just like Westminster.
“I think some plants would liven this place up, what do you think?”
Gives a whole new meaning to the term “safety net”
No razor wire needed. Although there was an escape aided by a stone cutter who fashioned a tunnel. It took two years to make and the escapees were out for 10 minutes before they were caught.
It just looked like a hand coming out of the ground….
When I say it was just me and two other couples, I’m not exaggerating.
One guy liked it so much he spent time as a guard and an inmate.
This is the morgue. Bodies would be on the “mattress” to the left and then popped into the crematorium on the right. Although the fact that bed sheets are in it makes me think the temperature wasn’t right.
I do think some of my rock climbing friends could have some fun here.

Two blocks away from the Pen I ran across this beautiful haunted house mansion. I guess land must have been pretty cheap. Probably nouveau riche. SMH.

Click here for Virtual Tour info- make a reservation for a group tour.

For a feel of the place,  link to the Online tour here 

Ok sidenote- have any of you done a live virtual tour? I’ve seen some offered for many of the historical European sites and am thinking about doing one….. Please let me know if you’ve got a recommendation!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

I Like Big Ikebana and I Can Not Lie…. The Philly Series

This Ikebana is so big you’d think it was in Texas. But as you all know, this Philly series is dedicated to all that’s Philadelphia. Philly has gotten a lot of attention within the last week but that isn’t what this blog is about, so I’m not going to talk about it here. (Or anywhere else actually) Most of ya’ll come around here to look at pretty pictures and read a thing or two about places and cultures you love or would love to love, or would love to visit. SO, here goes. I’ve covered the details of Ikebana before here

As a refresher, Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arranging. And if you’re like me, the first thought that came to mind after reading the definition was “what else is there to read?”  I’m sure many of you clicked out at the mere mention of flowers. I too prefer hobbies that either have a high probability of  injury or me coming home drunk. So I’ll admit, I wasn’t naturally attracted to Ikebana.

As a way of getting to know my new home, I’ve spent the last six months or so doing all things Philly. High on the list (well, everyone else’s list)  is a place called Longwood Gardens. (See more here) Well that’s not true. It’s about an hour or so outside of Philadelphia. Located in Kennet Square, started by Pierre S. duPont, Longwood Gardens is famous for the expansive and elaborate gardens that change pretty regularly. After seeing this Ikebana display, it makes me wonder how they are able to make these installations every six weeks or so. Elves? Fairies? Witches? Michael Jordan? I’m going to start hanging out at their garbage dumpster before my next party. Seriously. It might be more shabby chic by the time it gets here but I bet it’ll look better than my current installation titled “NADA.”

The picture below is what I’m used to seeing in the Zen category of Ikebana:

But this is what they had at Longwood Gardens:


To get a better idea of scale, here’s a video.



Of course, the first thing that crosses one’s mind when seeing something like that is, “I bet you could climb that thing….”

This Dynamic Duo of horticultural virtuosos and Ikebana sensei at LG thought ahead. They were also smart. They made a Giant Ikebana tunnel large enough to walk through and climb upon. Except the spikes they installed on the outside could have stopped three ship loads of invading Vikings.


It’s been a long week. If you’re like me, you may be in need of some blog pablum. So, I’ll shut up and let the pictures do the wowing.




Here are a couple of great articles on Ikebana. The second will have you building a giant Ikebana jungle gym in no time.

Thanks everyone for stopping in. Until next time when the Philly series continues….

The artisans who designed and built the installations pictured: The Making of Blooms and Bamboo

The Rise Of Ikebana, The New York Times

My Modern Met, Ikebana:The Art of Japanese Flower Arranging and How to Make Your Own by Jessica Stewart, Feb 2019

Longwood Gardens “Art For Anyone: Sogetsu Ikebana”

Posted in Culture, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Dear Jalen, This Won’t be Covered at Training Camp….

Dear Jalen,

I’m a 55-year-old, menopausal woman who blogs about culture and travel. Most of your fan base would assume that I’ve got nothing in common, and nothing to say, to a 21-year-old Heisman trophy finalist about to take on the quarterback position for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Jalen Hurts The Spun

Those armchair quarterbacks would be wrong.

So hear me out Jalen. I’ve got your blind side. You’re about to move to Philadelphia to pursue your dream job and I did the same in 1987, but there’s something I need to warn you about that won’t be covered in the Eagles’ Training Camp.

Culture Shock.

Around here it’s commonly referred to as Quaker Shock, since the original rabble rouser, William Penn, kicked off this culture back in the 1600s.


William Penn yells at people passing by from the top of city hall.

It’s going to hit you harder than a 360-pound lineman.

Here’s what you need to know about your new home in order to avoid ending up in the fetal position begging to get on the first Southwest Airlines flight home.

Your hometown of Houston is known as the melting pot. So is Philadelphia- the melting pot of weather. It has the wind of Chicago, the grey days of Seattle, the cold of New England, the humidity of Florida, and the heat of Houston. During the course of a year, you’ll experience all the natural disasters. Flooding, tornadoes, blizzards, earthquakes (potentially this one is unnatural and  caused by fracking but that’s a technicality) hurricanes, and plagues of locusts. I haven’t experienced a dust storm yet but that’s probably because it rains so much the mud can’t take flight.

