Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bethlehem at the Co-op

Astoria, Oregon ~ December 18, 2012

Clever. I didn't notice the name "Bethlehem" or think about the significance until I got home and downloaded the photos. It was a nice surprise to see this cool display of ornaments, cabbages, and greenery on my way in to buy groceries. I took the photos quickly and hurried inside, because six and a half weeks after surgery, I still feel pretty bad some days. Today I wondered how I was going to get through shopping with my feet and other parts hurting, and nothing feeling very well grounded. I knew I'd get through it, but with what consequences?

The pretty display made me smile, so I got a few quick photos with my phone since I didn't feel like going to the car for my camera.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas Boogie

Astoria, Oregon ~ December 14, 2012

I sat in the back in a comfy rocking chair at the Christmas piano concert Debbie Loyd gave in their church to raise money for World Vision (goats, chickens, etc. to families in Africa). I was pleased to contribute something, and the total raised was $740.00. There really are people here, sitting on the left. I took the rocker at the back on the right where nobody was sitting so I could be comfy and leave early if I got tired, which I did.

For the first time in a very long time, I put on something other than my sweatshirt and jeans, and mingled with dressed-up people. I enjoyed Debbie's music and being in a social situation, but alas, I had picked the wrong parking spot. Cranking the wheel hard as often as it took to parallel park on Harrison Street was too much, and I arrived shaky and needing to leave early. Still, it was great to get out, great to enjoy some unusual arrangements of Christmas music, and . . . I did it! I also enjoyed contributing to a good cause other than tapirs. More on this subject another day.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Where I've Been

Portland, Oregon ~ November 2, 2012 

Re-posted from my other blog, Astoria, Oregon, Daily Photo

Shaking from stress and weakness, I found the camera in my backpack and took this photo in Portland a few days after my surgery. It was the first picture I had wanted to take in weeks. The leaves in Portland and on the coast in Astoria have been stunning this Fall until now the rain has drummed most of them off of the trees. I enjoyed observing, but the gorgeous, bright colors were just one more scenario I hadn't felt like taking pictures of. There have been many. I have missed a lot in the last couple of years. I will explain.

To my faithful blog friends. Thank you for reading and for your kindness over the months. Thank you, every one of you.

On October 30, I had a second surgery at OHSU to correct a very serious illness. The first surgery in April only partially solved problem, and it came back. This recent surgery was completely successful. I am so incredibly grateful to be where I am today. I will be okay, although recovery may take some time. I was extremely sick, and I was sick for a long time. I'm not sure why I never mentioned it on this blog. I am not all that private about my health, but I usually wait until I have something positive to say. That may be a failing, as it leaves me feeling isolated during the hardest times. My thanks to E. for turning me on to a terrific Ted Talk video about vulnerability and connection. From this video I also found a second one by the same speaker. I recommend both of them highly in this time when perhaps many of us struggle with connection despite – or maybe in part because of – our electronic connectivity and what it often becomes.

My illness was not cancer, but benign parathyroid tumors that destroyed my lifestyle, and can eventually take a person's life if not diagnosed and removed. Parathyroid glands are not the same as thyroid, although they reside in the same place in your throat, and each affects your entire being in a different way. Parathyroid hormone regulates the calcium in your body, and calcium regulates how your muscles, bones, and nervous system work. Benign parathyroid tumors affect all of these systems. I had been sick for at least eight years and didn't know why. And then something happened at the end of May 2010. I collapsed with exhaustion, and it was pretty much downhill from there. It eventually became impossible for me to walk around and take photos.

There is no known cause for parathyroid disease and apparently no known risk factors, although I am at the median age for people who are diagnosed. One of my doctors said, "Parathyroid disease is tricky to diagnose." I think it isn't. I think the doctors cover each other's tails by saying things like this. Maybe the subtleties require some diagnostic skill, but there is a HUGE red flag that anyone can recognize. ANYONE. My doctor in Astoria overlooked it on a standard blood test in 2004, and it may have been on later tests as well. The red flag is simple, and the cure is simple. I want EVERYONE to know what that red flag is. If you are a doctor, if you are a nurse, if you are a person watching out for your own health, and if you are concerned about the health of your friends and family, you can recognize the red flag before it ruins someone's life. The red flag is this: An adult should never have a blood calcium level over 10.1. The cure is also simple. You remove any enlarged parathyroid glands. Each person has four of them, and you can live comfortably with about one half of a gland left. They are virtually never cancer. You remove the affected gland and the problem is solved. Not to frighten anyone unnecessarily, a child or growing teen can have a calcium level higher than this – I believe it may be up to 10.6. I was in my 50s in 2004, so a calcium level of 11.3 on my standard annual complete blood count should have sent me to a specialist ASAP. It didn't. Unaccountably, my doctor did not recognize the red flag. Nothing was said, nothing was done.

