Friday, July 24, 2009

Visiting Minnesota gardens

We are still in Minnesota and will not be returning to Corregidor until mid-August. Feel free to skip this if you are not interested in seeing some of the flowers found in the Upper Midwestern region of the United States.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so we’re going to keep our written words to a minimum today, and let our pictures do the talking to each of you who is interested. There are a total of 133 pictures, which means we’ll save you from reading the equivalent of a short novel.

Corregidor has something in bloom year-round. In Minnesota, the growing season is much shorter. However, when the flowers are in bloom the annuals and perennials are beautiful, and one appreciates them all the more when you remember that in Minnesota it either is winter or winter seems to be just around the corner.

During this, our first vacation in Minnesota since our move to the Philippines, we have been lucky to see several large and beautiful flower gardens. The first one was in St. Cloud, the city where we were married back in 1973. Along the east bank of the Mississippi River is an area known as Munsinger and Clemens Gardens. It is a site often used for summer weddings due to its picturesque atmosphere, and it is definitely worth visiting should you ever find yourself in or near St. Cloud. (The Clemens part of the gardens was originated by a husband for his wife who was confined to their nearby house for 40 years due to Multiple Sclerosis.) You can see Steve’s pictures of these gardens at:

Steve’s sister Della lives in Edina, a choice suburb of Minneapolis. They have a beautiful walkway around a lake near their condominium, and as you walk you hear classical music that is pumped into speakers along the pathway. You know you are definitely in the city, yet the setting is pastoral, and they are fortunate to be located so near Centennial Lakes. There is even a putting course on the grounds. You can view Steve’s pictures of our walk at:

Most recently we visited the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. This is an area slightly smaller than Corregidor, and although it has many species of trees, as its name implies, there are many gardens as well. Most of the people in these pictures are Marcia’s family. One picture shows her with all four of her sisters. You can see Steve’s pictures taken at the arboretum at:

Steve and Marcia (not currently) on the Rock

PS: Our especially huge thanks to Steve’s other sister, Paula, and her husband Terry, who generously let us stay at their house for almost two weeks. You may remember our writings about their daughter Angie, who was one of the stars of the University of Wisconsin women’s hockey team, which won three national championships in her four years of college there, including this past school year. Angie has been invited to try out for the United States women’s Olympic Hockey Team next month! Good luck to Angie, and make it or not, it is a great honor to be considered. We are so very proud of her!

Remember, you can read about Angie along with all of our previous newsletters at:

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Steve and Marcia on the Rock, the Official Blog Site

We continue to enjoy our vacation. We’ve been assured that there is heavy rain every day back in the Philippines, which is typical for July. What is not so typical is that it continues to be cold here in Minnesota, with record lows being set during some nights. Currently we are in the southern part of the state, but the temperature has been 20 degrees Fahrenheit below average, extremely unusual. This is historically the hottest week of the year in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Fortunately the forecast for next week looks more promising.

We took a day-trip to Duluth, Minnesota, last week. Steve grew up in Hermantown, a rural community up the hill from the city. Duluth bears little resemblance to Corregidor except for two immediately visible things. One is that it is on a large body of water, Lake Superior, and has large vessels entering the harbor daily – at least when the lake isn’t frozen over. The other is that it is basically one steep hill, with a change in elevation a little over 600 feet, very similar to The Rock. When the sun is shining it can be very picturesque, and we include a few photos. Ships entering the Duluth/Superior harbor must pass under the Aerial Lift Bridge: cars must wait while a part of the bridge is raised in order for ships to pass beneath the roadway.

On an entirely different topic, we are happy to announce “Steve and Marcia on the Rock.” Several of our readers have suggested that we start a blog. We thought that it was probably worthwhile, but delayed doing anything at the time due to the very slow internet service on Corregidor. We figured that once we were in America for a few weeks we would have the time to find a good blog site and publish all of our previous newsletters. That is what we have done. In order to keep maintenance to a minimum we are not allowing comments on the blog site. You can continue to send us comments via email. We read all of them, whether or not we have time to answer each one.

Marcia’s niece, Marnie, suggested we look at She told us how easy it was to post the blogs and add pictures. We took her advice, and Steve published all of our previous newsletters. He could not find a way to caption each photograph, but we’re hoping that by placing photos alongside the related text whenever possible, most of them will be obvious.

Some of you have been with us from the beginning, while others have only recently signed up, many because of the newspaper and internet article about us in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Newbies especially may be interested in going back and seeing how we came to stay on The Rock and what happened in our first several months.

Our first newsletter read like something out of a Lemony Snicket book, as we had the “unfortunate event” of a could-have-been-fatal automobile accident two days before we were to fly to the Philippines. To read about it, go to:

At the bottom of the page you will see “Blog Archive.” Click on “2008,” then on “October,” and finally on the blog at the very bottom entitled “Steve and Marcia’s Excellent Adventure begins with a Great Escape.” (Blogs are listed from newest to oldest.)

