Feb 28, 2017

Books: Willa Cather ... Was She Writing About My Life?

I confess that once again I am writing about a book BEFORE I have finished reading it. I often do this. The bad thing about this is that I really don't have the complete picture. The good thing is that I will not give away the ending. It is hard to not hint at the ending once you know how the story comes out.

When we were in Mexico a couple of weeks ago I finished reading Ann Cleeves' Red Bones: A Thriller (Shetland Island Mysteries) on my Kindle app. It was a good mystery as always. I love Ann Cleeves a lot.

I had down loaded a couple of very old books written by Willa Cather. I needed a change of pace and Cather is one of the great American storyteller that has survived the test of time. I chose to read The Song of the Lark, one of a trilogy that also included O' Pioneer and My Antonia. I had read My Antonia several years ago so Song of the Lark and O' Pioneer caught my eye. I suppose I liked the idea of reading Song of the Lark because the book not only included the story but also featured a biography of the author. So I am reading it first. It is said that the story itself was the most biographical of all those she had written.

The book was published in 1915 so the time frame is very real because the author was not studying history. She was living it.

Click picture for link to the book.



The book was set in a place called Moonstone, Colorado. The railroad ran through it. A section of town on the other side of the tracks called Mexican Town housed those people that came to work and live in that dry, hot, windy place. There were sand dune near the edge of town that attracted picnics outings. The minister was Swedish and his wife was perfect in that way a minister's wife could have been. Thea, the main character, was their daughter. She was one of six or so children.

The description of that place might have been written about my home town located in the far eastern part of Oregon. I can visualize the the hills turning green in the spring as the cheat grass grew and purple as it the seeds ripened. Best of all, I can still hear the lark singing on a spring morning.

The hot in the summer and cold and unforgiving in the winter made it a the place that required grit and common sense. Those that didn't have those qualities didn't survive.

Willa Cather described Moonstone as a place people were blown into and never left. I felt that the residents thought of it as a place they found themselves by accident but from which there was no safe escape. The railroad was their link to the outside world. Maybe I felt that way because my hometown had that feeling too. We all bring our own reality to any book we read.

The Doctor Archie had this to say:
We're all a lot of gamblers without much nerve, playing for small stakes. The railroad is the one real fact in this country. That has to be; the world has to be got back and forth. But the rest of us are here just because it's the end of a run and the engine has to have a drink. Someday I'll get up and find my hair turning gray and I'll have nothing to show for it."
The stingy wife, drunken Mexican and conservative religious neighbors all had a place in the book. Education didn't count for much either and most people's grammar reflected that fact. I find it hard to imagine that a person like me born in 1941 would still be experiencing that "frontier American" she was writing about in 1913.

The story is written as only Cather could write...simple, evocative and compelling. The main character, Thea, was given the gift of talent. That was something not many people possessed in her world. Though others might have grown in another place, it was only because she was independent and willful that she managed to move out into the "real world".

That was what I called the escape I made. I left a very a small town to live in the "real world". Now I can hardly wait to get back to reading my book.

In the meantime I suggest that you download this little book that goes for $.99 onto your Kindle and take a vicarious journey into that time before WWI when the west was young and the railroad divided almost every small town in the western part of the United States.

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Link to the Prairie Trilogy:

The Prairie Trilogy: O Pioneers!; The Song of the Lark; My AntoniĆ”

Feb 25, 2017

Weaning Us Off Slave Labor

It seems that everywhere my husband and I travel we see that there is a class of people that are used as "slave labor".  

In China the Mongols live in slum housing along the ditch bank, no schools are provided for their children and they fill the labor pool doing the menial and dirty work. In India the unclean caste were and maybe still are taking away the human waste. In the Middle East people from The Philippines, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan flow into the country to operate restaurants, work as servants and do all those jobs no self respecting citizen of those countries would do.

In the United States we have used the black people and are now using the legal and illegal immigrant from VietNam and Mexico. I see them in the back rooms of restaurants and nail salons. In Portland, for example, a prominent local restaurant owner was charged the harboring illegal residents in his 5 Star Chinese establishment.

I have heard nail salon owners tell their workers to stay indoor...it is not safe. Seasonal labor provides the cheap workers that pick our crops and work in processing sheds. When Border Patrol raids those places, workers flee in every direction.

We are indeed totally and absolutely dependent on these people to maintain our way of life. Without them I suppose prices are going to go up because, like the Middle East, no self respecting US citizen wants to do what these people have been doing for so many years. Even the homeless or welfare recipient would not or could not do what our illegals do day after day. It is a hard, dirty and demeaning way of life.

