Category Archives: Essay

One Wacky Western Landmark

For years, whenever I traveled on the 202 freeway loop and saw a strange wedding cake shaped structure in the distance I wondered about it. Then the gardener saw a program on TV where the place was identified as Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights. I googled the castle and discovered that there were tours of the property. When we decided we wanted to go check it out, I found that I needed to book the tour many months in advance. So about nine months ago I bought the $15 tickets for two. In the amount of time it takes to develop a full human baby, the gardener and I finally were allowed to visit and learn about Tovrea Castle.

Our tour group traveled across the property and up to the castle in two golf carts driven by our two orange-attired docents, each named Nancy. I’m not sure if the tour guides have to be called Nancy or if it was a coincidence they were both named Nancy. (OK, I’m kidding).

The castle and acreage are now in the middle of the city with industrial and commercial zoning all around. It’s not far from Sky Harbor Airport either, and I saw several planes overhead. Other people on my tour saw roadrunners, squirrels, and a jackrabbit with big ears, but I didn’t catch a glimpse of anything with a heartbeat outside of our tour.

What looked like a castle from afar actually wasn’t that large up close. The entire building is about 5,000 square feet, and that includes the basement, which is the largest floor. The second and third floors have small hotel rooms. We were not allowed to go up there, but were told that there is only one bathroom per floor. On a 360 degree iPad tour, the rooms looked quite nice and ready for move in. I might call the architectural style cheesy, but maybe I just don’t appreciate it properly. The light fixtures and other accessories were all in the art deco style, which is definitely a style I like very much.

The castle is painted in its original colors. The front door was remarkable for its plainness. From every floor of the building it is possible to get a 360 degree view of Phoenix.

The bannister is made of terrazo and the columns marble. Terrazo is a compound of granite and concrete.

Before the castle was ever built, F.L. and Lizzie Warner established a homestead on 160 acres in 1907. They built their house (no longer in existence) on a rocky knoll, overlooking . . . desert. Scrub is what I call it. Eventually they added to their property and when Lizzie (after F.L. died) sold the property to Alessio Carraro in 1928 there was a total of 277 acres.

Carraro was an Italian immigrant who made a fortune in the sheet metal business in San Francisco. In 1928 he moved to Arizona, wanting to develop a desert resort and luxury housing subdivision. The “castle” was built as a hotel and completed in 1930. Because of the Great Depression, Carraro had to sell the property in 1931 at a great loss to get cash. Maybe he also sold because his wife refused to move to the desert. Or maybe it was another reason . . . .

While Carraro owned the property, a lot of construction was completed. He hired a Russian gardener, called Mokta, who built an enormous cactus garden. The garden still exists, in a way, but some of the sahuaros (the sentinels of the Sonoran Desert) are dead or dying, and it does not look as rich and thickly planted as shown in the old photographs. What my gardener noticed (that was not mentioned by the tour guides) was that in the old days the property was completely irrigated, whereas today it is not. Even sahuaros need some water, I guess.

Mokta, Carraro, and Carraro’s son Leo planted over 500 species of cactus and lined the property with white river rock from the Salt River. They also created two concrete-lined pools, a horseshoe area, and a game court (for a game that was a combination of bocce and pool).

At this point, the history of Carraro and the “castle” meets the history of the Tovrea family.

Edward Ambrose (“E.A.”) Tovrea was born in Illinois in 1861 and moved to Kansas at the age of 10 where he worked on a cattle ranch. He started a freight company that transported goods between western states and eventually settled in Arizona where he built and owned butcher shops throughout the state, founding the Arizona Packing Company, later known as the Tovrea Packing Company.

In 1931, E.A. and his second wife, Della, purchased the castle with 44 acres from Alessio Carraro. Now this is not part of the official story, but I found it online and maybe it’s the real reason Carrara had to sell the property:

Carraro’s dream of a resort hotel and a subdivision of fine homes ended a few months later. For some time, Carraro had tried unsuccessfully to buy 40 acres adjacent to his land that would serve as an important buffer between his property and a stockyard and meat packing plant. When the acreage finally was sold, it went not to Carraro, but to the owner of the nearby packing company E. A. Tovrea.