The way I understand it now, there may be factors such as certain medications (hydrochlorothiazide) that can bump your calcium level up to 10.2 or maybe (I'm not sure) 10.3, but even these numbers need to be checked out. The cure is minor surgery – typically outpatient surgery done by a doctor who knows what they're doing. A person in our technological age should never have to get as sick from parathyroid disease as I did.

I'm just saying, if you or anyone you know has a high-end calcium level of more than 10.1, don't wait, and don't let your doctor tell you, "We're going to watch and see what happens." Get it fixed and you can get on with your life.

After several painful and debilitating years and two surgeries, my problem is now fixed. I'm beginning to feel that my life may become normal again. It won't happen overnight, but I am on the way. I was sick for so long that I ended up with not only the primary symptoms of parathyroid disease, but also crippling foot problems as a secondary condition. Parathyroid surgery was on October 30. Some painful symptoms were better by the time I woke up in the recovery room. Each day I've noticed more improvement, sometimes dramatic. Finally, in the last few days I can feel even the more stubborn symptoms beginning to abate. It's a dream come true, and I'm filled with hope.

I may write more about my experiences on my personal blog, I'm not sure. I don't want to dwell on the past, but I do want people to understand that what I have gone through can almost completely be avoided. With a history of fibromyalgia – or was it really the parathyroid disease all along? Some symptoms are identical – I waited and didn't become enough my own advocate. To be fair to myself, I had gone to many doctors with symptom complaints that eventually turned out to caused by the malfunction in my parathyroid glands. They had no clue. To be fair to THEM, yes, diagnosing parathyroid disease from symptoms is probably almost impossible. There are many symptoms, and you can read more about them at parathyroid.com. Thank God I didn't have all of these, but I did have some that are not on that list. So the absolute serum calcium number on the standard blood test becomes all-important. It should have been so simple.

As I write this, I am still spending most of my days on the couch or in bed. On Monday I began to feel that I could eventually become normal again. I began to feel that I will again walk more than a few yards at a time and spend more than an hour or two a day sitting up. I will keep you posted, and I will return to blogging. You will see my progress through the photos I take, although I may return to my archives now and again for want of time or travel, or just because I like some of my earlier pictures of Astoria. I wish I had said something sooner, but I was embarrassed that my photos were becoming restricted, showing only the scenes close to home. I never knew whether I should be honest about my condition on the blog, and now I wonder why it was such a big deal.

I have made tremendous friends through blogging, and I hope to make many more. I appreciate those of you who have asked after me – both those to whom I replied, and those I ignored, feeling wordless and hopeless at the time I received your email or comment. One way to make friends is to be honest about who you are. I knew that, and yet . . . why is this such a hard lesson?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

How Do You Sell a Seahorse?

This cute hand-beaded seahorse keychain from Guatemala is one of the items I sell in my online store, Tapir and Friends Animal Store. I love that it's RED! So bright and colorful! And for people who lose their keys, what better than a red keychain? After I receive it from AtitlanArts.com, I give it a part number and a name. In this case, it's: "F1977 B218 - Seahorse Beaded Keychain from Guatemala, red." The "F" stands for "Friends," and it preceeds every part number, making it easier to recognize it for the part number it is. If the number were only "1977," it might be confused with a year or the last four digits of someone's phone number. 

Every item is stored in easy-to-access bins. The "B" part of the part number is the bin where it's stored. Believe it or not, it took me nearly 10 years to figure out that if I included the bin number with the part number, it was a no-brainer to find the item! When an order comes in from our shopping cart, the bin number and item number appear with each product. Here you will see Bin 218 if you click to enlarge the photo. Current numbers are on "ecru"-colored tags (off-white), while green denotes some leftover old numbers.

