Tag Archives: travel

Mostly Cats

This past week has been exhausting. More travel–to California this time–and time spent at the ER (for the gardener, not me). There’s a story in that ER visit, but I don’t have it in me right now. Scary place, that ER.

The only good thing was that the waiting room had a poster about their therapy dogs. Notice they call them “pets,” but there aren’t any cats. Speciesist of them! Still, I do love when hospitals use therapy animals.

I had occasion to visit Riverside, California, for the first time in awhile. I did my PhD work in that city. Riverside has been a faded flower since I have known it, but you can see that once upon a time it was a gorgeous city. The palm-lined streets are one of the remnants of those days. This particular street grew them taller than I had ever seen before.

Because of all the hubbub of travel and the gardener’s illness (undiagnosed as of yet), I got zero writing done. However, I did make a couple of submissions so that I felt as if I were doing something in the writing department.

I also finished up the calls to the June cat adopters with 100% satisfaction. (I am pretty relentless and track them down eventually). I have a poster to share with you. Feel free to share it around if you’re so inclined. The senior cats on the poster are not at our shelter, but are in Phoenix, Arizona. Their owner, a lady with eleven cats, has a terminal illness–and we are trying to find homes for the cats. There are three seniors left that really need loving homes. They do not have to be adopted together. I watermarked the poster that my daughter made so that even if you share it, I can be found. If you share, just mention that these cats are available in July 2018 and that they can contact me through this blog if they want to find out more.

You want to see even more cat pix? Is that what you said? OK, here are my cats’ headshots. I took them in case they decide to become actors. What do you think? If you notice seven, instead of six, that is because I’ve been babysitting my grandcat Isabella Rose, or Izzie.

Pear Blossom, 18 years old (photobomb care of Perry)

Felix, 12 years old

Tiger, 14 years old

Kana, 11 years old

Sloopy Anne, 7 years old

Perry, 2.5-3 years old

Isabella Rose, 8 years old

Trust me: senior cats are WONDERFUL, so feel free to adopt one of those three from the poster :).

Have a purrfectly wonderful week!

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Filed under #writerlife, #writerslife, Arizona, California, Cats and Other Animals, Nonfiction, Sightseeing & Travel, Writing

Arkansas, America, and Art

Last week I told you about the great restaurant we found in the Ozarks, along the White River bank. But we did more than go to that restaurant. We kept my uncle going every day! It had been decades since we had been to northern Arkansas. When we last visited, there were so many ancient Ozark-style log cabins tucked into the woods on the side of the road that the flavor of the land was everywhere you looked. If you don’t know what those are, they are small slightly rectangular box cabins with a peaked roof and a front porch with roof (imagine a wooden rocking chair and Pa with a corncob pipe just about now). Typically, the cover to the porch is a different pitch than the main roof–and best yet, the roof is generally tin. There aren’t very many left, but the remains of the ones being slowly claimed by the forest can be seen. Also, some have been refurbished with aluminum siding. Some new houses are built in the same style, to reflect the traditional architecture.

The reason I don’t have photos for you is that most of my Arkansas photos are crap, having been taken through a car window. It was too hot and humid to keep rolling the window down–and the so-called highways (NO freeways at all) are winding and long. It’s way out in the country, y’all. Anyway, the gardener drove, and it exhausted him so I didn’t want to distract him by rolling the window up and down–or asking to stop where we could have been run over IF someone else had driven there just then (that’s a big IF).

This part of Arkansas must be well within the Bible Belt. In Mountain Home (population 12,448), the Wednesday newspaper had a listing of churches in the immediate area.