Tovrea promptly put up sheep pens on the land. That was it for Carraro, who figured few people would be interested in buying a nice home next to a flock of sheep. In June, 1931, Carraro accepted an offer from a real estate agent for the hotel and much of the property. Unknown to him was that the buyer was Della Tovrea.

What rotten luck. I’ve seen photos of the descendents of Carrara and Tovrea together in a friendly manner, but this must have been such a blow to Carrara.

That stockyard came to be part of the Tovrea Stockyards. Can you imagine the smell in the heat of the summer?

E.A. passed away within a year, leaving behind a son who took over the family businesses. Della Tovrea resided in the castle until her death in 1969. During the time the property was owned by the Tovreas, features added to the gardens include a large concrete patio just east of the castle, a rose garden, an aviary, and a reflecting pool. The pool reflected an enormous sahuaro. The sahuaro is now a skeleton only 1/3 its original height.

There are a lot of small outbuildings on the property, but most are completely falling apart.  The well house is one of the few that still stands. You can see it below.

Near the well house is the dovecote which is completely fallen apart. The dovecote was to keep pigeons to feed the many workers.

Another outbuilding was a little kennel for the dogs. It was just a large free-standing cage. The guide explained that this was built for the protection of the dogs because of the dangerous predators in the area. Hello! So the dogs are inside this cage the size of a small bathroom and the bobcats, mountain lions, javelina, coyotes, and God knows what else, are LUNGING at them from the outside. How many dogs ended up with heart attacks?!

Della Tovrea was a very important person in the Arizona Democratic Party and the only woman representative for Arizona at the 1936 convention.  In her later years, she began sleeping in the kitchen. I have no idea why she slept in the kitchen. She had developed a fear of being locked in her huge bank-type vault in the basement by burglars and had had the lock disabled. One night while she slept just feet away from her beautiful blue kitchen sink two burglars did break in and force her to take them around the house pointing out the valuables. There are two different stories about how a bullet hole was made in the kitchen ceiling that night. In one version, a burglar shot his gun. In another version, it was Della herself and her old Colt. When the men left in their pink Cadillac (no relation to Mary Kay or Elvis, to my knowledge), she had no way (in 1969!) to contact the police or the caretakers who lived in a cottage on the grounds and had to make her way to their house in the pouring rain. She died two months later, possibly of pneumonia.

The cast of characters in the story of Tovrea Castle would make for a picaresque novel, to be sure, and I think Della was the greatest piece of work of all. I have a soft spot, though, for Carrara who was a dreamer who repurposed creatively (the blue sink might have come from elsewhere, as did the maple floors and other features of the building and grounds). He took risks and couldn’t withstand the machinations of “bottom line Tovrea,” as I like to think of him.

Today the basement is a tiny museum of Carraro Heights. The ceiling is the bird’s nest style (with hidden eggs throughout). And there are tunnels leading outside.

The Boy Scouts made and installed green ladder stairs around the property. These are views far away and up close.

In 1993, the Castle and the 44 acre Cactus Gardens were purchased from the Tovrea Family Estate by the City of Phoenix which now maintains the National Register of Historic Places property and runs the tours. But at some point somebody else must have run tours here because in the basement there is an old sign.

When I asked why it’s necessary to buy tickets so many months in advance, the tour guides explained to me that they don’t have enough docents. I’d almost swear the one lady looked at me pointedly and hopefully at that moment.

The thing is that while the combination of history and garden and architecture was great fun for both the gardener and me, the desert leaves me cold (you know what I mean). I can’t blame Carrara’s wife for not budging from San Francisco. Are you KIDDING me? What was he thinking? We probably lucked out and got the last beautiful weather for the next three months or so. From now on it will be HOT.

On the other hand, plenty of people love the desert. Identify yourself right now!

And, like Tevye (I like musical theatre references), I can always repeat on the other hand: have you ever seen a bluer sky than ours?

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Filed under Essay, Flora, Garden, and Landscape, History, Lifestyle, Liminality, Sightseeing & Travel, Writing

RIP Dreamland

When I was born in Kalamazoo, my paternal grandmother was the head fitter of the 28 Shop at Marshall Field and Company department store in Chicago. This was the big building at the corner of State and Washington; it filled the entire city block. The first floor, where jewelry and cosmetics were housed, looked as elegant as a palace and at Christmastime, the decor helped create the dream of the holiday for children and adults alike.