If we open Bin 218, it's filled with ziplock bags Every small inventory item in the store has its own bag. There is the red seahorse in B218. And it has the part number on the bag. Voila! Easy to find, and no confusion. I think those may be unicorn keychains in the bag next to the seahorses, and I see some beaded frogs in the back of the bin. In the case of these medium-sized beaded frogs, it would say "Frog Style 1" on the bag, because that's how it's coded on the web site.

My web page: tapirback.com.

Monday, September 10, 2012

That's Just Weird

When I went to the lumber yard back in May, I impulse-purchased this box cutter because the one we use at the packing table in the store was about out of blades. I thought this warning was pretty funny. 

I'm going to buy a pair of goggles so I can slice open a cardboard box with the cheapest blade I've ever seen? On the other hand, maybe they know something I don't.

My Web Page: Tapirback.com.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Fantastic Bargains and More

My new page style for the painted pins has been so successful that I'm going to apply it to two other categories I've been playing with for years: bulk items and special, unique, oddball, few-of-a-kind. These two have been tough so far because all my ideas until this one have been labor-intensive or they didn't work. This one is pretty fast and not at all cumbersome. And it's versatile.

The bulk/discount/fantastic bargain page is up, but I've only listed anacondas and herons with frog so far. These orange horses are next, and after that I'll get started on the unique and special items page. Each page can easily accommodate 25 to 30 listings, so it will be very useful.

A recent goal was to rethink abundance. Things do seem to be flowing better.

This blog is sponsored by Tapir and Friends Animal Store.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Chaos and Mystery Among Papers

My latest posting on Etsy - a collage from 2010. I'm not putting up favorites first, but any that come to hand easily and are easy to scan. When I wrote about it for the site I found more things I liked about it. It always works that way.

Listening to Tracy Chapman here in the dark . . . my God, what a singer.

This blog is sponsored by Tapir and Friends Animal Store.

Blue, Blue Birds

I've been spending some more time posting pins on the web site, and here are a couple of very blue birds from my efforts. I love looking at the scans of these beautiful pins, so the work is fun.

There has been progress with sea creatures, fish, and now birds. Thanks to Jessika, who did a lot of scanning and photoshopping a few months ago, I have plenty of images to work with.

This blog is sponsored by Tapir and Friends Animal Store.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Four More

I've put four more collages in my Etsy Store over the past two days as well as putting more painted animal pins online. We sold a couple of hummingbird pins this morning, so maybe it's helping even though I didn't work on the hummingbirds directly.

As for the collages, I like the second one especially, the cow is funny, and I started to appreciate the one with the gorilla skull and the salmon again when I began making the notes for it on Etsy. They always mean something when I'm done with them, although I almost never plan anything because it rarely works. The fun is in seeing how random images, when put together, express something or lead me somewhere. I didn't dissect the collages, but I did find a few words to say about each in the blurb. It seems the '80s were productive years for collage-making (also the end of the '70s), and all of the collages above are from the 1980s.

I bought some new portfolios today, and tomorrow will begin organizing. Also, as the guy in the store termed it, "editing." That is, trash can for the ones that truly didn't work or aren't worth keeping.

This blog is sponsored by Tapir and Friends Animal Store.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Shaking Loose, Part 1

Something shook loose this week and I began to follow up on my mini-success with eBay by posting more things for sale online, and all in places other than eBay. Some of them I've posted before, but most  have been sitting around anywhere between years and decades waiting for me to do something with them. Amazing. I really do feel a new energy moving in my life. 

The trout above is one that Les left here on consignment. After all this time I finally figured out an easy way to put larger numbers of these painted pins in the store so people can get a good look at them and it doesn't take forever to put them up and then take them down again when they sell, as the quantity of these older designs may be from one to just a few pins of any design or paint style. One of the quick(er) ways I'd been putting them up looked nice, but they were not optimized well for Google, and that has become the Holy Grail of anything you put online these days. If the Big G can't find it, forget it. When each pin had its own page they optimized much better, but it was too cumbersome to make sense. If the pin happens to be an elephant, it may look the same each time, but if it's a trout it may come in more styles than you can count on two hands. I needed a way to post more of them quicker and not lose our great placement by switching to a new web store entirely. What I'm doing now is a hybrid system, and I think it should work.