The biggest issue for you will be the snow. It won’t disappear within two hours of falling like it does in Texas. It will melt just enough to turn into a black, greasy sludge. Then it will freeze into a sheet of ice overnight. You’ll be cruising down Market Street at 15 mph and 1776 will pop up out of nowhere and take out the underbelly of your new car.


Cobblestones breaking out of the asphalt. Just waiting for you to drive over it.

Philly folks rush out during big snows to justify their purchase of that four wheel drive Range Rover. The only four wheeling it usually sees is on the highway down to the Shore.  (Translation- the beaches of New Jersey) They’ll all hit I-76 trying to outdo each other demonstrating slide techniques.  I-76 is the most dangerous place to be on a snow day. If the snowplows don’t hit you, the careening Range Rovers will.

Technically, the portion of I-76 that runs alongside Philadelphia is called the “Schuylkill”(Pronounced “school-kill” ) in honor of the river it runs along. If you can say Schuylkill correctly, you probably live here; if you can spell it you were probably born here.


Jalen, do not, under any circumstances, swim in the Schuylkill like those Country folks in Texas sometimes try to do during flood season. The pollution will kill you long before you drown. If that doesn’t get you, the eels will. If, however, you find yourself in these unique and dire circumstances, Philly is the best place to be. The river will carry your limp body right past the University of Pennsylvania Medical and Veterinary Schools. They’ll scoop you right out of the river to revive and sew you up in one of their fancy Ivy League labs.

Honey, you’re gonna need a real coat. Hopefully your parents didn’t get their education at the over-hyped “School of Hard Knocks” where offspring are forced to learn life lessons under extreme and often life threatening conditions. My Dad got a fine education there. My Canadian father, having fled that inhospitable place as soon as he could, let me fly out of Houston Hobby Airport wearing a coat that had more utility as a bathing suit cover.

I’d never seen snow before. My parents had a “Been there done that” attitude when it came to snow and made sure vacations had nothing to do with it. On the worst icy day of the year, I set out to practice driving. I thought snow and ice were the same. I slammed on the brakes in the rental car going about 45, bounced off the curbs along the street like a bowling ball hitting a bumper and flattened three of the tires. Have one of your well weathered friends take you to the King of Prussia parking lot to teach you how to drive. Or even better, get a driver.

You may have heard the infamous story of the Eagles fans throwing garbage at Santa during a half time show. There are many theories and cultural explanations for this, however, it was simply weather related. Santa bobbed out on the field in his bright red suit and it was like waving a flag in front of bull. His grinning mug and celebratory red outfit marching down the sideline wasn’t bringing a win- it just reminded the fans how damn cold it was watching their team lose. So the Eagles fans threw garbage to warm up.

Before you judge, remember that Eagles fans don’t have nice stadiums in which to learn a lot of football etiquette like we do at Alabama, Oklahoma, and Permian High School. No Friday night lights here. Fans of all genders watch football just like they learned how to play it growing up; it resembled both a football game and a wrestling match. The enthusiasm had to make up for the bottle caps and cigarette butts on the field. They warmly recall the team moms rolling around on the 50-yard line throwing punches over the kid who couldn’t play because he was over the pee wee weight limit by 2 ounces.

Anyway, you and I both know damn well that if Jesus walked on the field at an LSU game they would have pelted him with empty flasks just to see his reaction.

Philly has a reputation for being a dangerous city. And it is. When you see this:


It means this:

img_6213Geese will hunt you down with more ferocity than a herd of pointy tusked javelinas. The man in the situation above was lucky. He found refuge in a bathroom before the nesting geese tore him limb from limb. Every time he tried to escape they chased him back in. They even hissed and spit at the Border Collie let loose to shoo them away. He was lucky that I didn’t take a picture of him quaking in his running shoes as the firemen conducted the nail-biting rescue. Believe me Jalen, after a few seasons here, you’ll be less afraid of running a quarterback draw through the one hole when the defense is showing a double A Gap Blitz  than an 8- pound Canada Goose.

And here that gets us to the people.

It’s like this.

In the South, when you’re in the line at Starbucks, you generally chit chat with the people in line with you. If you don’t, they think there’s something wrong with you.

Up here, if you’re standing in line at a Starbucks, DON’T TALK TO ANYONE. If you do, they’ll think something’s wrong with you. (They’re also very hard to understand so it may take a while before you know terms like jawn, wit, whiz, souff, and wooder ice)

In the South, people trust you until you prove you can’t be trusted. In Philly, people don’t trust you until you prove you can be.

Just about the time you’re ready to call a Hail Mary before heading back home, something will happen like this:

I rushed out in the rain to chase down my neighbor, Mike, who was walking down the street. I had a package of his.

I called his name. No response.

I went on to the sidewalk, barefoot, and called him louder. Nothing.

I started to run through the downpour to catch him.

Then a guy behind me who looked like he had just stepped out of a huddle from Superbowl VII yelled,

“YO MIKE” in a voice you could’ve heard clearly through the din at an Auburn Alabama game.