Marshall Field and Company
Christmas decor
image by Senor Codo

Grandma was a wiz with a needle and fitted the designer apparel and better fashion lines to wealthy women and to celebrities. Her favorite was Imogene Coca who she felt was a very gracious lady. One of her stories I regret remembering imperfectly was that a very famous movie star had deeply pocked skin and her makeup hid her skin condition from the public. If only I could recall who that was.

When Grandma retired, one of the gifts she received was perhaps incidental to her, but to me meant so much. It was the history of Marshall Field and the department store, called Give the Lady What She Wants.  I grew up among retailers. My dad the luggage store, my grandpa the gas station, and my great-grandfather a fish market and, later, a soda shop. One branch of relatives, the Mulders in Goes, Netherlands, owned a shop selling “paint and colonial goods” for years. A few years ago (not sure if it’s still the case) you could still make out the name Mulder on the building.

When the gardener and I were 23 we opened a small retail store in a mall and stayed in the business until I graduated with my MFA in writing and we moved away for further schooling for both of us.

Although neither of us has worked in retail for years, we have fond memories. In fact, I feel as if retail is in my blood. Maybe it’s the Mulders (and others) in my DNA, maybe it’s from when I “played store” as a kid.

So watching the decline of retail over the years has been devastating to me. It’s a phenomenon rarely talked about by people. But it’s like watching a slow suffering death of a beloved family member. And yet, of course, it’s not. They are no longer beloved because these stores have (for the most part) been long ago taken over by companies called equity firms that are all about the bottom line and not the ART and CREATIVITY and PASSION that goes into building good businesses.

Because these businesses no longer care about their customers, their customers (ex, current, or no-longer-potential) don’t care about them. But I care about them as ghosts of what once existed.

Every city had its landmark department store. Even Kalamazoo had Gilmore Brothers. Think of the department store or stores where you grew up. If you’re old enough, you probably have some fond memories. They could be wonderlands to visit, even if all you did was window shop. Or whisper your wants into Santa Claus’s ear or watch the parade around the time of Thanksgiving. They were a sort of Dreamland for many of us.

When I was in grad school, I loved reading literature about young women who worked at these stores. Carrie in Dreiser’s Sister Carrie and the real life Maimie Pinzer of The Maimie Papers were two of these books.

Is it a coincidence that Amazon and other internet vendors have increased and taken over much of the business from department stores at the same time that these stores have been taken over by equity firms? Or are the two events symbiotic, as in they have both helped each other to their end goals, which (to my mind) is the death of the department store?

The other day I read an article that declared that Macy’s was closing all its department stores and reopening as a discount company. Macy’s has been a cannibal, gobbling up one department store and department store chain after another–even including my beautiful Marshall Field store on State Street.  You can read the article here and weep.

I am getting weary mourning the loss of something so vital to our sense of community and a place of beauty. Weary because this suffering has been going on for a long time now and every time I hear a sputter or gasp it breaks my heart a little more.

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Filed under Essay, Family history, History, Nonfiction, Writing

Mom Made Me

I’m sorry this post turned out so long. My back has been out for days, so I probably am not thinking clearly. I’m taking Advil, but it isn’t touching the pain. (Hidden subtext: feel sorry for me, please).

LESSONS

My parents struggled financially when I was a kid, but I still got weekly lessons in one or more of the arts.

When I was about seven, my mother started me in ballet school. Mrs. B had been trained in the Royal Academy style of ballet and had been a member of Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet. I wasn’t very talented, but I tried (I really did) and managed ok. My favorite part of Royal Ballet training were the folk dances because they were a release of emotion, whereas you had to suck it all in for ballet. Not just the emotions, but also the derriere, as Mrs. B called it.

By third grade, I wanted to tap dance. Tapping seemed more outgoing and forgiving of mediocre talent than ballet. As a guest student one Saturday morning, I watched kids pull their shoes out of their little pink or black dance bags. They all had black patent-leather shoes with single ribbons across the arches and silver taps screwed on the fronts and backs of the soles. When the kids lined up in rows across the wooden floor, I tried to copy, but was several steps behind, which confused me.  I knew there was no use as Mom wouldn’t let me join the class permanently.