I had to show you another unusual trout (above). I've loved these pins ever since I came across Les and his booth at the Seattle Gift Show one year. We do sell some pins right through the year, but not nearly as many as I'd like to. Hopefully that will be changing now, and my goal is to get several hundred more animal pins posted in time for Christmas sales! Think I can do it?

After I finished the trout I moved on to tropical fish. I especially love this beautiful triggerfish.

Next I did the frog page. I'm not sure what animal I'll work on tomorrow, maybe more sea life.

So much for the Tapir and Friends Store. I decided to do something with my own artwork finally. I've posted this collage (a different style for me, but funny) on this blog before, and I decided to get my feet wet the other day by making it the first item in my new Etsy store: TapirgalLovesArt. Corinna has been selling stuff she makes and making money for TPF donations for a number of years now and she recommended Etsy as a venue. So did a discussion Catherine sent me recommending Etsy over eBay for vintage and hand-made items.

A detail from my first Etsy posting.

Here's the second Etsy posting. Maybe a weird choice. I called it "Space Girl." It didn't have a name when I made it in 1980. I have so many pieces of artwork in unmanageable old portfolios that I took the first candidate that was going to photograph OK and looked interesting enough to use.

I sure wish Blogger would get the orientation right. Facebook and Blogger both had the same problem with another photo I posted a few days ago.

I didn't say anything about this one when I put it on the blog before. I guess the symbolism is whatever you want it to be. I made it in 1983 when I was living in Corona and feeling disconnected. It was my third Etsy post, so I moved from not personal at all through a sense of insecurity to intense feelings in this third one. I plan to put more up tomorrow, not sure what it will be yet.

This blog is sponsored by Tapir and Friends Animal Store.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Bye Bye Beanies

Beanie Babies. I like them. I think they're cute. I think they have a certain amount of character, and you know I love animals, even these cutely distorted ones. I don't like all distorted or overly cute animals, but Beanie Babies grew on me. I never paid them any attention in their heyday, recognizing immediately that they were an overpriced gimmick to make money for Ty, but once they began showing up in garage sales in quantities, Lee bought some for the store. I felt obligated to put them online, and then I grew to like them. They have endearing faces, and it's not their fault they come with bad poetry. We enjoyed finding more and more in garage sales, meeting friends and cousins of the Ty creations we already knew, and inventory blossomed. 

Occasionally they sold. The best times were when a parent or grandparent told me they were replacing a loved furry friend the kid had lost and would be inconsolable until the beady-eyed toy came home. I remember two little boys with two lost chipmunks, and we happened to have just the two needed for replacement; the boys - one might think a little old for Beanie Babies - had created a whole world of stories around these two chipmunks, now gone missing. With a mother's purchase, happy times returned for the lads and their chipmunk mascots and the store made about six dollars not counting processing time and customer service. (I'm not laughing. I remember the day my pet rat chewed the face off of the homely rag doll I had just finished sewing. I was in tears.) My mom fixed the doll. We supplied the missing chipmunks. How delightful it would be if all stories ended so well.

I meant this to be a short post. Long story short (LSS), it's hard to pay the rent when you put as much time into listing and selling one unique item as we've put into these Beanies. (Ty would not sell Beanie Babies to online-only retailers, so I had to make do with what I found in garages, and they rarely matched.) I am not a collector and I had more interesting things to do than researching the ones that might possibly sell for more. During the couple of years the store was open to the public, the kids enjoyed them - but the beanie corner became more of a babysitting venue than a profit center. So today the time finally came today to hug the little characters goodbye and send them all off to an orphanage a loving home.

I tried recently to sell these Beanie Buddy bears (bigger by far than the Babies) on eBay, but there were no takers. Kinda sad. They are in good condition and they're pretty adorable. I can understand, though, that nobody would want to pay the $12.00 shipping on five bears they had bought for $1.00 total. I wouldn't mind sending them to a place where real kids need real toys, a disaster relief or something, but they are heavy, and shipping could be expensive. Anyway, the U.S. seems glutted with products that have run their course and end up as cultural landfill (and all too often, physical landfill as well). I wonder what adventure lies ahead for Spangle the Bear and Jake the Drake. Today I'm listing them all on Freecycle Astoria. Bye bye Beanies. It's been a fun if not very profitable ride.

