There are so many wonderful examples to the contrary. But they remain the minority.
What am I talking about?
Trustworthiness in humans. The coronabub (coronavirus hubbub) has made this clear to me. First there are the accounts you hear on TV and read online. Some experts say just go about your business, but wash your hands a lot. Other reports say that those 60+ and/or with compromised immune systems (also heart or lung disease, etc.) should stay in their own homes and eschew even family events. Still other reports predict gloom and doom.
Because I am in the 60+ group and have had some lung issues in the past as an adult (also as a kid I was a magnet for every respiratory disease around), I am trying to pretend I am a crocodile that people want to stay away from (see photo below). I plan to be careful when I am out. But other people are not that careful. They still go to events where hundreds or thousands of people are attending. Even my own husband is not that careful when it comes to sanitizing and still doesn’t understand the concept of soap as necessity. He believes that big companies sold us on the idea of soap for them to reap the profits. So how does me being careful keep me safe if others I come in contact with are not careful?
The gardener calls me Howey Anne, after Howard Hughes and his infamous germaphobia. I would say that is a little extreme because I am not that paranoid. You have to consider the source. Person who thinks soap is unimportant thinks I am a germaphobe. Get it?
But I don’t like germs. I blame Oprah for an episode she filmed a long time ago about the germs in hotel rooms and your own shower head. ICK.
This coronavirus thing is causing me a lot of anxiety. I suppose it isn’t mentally healthy for me to be trying to keep my hands away from my face (an impossible task) and to be thinking about germs all the time.
I offer no comfort. Sorry if that’s what you need right now.
The gardener and I just got back from Guanacaste, Costa Rica. The first night we were there, the maid service left a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer in my room. I clung to it for the rest of the trip as if it were the last canteen of water in an unpopulated Sahara in a 1930s movie. It allowed me to fly home through two airplanes and four airports.
The trip was not the best, to tell you the truth. Coronavirus was only part of it. The worst was that the resort had accidentally cancelled our reservation back in September, but our travel agent never knew it. I am too tired from thinking about germs to tell you much about the trip, but the animals were fabulous, the Costa Ricans were nice, and the rest of it was not so great.
Then there was the driver who tried to scam us to the tune of $149 in Houston, the Houston hotel whose shuttle was out of commission but they neglected to tell us, and the bank that ripped our mortgage check and sent it back saying it was “torn in the mail” (LIE), thus dinging our credit. I mean, I could probably come up with a really long list like this. People just suck sometimes.
There are all the sad stories I read on Facebook about animals abandoned, neglected, and abused by humans. It never gets better.
The person who knowingly took his/her coronavirus ass to an event with hundreds of people.
I heard some people are stealing masks from hospitals. WTF!
Who would ever trust a human?
But without trust, where are we? We cannot live alone. It is impossible to be completely self-sufficient. What we do impacts others as well as ourselves. We can’t make it different. But we can try to do our best. In the worst of times, we need to be the best we can be.
Don’t brazen it out and go to major events and then drag your germs to other, more vulnerable people. Imagine being stuck in a nursing home right now–you can’t leave, but once coronavirus enters your facility, you would feel targeted. So be kind and think of other people.
OK, pretty sure my readers didn’t need that, but you might want to remind others!
As far as photos of Costa Rica go, I have started (slowly) posting some on my Instagram account: catpoems. Check them out if you’re interested!
Also, University of Chicago-based Memoryhouse Magazine has published my Whitman tribute poem, “Out of the Cradle.” It refers to “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,” and the last two words are used as the initial letters for the lines of the poem. This issue, called “Rattle,” is a good one. You can find it here.
I hope when I check back in here next Monday for my next post, the coronabub has burst, and all is back to normal.
Crocodile on the Palo Verde River, Guanacaste, Costa Rica
I don’t often write super short poems. To send them out I really need to put several teenies together, but this is an only. So I will share it here.
After the storm,
blossoms sway upside down
on the lake skin,
looking like tiny sailboats.
Without me they are debris.
The poem and image remind me of time spent on Lake Coeur d’Alene this summer. I love boating and lakes. My daughter said she could tell I was really in my element at the lake.
Felix was completely constipated last week as a side effect of the pain killer he was on for his cystitis. He had to get an enema at the vet. Poor Felix. One thing after another for him. I hope he is getting better now.
It’s so hard to travel–whether for business or pleasure–when you have celiac and have to be completely gluten free. The gardener has a pretty bad case of celiac, so he has to be vigilant. Unfortunately, travel and being vigilant don’t mix very well.
A lot of people comment to me that it’s so easy to find gluten free in restaurants today. Well, it’s easy to find restaurants that say they offer gluten free options. But are they really gluten free? Judging by how the gardener reacts, many times they are not.
Then I found an article in the newest issue of Gluten-Free Living called “One-third of labeled gluten-free restaurant food contains gluten” by Van Waffle. (Yup, that’s the byline!)