What I had already learned by then was that ballet was “good” for me, and tap wasn’t enriching, so there wasn’t extra money for it.

A couple years later, I fell in love with the Scottish highland dancing that Mrs. B taught in the class after mine. It’s related to Irish dancing with a stiff upper body and strong legs. Unfortunately, you need expensive kilts, knee socks, and black lace-up shoes even for class. Mom said NO.

hs-16

A few years later, I was reminded again that Mom knew best about what lessons I needed. It was important that I learn to play the spinet piano that my parents had purchased.  But there was no money for voice lessons, drama class at the Civic Theatre, or riding lessons (or a horse ;)).

A few years later, Mom decided that art lessons were important, so I went to art class at the art museum.

HOW DID I FEEL ABOUT THESE LESSONS AT THE TIME?

Sometimes I cried myself to sleep on Friday nights, filled with anxiety over the ballet class to come next day. I didn’t cry because I didn’t want to dance, but because the older girls were “mean girls,” and they treated my friend and I with condescension and nasty comments.

Sometimes I fooled around on the piano between lessons, but I never practiced. Right before my lesson each week–if I had a few minutes–I would pull out last week’s assignment and read it over, maybe plunk a few keys. Then I went into class and played better than I had the week before. Not well. Just better. After all, it was my second time playing the pieces. I didn’t realize my piano teacher knew I didn’t practice until one day when tears came to her eyes as she chastised me. “You could play quite well if you would just take the time to practice.”

Ahem. That was my modus operandi for a lot of things, let me tell you. That’s probably why art lessons went well. There was no homework. We did our work in class and then didn’t think about it again until the following week.

WHAT DO I THINK ABOUT THE LESSONS NOW?

I learned a lot from taking ballet for years. As a young adult, I even went back to ballet class on my own–and searched out Mrs. B. More recently, Mom attended a lecture on Swan Lake by my old teacher who still looks marvelous (yes, Mom sent a picture).

I loved art class and it gave me an advantage in art classes in public school.

Piano taught me about music in a general sense. It also taught me that I was a disorganized and lazy fool who threw away opportunities.

My parents found it hard to carve out money for these lessons. I felt ungrateful.

Now I’m kind of winded with guilt when I think of how many kids would have loved these lessons and they received none.

Sometimes I wonder if I would have become a more outgoing person if I’d been allowed to pursue the arts that appealed to my child sense of fun–tap dance, highland dancing, singing, acting, and riding (which I tend to think of as an art as well as a sport)–rather than pursuing the more introverted endeavors of ballet (huge focus on barre work), piano, and art.

 

Did I learn any parenting lessons from my experience? Hahaha. No. And yes.

When my daughter was little, she showed singing talent by age four. I thought I would ignore that and encourage her in sports, rather than the “typical” lessons for little girls. I went on and on  yadda yadda how I would put her in soccer and roller hockey and keep her away from the “expected” activities for girls.

But when she was six, she begged for shoes that make noise, and I knew I couldn’t force her in a direction I thought was correct. The way she could get shoes that made noise was to take tap lessons.  Now, after years of dance, voice, and acting lessons (that cost me buckets of money) and years of experience in those areas, my daughter is able to go after her own interests–as she says, she follows her dream. For full disclosure, by age nine, she had the makings of a talented athlete according to her PE teacher, but she had to decide between performing lessons and sports because there is only so much time and money, and she had religious classes as well. She chose performing.

If you think I’m writing this to point out that my mother was wrong to choose my lessons and that I was right to let my daughter’s interests call the shots, I’m not. Well, maybe I thought that once, but not any more. I was a lucky duck for my lessons and my teachers, and my daughter was also blessed to have the lessons and teachers she had. I’m not sure either philosophy is right. Training and experiences do help guide our paths in life. Maybe I would be more outgoing if I’d had tap and voice lessons, but then it’s less likely that I would be a writer. If my daughter had been persuaded to pursue soccer at a certain point in her life, who knows where her life would be today? She wouldn’t be the brilliant performer she is, though, that I believe.

If neither of us had had these lessons at all, our paths would have been still different. Different, not necessarily worse or better. That’s just my opinion. But I can almost hear other opinions clamoring out there. Maybe you had lessons you hated? Or lessons you couldn’t have that you wanted so bad you still feel resentful? Maybe you think kids shouldn’t have lessons at all until they prove themselves worthy of them?