My neighbor promptly turned. My burly helper tipped his Eagles hat.

And just like that, you’ll find you’re arguing with people about whether Pat’s or Geno’s has the best cheesesteak, or you’ll walk to the train station and be in New York city in an hour and a half, or Washington DC in about the same. You’ll go to the shore and realize that walking on the boardwalk is easier than the sand.  When people tease you about saying “Yall” you’ll pop off a “Youse” retort.

And just so you know, Auburn fans are everywhere. This Auburn fan duct taped egg crates onto the back of his car to protect it while parallel parking.



So Jalen, here’s my point. It’s different. It takes some getting used to. But you will. And you’ll have a ball.

And when you doubt that, my Clampitt family will have a meat and three ready for you when you need it.

Fly Eagles Fly!









Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

The Coronavirus Kick I Needed

The governor of Pennsylvania announced that the state owned liquor stores, the only places to buy wine and liquor in the state, would close due to the coronavirus. As soon as the news hit our Apple news feed, all the usual city sounds were drowned out by the slamming of front doors as the entire populace of Philadelphia collectively lurched out their front doors to make an emergency run to the liquor store. Cabs, Ubers and city buses were sideswiped aside by the stampede of rabid Eagles fans jostling to get the last bottle of the Joel Gott Cabernet at the mega-store on Market street.

Myself included.

This temporary Quaker type prohibition was the signal to us all that life was about to change. Coronavirus had also given me the perfect excuse to succumb completely to my natural, slovenly state, ruling the Clampitt household with an iron fist from my throne bed.

While others convene on Zoom to play games I’m using my computer to buy more stuff I don’t need. I’ve spent more time on line shopping than I did when I had a full time job with an office. It’s like Satan has taken over my inbox. He tempts me constantly with promises of new, chic clothing at a never before seen price. These deals won’t last so get them now! At these rock bottom prices I could parade around Philadelphia looking like a six foot super model. (after applying Satan’s special promo code – CoronaNow-which miraculously adds an additional six inches on my inseam) If I ever leave the house again to wear any of these designer bargains. Did I mention each brand donates thousands of masks with every purchase?

I hate to cook.  If someone else cooks it, I’ll never complain. Doesn’t matter what it is. Haggis, pickled pigs feet and chitlins? If someone else serves it, I won’t burden them with a list of my character virtues- vegan, gluten intolerant, conscientious objector, and averse to all white foods. When this thing got started I had the perfect excuse not to cook. Coronavirus lurked in the grocery store, hiding in the fresh vegetables, waiting to pounce on my fingertips when I stopped to squeeze the mangoes. It hid among the bags of salt and vinegar potato chips that call to me lovingly as soon turn down the snack aisle. Luckily for me, Prime Now and all the other delivery services are booked solid until the second coming of Jesus. The new loves of my life are Uber Eats, Grub Hub, and Caviar. There’s no going back.

Because I’m stuffing my face with Indian food every day, and wearing athleisure clothing instead of skinny jeans, I’m able to ignore the fact that I probably won’t fit in to anything but a towel once this whole thing passes. I can now, without guilt or even a second thought about my dishonesty, blame it all on this damn virus. Even if I (we) wanted to go the gym, they’re all closed. No more sweating at CrossFit alongside those energetic millennials who perform Herculean feats of gym magic every time they show up. I have the perfect reason not to finish the month long Ashtanga yoga introduction to which I obligated myself in February. There I see women who are all hitting triple digit birthdays rolling around on the floor with both legs looped around the back of their necks. The teacher carried on an entire conversation while she demonstrating yoga nidransana.

I could do yoga every day for the next fifty years and at best may be able to touch my toes. I don’t need to check the odds to know my feet will never get near my head in any position. So I might as well quit now. But instead of slugging through the hard work at accomplishing a goal, I’ll use the coronavirus as the excuse.

Covid 19 has provided the perfect rationale for me not to do anything I don’t feel like doing.

I haven’t cleaned out a closet or organized the storage area in the basement. I’ve not scrubbed anything. All of cleaning tools are just as dormant as they always have been. I have had to dust myself off occasionally. One of the drawbacks of my new sedentary life style. My eyes have gotten some exercise watching what’s on my computer screen. I now type with my index finger.

Then the top shelf of the pantry fell in, shaking me from my Netflix induced stupor. Of course it brought down the four shelves below as it emptied twelve types of flour and a  full one liter bottle of Chinese black vinegar I ordered off Amazon for the times I needed a teaspoon full for a recipe. (Why someone who doesn’t cook has these things is a mystery worth delving into) The sheer magnitude of the clean up forced some blood up in to my brain.

It was the cosmic slap across the face I needed. I realized that I’ve got to get going. On something I’ve been putting off for years.

Some of you know that this blog started in 2010 when I lived in Japan. What you might not have realized is that since 2010, I’ve lived in Tokyo, Montreal, Philadelphia, San Diego, and then Philadelphia again. In fact, this is the 6th time I’ve lived in the Philadelphia area. The first time was 1987 and the culture shock was so bad I swore to forever hate the city of Brotherly Love.