I counted FORTY-ONE Baptist churches. There are also a lot of other denominations, including LDS, Jehovah’s Witness, and even Bahai! There is no synagogue, and I don’t think there is a mosque. Also, there are only two Catholic churches–one in town and one in a nearby town. The one in town is my uncle’s church. You might wonder then how my uncle ended up in Arkansas. He was born and lived in Chicago. After a horrible crime touched his life (story coming tomorrow in thefamilykalamazoo.com) he moved his family to rural Illinois–and eventually to Arkansas. He wasn’t alone–there is a whole “expat” group of Chicagoans who live there. They like being away from the hubbub–and a lot of them like to fish. That–and some Californians who have escaped the west coast–probably makes up the majority of people who attend the Catholic churches.

Let me mention that my favorite church names are the cowboy churches. Notice that this listing shows Bar None Cowboy Church. We flew into Tulsa, OK, and drove to Mountain Home. On the way, we saw other cowboy churches, like the Cowboy Gatherin’ Church in Inola, OK, and Crooked Creek Cowboy Church in Harrison. Apparently “cowboy churches” are a thing and are scattered across the country. Who knew? Well, I sure didn’t.

Speaking of Harrison. It’s only 48.4 miles from Mountain Home, but there’s a big difference. Mountain Home, as I said, has attracted people from Chicago and California and is close to reknowned trout fishing near the Bull Shoals dam which links Bull Shoals Lake with the White River. People think of pretty Ozark country when Mountain Home is mentioned. Harrison’s reputation comes from being known as the most racist city in the country. I got that from Wikipedia. So who knows the accuracy. Apparently, between 1905 and 1909 white citizens threw out all the African-Americans who lived there and established their city as a “sundown town.” That means just what it sounds like: no non-white people in town after dark. You think things have changed?

The city has been dubbed “the most racist city in America” because of its high presence of white supremacist organizations. Kingdom Identity Ministries, a white supremacist organization, was founded in 1982 in Harrison. Thomas Robb, national director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, maintains his office near Harrison in the outlying town of Zinc and uses a Harrison mailing address for the organization. Combined with the history of the 1905 and 1909 banishment of unemployed railroad workers and all other African-American residents, this incidental connection to the KKK has given the town a negative image.

The article goes on to say that there are people who are trying to combat that image by speaking up against racism. Of course, all this just made me want to visit. The writer in me, you know. But that’s an easy call as a white woman. As the white mother of Asians, I would not have suggested we visit if they were with us.

When we got to town, I saw the pretty historic theatre where events are still held.

Love the neon sign!

Harrison is quite a pretty small town, and there wasn’t much to hint at a dangerous undercurrent of racism. Then we stopped at an antique shop for the gardener.

My eye was drawn to certain things. I started to feel uncomfortable.

I realize people collect Mammy this and that. Raised in Kalamazoo by my northern relatives, I will never feel comfortable with this stuff. In fact, in Arkansas, I had to keep reminding myself it used to be a slave state. I’ve never lived in a state where slave-holding was legal.

And then there was this little section.

Don’t you love the juxtaposition of items? The Rise and Fall swastika, desperation, a book called Rifles and Shotguns, Rhett Butler, and the fragility of that ruffled porcelain atop the stack. I figured we’d been in town long enough. Time to go!

Next day we visited my cousin’s home in the mountains. He is an orchid farmer by trade, and they live way out in the middle of nowhere (yup, it’s probably even called that). He always loved cacti and orchids, and it’s kind of cool that he’s made a living all these years doing what he loves.

He’s got such cute grandchildren, too. So much fun playing with them!

One day we visited Mystic Caverns. I guess northern Arkansas has a lot of underground caves. Many have probably not even been discovered yet.

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Close to Mountain Home is a tiny town called Norfork. There you can find the Jacob Wolf House Historic Site.

The site includes the main house, which was the territorial courthouse, built 1825, as well as some outbuildings. Seeing how the men “roughed” it even inside the courthouse really made me think of what the settlers went through. During the day, court was in session, and at night, the men spread out their bedrolls where they had been sitting in court earlier.