What is your opinion of supplemental art and music (type) lessons for kids?

One last thing: I feel very very strongly that art and music (and dance and drama) should be offered in public school for children of all ages. This is a different subject than after-school lessons, but obviously related.

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Filed under Art and Music, Essay, Family history, Lifestyle, Nonfiction, Writing

How Do You Like Your Art–Fixed or Unfixed?

For years, it didn’t occur to me that art could be other than how I knew it: something tangible that existed in a (hopefully) permanent form so that the art appreciator could go back again and again and drink at its well.

I learned that I could have a different reaction at different times, but that the art itself was the same–only I had changed. Or its context had changed.

At the Chicago Art Institute my favorite painting was Caillebotte’s “Paris, A Rainy Day.” Anytime I visited Chicago I could go to the gallery and see it again.

from Wikipedia

from Wikipedia

At six, I fell in love with Tchiakovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty Waltz,” probably because I knew it from Disney–having seen the movie before I turned four–and when my mother bought me the classical album, I even carried it to first grade class for show and tell. I fell asleep every night to the entire symphony for quite awhile.

There is a difference between the Caillebotte and the Tchiakovsky beyond art form. The Caillebotte is a fixed art form. Unchangeable. The Tchiakovsky is, as well, except that it can be varied upon because every time a new symphony performs it, something might change. I still consider this a fairly fixed form, though, because I am unlikely to notice the differences. It takes a lot of musical education to know.

The ultimate fixed form, to my mind, is the book. It’s unlikely to change and, unlike art, which draws part of its meaning from its setting in a gallery or on a street corner, a book is the same around the world. As a writer, I like the fixed nature of the art I work in. It suits my hoarding, controlling nature.

I was interested in theatre and dance from a very young age, even writing and directing little plays for the neighborhood kids and my classmates. I created puppet theatres with, wait for it, dolls, of course. But I never stopped to think about this form of art.  Is it fixed, especially after the play script is written, or is it unfixed because there are so many variables–actors, directors, costumes, sets, props, technical crew, and even errors change the art. The audience has the ability to change it.

When my daughter fell head first into the performing arts, I shapeshifted into one of those crazy dance moms running around with a video camera, always wanting to record her performances, even tech rehearsal, because I had grown up thinking art must be captured to exist. If my daughter danced and it wasn’t recorded, had she really created art?

Then I read and began to teach Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Ceremony about a half Laguna Pueblo / half white WWII veteran with PTSD. There is a very important scene where Tayo visits a Navajo medicine man for a cure. The ritual involves the creation of a white corn sand painting. The shocker for me was that the painting is erased. Yes, erased. The purpose is in the making, not in the hanging onto it. When you think about it, this is a much more spiritual response to art because it takes the need to control out of the picture. It is not goal or perfection oriented.

When I researched the sand paintings, I discovered that the notion of saving our art, rather than erasing or letting it change over time naturally (like the poems of balladeers), is culturally based. It even intrigued me when I finally read about elephants creating art (I’ve written about that before when I talked about the book When Elephants Weep) that they create and then erase. Of course, they do: humans, not elephants, are ridiculous hoarders. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Or does our culture demand it?

Maybe not. Look at performance art. Poetry slams. Improv shows. “The Million Line Poem” by Tupelo Press. Even New York theatre is reaching out to the audience to participate in many plays. Is this a fad that can’t survive? After all, the sand painting survived as art process because it was a ritualized part of the life of a people. Without this broader context for unfixed art, can these art forms survive?

Another reason we might be stuck with mainly fixed art: iPhones and other technology. Did you hear about an audience member setting up a video camera on a tripod to record Adele’s concert? She was pissed and chastised the person. But it’s a losing battle. No venue can police an entire audience–and what kind of relationship would that produce?

What about your tastes? Do you prefer your art fixed, like books and paintings, or unfixed, like ice sculptures? Or do you prefer something in between–a known script in a new production, a live concert of your favorite band’s best songs?

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, Art and Music, Essay, Nonfiction, Writing, Writing Talk

Who Can Put Humpty Together Again? (Hint: We Can)

When I was a teen, it was popular to believe that nurture was far superior to nature–and that almost anything in nature could be overcome. I took that with me into parenting when we adopted our children as babies from Korea. Even if my kids were to come with problems, my love and care and brains would allow them to thrive. (Don’t judge me–it was the 80s).