This time is a little different. Now we live in the middle of the city itself- not the suburbs where the good schools reside. I’m going to set aside my Grinch like loathing for the moment.

I’ve decided to give Philly another chance. Treat it like a tourist. Explore all the nooks and crannies. Learn the culture. Eat the food. Find out what’s interesting about the place I’m in. If I can eat fish sperm I guess I could try scrapple.

Now’s the time. So, once a week (or more depending on the tremendous opportunity for adventure that unfolds) I’ll be regaling you with tales of Philadelphia. Largely based in fact; perhaps enhanced with some embellishment designed to keep you reading. But since it appears we are all in this for a while to come, I may as well get out of bed and see what I can see from six feet away.

Stay well Friends.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Venue #1 of “The Debauchery Tour 2019” Paris

Warning: Explicit material – I mean art- follows.


“The Debauchery Tour 2019” started as two moms visiting a college aged kid doing a semester abroad. It was one of those rare times in life when everyone on the family trip was thrilled to be included. Not a pouter among us. My friend and I were ecstatic to exchange the cold of Philadelphia for a visit in the cold and freezing rain of London and Paris. “3,” as this child is called since she’s basically my third kid, was just as enthusiastic  to enjoy the sites on the Mom Budget and not the College Kid Budget.

I left Spouse in Philadelphia well fortified. A case of canned WalMart beanless chili, Costco bag of oatmeal, half and half, and three jars of peanut butter were all the sustenance he required in my absence. My estimate was I could be gone for up to four weeks with those provisions. My friend’s husband was lucky she left the heat on before she pealed out of the driveway.

My friend and I were elated to be on a trip where the only two people we had to make happy were ourselves. 3 wanted to see every single highlight in London and Paris because at that age you think you’ll never have the opportunity to see any of it again. Which is not a bad attitude.

And that, friends, is the set up for how our trip to see 3 turned in to a reality show narrated by Uncle Si from Duck Dynasty.

Fittingly, the first venue on “The Tour” (for short) was Paris. Like any respectable band going on tour, you start with a set list, practice some, and hopefully you’re not too drunk or high to play the songs in front of a live audience when the time comes.  Having lived in both New Orleans and Montreal, I felt I was well trained.  I had prepared in the most French of atmospheres outside of France.

Claiming Quebec and France are similar often leads to the type of fights uncharacteristic to smiling Canadians – the ones usually reserved for the American family Thanksgiving table.  However Montrealers and Parisiennes do share a love of meat. In particular, organ meat. I’ve eaten sperm sacks (read about that delicacy here) and have drunk a glass filled with live fish, but seeing a grey cross section of kidney or liver on top of a steak still elicits the same reaction as a whiff of tequila.

If you’re not convinced, there’s also a replica of Notre Dame in downtown Montreal. The Notre Dame Basilica.

There’s nothing more French than Notre Dame.

Flat Stanley is immortalized below.


Flat Stanley’s a little fuzzy due to a few drinks on St Catherine. Living in Montreal exposed me to some of the cultural remnants left by the French and provided me with a Quebecois French Accent that elicited rolled eyes and an immediate conversion to English whenever I tried to talk. My “oui” sounds more like the duck on the Aflac commercial.

In the case of New Orleans, many of my Clampitt clan think that a trip there doubles as a trip to Paris. Why bother flying to France if you can simply roadtrip to New Orleans? And the only French you need to speak is “beignet.” The French Quarter looks trés French in a 1700’s peasant style sort of way.  “Le Bon Temps Roule” (let the good times roll) is a commonly slurred phrase probably brought in by Jean Lafitte and his merry band of pirates as they boozed their way through the French Quarter. My visiting friends were immensely entertained by the wiggling rubber penises decorating the windows of neon lit porn shops lining Bourbon Street. Mixed in with the Lucky Dog carts and Hurricane Bars, the French Quarter is unique among the cities in the US. (Also the source of the fart spray one sister sprayed on the other leading to the sprayee sleeping by the toilet that night.) In a sense, it’s a micro Moulin Rouge district.

At our first dinner in Paris I realized both Montreal and New Orleans were watered down versions of the mother ship. Now both several generations removed from the original influx of French to North America, they’ve both lost that Je Ne Sais Quois (That undefinable thing) that makes something French. Sort of an unexpected cross between a gasp inducing shock and an adrenaline shot of fun.

We found ourselves at an Indian restaurant highly recommended by a tour guide. She had said, “The food is great and the decòr is very avant garde.” Since she’d just given us a crash course through the Louvre, we thought we understood the meaning of avant garde and happily made our way over.

“Looks sort of un-avant garde to me,” I remarked as we sat down. It was a usual looking place. White table cloths, waiters in black suits, dim lighting. Yawn.

“Really? Look behind you,” said 3.

Where I found myself eye to, well, with something else.



I guess it was avant garde in the sense that nudity in art doesn’t require an X rating. Luckily for my friend and I, 3 is 21 years old -any necessary explanations she would have to give to us.

Outside the bathroom.


An orgy above the cappuccino machine.


Literal Food Porn.


And the food was awesome.

