I’ve now properly started my Summer of Liz which means oodles of free time for me (I’m very lucky), and I’ve been thinking of how I’d like to spend my time. (Doing loads of very worthy and world-changing activities, I’m sure… HA.)
Actually, I’m not sure what I’m going to do but I do know it’s going to involve going to the gym and the pool (for the lazy river, naturally!); it’s going to consist of lots of reading; and I’m determined to continue with this slightly out-of-character interest in cooking new recipes.
(I think this is what happens if you binge-watch a couple of seasons of the Great British Baking Show. I’m not that interested in baking sweet stuff so I tend to focus more on savory recipes. If I’m going to cook, I may as well make it something ready for supper… Two-birds-with-one-stone idea. If I’m honest, I am also not the greatest with fiddly baking stuff either.)
Recipes so far have included spinach and feta cheese wrapped up in individual puff pastry packets (yum); lemon chicken; roasted turkey tenderloins with herb sauce and pork tenderloin with figs — all new recipes to me and all worthy of repeating. 🙂
Reading-wise, I think I’d like to focus on my own TBR pile for a while and see what progress I can make there. I do love the library and I’m sure I’m going to continue my visits there — I’d just like to continue my ongoing focus on my own books as well. (I also need to turn off that One-Click option on Amazon… 😉 )
I’d also bet that there will be a jigsaw puzzle or two to keep me busy.
To contribute to communal life, I volunteered some time with the local Friends of the Library group which was fun and worthwhile. I’ll probably repeat that again sometime soon. Messing around with books? Going to the library? No pressure to be sociable? Yes please.
And then I’d really like to get some culture so I’m planning on seeing what exhibits our museums and art centers have going on. Haven’t been to them for some time so interested in catching what’s new (to me, at least). And linked with this, I’d like to pick up my camera and doing some photog stuff again as well.
So, we’ll see how this progresses. None of this stuff is “have-to-do” and if it happens, that’s great. If not, no pressure there either. Win-win.
I do like summer (especially since our region hasn’t hit the highest temperatures yet so it’s not too brutal to spend time outside right now). I hope your summer is going smoothly as well.
With the world in this state of flux (for all of the many different reasons), I’m really interested in learning more about the history and the lives of the many people who call the U.S. “home”.
At the same time, I’m also committed to reading more BIPOC authors and topics, so toddled off to the library to see what I could track down on the shelves.
“Driving While Black” covers some of the history of American civil rights through the lens of automobiles and their overlap with social history. This was a fascinating read.
As the cover copy states, this book “reveals how the car – the ultimate symbol of independence and possibility – has always held particular importance for African Americans, allowing [B]lack families to evade the many dangers presented by an entrenched racist society and to enjoy, in some measure, the freedom of the open road.”
And although a lot of this history may not have been unfamiliar to me, the manner of how these two topics were combined and presented was eye-opening for me, as a white reader. Through careful documented research, Sorin puts together a thorough timeline of the parallels between the introduction (and subsequent widespread adoption) of the car and the increasing social roles of Black people in America:
Travel for Negroes inside the borders of the United States can become an experience so fraught with humiliation and unpleasantness that most colored people simply never think of a vacation in the same terms as the rest of America.
The Saturday Review, 1950
Geographer Karl Raitz has described the American roadside as a public space open for everyone, but the roadside itself only represented private interests.
This presented a dilemma for Black travelers: sure, you can buy a car (if you can afford it); sure, you can drive your car along the roads for great distances throughout the U.S., BUT if you want to actually stop at any point along your journey, these “private interests” (the hotels, restaurants, rest-stops etc.) are not always going to be welcoming for you and your family.
So, the introduction of the car to Black consumer symbolized freedom, just as it did for other car owners, but only the freedom of driving along the actual macadam. If you, as a Black driver, became hungry or tired and wanted to stop along the way, that’s a whole other kettle of fish. Do you see the dilemma now?
Sorin goes into well-documented depth on this using oral and written histories to bring you, as the reader, into this problematic world. As the twentieth century progressed, American life slowly and incrementally improved for Black families but it was geographically uneven and in irregular fits and starts. Sorin’s decision to intertwine consumer history of the car industry and the social history of Black America made this a riveting read which made me shake my head as the stupidity of racism.
Throughout the twentieth century, America was a confusing mix of integrated and non-integrated places which made traveling by car hazardous for Black drivers without significant preparation.