Hahahaha. My kids are wonderful people, both because of their upbringing (I hope) and most definitely because of their genes. But this isn’t actually about them.

I was so stupid  naive.

One reason I was naive is that I didn’t realize that my own genes were so flawed. After obtaining 23andme medical information for my daughter and me, I can tell you that my daughter’s genes are far less saddled with disease than mine. That goes for physical and mental diseases.

Another reason for my  naïveté lay in my supposition that nature and nurture can be taken apart.  Is behavior caused by nature or nurture? It’s caused by both and they are more closely tied together than you can imagine.

The experimental field of science that deals with this stuff is called behavioral epigenetics. What behaviorial epigeneticists have discovered is that our genes have been altered and coded by the experiences of our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on. WOWSA. This is so cool. Sometimes science blows my mind.

If your grandfather was ignored left to his own devices by his parents, as I suspect mine was, it not only had an effect on his personality, but it probably changed his DNA–and he passed those altered genes on to my mother who then passed them on to me!!!

So experiences in pogrom-ravaged shtetls, potato famines, slavery, and alcoholic families have encoded our genes for anxiety, depression, and a whole host of other problems.

Don’t think this only works in the negative. Positive adventures in life and strong support and love experienced in childhood encode genes in good ways, as well.

From a writer’s perspective, the new field validates the work I’m doing in Kin Types, my poetry chapbook based on family history research.  All the experiences of my ancestors have influenced (or have had the opportunity to influence) who I am today.  I always felt this was true, but had no idea how it worked and no proof that my hunch was correct. I had a hard time even assuring myself that my studies into my ancestors had any importance other than how it brought details of history alive to me.  But family history done right (it shouldn’t be a study in dates and places) actually teaches a person about him or herself.

Does any of my family history have meaning for my kids? Or my brother (who was also adopted) and his children? The meaning it has is that the people who have made me who I am have contributed to their lives. They don’t have genes encoded with the same adventures and tragedies that mine are, but they have reaped the benefits and drawbacks of being raised by or with someone who has.

Think of the power of this knowledge. New ways of treating mental illness can be developed. And we can take negatively encoded genes and, over generations, change them for the future as we provide positive NURTURING, support, and love to others. It’s not true about Humpty Dumpty. All the pieces can be put back together because genes can be improved — and not through Frankenstein-type science, but through our actions in this world.

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Filed under #AmWriting, Essay, Family history, History, Inspiration, Nonfiction, Poetry, Poetry Collection, Writing

“And So It Goes”

I mentioned some time back that I had a flash nonfiction piece coming out in a journal called Toasted Cheese. There aren’t a lot of places that publish flash nonfiction (as opposed to flash fiction like my “Parking Lot Superhero” story). At least I haven’t found too many.

Here is the latest issue of Toasted Cheese, and in it is my story “And So It Goes.” I believe that if my name was taken off this and Superhero that nobody would guess the same person wrote both of them.  The only thing in common is that both have an experimental quality to them. In the Story Shack piece, I used a structural twist to get to the essence of the story. In this new story, I begin at both the beginning and the end and then move through the story forward and backward.

“And So It Goes” is about my great-great-grandfather Pieter Mulder and my great-great-grandmother Neeltje Gorsse Mulder.

You can find the story here at “And So It Goes.”

 

“And So It Goes” is prose, but it will be in my chapbook collection based on my genealogical research. I expect to have two or three prose pieces, as well as poetry and prose poems.

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Remember that Toasted Cheese provides writing prompts and creative blog posts about writing.

On February 29, I posted this sample from December 15, 2015. You can find April’s writing prompts here.

What Do You Recommend?

 

By Baker

  1. Recommend on social media at least one thing you’ve read this year. If you don’t use social media, recommend in person. Independent authors are particularly grateful for recommendations.
  2. Create some recommendation business cards and leave them with your favorite works in the bookstore. You can print them at home. They could be as simple as the word “recommended” with a thumbs-up or a shelf card that lists why you recommend the book. Don’t put stickers on or in the books.
  3. Ask for recommendations at a used book store and/or independent bookstore. If you’re lucky, your local chain bookstore will have fellow book lovers who are well-versed enough to recommend as well.
  4. Recommend a book to a friend on Goodreads.
  5. While you’re there, write a recommendation of a book. If you’re stuck for one, think of a book you discovered on your own and write the review as though you’re speaking to your younger self.