We enjoyed watching the first timers to the restaurant disocver they were surrounded by stone carvings of the Kama Sutra. (ancient Indian Sanscrit text on sexuality)

We loved it so much we ate there three times. Yep, in a food city, we opted to eat as much of it as we could.

The next several posts will be dedicated to this tour and I’ll share some of the more entertaining things I learned. No directions, tips, or to-do lists- just my usual schtick. You’ve been warned.

Louvre and Versailles Tour – Hidden Gems

Le Khojuraho Indian restaurant








Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Ginkgo Trees- the Chitlins of Japan


This doesn’t smell as nice as it looks

If you’ve ever smelled a Ginkgo tree, or chitlins, my guess is you could all give me the same one word description without thinking too hard. Poo. Both have stenches so offensive you could also tell me where you were, who you were with, and how old you were even if it was before being able to speak in complete sentences. I really wish the iPhone 10 had a Scratch and Sniff feature so I could share with you. For some reason, our ancestors thought it was a good idea to eat stuff that smelled like poo, because both are eaten with gusto. By some anyway.

Chitlins, the intestines of the pig, are routinely eaten in my neck of the woods, Alabama. A whiff of raw Chitlins is bad enough. Cooking them releases an odor that’s an olfactory slap across the face every time you breathe. The bible says that Hell smells like burning sulfur (my translation for brimstone), but I suspect Satan’s minions are scorching a few pounds of chitlins for ambiance.

I’ve only seen chitlins cooked outside in the vats that witches use for stewing frogs. Chitlins are cooked in the back yard because doing so inside would render the house inhabitable for the next six months while the odor cleared. Cooking them outside  requires a warning to all the neighbors that chitlins are on the menu so they have time to close all vents, windows, and doors leading in to their houses. It’s like readying the house  for a hurricane. Served on top of grits and doused in Tabasco sauce, my family guzzles them down like raw oysters. I have eaten them once; my first and last time. The only time I’ve ever seen the TSA staff run is the time they asked my mother to open a plastic container of chitlins she was bringing on the airplane to my aunt. She opened the container, TSA security dogs started howling en masse, and everyone in line bolted for the nearest exit.


This Wikipedia image is the most appetizing picture I could find. Shudder. I could have called my Mom to cook some and take pics but that’d also get her the silent treatment from all the neighbors.


The first time I encountered a Ginkgo tree was at the University of Alabama’s Biology building. Situated right outside the door beside the big auditorium was a giant, old Ginkgo. During  the late fall, the tree would drop berries, which housed a nut. We’d all crush the yellow, fleshy stink bombs when we walked in to the building. We then dragged those bits and pieces in to the auditorium on our shoes. Every year, when the biology building smelled like a dairy farm, the tree would be threatened with removal. Inevitably, the Botany department would intervene and the tree would be safe until the following fall. I can guarantee that none of us, including professors, said,

“I think we should we roast these!”

What I didn’t know then is that the nut covered inside that noxious pulpy berry, is drop dead delicious. One of my most favorite dishes in Japan is Ginkgo nut tempura. Served on a toothpick like olives in a martini, they have the taste of a nut but a consistency somewhere between gum and a banana. Don’t interfere with the Japanese ladies when the nuts are falling. They’ll stampede you flat with a smile and a polite half bow.

Screen Shot 2019-10-30 at 10.20.02 AM

Tempura Matsui New York’s menu version

Tempura Matsui

I saw this, which made me nostalgic for Japan, and was the inspiration for this post.


The stuffed bear on the front of the truck is something I’m used to seeing in Japan. But I would never see these crushed Ginkgo nuts on a sidewalk. In Tokyo, they don’t have a chance to hit the ground. The tallest obasan (older woman, grandmother, auntie) under the tree catches them over the heads of the others.

My current street is lined with Ginkgo trees- which may have been one of the things that attracted me to this neighborhood when we moved last year from California. I told my neighbor I was going to get an old pair of shoes, rubber gloves, and plastic bags to collect the nuts, then I was going to roast them. He pulled a Sam I am and threatened not to eat them here or there, or anywhere.

Luckily for him, and the rest of the city, I won’t be cooking chitlins in the back.


All these nuts waiting to drop are the terror of the neighborhood, and I’ll be standing right underneath, waiting……


So, who among you has eaten something that out smells these two candidates? I can think of two others….


Tokyo Gingko Trees



Posted in Culture, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

I Found Drogon….And Flowers…. In The Desert

For the Big Money:

Q: Why is California called the Golden State?

Not the gold rush

Nothing to do with golden tans (or bronzer)

Gold Finger is just a bad guess

A: Golden hills.

That’s right. The hills of California are usually gold. But when it rains, odd things happen. Usually in the desert. Things turn green and chaos – well you know the rest.

Offspring #2 and I had heard of a mysterious flower bloom in the desert of California due to the unusual amount of rain. We found it easily as the news had been posted at all the “Good Sam’s” camper parks throughout the US. We just followed the five to seven million RVs and Motor Homes converging on a windy, two lane country road headed in that direction. These were not the pop up camper vans many of us suffered  partied  camped in as kids but the super fabulous rock star type four bedroom motor coaches. They don’t corner very well so the curvy road wasn’t dangerous as we were behind them all doing about 20 mph at top speed. We got to enjoy ALL the scenery.