As we left Arkansas, the gardener and I stopped at the Osage Clayworks because the area has been known for pottery for quite some time. They had some good buys on “seconds,” and I bought my daughter a garlic thingie to use for her rings on her dresser.

 

The Photography of Justin Hamm

If you like seeing small towns and the fading past of America, you need to check out the photography of poet and photographer Justin Hamm. He’s also the editor of the museum of americana. I love Justin’s photos. Rustic images of old cars, barns, that kind of thing. Gorgeous. Click here for his Instagram. Here are the photos on his website. Look at this photograph of an old Ozark barn, care of Justin. He’s been in the Ozarks recently so I am watching for all those shots I imagined but couldn’t pull off.

 

The Art of Len Cowgill

On the subject of beautiful American art, I want to tell you a little update on the work of Len Cowgill.

Many, many years ago, when Len, the gardener, and I were all very young, Len gave us a series of three pieces as a gift. This was before he knew about archival materials, and over the years in the hot sun of California, the drawings faded. Here is one of them–see HOW faded.

Upon hearing about the fading, Len kindly offered to repair all these drawings. Look out great they turned out! In the first one, he changed the static brick wall to Allen Ginsberg’s poem “America” and then followed the theme for the rest of them.

I’m so blessed to have such thought-provoking and breathtaking art in my life. Thanks to Len and thanks to Justin both for sticking with your passions and making the world more beautiful.

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Rocks and Light: Natural Art

After last week’s Phoenix excursion and the second hummingbird baby flying off into the big world, we took a drive up to the Lower Antelope Canyon to see the stone sculptures. They are on Navajo land outside Page, Arizona, right near Lake Powell.

This area is actually out in the middle of “nowhere,” from the point of view of someone with celiac, an auto-immune disease. In this case, you know I am talking about the gardener.

No offense to anything else about the town, but you don’t want to get stuck in Page if you have celiac. While we were there I found an old blog post someone had written about just that issue. There is supposed to be an Italian restaurant that serves actual gluten-free food, but it seems pretty apocryphal to me. It was closed for the season when that blogger visited (three years ago), and it was closed on the day we tried to go (Monday). Using my gluten-free app, we drove from place to place–and each restaurant was closed. And to tell you the truth: they didn’t look like the sort of places that would be genuinely gluten free. So we went to the only grocery store we could find. Since we had no microwave, I figured I would find some tuna salad for the gardener. Even the tuna salad had wheat flour in it!!! I bought some tough-as-leather chicken pieces and a tub of potato salad that I thought was just awful (tasting as it did of sweet pickle relish), but the gardener was satisfied. We tried two restaurants at the Lake Powell Resort and Marina while we were there. Both times he was glutened, probably by cross-contamination.

To see the stone sculptures you have to take a “hiking tour” through a Navajo company. I was worrying that my foot would develop a sudden, intense pain, as it occasionally does, and that I would hold up the group or at least the gardener. I needn’t have worried about too much walking. It’s not much walking. Instead, if I had known what it was I probably wouldn’t have gone. You go down into the canyon via stairs, ladders, and walking very narrow, very rocky trails. I am afraid of heights and am claustrophobic, but those problems were nothing compared with walking on narrow rocky surfaces.

My reconstructed foot is very fragile. I need a flat enough surface to put my foot down in order to put my weight on it. Otherwise, the rebuilt navicular bone could crack. My tone would be different in this post if that, in fact, had happened. But the only reason it didn’t is because the gardener, with his bad shoulder, had to hoist me through these narrow tunnels so that my weight would be on him instead of my foot. I was super careful how I placed my foot each time. Now that I have come through on the other side completely whole, I can say that I am so glad I did it. I wish everyone could see these beautiful natural artistic canvases of rock and light.

Because this is what you experience:

And this:

And this:

This one gives you the perspective of how far down we were.

That afternoon we were exhausted and went on a cruise of Lake Powell.