 

I’d like to remind you that today is Holocaust Remembrance Day (began last evening) and Cinco de Mayo. Two completely different events to ponder, both related to war.  Look at how much one day can contain. It reminds me that in writing it’s important to think small to go big.

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Family history, Flash Nonfiction, History, Literary Journals, Nonfiction, Poetry Collection, Writing

Pilot Fish Trailblazer Nominee: Cleveland Amory

I’m so honored to write an article about my hero Cleveland Amory for Patti Moed’s Trailblazer Nominee series over at Pilot Fish. Please check it out and see what kind of world Amory wanted to create.

Pilot Fish

It’s with great pleasure that I introduce this week’s guest blogger, Luanne Castle, who writes about a man who has inspired her since her childhood.Luanne is an award-winning poet, educator, writer, and an advocate for animal rights. She divides her time between California and Arizona, where she shares land with a herd of javelina. Her heart belongs to her four cats and the homeless cats at the animal shelter where she volunteers.
The New England conscience does not stop you from doing what you shouldn’t–it just stops you from enjoying it.–Cleveland Amory

Black Beauty

Black Beauty Cover, First Edition.https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/dc/BlackBeautyCoverFirstEd1877.jpeg Black Beauty Cover, First Edition.https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/dc/BlackBeautyCoverFirstEd1877.jpeg

When I was eight and staying overnight with my grandparents, I discovered a tattered copy of Anna Sewall’s novel Black Beauty in my mother’s old bedroom. I began to read and when my parents came to pick me up the next day I was still reading, lost in the…

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Filed under #AmWriting, Blogging, Cats and Other Animals, Essay, Inspiration, Nonfiction, Reading, Vintage American culture, Writing

Pinched Ideas on Recommending Books

In March I have a flash nonfiction piece coming out in a journal called Toasted Cheese. I will post a link when it’s published. The piece is called “And So It Goes,” and it’s the story of my great-great-grandparents who immigrated from Goes and Kloetinge (Netherlands) to Michigan. It’s meant to be part of the family history chapbook I plan to put together.

If you’re a writer or want to write, I think you might want to check out and follow the Toasted Cheese website. They are very interactive and provide DAILY writing prompts and creative articles about writing and reading. Here’s a sample article from this past December. The subject is book recommendations.

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What Do You Recommend?

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker

  1. Recommend on social media at least one thing you’ve read this year. If you don’t use social media, recommend in person. Independent authors are particularly grateful for recommendations.
  2. Create some recommendation business cards and leave them with your favorite works in the bookstore. You can print them at home. They could be as simple as the word “recommended” with a thumbs-up or a shelf card that lists why you recommend the book. Don’t put stickers on or in the books.
  3. Ask for recommendations at a used book store and/or independent bookstore. If you’re lucky, your local chain bookstore will have fellow book lovers who are well-versed enough to recommend as well.
  4. Recommend a book to a friend on Goodreads.
  5. While you’re there, write a recommendation of a book. If you’re stuck for one, think of a book you discovered on your own and write the review as though you’re speaking to your younger self.

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What do you think of those recommendations? Do you do any of them? Or do you finish a book and move onto the next and squirrel away your reaction in your own mind?

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Kana playing with her activity board

This toy is pricy, but it’s rewarding to see cats hunting for their food (without any resulting tragedies to small animals). This is an activity that is natural for them.