Including the Julian Pie Company.

Screen Shot 2019-06-11 at 3.18.32 PM


This bloom happened to be at Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

Offspring #2 and I had something more tropical in mind. We were picturing something akin to a Bird of Paradise, the desert version. We weren’t sure we were actually in the park however we had seen several cars parked along the side of the road- we had passed the sign announcing the entrance. Usually a lot of cars parked alongside the road means a good spot to fish, just like a long line to a restaurant indicates a good place to eat, so we stopped to find out the source of the draw. We found many bucket capped folks wearing those hiking pants that one can zip off and make in to shorts, lying on the ground. Taking pictures. Of very small flowers.


We were kind of underwhelmed. But we copied everyone else and took more pics.




This might actually be a tree farm.

We also noticed that some people just drove along a loop and stopped at various spots. It’s here where things got weird.


We did not expect to find a T-Rex.

Or St. Francis post bar brawl.


We debated if this was St. Francis or Shrek. Hard to tell. Fiona?

But then, we found the answer to everyone’s GOT question. Where did Drogon go? Does he have a summer locale? The answer is yes. He’s snow-birding at Anza-Borrego.

IMG_3204 3

IMG_3206 2

There were other sculptures but we decided to head back toward the Julian Pie Company for second round.

When the flowers aren’t in “full bloom” I guess walking the sculptures is like doing the stations of the cross.

Go early. It gets crowded! And hot. Notice there are no people climbing on the back of Drogon. He can burn you from the inside or the outside.

Posted in Culture, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

April Showers Brings May….. Gogatsu-byou?

Show of hands- who gets crabby in May?

I’m 54 years old and just found out that condition I have suffered from each and every May that I can remember has a name. I’ve heard a nasty rumor that Offsprings 1 and 2 refer to it as “May Madness.” It’s the time of year I grow horns, a pitch forked tail, and a penchant for reacting to everything with four letter words in unusual yet creative combinations. This seems to be the go to look on my face during this time frame.


One of the OS was getting an ass chewing and the other thought it would be funny to take a picture.

When I first started practicing yoga, the instructor, instead of giving me helpful tips, told me,

“Your body will tell you what you need to work on.”

Since this occurred during May, my initial instinct was to punch her in the third eye. However, being familiar with just how mean I am during the month of May, I just smiled without showing my teeth. The Japanese call it a “Blue Smile.” (Topic for another post) I left the yoga class, backed in to the car parked behind me, and promptly forgot to pick up Offspring #1 at baseball practice in order to take him to track practice somewhere else. Because in May, all the schedules change.


Schedules apparently change for people all over this planet in May. In Japan, the schedules change in April and the effect is felt in May. What I felt, and what so many others do as well, has a name in Japanese. Gogatsu-byou, or May Sickness. I’m relieved to know that not only do other people share my May Malaise, it has a name. It’s, therefore, real, and not something I conjured during a night sweat.

In Japan, several events converge in the May time frame. For kids in school, the new school year starts in April. All parents know that kids are usually fine for the first month, back with friends, work is pretty low key. By May, the realization hits that it is, in fact, a new year. There’s a national holiday during May called “Golden Week.” New college graduates all start new jobs in April, take a break for Golden Week, go back to their new job in May, and realize they are now part of the working world. And depending on how old school you are in Japan, that means with that same company … for life.

And they get depressed. Think about eating in the same cafeteria, every day of your life, for the next fifty years. I’d get sick of a few things on the menu. What if you’re not fond of your colleagues? They’re also there- for life. Yours and theirs.

And so, for good reason, the term Gogatsu-byou was born to put a name on the funk that May brings.

The route to Gogatsu-byou for me is a little different, but even though I’m not Japanese I’m still claiming it. Unlike the Japanese, I get pissy in May just because my routine changes. Kids are home from school, doing their activities which require adjustments of dinner times, bed times, whatever. My body told me in yoga, when my mind wasn’t willing the clock to fast forward time by an hour, that I was inflexible. Both in mind and body. There- I’ve said it. I don’t like May because I have to adjust.

Knife to the heart.

And this May is a momentous one for the Clampitts. Offspring #1, of whom many of you know through this blog, is graduating from college, and has a job.

And is moving.

And potentially never coming home again.

So this May, I’m not just a fire spewing monster, I’m being more dramatic about it.

This year the gogatsu-byou is shared by hordes of my friends, many of whom are in the same position. We’ve become equal parts of crazy eyed witch and teary starry eyed parent.

In a way, it feels good. I’m thrilled OS#1 is off and running. I’m equally thrilled that I’m upset that he won’t be able to come home as much. What if I needed to nail the door shut after he left to keep him from coming back? All the times I heard,

“You’re the meanest ma every!” were worth it. He turned out pretty good.

For me, for this year, gogatsu-byou, has a nice counter balance.