The title kind of gives away the gist of the article. SO DEPRESSING. And I am so not surprised. Time and again, we have to correct servers about items on the menu. An entree labeled gluten free, but made with regular soy sauce. GONG. Chicken noodle soup listed as gluten free. GONG. French fries made in a fryer that cooks glutenous food. GONG. It goes on and on. Then they lie, too.
The other day I picked up burgers and fries at our favorite local place that has a dedicated fryer, meaning it only fries gluten-free food in it. As usual, the gardener’s burger and fries were in a box. I opened it and looked at it. The lettuce, onion, and tomato were missing. When they gave it to me I said, “This is gluten free, for sure?” Oh yes, yes. Actually I asked two different people! But I had a funny feeling. Our burger place is a brewery, and it’s dark by the bar where you pick up take-out.
When I got to the car I noticed that the box did not say GF on it as it usually did. So I went back in. This time I was very insistent, and the woman who checked it said it wasn’t gluten free. They would make a new one. “They can’t just take it off that bun and put it on another one, you know.” She knew that.
While I waited I wondered why I had given them a nice tip. Three different people had “helped” me, and nobody seemed to care if my husband got sick from their food or not.
What we are doing wrong, for the most part, with gluten free food in restaurants is not taking precautions starting from the menu planning and kitchen design.
One of the places we traveled to this summer was Quebec. There were three restaurants with distinctive ways of handling the situation. As a side note, this issue of Gluten-Free Living has an article about GF food in Quebec!
Ottavio in Gatineau is a very casual Italian restaurant. They don’t serve alcohol, so we picked up some wine at the gas station across the street. The wine was good! but I digress. Ottavio has two separate kitchens–one for gluten and one for no gluten. They also serve the gluten free food on red dishes (P.F. Chang’s also uses separate plates which has got to be so helpful to servers and makes the diner feel more secure). The food was good, and the gardener did not get sick.
Arepera in Montreal is an extremely casual Venezuelan restaurant that is gluten-free! The food was good, and there was no stress at all. The gardener can’t eat beans either (just one of many food intolerances that have developed as part of celiac disease), but there was plenty of food to eat.
Bistro Le Veravin in Quebec City is supposedly 99% gluten-free. Personally, I think they ought to be 100% because it would make it easier, and I am guessing it is more like 90% gluten free. But the food was delicious, and the gardener did not get sick. He had a wonderful selection of food to choose from. I had the poutine au canard (duck confit poutine) because poutine you see.
So separate kitchens is a wonderful idea for providing gluten-free food for diners. But being 100% gluten free is the best because then the celiac can totally relax and enjoy instead of paying attention to everything so that a mistake doesn’t happen.
Back to poutine: this was a breakfast poutine in Ontario. Wowsa. So good. Sadly, not gluten-free.
Next week we are going to try a gluten-free restaurant that is a little closer to home. Fingers crossed!
Happy Labor Day. I hope your labors are light today, whether you celebrate or not.
When I left Alaska, I was eager to get home and see my cats and return to my routine. My initial thoughts were that I was so happy to have had the opportunity for this Alaskan experience and that I didn’t see the need for a return visit. The sites were beautiful and so different from what I knew, but it is quite remote in SE Alaska, and I like my city pleasures.
But this week I’ve found myself longing for Alaska. I miss the glaciers, the mountains, the wildlife, and the sparse human population.
The gardener doesn’t understand at all. He still feels that it was a wonderful trip, but he’s “done.” He loves warm weather and sun, and while I do like warm, sunny days, I don’t need it the way he does.
I love the way the mist lingers between the mountains. And how a low hanging cloud can transform a hill into a strange shape, even an animal.
Look through the mountains below to see yet more variety of landscape.
The next photo interested me because the waterfall is not centered. That way it’s possible to see more variety of topography.
Look at the next. Why is the umbrella over the flowers? It can’t be because someone positioned their umbrella there when they went inside. The flower pot is far from the door of the bookstore in Petersburg.
A phenomenon that I noticed in Juneau was that many people decorate their mailboxes. Unfortunately, with a big rear view mirror sticking out in my passenger side view, I couldn’t take a pic of too many of them.
Maybe I’ll have stopped blabbing about Alaska by next week . . . .
One thing before I go: I finished Ellen Morris Prewitt’s fabulous new novel Tracking Happiness. I posted a review at Amazon and Goodreads. Here is my Goodreads review, although I stupidly posted it under the Kindle edition, and I read the paperback. It begins this way:
People sometimes ask me for fiction recommendations, and when they ask for a funny book, I remember that my list is very short. Sometimes they ask me for a feel good book, and that list is also pretty short. But since I just finished Ellen Morris Prewitt’s new novel Tracking Happiness: A Southern Chicken Adventure, I am putting it at the top of both lists.
The review is found here. It’s such a feel-good book you will thank me for recommending it :).
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
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.