So what have we here? In front are the obvious beanies, and behind them my art portfolios. They hold my past and my future - another story for another day. Next to the art is a stack of empty mailbags, used daily to mail more profitable (if not necessarily more deserving) animal replicas from the store. Next to the bags are plastic storage cabinets containing supplies for future artwork and maybe a few things I can sell on eBay that people will actually buy. A new easy chair - actually the first I've had in many years. It's comfortable and attractive. It's one of the few pieces I've ever bought that goes so well with its setting, and it needs an uncluttered home under the window with the pleasant lighting. Bye bye, Beanies . . . I take one more step along my path to somewhere new.

This blog is sponsored by Tapir and Friends Animal Store.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Chairs, Flowers, Blood and Feet

Outside the fabric and quilting store on 10th Street
Astoria, Oregon ~ August 20, 2012

Spending a few moments in a plastic Adirondack chair outside the quilting and fabric store after getting energy work done downstairs was a higlight of the day. I was relaxed, the chair was comfy, the sun was perfect, and a nice breeze blew up from the river. Unfortunately the photo showing the trees turned sideways when I uploaded it, so I took it down. I've had that happen before with images on Blogger, not sure why. It was a phone photo if that makes a difference.

 Columbia Memorial Hospital exit and Park Building
Astoria, Oregon ~ August 20, 2012

This morning I had my blood drawn again and had to return one of those ultra-fun 24-hour pee tests. The women in the lab and the records office and I are getting to know each other pretty well by now. They are all very cool, so that part is fine. If I want a copy of the test sent to me, I have to go down the long hallway and fill out some papers. Finally we all know the drill, and this time the lady was right on it when she saw me coming. 

Some days the hallway is an issue, though, because I still cannot walk anywhere without my feet getting sore and bleeding internally. The two latest theories both say my nerves are giving the veins signals to behave wrongly, as there is nothing at all wrong with the veins (which is good). The podiatrist in Astoria thought the screwed up signals might be from low potassium, but my potassium is normal. The vein doctor at OHSU in Portland thought fibromyalgia could be causing the nerves to give wrong signals. Maybe so, because my feet began to get weird the week after my bad fibromyalgia crash at the end of May 2010. Maybe we're getting somewhere with the cause. The tests are about my parathyroid problems (which also affect nerves, so who knows), but it's all connected. I see the fibro specialist in about six weeks and am beginning to try some new things on that score. More in another post.

I know I am getting very tired of the walking problems (although I am beginning to get the awareness of being grateful for every little thing, such as the fact that I still HAVE feet). After yet one more set of tests, it was elevating to walk out the side door of the hospital and see such bright flowers. I didn't even notice the sculpted bush until I downloaded the photo. By the way, the hospital is behind me. The nondescript brick thing is the Park Building across the street.

This blog is sponsored by Tapir and Friends Animal Store.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Cross Writing in 1856

N.C. Hudson to Helen R. Joy ~
August 15, 1856

Same letter as above

Cross writing was a popular way to save on postage and paper in the 1700s and 1800s. Fortunately for me, there are not a lot of cross-written letters in the Hudson and Joy collection I'm working on, and when the people do cross write, it's usually only a small portion of the letter. Some examples can get pretty extreme, though, as you can see from these letters that came up in a Google image search.

I've found cross writing to be easier to read than you might think, especially once you get used to someone's handwriting. In the case of Nathaniel's letter to Helen (above), I had to get out the old Agfa Lupe to be sure about his first line (after the date and "My Dearest Helen.") Not only does the writing cross, but it's extremely light. There is not usually much fading in these letters, but either his ink was thin, the paper was slick and the ink didn't adhere very well to the first page, or it really did fade.


Aha! It's the ink. At the end Nathaniel apologizes for "this miserable looking letter - I believe my ink is entirely spoiled."

This blog is sponsored by Tapir and Friends Animal Store.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The "Black Warrior"

The steamship Black Warrior.
(Copyright-free image)

Page 2 of Ben Howe's letter to Nathaniel.

One of the joys and challenges of working on this book of history is the unexpected information that comes up when I search topics related to the letters. In this case, the ship Ben took from New Orleans to New York turned out to be famous. He mentioned its name, Black Warrior, at the end of line 13. Ben took his trip in June of 1856. The Black Warrior was built in 1852. Had Ben taken the same trip in 1854, he might have been aboard on the day the Black Warrior nearly became the catalyst for war with Spain as it lay moored off of Havana, Cuba. Had he taken the trip in 1859, he might have been among the passengers on the fateful ship when it grounded on Rockaway Bar near modern day JFK Airport. There are a number of web pages about the Black Warrior, and this one combines most of the historical information along with notes on the wreckage. If you scroll down the page you can even see eating utensils from the ship, giving us some idea of what Ben's place setting must have looked like.