More on it:

A Japanese Word for May – Coto Japanese Academy

The Sickness That Strikes Japan Each and Every May 

 Gogatsubyo or May Sickness by Efrott Weiss






Posted in Culture, Moving, Moving Lesson, Offspring, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

When Your New Job Changes Time…



I’ve had some good jobs in my time. Some that were pretty high on the Bureacratic food chain. I’ve had career positions so important I tried to use them for my personal benefit. Like the time I spent a significant portion of my work day trying to start a new buzz word. One that would be used through out the company at meetings, in hallways, and whenever the CEO met with investors. A buzz word so memorable, all would remember when I first uttered it. I came close with “Gestalt” but then everyone used it incorrectly and I just looked like an ingrate when I had to explain its proper usage. But I never had a job that caused the date to be written differently. When you get a job that changes time, that’s a big deal.

The year in Japan is now “1” with the crowning of Emperor Naruhito.

The former Emperor of Japan, Akihito, is now the “Emperor emeritus” of Japan. He was crowned (can you say that? I’m American and we aren’t up on terms associated with a monarchy) in 1989. The years since are referred to as the Heisei era. The number of the year of his reign was on all of my power bills. So, if it was 9/13/2008 (Written as in the USA) the Japanese would be 20/9/13. “20” being how many years the emperor had been ruling. Very confusing to an Expat trying to figure out when the power bill was due.

The Japanese usually don’t get to celebrate the ushering in of a new era because it means the previous one had died. This time, Emperor Akihito (Now the Emperor emeritus) abdicated his throne. Supposed to rule for life, he became the first in 200 years to abdicate. At 85, he felt that he was no longer able to function effectively.



Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko


Some of you may not have been paying much attention. I get it. It didn’t really grab our attention like when Justin Trudeau became the Prime Minister of Canada.

Screen Shot 2019-05-02 at 3.23.58 PM

Now that I have your attention, there’s a book to be written here.

Like you, I’ve seen pictures of the ceremony where there were a couple of wrapped boxes being carried ever so carefully. There are two boxes, each carrying one of the Imperial Treasures. There’s a third but it doesn’t make it in to the actual ceremony. This is the story of what’s in the boxes being used in the Shinto Ceremony establishing Crown Prince Naruhito as Emperor Naruhito.


The working title is:

                           “The Mirror, the Sword, and the Gem” By Ouisar-san

Once upon a time there was an important Shinto goddess by the name of Amaterasu. She and her brother were typical siblings, and they fought all the time. One fight in particular caused much rancor between them and Amaterasu retreated in a snit.

(Author’s note: insert epic battle scene in the manner of Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings)

“Susanoo, you’re a mean brother. I’m moving in to this cave and I’m taking all the light in the world with me. Bye Felicia” Hmph.

She slammed closed the door to the cave like Ouisar-san’s teen-aged daughter used to.

Susanoo said, like all brothers, “I was just kidding, why do you have to be so dramatic all the time?” He was now in trouble with his friends who couldn’t see to play poker. One of his buddies, a minor Shinto deity, made an eight sided mirror, which he shown in to the cave.

Amaterasu was apparently a true beauty and came running out when she saw her face in the mirror along with the green jade jewel her brother held aloft. (I personally would’ve held out for a big diamond but that’s just me)

But, the mirror actually showed the truth of all situations, including that her brother wasn’t unique and that he was just like every other brother in the world, and it was given a name. The mirror ultimately made it to the first Japanese Emperor, Jimmu, in 660 BC. (That one is in Jesus years)

Yata no Kagumi– the Sacred Mirror. And it was passed on to the other emperors as a symbol of wisdom.

Yasaki no Magatama- the Sacred Jewel. And it was passed on to the other emperors as a symbol of benevolence.

The peace could only last so long before Susanoo and his sister Amaterasu went after each other again.

(Author’s note: flashback description of Susanoo and Amaterasu’s mother threatening to send them to bed early if they didn’t stop pickering. The mother’s Imperial drinking goblet was lost in a bar fight)

Susanoo had pushed his sister too far this time. It called for a big gesture. He cut off the tail of an eight headed serpent that was eating the daughters of one his friends. The tip of the tail, which was really a sword, he used to, again, buy his way back in to his histrionic sister’s good graces. (Histrionic is such a charged word. Suffice it to say he was probably driving her crazy thus leading to this poorly used adjective attributed to such behavior)

Kusanagi no Tsuruigi- the Sacred Sword. And it was passed on to other emperors as a symbol of bravery.

The book ends there because the editor saw an opportunity for a second book and thus this one ended with the big question, “What does Amaterasu do with the sword the next time she and her brother fight?”

Even today, the Sacred Mirror, Sword, and Jewel were used in the Shinto ceremony where Crown Prince Naruhito became the 125th Emperor of Japan. Or in this situation, a replica was hidden inside a box. No one has seen the actual Imperial Treasures. The real ones reside in various shrines around Japan. And none of them have been seen either. For all we know, some Expat somewhere bought all three of them at the Kawagoe Shrine Sale.

The picture of the Imperial Jewels in Wikipedia is labeled as “Conjecture.”

Screen Shot 2019-05-02 at 3.31.33 PM

Image: Wikipedia

I would definitely would have held out for a diamond.

The new era is called “Reiwa” or beautiful harmony.

I hope so. And a big Kanpai to the new Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako.