Our previous newsletters also included topics such as:

• Steve learning to drive a stick shift all over again
• Lost keys, cutting trees, misunderstandings and monkeys
• Learning to understand monkey talk
• Walking the first 14 kilometers of the Bataan Death March route
• Eating squid soup
• Re-discovering MacArthur’s house on Corregidor

And there are many, many more you can choose to read.

In the future we hope to post our blogs as they are written, but only time will tell. Until we are back on Corregidor and our “mati mati internet service,” we won’t know if this is even possible. Otherwise we will post them whenever hi-speed internet is available.

We are grateful for all of the encouraging emails we receive, and are humbled by the fact that many of you tell us how much you look forward to each newsletter. We enjoy the writing process.

Steve and Marcia on the Rock -

Friday, July 10, 2009

Walking the Mesabi Trail

We like to walk. We ran and jogged for many years, Marcia having started during high school after her Dad read Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s book on the benefits of aerobic exercise and marked out a one-and-a-half mile route on their farm. Steve also rode his bike many, many miles, and Marcia accompanied him very occasionally for an early morning ride through the MSU campus. Twenty-five years ago we both ran in the Detroit Free Press International Marathon, our only 26.2 mile endeavor. But in Steve’s case, knees and ankles began to complain about running, and his butt and hands said no more biking. He got to the point where the only form of exercise that didn’t leave him crippled half the time was walking. Marcia continued to run almost every morning until we moved from the city to the country in 2006, and she had no street lights anymore. Age takes its toll on everyone eventually.

So now we walk. Corregidor is the near-perfect place for walking: almost no traffic, no air pollution, nice scenery, and lots of change in elevation. It’s never too cold to walk, although it can be too wet. The scenery along the paved main road includes the old barracks ruins, some gun batteries, and glimpses of the ocean.

While we are visiting in the United States we are trying to walk often enough to keep our legs in shape and to burn off some of the calories from all the food that we are being offered. We are trying to avoid regaining the pounds we lost during the past eight months on Corregidor.

We are currently on the Iron Range in the northern Minnesota city of Virginia, staying with Steve’s Mom (Mary Anne) in the home in which she was born. Iron mining has been going on in this region for more than 100 years. Mining and the timber industry were the main reasons why European immigrants settled here. Although the giant white pines are long gone, the mining industry still thrives when the economy is good. The main towns and cities are located along a rich vein of iron ore that continues for over 100 miles. Virginia lies in the middle of what was named the Mesabi Iron Range. The old mine pit is now the city’s water supply.

After mining, the iron ore needed to be transported to the port city of Duluth, so extensive rail systems were constructed in the late 1800’s. It is reminiscent of the 14 or so miles of railroad tracks that were laid on Corregidor in the early 1900’s in order to construct the barracks and gun batteries. Those structures were made with steel from the United States and concrete bought from Japan before the threat of war. Mixed into the concrete was rock mined and crushed on Corregidor. The quarry was at what is now the west entrance to Malinta Tunnel, which would have had to be about 200 feet longer had the rock not been removed. The tunnel, which ultimately housed headquarters and the 1000 bed hospital, stored fuel, and acted as a giant bomb shelter, was originally dug out of the volcanic rock to enable the rail system to reach the tail end of the island, since the roads around Malinta Hill were far too steep.

Earlier this week we took a six mile walk from Gilbert to Virginia along an old railroad bed that has been turned into a biking and hiking trail, and is part of the extensive Mesabi Trail. There were many differences between walking in northern Minnesota and on the tropical island of Corregidor, but there were also a striking number of similarities.

The temperature difference was most obvious. Despite being July, theoretically the hottest month here, temperatures have been falling into the 40’s at night, and even got down to 39 (4 degrees Celsius – brrrr!) a couple of nights ago. The day we walked was pleasantly cool, something we seldom experience on the Rock. The walk is up and down but not as striking as on Corregidor, where your quadriceps muscles can burn on some of the uphill climbs. The reason for this is that the sections of the roads that are the steepest were not intended for trains, but rather for motor vehicles which could handle the steeper inclines. Instead of palm trees and clusters of bamboo or rattan, you see pine, poplar, and maple trees, and areas of ferns, daisies, cattails, and Indian paintbrush. Instead of monkeys you see squirrels scampering and chasing one another. None of the birds are as brilliant as the colorful orioles on Corregidor, but we heard many different species singing as we walked.

The old railroad trails on Corregidor are mostly overgrown, but are often identifiable for two reasons. One is that they are gently sloped flat areas maybe 20 feet wide, which were cut into the sides of steep hills. The other is that you can often still find embedded railroad ties. (The Japanese Army removed virtually all of the rails and sent the steel to Japan to be turned into guns and bullets during their three-year occupation.) Interestingly, we saw original railroad ties lying along the Mesabi Trail, reminding us of Corregidor. There was a length of about 200 yards where the trail was cut through solid rock, leaving 30-foot high rock walls on both sides of the trail. In another section the roadbed had to be raised 100 feet or so to traverse a lake, leaving a steep drop-off on each side. Very unlike Corregidor where you have a steep incline on one side and a steep drop-off on the other.