What were your options for help if you had a flat tire by the side of the road on a highway? Where would your family sleep at night? Have you packed enough food and drink for the non-stop journey (obviously you can’t stop at any old restaurant along the way)? Would your life be safe if you were driving in this particular community after sunset? (There were more than 150 “sundown towns” across the U.S.). And don’t even think about what your choices were if one of your party became sick and needed medical care…)
It is insane that the Land of the Free allowed these horrible constraints on some of its very own citizens. How traumatic for these early Black travelers just to drive to see other family members!
You’ve probably heard of the Green Book (link to book review), one of several travel guides for Black drivers on where to go, where to eat and where to stay, but this was just one of several publications that were popular at the time. (Huh. Didn’t know that but it makes sense that Victor Green wasn’t the only one to see the need.)
As cultural mores slowly started to shift and the white-owned travel business saw that more money could be made by catering to Black business, more hotels and restaurants gradually started to cater to these new customers. The Civl Rights Act of 1964 further accelerated this program (although it was achingly slow in parts of the South), but people were stubborn to change and adapt.
The problem of [B]lack business is not the absence of [B]lack support, but the absence of white support.
John H. Johnson, owner, Ebony magazine, 1971.
And although life has improved for Black Americans in the 21st century, it’s still got a ways to go. (Witness: police brutality et al.)
In 2017, author Jan Miles published “The Post-Racial Negro Green Book“, which is her take on the historical travel guide but this one is a 2013-2016 state-by-state collection of police brutality, racial profiling and everyday racist behavior by businesses and private citizens. Yikes.
Suffice to say that this was a powerful read for me. It wasn’t perfect in terms of the writing (quite a bit of repetition which could have been caught by a sharp-eyed editor), but the content more than made up for that.
We ended up walking about eight miles on Monday – so our little legs were tired at the end of the day. Tuesday, however, was a brand new day and we elected to take an Uber to the Getty Center up in the hills of LA.
There are actually two Getty places in LA, both different so if I were you, I’d research both and see which one meets your needs. One is more of a villa-type place (with some museum stuff) and the other is a giant research museum with unbelievable architecture high up in the hills. That’s the one we went to and we ended up spending five hours there just piddling around looking at the various exhibitions and taking one of their docent-led architecture tours with a very entertaining person in charge. (All free, btw, and really recommended.)
Loads of things to look at, ranging from photography to Old World Artists, alongside contemporary work and the most amazing architecture (by Richard Meier). The brilliant white of the walls and corners contrasted brightly with the blue sky and it was fantastic.
The hotel we stayed with the wonderful Marina del Rey Hotel, a renovated 1964 hotel on the end of one of the many boat piers around Venice Beach. Super service, lovely people, walkable to a lot of places (including our first Trader Joe experience!) and just loved it.
My lovely mum has been staying over Christmas here in the States, first some time with me here in Texas and then a few days up in Northern California with my sister. As that trip with my sister was coming to a close, mum suddenly phoned me up and invited me to come with her on a whistle-stop visit to Los Angeles, and who am I to say no to that? So, I didn’t. 🙂
We had a fab time. In the end, it was two days in the City of Angels but we got to see a load of things in that short time. Let’s proceed…
You know how I like to research before I go anywhere interesting, but with this quick turnaround, I hadn’t had that much time to do much more than actually visit the library to pick up some info there. On the plane out to the West Coast, I learned more about the history of LA, and more specifically, the history of Venice Beach (which was the area where we would be staying).
This area of town was started, I think, by a man who happened to be a very wealthy tobacco magnate and who was enamored with Venice, Italy, after his travels there. Wanting to replicate this city on the West Coast, this guy developed some of the wetlands (on which LA was being built) and designed a neighborhood with great architecture and on the pattern of Venice, complete with actual canals and gondolas and small curving bridges to get from one side to the other. Only about three miles of these original canals still exist after all this time, and they happen to be in – guess where? – Venice Beach.
So, after quite a bit of tromping around not really getting anywhere useful, we finally asked a friendly local walking his dog if he knew where these canals were and he kindly took us there. (It turned out that this friendly local was actually an expat from Texas… Huh. Small World.)
So mum and I spent quite a bit of wandering around this neighborhood being amazed at the whole thing. The canals are still there, with water and with occasional watercraft, but the waterside does need a general spruce-up. (The real estate prices were unbelievable: one place was going for $3.6 MILLION. Another place could be rented for $12,000/month. You know, if you’re interested.)