The way to do Lake Powell is to rent a big houseboat with a large family and/or friend group. Get one with a slide and grill! And explore all the northern canyons. When the kids were in high school, we rented a boat just like that in Lake Mead (closer to Las Vegas and near the Hoover Dam) and took their friends with us. It was such a fun family experience. Though these lakes are sort of “sister lakes,” they are quite different. Many people prefer Lake Powell, but it is more solitary and Lake Mead has more of a sporting lake feel to it.

No, zero writing went on this past week. Lots of Perry hugs, though, when we got home. In fact, all the cats were so happy to see us walk in the door!

 

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#AWP18 and Me

I was jazzed to attend AWP 2018, the largest literary conference in North America.

It was held at the Tampa Convention Center and the Marriott across the street.

The venue and swag were impressive.

I was lucky enough to be one of the Tupelo Press 30/30 readers. I wrote 3o poems in 30 days in September 2015 for Tupelo. That experience came after the publication of Doll God in January, my father’s death in May, and my cat Mac’s death in June–and started me on the path toward Kin Types. I can’t over-emphasize what a catalyst it was for me and for other poets.

I signed Kin Types copies at the Finishing Line Press table at the book fair. I got to hear Joy Harjo talk again. I always feel very connected with what she says. In fact, all the sessions I attended were excellent  I left feeling inspired to write and try new techniques and ideas. But I was only able to stay for part of the conference which was just enough.

The experience gave me much, including a new friend after spending a fun time with my Stanford cohort Anita. It took one thing from me: my favorite hat! The fishing one from the second hand store in New Orleans.

Say goodbye to the best hat ever. I hope the person who finds it treasures it as I did.

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Checking Out A Silver Lining

Before my father passed away, he and my mother wanted to get rid of their vacation club membership, but they couldn’t figure out how to do it and started to get all stressed out about it. They asked if we would take it, so the gardener said, “Sure.” Later, I told him I wasn’t very happy about that :). I didn’t like the idea of planning a vacation based on where I could stay for free that I had been paying for monthly all along, if that makes any sense.

It didn’t to me.

But it made them happy and, as it turned out, sometimes it’s very useful because the units always come with a kitchen, which is important for dealing with the celiac disease issue. That is what we did in New Orleans last year, and it worked out perfectly. You should see us moving into a regular hotel room with two coolers and four bags of gluten free foods. Not to mention, the air purifier and humidifier the gardener uses to deal with symptoms of his auto-immune troubles. No fear that I might be able to travel light, which is my dream.

We wanted to go on a vacation this year because we visited mom for her surgery this summer instead of taking a vacation, so we decided to use our “points” and visit somewhere on the vacation club map. We settled on Reno and Lake Tahoe in The Silver State (Nevada). The Reno portion was mainly to acclimate to altitude before reaching Tahoe because before the gardener was diagnosed and still eating gluten, he would get very sick at altitudes like Salt Lake City, which is only 4,226 ft!

We spent a few days in Reno, traveling to see Carson City (the capitol of Nevada) and Virginia City. We also had dinner with my cousin (who lives in Carson City and works for the State of Nevada) and his wife at a Persian restaurant. I’ve mentioned before that Persian is usually safe for celiacs, if they avoid the bread and the desserts. This restaurant turned out to be a bit “nouveau” in its cuisine, and while I thought the food was particularly delicious, the gardener was sick overnight. There was probably cross-contamination.

Carson City has a darling Capitol Building. They allow visitors to walk through, looking into the offices of the Governor and other dignitaries. I won’t share the photos I took past the entryway because it seems unsafe to me. But, gosh, it was so nice to be able to take a look at all that beautiful history on our own.

Sorry if one or two of those are a little crooked (@#%^&). The statue when you enter the building is of Sarah Winnemucca who wrote the first autobiography by a Native American woman (Northern Paiute), so I found that pretty meaningful.