It's fascinating to find this kind of stuff, and the challenge comes in sorting out how much to include in an already-very-long draft. But it's exactly this type of material that gives clues about how the people in the letters lived and what they thought about. Certainly both Nathaniel and Ben knew the history of the near-war sparked when the Black Warrior's captain had failed in February 1854 to declare to Spanish Customs that he was carrying a load of cotton from Alabama. He failed to declare because the law didn't require it, as the cotton was not intended for offloading in Havana. However, the new Governor of Cuba seized the ship and provoked an international incident. War was only averted because England, France, and Russia were about to become embroiled in Crimean War and did not want the added burden of backing Spain. The war was forestalled, and would eventually take place in 1898 as the Spanish-American War, the famous war in which Teddy Roosevelt commanded Rough Riders at San Juan Hill - a war with history-changing repercussions as far away as the Philippines.

There are any number of interesting points in Ben's letter. He had his own style that expressed itself in simple things such as the "double comma" look of his periods and the already-mostly-outdated use of "f" instead of some of the "s's" in his text. He writes "pafs" instead of "pass," for instance, and it took me a minute to figure out that "lef" was "less," because he didn't include the second "s" (or else it's barely there, see line 10).

Ben's exuberance comes through in passages such as, "Now Friend H. Tis not fair no t’isn’t by any means when I talk so freely to you & just to think you should keep such a matter of . . . grand importance for me who give you all my confidence entire. Oh, Ho Ho. Don’t get vexed don’t." This was Ben's response when he learned in Vermont that Nathaniel was contemplating marriage and had not mentioned it to his old friend.

I find myself curious when I read, " . . . we stopped at Havana for a while & I just got my pass ["pafs" in each case] and went ashore for awhile to see the sights at Havana. Well after getting my pass (just like any other nigger) I approached the officer, Pass in hand & was permitted to enter the old city of Havana. . . ." First, let me say, I actually shudder to use the "N word," even here, as I was brought up to find racial slurs abhorrent. (I don't mind swearing, that is a whole "nother" thing, but I cringe to hear racial slurs, much less perpetuate them - and that is the crux here.) But "first" again, I do not change the words used by the writers of the letters. These are their thoughts and the language of their times. In the publication of All Eight Went, a 1910 travelogue, I did change "Chinaman" to "Chinese man" for the sake of what I thought was propriety, and I've always regretted it. The flavor of the time and the character of the people left the sentence, and I had written a lie. Second, I don't believe that the word "nigger" was here intended as a racial slur by Ben against black people. Again, it was the language of the times, and it conveys a particular attitude and complex relationship to his environment that I can only begin to understand by keeping the word in its context. Until his early 20s Ben had lived in the North among abolitionists and those who, while not in favor of human bondage, had only tolerated slavery because it was constitutionally the law of the land. At twenty-something he had traveled south to teach school and had lived in slave-holding communities and perhaps in slave-holding households in Georgia and Louisiana by the the time he wrote this letter at the age of almost 27. His Northern roots had become tempered by sympathy for how the Southerners lived. He was also conscious that he was writing to a Northern friend, but one who had also spent time teaching in the South. While Nathaniel had not adopted the South as fully as Ben had, he had come to love his Southern family and understand their ways and reasons.

Returning to the line used by Ben, I conclude that while not showing contempt for blacks, he is taking into account their status as less than that of respected citizens and expressing his own sense of humiliation at needing to be approved and monitored in order to go ashore in Havana. I find this interesting, as Havana was not part of the United States, and we are so used to the formalities and even the invasive procedures at border crossings and domestic airports. In any case, Ben appears to have been miffed, or perhaps he was only making an observation. His inclusion of himself along with the black race ("any other nigger") erases boundary lines and plants both Ben and the "niggers" within the same human family, not a universal thought in his day, but also not entirely unique.