But how do we wean ourselves off of our need for people that have to work for so little because they have so much to hide? Because that is what we are going to need to do if all of the "illegals" are sent home.

I think that we will have to give up a lot of service and begin to pay the "real price" required when a US citizen is employed. All of that money that illegals using illegal SS numbers that pours into Social Security and is never take out will go away. Who knows how that is going to affect SS retirement incomes in years to come.

And that is only the tip  of the iceberg.

I often ask "what part of illegal didn't they get?" I too get angry when I hear people talk about how long it took them to get a green card when others are coming into our country under the fence. Yet I can be a pragmatist too. The reality is we are addicted to and alway have been addicted to slave labor. Today it just comes with a different name.

So there you have it. Any thoughts?

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Feb 24, 2017

Tequila Town, Jalisco MX or What is that smell?

It occurred to me that I travel with my nose while we were in Mexico this month. The smells of a country tells the story of how people live and what they eat or drink. That memory of smell actually can make or break the experience for me. As I grow older I am better at taking an odor that locals do not even think about. I have also learned to keep my mouth shut because it turns out natives don't like to be told that their town "stinks".

I suppose the first time I even experiences that feeling was when we were in Thailand over 10 years ago. The ever present smell of fish sauce lingered in the air everywhere we went. I have learned to appreciate what that sauce does for Thai food but it was not easy for me.

Gallery selling obsidian art and jewelry. 
When we were in Viet Nam we traveled south on an island called Pho Quoc to a port where the Vietnamese fish sauce is made. The essence of the rotting fish in the air was so strong I wanted to hold my nose. That sauce cannot be carried on airplanes with passengers leaving the island for fear it will break in the hold and the plane will have to be burned. It can only be exported commercially. It is that strong.

This last vacation we went to Mexico and stayed in a resort north of Puerto Vallarta. While we were there, we rented a car and drove the 4 hours through the Mexican countryside so we could visit Tequila Town, Jalisco MX. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Agave grew in fields on the ditch banks
and up to the edge of the road.
The little community brags about its numerous tequila producers that include Jose Cuervo.

We visited a small distillery just outside of town and received a tour of the facilities. They were not in production on that day so we walked into the room that housed the ovens, holding tanks and machinery need to crush the baked agave pina (after the leaves are removed from the plant resembles a pineapple hence the name).

Oven for roasting agave pinas.
But, in town that was not the case. The distilleries were cooking up a storm and the "aroma" of boiling or roasting agave permeated the air. It smelled a lot like beer being made and resembled the smell of burning beans in a pot!

We rented in a hotel on the square where our room cost us $45 for the night. We had no reservations. It was just a miracle we arrived on Thursday because on Friday Mexican families come to town by the hundreds and tour buses fill the streets. If you had told me the afternoon we arrived that that smell would ever go away I would have not believed you.

Square in front of the church was a gathering
place of stalls and public performances.
But sometime during the night the agave cooking/roasting was turned off and the air became crystal clear and smelled delightful. As we readied ourselves to depart, the town was filling with outdoor markets and the cobblestone streets were about to be flooded with people. Jewelry made from the obsidian left behind by ancient volcanoes was being sold in galleries and in the open air.

As we wandered the cobblestone streets we realized that we needed to return. This beautiful little treasure of a village needs to be savored again.

I am adding Tequila Town agave roasting to my list of smells. It ranks right up there with fish sauce and others I will not mention. Each holds a special memory for me.

So here I go...following my nose again. Have a wonderful day.

What triggers travel memories for you?

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Trip Advisor suggested tours.


Feb 23, 2017

I'm a Wannabe New Yorker!

i miss howard johnson'sImage via Wikipedia

I wrote this post back in 2010. I still double spaced after sentences and was quite new to blogging. But memories are memories and many are worth revisiting. This is one of those posts!


I am not from the city. Not even close.  I am from a very small village in eastern Oregon.  I grew up fishing, digging holes in the dirt and hanging out with friends. I did not work in the summer...well unless you count painting fences. I loved girlie stuff and shopping. And I always wanted to be from New York City!

When I was very near my 40th birthday I managed to score a trip to the Big Apple...all I had to do was escort a plane load of teens to the city. Six of those teen were my personal responsibility. After we got there all I had to do was make sure none of them got broken or lost. I also needed to make sure I came back with all of them. Parents are funny that way. If I promised to do those things, my plane ticket and room were giving to me at a reduced rate. It seemed like a really good deal!

We were traveling with a tour company that arranged our meals and hotels (yikes). We were given chits to eat breakfast with and the restaurant we were pointed to the Howard Johnsons. Even all those years ago HJ was very old and greasy. It may still be in the same place on or close to Broadway. (I did find a picture on flickr.)

