Women’s Final Four: Tampa

We are in Tampa, FL, for the Women’s Final Four College Basketball Championship. For the past 15 years or so we have made the Women’s Final Four a vacation trip. We go almost every year, regardless of what teams get through the earlier rounds of the tournament.

UConn Husky
UConn Husky

We are not completely disinterested fans, however. My husband and I both grew up in Connecticut, and although neither of us attended the University of Connecticut, we still root for its teams, particularly the women’s basketball team. Most years we get to see the UConn women at the Final Four. This year they are going for a threepeat: a third consecutive national championship.

But even if the UConn women weren’t here again this year, we’d still have a good time. I love college sports. I love the bands and the mascots and the partisan fans with their signs, costumes, and painted faces.

2014 was a particularly special year because, as we were in Nashville for the Women’s Final Four, the UConn men were winning the men’s championship. The day after the men won it all, the women did the same. The University of Connecticut is the only school that has ever had its men’s and women’s basketball teams win their national championships in the same year, and UConn has done it twice (2004 and 2014).

Notre Dame "Fighting Irish" Leprechaun
Notre Dame “Fighting Irish” Leprechaun

That won’t happen this year, but the women are still in the running for another trophy. Last night’s semifinal games were a mixed bag. The first game featured Notre Dame against South Carolina. The South Carolina women began the season ranked #1. They started out slowly in their game against ND but did manage to catch up. The second half, especially the last 10 minutes of that 20-minute period, was exciting. SC managed to pull ahead by one point near the end and had a good chance to win, but they failed to score with the final seconds ticking away, allowing ND to score a bucket and win by one point.

South Carolina Gamecock
South Carolina Gamecock
Maryland Terrapin
Maryland Terrapin

The second game between UConn and the University of Maryland was quite different. Maryland stayed close for a while, but UConn was up by 11 at halftime. Eventually UConn pulled away. The final score was Maryland 58, UConn 81.

The championship showdown comes tomorrow night. (Those of you who can’t be here can watch on ESPN.)


security guy
Subtle security guy circulating among crowd.

As always, immersing ourselves in the crowd outside the stadium before the gates opened offered lots of interest. A not-very-subtle security guy walked slowly past us, with his earwig and walkie-talkie. Don’t they know that, in 88 degree weather, in a crowd wearing shorts and tank tops, a guy in a suit, even a light-colored one, would stick out? Maybe that’s the point. Maybe his presence was an announcement: “Don’t try anything. We’re watching.”

And in addition to a couple of pairs of ordinary police circulating, I also saw a group of six more intimidating officers march by, 3 x 2. They were more heavily dressed, including their gadget-laden belts and heavy lace-up boots. These were not your ordinary Officer Friendly cops. They weren’t wearing helmets and didn’t have SWAT emblazoned across their backs, but they might as well have. I thought it prudent not to try to photograph them.

It’s not terribly surprising to see such sights at a time when a young man is on trial for bombing the 2013 Boston Marathon.

On a cheerier note, I marvel at the creativity and patience of the creator of this sand sculpture outside the arena:

sand image
Of course there must be sand in Tampa.

Departing from Sea-Tac Airport

During the 40+ years we lived in St. Louis, we became spoiled air travelers. St. Louis was the hub for TWA, which meant that we could get a direct flight from our home airport to just about any other major city in the United States. And back in the truly good old days, we often had our choice of several direct flights and could pick the most convenient time for us.

But when TWA went belly up, American Airlines absorbed it and soon phased out St. Louis as a hub in favor of Chicago and Dallas/Fort Worth. No longer could we get a direct flight to anywhere and instead had to travel to either Chicago or DFW to get a connecting flight to wherever we wanted to go. The number of available flights also dwindled. We usually ended up with no choices, forced to take the one available flight to the new hub and then the one flight to our destination city.

Now that we’ve retired to Tacoma, WA, Sea-Tac Airport has become our new hometown airport. Alaska Airlines has for some time been the major airline headquartered at Sea-Tac and has been increasing its service area. In fact, Alaska initiated a nonstop flight between Sea-Tac and St. Louis just before we left St. Louis.

Recently, Delta Air Lines has begun to compete with Alaska Airlines as the major carrier out of Sea-Tac. This healthy competition is good for consumers in terms of number of destination cities and number of available flights.

But the addition of flights is a drawback in that Sea-Tac does not have the infrastructure to support both the increased number of flights and the increased number of passengers. Where passengers already see this problem is in the horrendously long lines that form at the entrances to the security checkpoints.

And the problems will only get worse. On January 27, 2015, The Seattle Times reported on plans to expand Sea-Tac to accommodate an expected boom of passengers over the next 20 years: Traffic at the airport is expected to grow from last year’s [2014] 37 million passengers to 66 million 20 years from now:

A new International Arrivals Facility planned for 2019 is only the beginning. Also on the drawing board are plans for 35 more airplane gates added to the north and south of the airport’s 81 current gates, and potentially an additional new passenger terminal.

This article reports that Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines are involved in a dispute over “how, or even whether,” the new International Arrivals Facility (IAF) should be funded. The cost of the proposed new facility was recently increased to $608 million.