These are only a few of the intricacies found in such a letter, and just a hint of why I am enjoying this project so much. I look forward to the day it becomes a book to be shared with others. For some reason I was unequipped to bring it to a conclusion 30 years ago - no doubt because I had not found the right vision for it, and no doubt also because I lacked some necessary aspect of life experience or judgement. In any case, I feel grateful today that I can enjoy the journey, and for these insights into what life was like in Ben's world. I am grateful that he wrote to Nathaniel, that Nathaniel saved the letter, and that I was led to find it among a treasure trove of writings well over a century later.

This blog is sponsored by Tapir and Friends Animal Store.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

With Love from Havana

Letter from Benjamin Howe to N.C. Hudson
August 16, 1856

My draft is now over 1,000 pages, and it's still lacking a title. I've read through it once from beginning to end. It was an eye-opener how well the parts flowed together. Even though I know so much of the content almost by heart, I found myself anxiously waiting to see what would come next. I thought the draft would be a lot spottier than it was, as I have so many more letters from some periods than from others. Fortunately the intervening events were so interesting (to me, anyway) that it seems to be working.

The more I read, the more there is to learn. I am loving this aspect and learning so much. I was surprised to see how many of the letters had been fully transcribed over the past 30 years, so there is less still to do on that score than I had anticipated when I picked up the project again. One letter that was only minimally transcribed until this week is this one from Ben (shown in the photo).

Ben's letter has been my "edit point" for several days, or more likely a whole week. It's taken more time than most letters for a number of reasons: it's six full-size pages long for one thing, and for another, I took a break due to pain from a badly tweaked back and a medical test. The test came out fine, but had me down for awhile also. Pain on pain, and no fun.

I'm now halfway through the final proofing stage of Ben's letter. His are always a joy to read, and this one includes interesting travel notes. He had been living in Ringgold, near Lake Bisteneau, Louisiana, a bit southeast of Shreveport and about halfway between New Orleans and Dallas. In 1856 he decided to take a trip home to Vermont for the first time in six years, and he wrote his old friend Nathaniel about it when he got back. (The envelope under the letter is addressed to Nathaniel in Sioux City.) The journey one way took 17 days. He took a steamship from New Orleans to New York, which was a regular route with a stop in Havana. 

Later or tomorrow some highlights from the letter.

This blog is sponsored by Tapir and Friends Animal Store.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Creepy Gulch: Sayulita Cemetery Adventure

Sayulita, Mexico ~ February 6, 2006

Posted today for Taphophile Tragics

We spent a week in Sayulita, Mexico, a charming beach town with even more charming cottages rented by the week. Who could not want to wander along the rocks south of town and find a lucky snorkeling spot? We did, and we had uninvited company. The young man's presence would have been OK had he been friendly or felt safe, but neither was the case. He followed ominously, quietly, always watching. Not entirely threatening, and then again not entirely not threatening. It was one of those times. We did not want to expose our fear and we did not want to ignore him. He carried something in his hand. . . .

Lee made toward him to strike up a conversation and feel out the attitude.

I tried to remain casual and took lots of photos. The close-ups of the gorgeous pink and purple crustaceans did not come out, but here's a glance down the suddenly-hostile rockscape. In the end Lee was't comfortable. I believe he said, "I THINK he's OK, but he's kinda weird. I'm not getting the right vibe." That was good enough for me and we picked our way back to the car.

A few yards from where we had parked the car we again came across this intriguing small cemetery with its interesting colors and uniquely-shaped graves. When we first caught sight of it I had almost thought it was one of those places that – in the US – you would have found dumped cars, engine parts, mattresses, and anything else people didn't want to pay to get rid of in the proper facilities. Because of that, this gulch had already taken on ominous feel for me before we even hit the beach. Coming back now I wanted to stop and take some photos. I could see finally how intriguing it was once I knew what I was looking at. But the sense of vulnerability remaining in my veins from our beach excursion left me even more interested in getting out of there. 

I took these few shots from the car and we said we would come back, but we never did. I kind of wish we had gone back, but on the other hand it felt much more pleasant to watch the bright orange flowers, blue sky, and strange frigatebirds gliding in the open air.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

A Tale of Two Markers

Photos by Betty Todd, Lee Spangler, 
Sheryl Todd, and Kathy Rodriguez

This is my dad and me in 1949 when he was 25.