I was shocked that Reno is such a casino-driven city. Maybe you knew that, but I didn’t. I don’t like casinos or cities with lots of casinos, but it was interesting to watch the motel outside our window. It was directly across the street and had a reputation for stabbings, shootings, drugs, and prostitution. The new managers were supposedly trying to clean up the property, but it was still a sad and fascinating site for me to observe.

The gardener dragged me to the casino three times, but MEH. I don’t like the cigarette (and cigar!) smoke, the glazed looks on the faces of people who might be ruining their own lives and the lives of their families, or the unnatural outfits those poor servers have to squeeze into.

Judgmental, moi? OK, I am judgmental about gambling, but not about the gamblers. I’ve seen the harm it causes, and I don’t like it. At least the gardener didn’t lose much because he didn’t fall into the trap.

What I did enjoy was the Zombie Crawl one night we were in Reno. The parade of costumes in the streets and inside the casinos was a lot of fun. And Reno has the best gluten free bakery I’ve ever experienced. Wherever we go, we look for gluten free bakeries; many cities have them now. But this one had baked goods and other foods that were the most like what I grew up with. Their frosted sugar cookies were like those of the bakeries of my childhood. All gluten free though! If you’re in Reno, stop by Haven on Earth at 10855 Double R Blvd., Suite A. Here’s their website: www.havenonearthbakery.com. They even have lasagna and chicken pot pies in a freezer case.

To make up for the casinos, I dragged the gardener to a lovely performance of the national tour of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. We saw it at this cool-looking theater.

Nearby is the Riverwalk.

And a gorgeous old building. I looked it up and now I can’t remember the name of it.

We were happy to move on to Tahoe when we did. What we found there was gorgeous. And October was a wonderful time for visiting because there weren’t the crowds they see in the summer months and during ski season.

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Lake Tahoe is the purest body of water in the world, and it looks it. Just stunning. I could have walked on the beach in my sweatshirt every morning for the rest of my life. The gardener, on the other hand, thought it a bit chilly. He’s more the Caribbean type. While I prefer more deciduous trees in my dreamscape, I couldn’t get over the beauty of this national treasure.

And they had a great burger place that doesn’t get a celiac sick! They have a “dedicated fryer,” which means only gluten free foods go into that fryer. That is important if you want fries with your gluten free burger. I loved their veggie burger, too. CALIFORNIA BURGER COMPANY. Remember that if you go to Tahoe.  They feature live music and art on the walls. And gourmet casual food. Yum!

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BETA READER SHARING? On another note, I have been tinkering with the ole memoir a bit. It’s gone through a lot of versions already and may still have a lot of versions to go through. But it would be helpful to have 2 beta readers look at the dang thing as it stands now as I have too many versions in my head and can’t really “see” what is here any longer.

Do you feel that you have the time, inclination, and a bit or a lot of experience with a full-length manuscript (I think a novel would be fine, as well as memoir)? I’ll warn you that it’s approximately 280 pages.  I am happy to trade manuscripts with you and give yours the same careful reading with comments.  I am only interested in reading complete manuscripts in draft, though. No manuscript where you are sure you are done and just want confirmation. No manuscript that doesn’t have an ending yet. If you are interested, please email me at luanne.castle[at]gmail.com. If I get more than two offers, I’ll choose the two that seem the best fit, but will save names for the next version haha. If I get no takers, I’ll try to find readers through some other channels. Thanks for listening!

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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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A Quick Visit to The Land of Beaches and Traffic

I’ve been beachside for my future DIL’s bridal shower.

Lovely air for my sinuses and skin.  

The hills were alive with the color of wildflowers everywhere that housing developments haven’t taken over!

We had a great family time. Now it’s good to be home with our cats and away from the hubbub.

Pear Blossom wondering why Tiger Queenie keeps coming so close. After all, Pear is the undisputed actual Queen of the house at age 17.