The first morning we headed off for a breakfast of champions so we could use out chits. We found a counter stool, had a look at the chit limited menu and decided to order pancakes. We would not eat again until the evening unless we ate at a food cart...we were going to take on a carbo load!
What do you want? the waiter asked gruffly.  
We would like pancakes, we answered in our polite Oregon style. 
No you don't...you want eggs, just eggs.  
See, I didn't know I wanted eggs...not even a little bit.  But the guy was big, busy and not fixing pancakes.

It turns out I like eggs...a lot.  I also discovered that food carts have some of the best eats available. Who knew! And I still want to be from NYC.

Now we live in Portland, Oregon and life in a small city suits me perfectly. As I get older I am satisfied with watching from afar. Maybe New York would be easier for us now that we have "been around" a little more. But for a small town girl it was very difficult, expensive and a little frightening. Still, I would not trade that experience for anything ... Saturday night on Broadway is like no other place in the world.

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hometown: Huntington, Oregon
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Feb 22, 2017

Tiny House Living: Buying a Park Model

I recently received a letter from a follower about the best way to choose a park models. The writer had bought a lot in California and was thinking about putting a small house on it. Her inquiry went like this:
I am new to park models but recently obtained a lot in Southern California and have tried researching what the best manufacturer is but there seems to be limited information and most of the reviews are negative as to quality. Do you happen to have better info on which manufacturers are best and do most require you buy thru a middleman. Thank you.
It is a very good question don't you think. How do you make sure that the park model you buy is the best, the sturdiest and will fit your needs?

I have lived in the same park model for over 9 years now. It was built in 1987. In the world of park models, that is very old. But, fortunately, ours as a Cadillac in it's day. Even so, we do have to upgrade and repair a little all of the time. Here is how it works,

While the frame of a park model is very similar to a stick built house, the finishes are very light simply because it needs to be moved down the highway to be placed in it's location. When it is parked, the wheels remain underneath so that in the eventuality that it is sold to be moved, they can be remounted and used again. There are several reasons to leave the wheel underneath. In Arizona this affects the way your home is taxed. This type of home is not intended to be "permanent" in its location.

However, all the plumbing, electrical etc. is usually satisfactory and will last a very long time.

I do know that factories offer tours to prospective buyers.  I do think that seeing the structure in the stages of being built is a good idea if you are buying new. You might take a look at Park Models direct online. RVIA has a guide that could be valuable. I also looked at the webpage with the links for more information here or here.


But here is the deal...I think that buying a park model is very like buying a new car. The quality is dependent on the amount you are willing to pay and on what you can afford. AND once it is driven off the lot it begins to depreciate in value. The tweaks made to the model (added on porches, paint or decorations on the interior) can slow that depreciation process.

Buying a used model and having it moved may be a good choice. You can buy one for very little here in Arizona so I assume California is the same. Then you can use the amount you save to made the home just what you want. But you have to have the resources or ability to do that.

I am also a fan of the Tiny House movement. There are several builders including one in Portland that builds beautiful little houses. The TV show Luxury Tiny Houses is featured on DIY (I think).

As always, it is all about the research. Being well informed is a good thing. I have recommended that people simply rent a unit for a small length of time to get a feel for what they are in for. I love living in my tiny house and could do it year around.
Front porch was added after we purchased. It is decorated for Christmas.

We opened the wall between the bedroom and Arizona room
to make a large open private space.

We have removed the awning and repainted
the exterior, replaced the window and trimmed them out.
It has changed the character of the park model. 

Front porch at night.

Updated kitchen.


Every surface has been painted. We have since
put a dishwasher in where the small white cabinet
sits under the kitchen counter.
This can be a very inexpensive choice for living especially if you own your own lot. But anyone choosing to do this needs to see for themselves what it is all about.

The simple fact are:

  • Yes you can skip the middleman and find a manufacturer that will sell to you direct.
  • Finishes are not "cheaper" as such but they are designed for a movable unit. They require upkeep.
  • Be careful about reviews. Unreasonable expectation are often the problem. Get some kind of guarantee from the manufacturer and be sure to choose one that has been around for a while. Here in Arizona Cavco is a well respected manufacturer...not perfect but someone like this business is probably a good place to start.
That is what I know. Good luck to all of you. 

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Links to other posts about Park Model Living.

Feb 4, 2017

1,002,000 and Counting

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I'm just saying. Sometimes I wonder what I am doing but in the end the conversation is worth it. Thank you so much!

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