More recently KING 5, Seattle’s NBC affiliate station, reported on March 5, 2015, about a public meeting at which Sea-Tac International Airport and Port of Seattle officials presented expansion plans:

Sea-Tac projects up to 66 million passengers by 2034 and indicates it needs to add gates, a new international terminal and reconfigure other infrastructure around the property.

There will be several more public meetings in upcoming months to gather public input on the expansion plans.

In the meantime, anyone flying out of Sea-Tac Airport should plan to allow plenty of time for getting through the screening process. When we arrived at about 6:45 for a recent early-morning flight, the line was not too long, but later in the day the line can snake out of sight down the concourse. Plan to arrive at least two hours before your scheduled departure time, or even earlier if you’re flying out during the peak mid-day hours.

Portland, OR: Powell’s Books & Saturday Market

My husband F., our daughter K., and I took a weekend road trip to Portland, OR, where K. and I attended a blogging conference while F. got to explore and take lots of photos.

Powell's City of Books windowWe arrived early enough on Friday afternoon to visit Powell’s Books. Our hotel was within walking distance of Powell’s flagship store:

1005 W. Burnside St.
Portland, OR 9729

I don’t remember when I first heard of Powell’s Books, but it was long before the Pacific Northwest was on our personal radar. It’s well known among book lovers.

This place is HUGE: It occupies an entire city block and stocks more than one million new and used books displayed in nine color-coded rooms divided into 3,500 different sections. The store also features a gallery that hosts a new art exhibit every month as well as many author events. Authors who have appeared here in the past include Roddy Doyle, Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Chabon, and Annie Leibovitz. But wait, there’s more: The Rare Book Room offers autographed first editions and other collectible volumes. And, in order to offer used books, Powell’s purchases used books from the public.

I dare you to visit Powell’s without coming home with at least one of these:

powells bag

Before leaving for home on Sunday, after the conference, we took a quick trip through the Portland Saturday Market , which now, luckily, is also open on Sundays.

Portland Saturday Market

The Portland Saturday Market (PSM) was founded in 1974 by two Portland-area artists as an open-air market selling handmade food and craft items. In 1976 the market moved from a parking lot to a location under the Burnside Bridge. In 1977 the market began opening on Sundays as well as Saturdays. Redevelopment of Portland’s historic Old Town district began in 2006, and the market moved to its current location in Waterfront Park in 2009.

Under Oregon law, PSM is “a mutual benefit corporation, a special class of institutions that do not make a profit, but exist for the economic benefit of their members, making PSM a non-profit organization that is not tax-exempt.” Today it has more than 350 members, generates about $8 million in gross sales annually, and is one of the largest tourist attractions in Portland. Seven full-time and 10 part-time staff members administer the market and its programs.


Everything at PSM is handcrafted by the vendor who is selling it. Vendors are small business owners from Oregon and Washington. The market is open every weekend from March through Christmas Eve, and is open the entire week before Christmas for last-minute shopping. Admission for shoppers is free.

My husband and I visited PSM about 15 years ago when we were in Portland to embark on a boat cruise of the Columbia River. We were amazed at how much bigger the market is now. There are so many great products to see: jewelry, clothing, pottery, art, photography, candles, leather goods. Because PSM is a juried market, all products are of high quality.

Even if you don’t buy anything, PSM is worth a visit for the street fair atmosphere, the original products, and the food. My daughter and I both exercised great restraint: We each came away with only one set of earrings and matching necklace.

Study Abroad: Dublin

This was a recent prompt from WordPress, Study Abroad:

If you were asked to spend a year living in a different location, where would you choose and why?

Since I haven’t done much international traveling, the first thought that came to mind when I read this prompt was Dublin. A year ago we took only our second trip out of the Unites States, to Ireland, and simply loved it. It was one of those whirlwind tours that took us to a different place every day or two. The purpose of such trips is to allow you to get your money’s worth by squeezing as many places as possible into a short time. But you don’t get to spend much time in any one place.

pints of Guinness
pints of Guinness

And so I’d like to go back to Dublin and soak in the local ambiance. The Dublin Writers Museum reminded me of just how rich Irish literary history is. But the real draw for me is that I still have as one item on my bucket list to read through James Joyce’s Ulysses, a copy of which I bought on last year’s trip. What better place to do that than in Dublin? And then I’d be able to participate in Bloomsday activities, following the path Leopold Bloom took while wandering around the city and thinking his thoughts. What could possibly be better than that (besides a few pints of Guinness and plates of Irish stew in a few local pubs)?

Irish stew
Irish stew

It might take me most of the year to get through Ulysses, but I hope I’d also have time to take a few side trips. I’d like to hop over to London for a while and check out the Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey and attend a play in the reconstructed Globe Theatre. And one other item high on my bucket list is to see Stonehenge. And of course there are all kinds of other literary places to visit, both in London (Baker Street, anyone?) and throughout England (Agatha Raisin’s Cotswolds, Thomas Hardy country, Jane Austen’s milieu, and those Wuthering Heights).

Now I’m sad that this is a purely hypothetical exercise. Dublin would be a great place to study abroad, both in its own right and as a jumping-off point for other adventures.