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It Can Always Be Worse

What a week. But I’m on the upside of it now, and that reminds me of a favorite children’s book. It Could Always Be Worse is based on a Yiddish folk tale where a man complains to his rabbi about his small overcrowded house. The rabbi has him add to his inside household, the chickens, the cow, and other animals. The man does what the rabbi instructs. Then when he is ready to pull his hair out, the rabbi has him take the animals back out. When the household is back to its original size, the man is so relieved he stops complaining.

I feel as if I’ve written about this book before, but not sure.

Mom was scheduled to come on Wednesday morning, and I had been having a problem with my leg (part of my lymphedema), but hadn’t found time to treat it. I was rushing around, trying to get stuff done before she comes for a month. Tuesday night, right after dinner, my cat Felix got very sick–vomiting and diarrhea. We ended up taking him to the emergency clinic because we were afraid of a urinary blockage (since male cats are prone to those), but he was diagnosed with a microscopic parasite called Coccidia. It’s very contagious. Yippee! Great to hear when you have 5 cats (4 of them elderly). We started medicating Felix, and separated all the cats from each other!

Wednesday morning I took poos from the other cats to the vet and picked up meds for them, then went to Petsmart and bought disposable litter boxes. Then we had to haul all the plastic litter boxes and other cat paraphernalia out to the driveway for cleaning and disinfecting.

FYI, Felix did not get the Coccidia from the animal shelter where we volunteer. He came to us as a stray with parasites that hid from detection in his intestines, and he has had problems in the past because of his medical history.

Then Mom’s first flight was late, and she missed her connection. They couldn’t find her another flight to Phoenix that day! Eighty-two years old, traveling by herself, and they gave her the wrong shuttle bus name. Then they made her go to some ancient Day’s Inn where the ceiling was crumbling onto the bed. They bought her dinner, but NOT a glass of wine!

She arrived the next day in the midst of the chaos of Coccidia over here. I am exhausted. No hat is going to help me now ;).

But day by day things are getting better (or so I tell myself). And we’re just glad to have Mom here and not in Michigan weather right now.

Even this busy, I am doing a little secret editing. #amwriting

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The End of the River

When I taught children’s lit at the university, I often included a Newbery Honor Book on my book list called To Be a Slave, edited by Julius Lester. The bulk of the material is from stories collected during the Great Depression through the Federal Writers’ Project, part of the Works Progress Administration set up by FDR. These stories were told by ex-slaves about their experiences under American slavery. Of course, by the time they told their stories, it had been decades since the end of slavery, so most of the storytellers had been children during the days of slavery. While the book is aimed at middle school kids, it’s really a book for adults, too. It can be read in brief readings, like poetry, because it is arranged by theme in little anecdotes or partial stories.

In New Orleans we went on a plantation tour, but it wasn’t the typical tour where the focus is on the lives of the plantation owners. Rather, the Whitney Plantation explores the lives of the enslaved. Our guide was very careful to use the word “enslaved” rather than slaves, and while it was sometimes slightly awkward, I really liked how it made us concentrate every time we heard it on the notion of PEOPLE who were enslaved. It doesn’t allow for the distancing that some people might feel using the word slaves, which is an “othering” word–a way to be different from the person being talked about.

New Orleans is important to the history of American slavery. It’s the end point for enslaved people whose situations went from bad to worse. When an enslaved person was sold from an enslaver who lived closer to the Mason-Dixon line, but sold farther south down the Mississippi River it meant that he or she would be worked harder and live in more dangerous conditions. New Orleans had the biggest slave market, so many enslaved people ended up at that market. The swamps and bayous of the area meant disease and more back-breaking work, namely growing and harvesting sugar cane.

Whitney Plantation is really just beginning to record and share the plight of the enslaved people of the south. There is much more work to be done. But I loved how they focused on the children because of the voices of the FWP/WPA storytellers. By the way, the bookstore has a great collection, including the Lester book. 

After the church with the children (sculptures), we toured the property.