He lived to the age of 80, which would have surprised him very much if he'd known that in his younger years. He expected to die around 55 or 60; his father died at the age of 55. Lois was my dad's second wife, and they moved to Prescott, Arizona, a number of years after their respective divorces and their marriage to each other. She died in 2010 in California, and her ashes will be brought to Arizona to be with his. This is what they wanted, although it's far away from either family. This is an older photo and I don't know what the marker looks like today.

The blossoms, the blue fountain and the tree are nice, although this stark setting at the Prescott United Methodist Church makes me sad.

I like the view of the hills. However, once again the spot seems so barren. I saw a photo of the old Methodist Church which was of a nice style, substantial and attractive with architectural merit. I'm not even showing you a picture of the church here. It might have seemed modern in some context, but I don't like it.

My sister and brother and I decided to buy a stone for our dad and put it in the family plot in Corona, California, at Sunnyslope Cemetery where my dad's ancestors and relatives have been buried since the 1890s.

Here is what we got. It's really hard deciding what to put on a stone, and it's the first time I had had to take part in this decision. As a historian I wanted something more than simple dates. Although he lived in Larchmont, New York, for awhile as a child and for a short time in Bisbee, Arizona, we settled on these three locations. He was born in San Francisco, lived most of his life in Corona, and then moved to Prescott. We wanted to give some hint of where he spent his last years, because he loved his life in Prescott and his ashes are there. I'm sure that someone will be confused by the fact that he has a stone here in Corona, but it was more important to us to have a place for him among his family and, at least as importantly, where future generations could find him in their family history. We wanted to honor his service in the war, and then … what do you say to express your feelings about losing your dad? "In Loving Memory" had previously seemed trite to me because you see it often, but it was only when trying to figure out what to put on the stone that I realized why people use it. It meant everything to me at that moment, and no one else had to understand. 

And here I make a confession: Why three locations - not two, not four? You could say they fit on the stone, and they do. But equally, I have always loved the sound of the way James Joyce ended his mammoth novel Ulysses: "TRIESTE, ZURICH, PARIS. 1914-1922." Three little words and a span of years give a sense of breadth and movement. So, too, I hoped, our marker. My father was not the last in a line that loved to travel, to experience new sights and cultures, and was fortunate enough to be able to go beyond San Francisco, Corona, and Prescott, and see a good-sized part of the world. 

My sister and Mom went to the cemetery to take the photo I've been talking about, and the bird of paradise flowers are from my mother's garden. I thought it was sweet, as my parents had been divorced for about 23 years.

In February of 2011, I came back to take some pictures. The management at the cemetery explained that due to severe flooding some months or so in the past, many of the stones were encrusted with mud. This is my dad's father. You'll be able to read the stone later in the post.

And this is my dad's mother. You can read it here, but you'll be able to read it better in a minute.

This is my father's great aunt, Dr. Carol Jameson, who never married but spent 40 years in India as a doctor of gynecology who also operated on the poor to restore their sight. The contrast on her stone shows just how much "mud" we're talking about. It looks more like the lime used in cement, and that may not be too far off. Granite has been quarried in Corona, and limestone in other parts of Riverside County, and the nearby Riverside Portland Cement plant can attest to that. 

Here is Thorndike C. Jameson, Carol's father. I hardly know what to say about the disrespectful condition of this stone and the thoughtless tire tracks.

Here's how my dad's stone looked at the end of 2011 when Lee stopped by the cemetery after cleaning the stones of his parents in Los Angeles. The mud layer has thinned a little.

Lee asked the cemetery manager if they had some pumice he could borrow to clean up a bit. For those who don't know, he is not even a family member; he was doing this for me. The manager wouldn't loan a traveler theirs, but said it could be gotten at some big box store and waved vaguely in that direction. Lee noticed two members of the grounds crew working on some equally-lime-coated stones nearby and began chatting. They were very friendly, loaned him a pumice stone, and said to leave it on the fender of a backhoe when he was done.

Here's what my dad's stone looked like by the time Lee left, much tired from wrestling with the lime.

He had also scrubbed a number of other ones. My grandmother's stone cleaned up partially as well. You can certainly read it now.

And my grandfather's stone looks very good in the bright light even though remnants of the flood remain.


I made this post today to take part in the not-so-tragic meme, Taphophile Tragics.
Thanks, Julie, for giving me the excuse to collage together a story and some memories.

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