Walking has been good for us, whether in beautiful, chilly northern Minnesota or historic, hot Corregidor. We’ve slimmed down and Steve’s blood pressure is so low that he sometimes gets light-headed if he stands up quickly. Walking outside beats mall walking, which we used to do in Michigan winters. We look forward to resuming out regular walks on the Rock and invite you to join us some day.

Friday, July 3, 2009

We get cold feet

It’s not necessarily strange to be back in the United States. After all, we have only been gone 8 and a half months. What is strange is seeing people dressed like Eskimos in June and July. No kidding, while we were driving through the upper peninsula of Michigan and northern Wisconsin the other day, the temperature was barely 50 degrees Fahrenheit, or 10 degrees Celsius. Add that to the fact that it was windy with off and on rain, and IT WAS COLD!!

After driving for about 10 hours, we stopped for lunch at Ashland, Wisconsin around 2:00 in the afternoon. Ashland is on the southern shore of Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world, and also one of the coldest. While we were eating our MacDoubles, MacChickens, MacFries, and MacCokes, we observed customers seated at tables wearing sweatshirts, jackets, coats, and even stocking hats. One person was so covered that we didn’t realize that it was a woman until she got up to leave and her voice gave her away as she said goodbye. Unfortunately our camera was in the car, but trust us, that is how they were dressed while eating INSIDE MacDonald’s.

This is normally the hottest time of the year in this part of the world. Days are long and the sun is high in the sky. But it’s been so cloudy that the sun is only a memory of what we were used to in the Philippines before rainy season came a month ago. It’s that big yellow bright thing in the sky, right? The thing that’s supposed to heat us up? Global warming? Seriously, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota could use a little global warming right about now.

What makes this doubly tough is that we have been looking forward to the weather here this time of year. We like it hot. We thought, let’s get out of the Philippines during July and the first half of August, the height of rainy season, and let’s go back and really enjoy that typical summer weather that, quite frankly, many Michiganders, Wisconsinites, and Minnesotans find just too darn hot. People in these northern states typically are descended from Northern European stock, where long, cold winters are normal. Our daughter-in-law, no exception, recently told us that she can’t stand it over 75 degrees and sometimes needs to run the air conditioner when we would still be shivering. Steve’s mother, ethnically Slovenian and thus Southern European, has lived in northern Minnesota almost all of her life, and also suffers in warm weather. Both of these women would live in constant misery in Manila, or even on Corregidor, where 75 (24 Celsius) is rare, even at night.

Northerners have the philosophy that you can always put on more clothes (to get warmer) but you can’t always take off more clothes (to get cooler). You can’t argue with that. However, we have long since decided that we would rather spend our time in shorts and t-shirts than in long underwear. (Here it is common to see people dressed on cold summer days in whatever it takes to keep warm from the waist up, typically hooded sweatshirts, stocking caps, and so on, but some will still be wearing shorts. We know it sounds weird to most of you, but others of you know exactly what we’re talking about. It’s the philosophy, “It’s summer, darn it, and we’re going to dress like it’s summer – sort of!”)

With the cost of heating a home continuing to rise, it made more sense to us to live where you don’t pay to heat your house. For those of you in the Philippines who are reading this, that’s right, most Americans pay to heat their homes. In our last house we had to budget $4000 a year just for heating oil, and this past winter, which was much colder than the last few, $4000 may not have been enough. Our one son who is married – you already know something about his wife – heats his home in the winter by burning wood, which he spends the rest of year cutting, splitting, and drying, just to be able to afford to heat his home.

We had an in-ground swimming pool at our last house. We can only imagine that if we were still living there we might not even be using it yet, since we both like our bathing water slightly warm. On Corregidor we can go swimming pretty much any time as long as it’s not too windy and therefore too wavy. We went swimming Christmas Day and the water, although cooler than in summer, was still comfortable.

We do not even have a water heater in our house. This means that if Marcia wants hot water for washing clothes or dishes she has to heat it on the bottled-gas stove. This also means that we take showers in unheated water. Admittedly there are times when the water is too cool to enjoy a shower, and even times when it is a little difficult to rinse off all the soap suds. But usually if we are patient we can take a shower in the afternoon when the sun has heated up the water which runs to our house through pipes that are barely under ground. In northern Minnesota the water pipes have to be buried several feet under ground to prevent the water from freezing solid in the winter, which results in burst pipes. The result is closed schools and businesses, and often just plain misery until the repair crews can fix the problems, something made immeasurably more difficult by having to work in ground that is frozen as hard as solid rock.

Last night we attended an outdoor concert, with the Virginia City Band performing an hour of patriotic march music. Although most attendees were wearing blue jeans we did spot a half dozen or so in long sleeves and shorts. However, as we get ready to send out this email, we see sunny skies on the morning of the 3rd of July. We’re hopeful that as we attend the local parades and then spend the 4th of July “at the lake,” we’ll be able to celebrate America’s Independence Day with our family while not shivering the whole time.

Happy 4th of July and God Bless America!

Steve and Marcia – currently not – on the Rock