 

Whitney has memorials that list the names of the enslaved, as well as a particular memorial for the babies who died by age two, which was very very sad. This is a sample of a memorial wall for the adults.

The main house was almost an afterthought after seeing some of the outbuildings, the kettles for harvesting sugarcane, and reading the memorials.

Wherever we travel, there are big beautiful houses to tour, and although this one was plainer than many, the emphasis here is long overdue. It’s a place to learn about the lives of the people who were bought and sold in order to work these plantations.

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Today would have been my father’s 88th birthday, and it is my uncle’s 88th birthday (Dad’s twin). A week and a half ago, my aunt on my mom’s side (her SIL) entered the ER on the two-year anniversary of the day my father entered (that began his health decline). She was diagnosed with an acute form of leukemia and has already entered hospice. Our family is in shock over this as we didn’t know she was ill. If you’re so inclined, please send up your prayers for Aunt Jean.

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Cities of the Dead

If you think cemeteries are unbearably creepy or sad, you might want to skip this post. After returning from a trip to New Orleans, I am still seeing her “Cities of the Dead”– as the graveyards are called–in my mind. New Orleans has dozens of cemeteries, but why are they so memorable?

Because so much of the land is at or below sea level, burials are mainly above ground. When caskets are buried underground, as the water table rises, they come right up out of the ground and float away. Above ground burials are in stone vaults or monuments, and when you see a cemetery full of these little “houses” they give the appearance of a ghoulish neighborhood or town. You can see decorative iron trim, stone crosses and sculptures, and some vaults even have stained glass.

A lot of movies have been filmed in these cemeteries. The one that has stayed with me is Double Jeopardy where Ashley Judd gets locked in a casket in Lafayette Cemetery #1. The Easy Rider scene was filmed at St. Louis Cemetery #1. The latter one is the oldest cemetery in the city and located in a swamp. It’s claim to fame is that it houses the tomb of Marie Laveau, Voodoo Queen, who was buried there in 1881. Many of the cemeteries are Roman Catholic or divided into sections by religion and also by race. The oldest cemeteries, like St. Louis 1, 2, and 3 are very dilapitated. The stone is crumbling, there is moss over many of the vaults, and therefore they are the most creepy.

Metairie Cemetery (located in New Orleans, not the city of Metairie) is newer and was set up by a Creole (usually “mixed race” person, and that is important to the following) who did not want sections by religion and race and did not want a segregated cemetery. It has the most extravagant marble monuments in the city, though, and Anne Rice’s husband the poet Stan Rice is buried there. He died at age 60 of brain cancer. At the same cemetery, the owners of Whitney Bank made their monument look like a little bank.

You can take tours of the cemeteries, but I think the best way is to plan a couple of days to visit several cemeteries on your own. That way you can spend as much time as you like, depending on the ones you prefer.

It might seem odd to take photos of places where people just like me were buried, but I belong to FindaGrave, which accesses cemetery records across the country. The point of that site is to take photos of all the headstones/graves in the U.S.–and connect each one to the person buried there–birth and death info, relationships with others buried, and photos of the individual. I “tend” a few graves on there by paying a one-time fee of $5 to remove advertising from the grave’s page.

New Orleans even has a Masonic cemetery. I was actually surprised to see the old, abandoned Masonic Temple because my understanding is that the doctrines of the Catholic Church and Freemasonry are incompatible. Since New Orleans has a Catholic historical base and population, I mentioned to the gardener that I probably wouldn’t find a Masonic Temple here, and right at that moment, it stood in front of our car.

I wanted to visit the Masonic cemetery, but it was not to be (for which I blame the gardener).

He doesn’t really understand my fascination with the Masons. He even said, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a place for a bunch of guys to hang out.” He doesn’t think they are mysterious or intriguing at all.

But I do ;).

And the same is true for those cemeteries. But then I can’t go past an old cemetery without stopping.

 

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