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Lyrical Experimental Flash Nonfiction Bug Struck Me

Cover art by Alex Walsh
Issue 45.1
Winter 2015

Table of Contents

Special Feature: Honoring Alan Cheuse

  • Nicole Idar & Elizabeth Gutting, “Alan Stories”
  • Michael Cowgill, “Major Key”
  • Priyanka A. Champaneri, “Lessons from AC to PC”
  • Nicholas Delbanco, “A Chapter in a Long Tale”
  • And back from our winter ’88 issue, Alan Cheuse’s “Bio”

Fiction

Nonfiction

  • Jason Arment, “Fear City”
  • Luanne Castle, “Ordering in Four Movements”
  • Gail Griffin, “Gloria”

Poetry

  • Drew Attana, “Parallel Parking”
  • Brian Ma, “Mirage Roche”
  • Ellen Noonan, “Ditto”, “Certainty”
  • Heather Bartlett, “A Mockingbird Sings”
  • Katie Willingham, “Let’s Hope Kepler-186f Is Baren”, “Honey Locust”
  • Monika Cassel, “Feeding Cake to the Storks”
  • Felicia Zamora, “No Fisher”
  • Shareen K. Murayama, “Exploded as in Fairy Tale”
  • Amy Jo Trier-Walker, “Prowl the Marriage Away”
  • Phoebe Reeves, “ˈƐƏˌtaɪt (airtight)”
  • Vanesha Pravin, “Dialectic Through a Stained Glass Window”
  • Champa Vaid, “Neither Sleep nor Death”, “Tree of Memories”

Editorial Staff

  • Fiction Editor: Lina Patton
  • Poetry Editor: Qinglan “Q” Wang
  • Nonfiction Editor: Eric Botts
  • Assistant Fiction Editor: Sarah Bates
  • Assistant Poetry Editor: Douglas Luman
  • Assitant Nonfiction Editor: Kerry Folan
  • Faculty Advisor: Eric Pankey

Readers

Betsy Allen, Sarah Batcheller, Kristen Brida, Edward Capobianco, Andrew Cartwright, Christina Crockett, Sarah Davis, Kyle Freelander, Kelly Hanson, Michael Hantman, Frank Harder, Darcy Gagnon, Ariel Goldenthal, Kelsey Goudie, John Guthrie, Stephanie Klien, Joey Kuhn, Madison Lennon, Isaac Lewandowski, Lisa Macedo, Janice Majewski, Yousra Medhkour, Katie Ray, Katie Richards, Rebekah Satterwhite, Cloud Spurlock, Melanie Tague, Alex Walsh, Madeleine Wattenberg, Sarah Wheeler, Lily Wright

Special Thanks To

Leslie Steiger, David S. Carroll, Kathryn Mangus and the George Mason University Office of Student Media, Eric Pankey and the George Mason University Creative Writing Program.

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Go, Read, Enjoy!!!

Let’s talk about Sheila Morris‘ new book The Short Side of Time. It’s a collection of some of her best blog posts. Click through the cover image to order her book.

I’ll let the blurb I wrote for her book (yes, she asked me to write a blurb–woohoo!!!) describe The Short Side of Time:

These hand-picked treasures from the blogs of Sheila Morris showcase her humor and heart while immersing the reader in the day-to-day life and decades of experience offered by a lesbian now on the “short side of time.” Morris loves her sports teams, the written word, and her friends. What means the most to her, though, is family, including her partner Teresa, her dogs, and her late grandmother. Morris’ lively and thoughtful voice draws readers into the drama of her Texas upbringing, as well as how recent milestones for the LGBT community have contributed to her life.

Sheila and I first met through her blog about her dog The Red Man, Red’s Rants and Raves, and my family history blog The Family Kalamazoo.  Red writes the blog posts in his own voice, which is very appealing to this animal lover. Sheila has two other blogs, as well. Imagine my surprise when I first read I Will Call It Like I See It, written in Sheila’s voice, rather than Red’s! Sheila showcases her photographs on The Old Woman Slow’s Photos. Slow is what Red calls Sheila. Sheila’s partner Teresa is called Pretty. After reading Red for a long time, I had to get used to thinking of them as Sheila and Teresa, rather than Slow and Pretty!

One of the most distinctive qualities of Sheila’s writing (and there are several) is the way she uses humor. She uses it liberally, yes, but also with a carefree flourish that I admire.  She is someone you would want to have around you a lot, maybe a coworker who works in the same space, or a friend you spend a lot of time with.  Since that isn’t possible for most of us, reading her new book is the next best option. Then, if you haven’t yet, read her memoir, Deep in the Heart. You can read my review of that book on the post “A Lesbian in Mayberry.” You’re going to want to get your hands on a copy of that one, too!

Go, read, enjoy!!!

I’m closing comments today because I have to travel so please take the time to go check out one of Sheila’s three blogs!

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