More reading for all of you Japanophiles.

Akihito and Japan’s Imperial Treasures that make a man an emperor

Five Things to Know About the Modern Japanese Monarchy










Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Girls’ Trip… Menopause Style

A long time ago, (my twenties) in a galaxy far away (New Orleans), I went on a girls’ trip. We spent a week in the Big Easy like a troupe of vampires carousing at night, and sleeping through the day. Because, of course, we’d been out all night.  I’ve thought a lot about that trip from thirty odd years ago because I recently returned from a similar one. Similar only in that it was comprised of my female friends, now, all in our fifties.

The fun  of the trip circa early 90’s started with the first outing in the French Quarter. We took pictures of each other being handcuffed by the policeman patrolling the Quarter on his horse.

We walked the streets with open beer cans hidden inside a pink rubber koozie disguised as a treasured piece of the male anatomy. When our favorite bar opened promptly at midnight, we were in the front of a line that snaked downstairs in to a dungeon, with cells, and bloodied mannequins. Women in S & M outfits served us more beer so we’d be drunk enough to dance to AC/DC; disco had made dancing extremely uncool then. It was an inexpensive trip because we lived off Coors lite and cigarettes. One of the ubiquitous novelty shops provided the “eau de fart” perfume that I sprayed in my sister’s hair resulting in her clingy affair with the toilet all night. Still funny. Don’t feel sorry for her, she wasn’t the innocent…it was payback.

My first day back at work I had to take a nap in my car on my lunch break. Any trip that didn’t conclude with scratches down the side of the rental car would have been deemed lackluster.

Details of what happened on that girls’ trip to New Orleans are fuzzy for several reasons, none of which are due to the passing of time. The pictures were destroyed so there was no chance of them destroying a job opportunity or a run for political office. Those pictures, as staged as they were, would be hard to explain to teenaged children who would invariably use them as ammunition. “Well, at least I wasn’t arrested in New Orleans,” blah blah blah.

This is the most controversial picture from our recent girls’ trip to Vancouver.



We ate during the day and slept at night. By now either married, divorced, or widowed, our restaurant reservations drove our decision-making.  The highlight of the trip was a rafting tour to spot eagles. The Squamish Rafting Company did all the heavy lifting. Squamish, British Columbia is the “Eagle Capital of the World.” Eagles from Alaska fly down and winter along the river. There were hundreds.

Interesting side note, eagles mate for life. The male and female go to different locations over the winter in order to increase the odds that at least one of them survives the winter and can make the trip back in the spring.

I’ve got several bad pictures to share with ya’ll.


A guide about twelve years old did all the work. We looked like a bunch of two-year olds decked out in so much gear we couldn’t bend our arms or legs. Falling out of the boat would have meant sure death as the weight of all the stuff designed to keep us warm and dry would have anchored us at the bottom. Good thing the river was only about two feet deep.



The eagles watched as we went by. We were their only entertainment on the river that day.


The eagles were literally everywhere.


There’s an eagle on a limb.  Or at least it’s a bird with a white head.

I returned home from this trip plumped and fluffed as we had eaten our way through the city. Now more like locusts than vampires. When we weren’t eating, we were planning our next meal. We slept at night, and worked out in the morning before the day started.

This trip made me drop to my knees, sing praises, and thank Sweet Jesus that I have hit the timeframe I feared the most when I was younger.

The dreaded and often maligned menopausal era.

Menopause is the natural way to be sidelined. No more hormones wasted on tight skin and a smooth, undimpled butt. I knew I’d hit it when my back fat needed a bra. But here’s the thing. I’m thrilled. Mother Nature’s way of easing the transition maybe.

Mother Nature has developed a way to determine if the eagles are still vital enough to mate. The eagles, when they reunite with their mates, fly high in the sky, and lock their talons in what’s called a “Death Spiral.” Unable to fly, they plummet toward the ground, their talons hooked together. If they are able to let each other loose without crashing in to the ground first, she deems them “healthy” and able to mate. Survival of the fittest in every sense of it.

Mother Nature has dictated that my friends and I are no longer necessary in the propagation of our species so she lets us decline. We no longer have the energy to stay out all night for a week straight, and more to the point, that doesn’t sound like fun anymore. Those among us who are eligible bachelorettes have reached the “take it or leave it” stage of life.  Unlike our twenties, we are unwilling to change for anyone who won’t take us in our current form, whatever that is, and we are happy to reciprocate.

My twenty-five-year-old self would have rolled her eyes in disgust at our Instagram picture showing us bundled up beneath the rowing sign, not a beer in sight. Not a “finstagram” picture among us. (The “Fake instagram” account all of our kids have, where they post what’s really going on in their lives. You don’t know about it because they use an alias. Offspring #2 has one and her nickname is horrifying. Offspring #1 hasn’t fessed up to having one)

Here’s what the trip to Vancouver made me realize. The hard part of climbing the corporate ladder, raising kids, and losing parents is now behind me, tucked in between those trips. All the insecurities of my twenties and thirties are now in the rear view mirror. Now I can relax in the knowledge that the only people I care to please are my grandchildren.








Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments