Category Archives: Culture and History

Road Trip, 1919

I’m not especially fond of travelogues (except for those written by Bill Bryson) and I have no interest in reading about motorcycles, but when Number One Son (a.k.a. “Hippie”) recommended Across America by Motor-cycle by C. K. Shepherd I thought it might be interesting because this trip across America took place in the year 1919. It was definitely worth reading.

First of all, I must say this book will give you a new appreciation of paved roads, even poorly maintained ones. A great deal of the book consists of complaining about the state of the roads but there are also, motorcycle repairs, encounters with friendly and helpful small town people, and wonderful descriptions of scenery. My favorite part was the description of Arizona’s Petrified Forest. I’ve seen pictures of the place before but reading about it gave me even more of a feeling of what it’s like.

The most amusing part, to me, was the author’s confusion upon finding that the Arkansas River had no water in it. We in Tulsa and the surrounding area are quite familiar with the varying water levels of the Arkansas.

I downloaded the Kindle version with images. There are only a few small photos but I was glad for the chance to see them.

Christmastime, Lazy Blogging, Christmas Music, etc.

I get the feeling that hardly anyone is reading this anymore. That’s okay. I understand. It’s Christmastime and you’re all busy, as you should be. I am too and I’m not so inclined to put much effort into this for the next week or two. That doesn’t mean I’m going to completely disappear but you might not get anything but Christmas music and maybe an occasional brief comment that could almost fit on Twitter. Well, anyway…

I heard this on the radio yesterday. (a different recording) The Huron Carol was written ca. 1642 by a Jesuit Missionary living with the Huron tribe in Canada. He changed some parts of the Christmas story to make it more accessible to the Huron tribes people. (click link for lyrics)

Christmas Music Time!

Oops. It’s past mid-week and I didn’t do the “Mid-Week Music Break” thing. So I was thinking… since it’s December, I need to do a weekly Christmas music thing. (Some more ambitious people are doing a daily Christmas music thing.) So then I thought I should get my annual tearful lament out of the way first. But this year will be different because I discovered something. (Yay Google!)

The version of a song that you grow up with will always be right even if it is an obscure, oddball recording that no one has ever heard of and the “wrong” version is the standard that everyone is familiar with. This has always been the situation with me and the Christmas song, O Holy Night. (Originally a French carol) I grew up with a recording by an ensemble called the Longines Symphonette that had slightly different lyrics from the standard English translation that we always hear and it drives me nuts every time I hear the wrong (i.e. standard) version of it.

Every year I search in vain. But this year, finally, I found it! It’s just the middle part of a medley (starting at about 1:28) but these are the right lyrics.

Aside from having the right words… well, I can’t really complain about this choir and soloist. They actually are good, but I can’t help thinking how lovely it would have been if Nat King Cole had known the correct lyrics. [sigh]

edited for clarity


I actually have two books that I want to talk about. I’m going to start with the one I finished two or three weeks ago (?) and never got around to saying anything about. The other book, the one I just finished, I want to think more about exactly what I want to say, and I have other things I need to do today, so I’ll probably (I hope) get around to that one later today or maybe tomorrow.

Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone by Martin Dugard is an exciting account of the famous explorers’ adventures and ordeals in Africa. Stanley and Livingstone are two names I have heard most of my life, and of course I have heard the famous line, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” many times, but I had only a very vague idea of who they were. Something about explorations in Africa.

Into Africa reads like an adventure novel but it is completely factual, based on the journals of David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley, which author Martin Dugard quotes frequently throughout the book. I think it is difficult for a person of our century to imagine the popularity of explorers during the 19th century. It is tempting to compare them to rock stars or, perhaps more appropriately, Neil Armstrong.

The “Holy Grail” of the day was finding the source of the Nile. Dr. Livingstone was one of a number of Europeans who set out to find the source. He failed to return from Africa when expected and was reported to have been killed by natives but many people believed that he was still alive and the public demanded that an expedition be sent to find him. Among others who went to Africa to search for the missing explorer was British-American journalist Henry M. Stanley who was sent by the New York Herald, hoping to “scoop” rival newspapers.

I wish I had more in detail to say about this book but, like I said, it was a few weeks ago that I finished it and my mind is not really on it anymore. I can say that I very much enjoyed it and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in history and/or epic adventure.


Today Is Not Columbus Day

Yesterday was Columbus Day – the traditional day that is. When I was a kid Columbus day was really just like any other day, just like it is now. We still had to go to school if it was on a weekday but we got to do something different like color a picture of three wooden ships or maybe watch a film. It was used as a teaching opportunity but most of the stuff we were taught back then was wrong.

Now Columbus Day is just a Monday off for government employees and a day when I have to remember that I don’t need to go get the mail. For the perpetually offended it is another excuse to take offense and to post holier-than-thou rants on the Internet. And it is a somewhat problematic day. Columbus didn’t even know that he discovered anything – he was even wrong about the size of the Earth – and his voyage and landfall led to a lot of bad history as well as the good that those of my generation were taught in school.

Personally, I wouldn’t mind if Columbus Day just went away. Oh, I would be a little sad but I would get over it in about five minutes. The worst thing about getting rid of Columbus Day would be having to listen to the uproar from those traditionalists who are more vocal and political than I am. But seriously, when you think of all the great people in history who do not have their own special day, is Columbus really any more deserving of his own day? There is no Benjamin Franklin Day or Thomas Jefferson Day. There is no Ferdinand Magellan day, no Nikola Tesla Day or Thomas Edison Day, no George Washington Carver Day, no Neil Armstrong Day. The list of explorers, inventors and statesmen for whom there is no special day could go on and on. There are not enough days in the year.

So why Columbus? Well, he was significant for what his accomplishment ultimately led to even if he had no idea. The Vikings discovered America long before Columbus but they only stayed for a while and then left the continent as they had found it. After Columbus, Europeans just kept coming and coming and coming. For good or ill, the voyages of Columbus were the beginning of something that changed the world as nothing else ever has. So maybe that does deserve a day. Maybe it should even be a much bigger day. But this has been talked to death already. Maybe a better question would be, “Do government employees really deserve a day off that most other people don’t get?”

Eureka Springs: Quigley’s Castle

Quigley's Castle, Eureka Springs, AR

I took more pictures of Quigley’s Castle than of any other place we went in Eureka Springs but I have been worrying over whether or not I should post any pictures of the inside. Since there is only one picture of the interior on the Quigley’s Castle website it seems, somehow, impolite for me to post a bunch of photos. (One of the other places we went was Pivot Rock and the woman in the gift shop there objected to me taking pictures of the antiques she had in there and I thought, “They let me take all the pictures I wanted at Quigley’s Castle and you don’t want me to take a few pictures in your petty little store? Get over yourself!”) Anyway, I looked on Flickr and there are already quite a few pics of Quigley’s Castle so maybe it won’t hurt if I post just one or two?

Quigley’s Castle is billed as “the Ozark’s Strangest Dwelling”. It is very unique but, to be honest, it didn’t seem at all “strange” to me. Inside the exterior walls there is a four foot wide, two story tall space that is open to the ground for plants to grow and there are bougainvillaeas that have been growing there for nearly 70 years as well as some other plants. In some ways the home seems fairly typical of a nice rural home of the early half of the 20th century but it does have some unique features of decor, the most spectacular of which are the plant space and the butterfly wall. (someone else’s photo) The walls and ceilings are all wood planks. We didn’t see a bit of plaster anywhere in the house.

Bedroom in Quigley's Castle, Eureka Springs, AR

Mrs. Quigley loved to collect rocks, which is something I would have already been doing all my life if I had any idea where to go to collect interesting rocks. (When I was a kid I had a “rock collection” that I kept in a three-pound coffee can. Most of them were very small, no bigger than a grape.) And in addition to the rocks, and the plants, (which, honestly, would all be dead or very sickly looking if I lived there) and the butterfly wall, there is something immensely appealing to me about the house – the furnishings and decor and just everything. So I feel like I totally understand Mrs. Quigley. It’s like we were sisters in another life.

The garden is full of rock sculptures like these and there are several bottle trees, (someone else’s photo again) which I think are kinda tacky but also sort of clever and charming.

At Quigley's Castle, Eureka Springs, AR

Eureka Springs: the Food

One of the great and unique things about Eureka Springs is that there are almost no chain restaurants. We saw a Pizza Hut, a Subway, and a McDonald’s and that was it. We have a bad habit of eating in the same places everywhere we go and I love that Eureka Springs’ lack of these places forced us to eat in one-of-a-kind restaurants.

We arrived in time for lunch on Friday and ate at a place called The Roadhouse. It was a nice little place with standard American food. I ordered a hamburger, even though I keep saying I need to give up hamburgers, and felt overstuffed for the rest of the day. But it was very good.

That evening driving around in an old residential area we found a charming little restaurant with a sign outside that just said “Fresh”. Not seeing any other sign to indicate what it was called we took that to be the name of the place. I had a salad made of locally grown spinach with cranberries, pecans, and orange poppy seed dressing. It was wonderful. My husband also had some kind of salad. Our mistake was in deciding to indulge in dessert. They had a green tea cheesecake which I couldn’t resist ordering. You know what they say about curiosity? Well, it didn’t kill me, and it actually wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t very dessert-like, barely sweet at all. In fact, the salad was sweeter than the dessert. This place was more expensive than we are used to so that, in combination with the less than exciting desserts, left us with kind of a bad feeling about the place although I think the fact that they use locally grown greens in their salads probably justifies their prices. I would eat there again, order the same salad and a different desert but I probably won’t ever get the chance.

And by the way, I wish I had taken a picture of the giant metal flowers on the corner outside this restaurant. They look nice from a distance, or if you’re not really paying attention, but as we were getting into the car to leave (We were parked on the end right next to them.) I thought, “Those look a little creepy up close. I sort of feel like I’m in an episode of Twilight Zone.

Saturday morning we ate at The Family Pancake House. A pretty standard pancake house – pancakes, waffles, eggs, hashbrowns, etc. We both had what they called “Indian Pancakes”, made with corn meal. They were very good. The inside of the place was decorated with a lot of vintage transportation stuff.

We saw several Mexican restaurants while driving around so we decided we wanted to eat at one of those for lunch Saturday. We picked the wrong one. It was called La Familia. It wasn’t really my first choice of the Mexican restaurants we saw but it was the first one we came to and it was easy to get into. There was another one I was more interested in that was up on the side of a hill and it wasn’t immediately clear how to get to it. The instant I stepped through the door of La Familia I had a bad feeling about it but I told myself, “Don’t be a snob; some seedy looking places actually have pretty good food.” It didn’t. It was the most bland and tasteless “Mexican” food I’ve ever eaten. They did have hot sauces on the table but one expects Mexican food (or any food) to have some seasoning already. The food at this place was about as tasty as the paper napkins.

That evening, after some discussion, we decided on The Catfish Cabin. The exterior, a “log cabin” with a wrap around porch, suggested a nicer place than it actually was on the inside but it wasn’t too bad. It had an atmosphere of cheapness but they had gone to some effort to give it a fishing shack look. We both ordered the chicken strip dinner, mine with sweet potato fries and my husband’s with regular fries. The menu said that all dinners came with choice of fries, plus hush puppies, coleslaw, beans, and green tomato relish. They brought us each a plate with three tiny chicken strips, fries and hush puppies and placed individual serving size bowls of coleslaw, beans, and green tomato relish between us. Since they were single serving size bowls I naturally expected that this was for just one of us and they would soon bring the rest of our order but no, that was it. Single serving size bowls to share between us. As it turned out though, the fries and hush puppies were enough to make up for the undersized chicken strips and side dishes. The sweet potato fries were the best I’ve ever had. Usually sweet potato fries are rather limp but these had the same crispness as regular fries. The hush puppies were wonderful, perfect. Lots of onion, just the way I like them.

There were two other restaurants (besides that Mexican place on the hill that I mentioned earlier) that I really wanted to go to but didn’t this time. I am hoping that there will be a next time, before too many years go by, so I will get to eat at those places.

Sunday morning we decided to indulge in one of our favorite vices: IHOP. There is no IHOP in Eureka Springs but there’s one in Rogers Arkansas, which was on the way home. We had sort of a weird encounter on the way in. Just as we were coming up to the door there was a young man leaving the IHOP, pissed off, muttering something about “ten minute wait, no coffee, no water.” A ten minute wait to be seated at an IHOP on a Sunday morning is nothing. We have waited for half an hour or more so we went on in, and were surprised to find no one waiting. We were seated immediately and had coffee and water within two minutes. I was really sorry I couldn’t hunt the guy down and ask him, “Just what exactly is your problem?” All I can think of is that he ignored the sign that clearly says, “Please wait to be seated” and just walked in and sat down and so, of course, did not get served.

Eureka Springs, AR

We spent about a day and a half in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. It’s a cute little town, famous for its hills and its Victorian homes. There are a lot of interesting little shops and a few attractions. I took over 100 pictures but now I’m thinking of things I wish I had taken pictures of but didn’t.

My favorite things were Quigley’s Castle and just walking around downtown.

We looked in a number of the shops downtown but didn’t buy anything. Now I’m regretting not buying one of the beautiful Eureka Springs mugs for my collection but at the time I didn’t want to carry it around all day and besides, the last thing I need is another mug. Not that I have all that many. As collections go mine is very small but I have no place to put another mug. But now I really want it. I’m still not sure though, if I would rather have the one with the cardinal or the one with butterflies.

I will be posting more pictures this week and writing more about what we saw in Eureka Springs.

Favorite Things

Photographs of children from around the world with their favorite toys. What’s interesting is that in most cases you wouldn’t be able to tell the country just by looking at the toys. Individual photos are also interesting for other reasons. The girl with the sunglasses, the boy with the musical toys. It makes me wonder about their lives and about them. What are they like and what will they be like? And then there’s the boy from Kiev. That is rather disturbing.

Chewbacca’s Girlfriend

In a note to an advice column that I had not heard of before this morning, a man laments his girlfriend’s decision to let her legs and pits go wild and free. Her excuse is the usual – shaving is a male chauvinist plot.

You know… I don’t really keep up with these things but isn’t letting your fur grow as a protest against the patriarchy a little outdated? A lot of men are going smooth now days, a trend that does not exactly have my enthusiastic approval. I mean, it’s okay on TV I guess but I’m not sure I would like living in a world where all men look like Ken dolls. But anyway, it’s not like only women are removing body hair these days.

One interesting thing about the Advice Goddess’s answer is that women and men have been shaving, or using other means to remove hair for a long, long time.

…way back before there was Cosmo, there was Ovid, the Roman poet, advising women looking for love: “Let no rude goat find his way beneath your arms” (don’t let your underarms get stanky like a goat), “and let not your legs be rough with bristling hair.” Archeological evidence (including hair-scraping stones and an impressive set of Bronze Age tweezers) suggests that women — and often men — have been shaving, depilating, and yanking out body hair since at least 7,000 B.C.

So you can stop blaming American women for this custom any time now.

No one enjoys the hair removal process and I have to confess that I have my moments when I wish we didn’t have to do it but, honestly, hairy legs and especially hairy armpits on a woman look disgusting. Why? Is it merely cultural? I think it’s more than that. After all, there was some reason why someone thousands of years ago decided to start removing hair in the first place. I don’t think it was a male vs. female thing. That came later. Perhaps our ancestors (and we still today) wanted to distinguish themselves from the animals. Perhaps at first only those people who were more hirsute than normal shaved and other people liked the smooth look and started shaving also. Maybe it started with athletes, wrestlers. Or maybe there was a male dominance element. Maybe, in an age of child brides and polygamy women wanted to continue to look like children to compete with younger wives. Maybe it was all of these things. Whatever. Ladies, get rid of the leg and underarm hair. It looks gross.


Travels to Faraway Places and Times

Thanks to Amazon’s monthly “$3.99 or Less” Kindle specials I have discovered some good books that I would not normally have searched for. One of these is Daughters of the River Huong by Uyen Nicole Duong, a novel about four generations of Vietnamese women. I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, seeing images of the Vietnam war on TV every night. That formed my own mental picture of the country of Vietnam. I would like to be able to say that this novel has forever changed that picture but it hasn’t. It’s too firmly fixed. But it did introduce me to an earlier and much different Vietnam.

The novel begins in New York, with the central character, Simone, a Vietnamese-American, a successful corporate attorney, then quickly goes back in time to her childhood in 1960’s Vietnam, then further back to the time of her great-grandmother, a royal concubine. Later the book looks into the lives of her mother and grandmother and finally back to the present. I have to admit that I enjoyed the history parts of the story the most and found Simone’s teenage and adult years quite tiresome but, overall, it’s a good story and I’m glad that I read it.

A few 19th century photos of Vietnam

Next up? Well, I’m really craving a good sci-fi novel. It’s been a while.

Reading: Other Times and Places

I have been reading The Middle Stage occasionally for a number of years, with the natural result that I got it into my head that I wanted to read an Indian novel. It took me a while to get around to it but I finally decided on This is Not That Dawn (reviewed here) as my first. That Chandrahas called it ” a plausible contender for the greatest of all Indian novels” as well as the fact that it is over 1000 pages made it irresistible for me.

The book begins at the funeral of an elderly woman in Lahore (now in Pakistan) and follows two members of the family, a brother and sister, through the years around and after the Partition. I quickly got caught up in the lives of the characters and started to care what would happen to them and that, to me, is an essential characteristic of a good story. The author was deeply sympathetic to the hardships faced by women in male dominated societies, especially during times of war and unrest. The book also explores changing moral values and the conflict between generations. Nothing really surprised me. I’ve already read enough to have a small clue as to what life in that part of the world is like but, lacking an actual time machine, nothing can take you to another time and place like a good book.

The only difficult thing about the book was that the names, nicknames and honorifics sometimes made it hard to keep up with who was who among the supporting characters. Also there were a lot of unfamiliar words for clothing and food which had me going to the dictionary often at first but Kindle’s dictionary does not know most of them so I soon gave up on that but I occasionally pulled out my smartphone to look something up on Wikipedia. I love modern technology, don’t you?

The English translation contained quite a few errors: “their” instead of “there”, “off” instead of “of”, singular when plural is called for and a lot of other things like that. Being somewhat OCD about such things myself I found this distracting. Overall though, it was a good book. I’m glad I read it and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in 20th century history, exploring other cultures, or who just likes a good story.

I have two more trips to two different Asian cultures waiting on my Kindle (both from Amazon’s monthly $3.99 or less specials) and I haven’t decided which one I will read next.

Shirley Temple

I have only seen two or three of Shirley Temple’s movies but my mom greatly admired her. She used to talk about what she had read about her and about what a great child star she was. She was just a couple of years older than my mom and I can almost imagine my mom as a little girl sitting in a theater watching a Shirley Temple movie.

The Changing Picture

Kelly Sedinger has some thoughts on selfies. And so have I.

First of all, about the word “selfie.” Generally, I hate that people shorten everything to just one or two syllables but sometimes it seems appropriate. A quick, usually poor quality, picture snapped with a phone does not deserve the formality of the term “self portrait.” So I actually sort of like the word “selfie.” It’s a new thing so we actually need a new word.

I don’t have anything against selfies at all but I am a little sad about the way the custom of picture taking has changed. Look at any old family photo album. Mostly you will see pictures of people standing in front of houses and cars. They were usually taken from too far away, due to the inaccuracy of viewfinders on cheap cameras. When I was a kid it always seemed that picture taking was a bit of an event. When someone wanted to take a picture the subject or subjects would stop what they were doing, go to an appropriate place and pose for the picture. Now days all that is just too much of a bother for most people.

People used to have to put more thought and care into taking pictures so they wouldn’t “waste film”. Most commonly, there were 12 or 24 shots on a roll of film so most people wouldn’t take a chance on candid photos which might turn out badly. When you wanted to take pictures of your relatives they would usually cooperate because they cared enough to not cause you waste a picture. With digital cameras we are freed from the limits of film. We can take as many pictures as we want and delete the bad ones. This is a good thing. I love digital cameras. They’re a dream come true for me. But, unfortunately, as with any technology, there’s a down side. People rarely cooperate when you want to take a picture of them. You have to be content to take a quick pic wherever they are. Posing for pictures is just too early 20th century.

The very purpose of picture taking has changed. We used to take pictures of friends and relatives so we could preserve an image of them at a particular time in their lives so that, in the future, we could look at the pictures and remember. With selfies it’s more about showing where we are, what we’re doing, who we’re with. It’s not about preserving and remembering; it’s about communicating. And that’s okay. Really, it is. I just wish we didn’t always have to lose the old thing in order to have a new thing. In this case at least, there’s no reason why we can’t have it both ways.

Benjamin Franklin’s Birthday

Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706. If you’re my age you probably learned in elementary school that Franklin talked to the French, “discovered electricity,” invented the lighting rod, and wrote a few wise and witty lines, such as “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” And that was just about all. But, as adults, we have learned that he did quite a bit more than that. One of his many inventions was the glass armonica.

And here is a modern composition for glass armonica and orchestra.