So that was fun. We then spent some time wandering along the Oceanfront Path at Venice Beach, people-watching and beach-walking and admiring the sea. Bliss. Then, my mum’s sharp eyes spotted a tiny little bookshop (naturally!). Tucked in a corner of a bigger building, mostly a restaurant, there was the Small World Books shop, a small but excellently-stocked bookshop in between t-shirt and henna shops. A little blissful world of books, which we ended up supporting (as you do). Definitely worth a visit, but you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled as it’s quite easy to miss if you’re looking the other way (at the beach, for example).
Then, after all that, our legs got tired so we walked to the hotel to chill out a bit and then have a bit of a supper. We ended up walking about eight miles on this first day. :-}
Well, hello there. I hope you and your lives are all back in balance after the rather discombobulating holidays at the end of last year, and I hope you’re all getting some good reading done.
The Superhero and I decided to take a quick break just prior to Christmas and jetted down to New Orleans (or the Big Easy, as it’s sometimes called) for a few days. It was gorgeous and we stayed at a fantastic renovated B&B (called The Monrose Row Bed and Breakfast) which was managed by a very friendly and excellent person called Cindy. If you ever need a cool place to stay in NOLA, we highly recommend this B&B. It’s close to everything (walkable for most), Cindy is a font of information about the city and where to go, and she is a great cook as well as being very friendly.
It’s an old B&B located in one of New Orleans’ many historical quarters and Cindy has made this place so welcoming. Truly. It’s also located very close to most of the places a visitor may want to see on his/her trip, and if not, there’s also Uber available throughout the city. (Assume that most trips will average out about $20+ – or at least that is what we found out.)
The last time we’d been to New Orleans was ages ago and not that long since Katrina had hit and devastated parts of the city. Now, years later, it’s hard to see any long-lasting damage on the buildings although there are now new-and-improved neighborhoods and the city itself feels a little better managed. (It might not be, but on this trip, I definitely felt it was a lot less anarchic than the last trip.)
So, tons of lovely architecture to look at and admire, much of which was specially decorated for Christmas and was just gorgeous to see…
And then, because it’s New Orleans, there’s lots of history so naturally we hit up some museums. There was one that featured an exhibit on Mardi Gras and its history (along with some actual costumes – which are amazing!) and then, we wanted to visit some plantations but only see it from the slavery perspective – not from the colonial white-man view.
After a quick chat with Cindy, the B&B proprietor, she recommended an all-day tour of two different plantations which met this requirement: one plantation from a (white – of course) woman-owned perspective (which is pretty rare) and another plantation from the perspective of African slaves who were imprisoned and forced to work there. Both of these historical experiences were so informative and really emotionally moving, especially when you learned more about the actual people who were enslaved in each place. It’s horrifying that it was real and actually happened, but perhaps people have learned from this… (One can only hope.)
That was a sobering experience for us, and after researching these plantation trips, I recognized a picture of one of the most famous white-man plantations except the pic of the place was used as an example of “glorious southern hospitality” on a Visit Mississippi ad on TV. (People – research the pics before you use them in your campaign!)
Yassum, I kin tell you things about slavery times dat would make yo’ blood bile, but dey’s too terrible. I jus’ tries to forgit. (Amy Chapman, former slave.)
All in all, a fantastic trip for us, especially in the winter months when the humidity is way down and the temperatures aren’t way up (as they are in the summer months). Totally enjoyed the trip and will be back at some point in the future. Highly recommended.
It’s the post-Christmas weekend and I’ve already put all the holiday decorations away. I’ve kept out the fairy lights (since they’re so pretty and not necessarily Christmas-related), but all the other stuff has been put back in the garage for later on in 2020. The decs are lovely before and during Christmas, but once the actual day has gone by, they seem to be clutter-y so I’m quite quick to take them all down again to get the house back to normal.
It was a fun Christmas here at Chez JOMP.T The semester ended smoothly, grades were entered, and then the Superhero and I did a quick trip out of town (details to follow). My lovely mum flew in from England for the week of Christmas and we ended up having a quiet but still fun visit and speed-completed two jigsaw puzzles in four days — one was 500 pieces and the other was 1,000 pieces (so a bit bigger and more challenging). Mum and I are puzzle fiends though, so we had a lot of fun completing these – we’re both as obsessed as each other with these things, so we ended up spending hours together, listening to music and finding “just one more piece for that section there”… (You know how it goes!)
Mum is now visiting my sister in California before flying down to LA to play there for a few days and then popping home to England again. I’m so impressed by her energetic travels – not bad for someone who’s going to turn 84 in May this year. 🙂
The Superhero and I have been following a plant-based diet since seeing the movie Gamechangers and so that’s been interesting and a challenge at the same time. I don’t miss meat, but it’s nearly all 100 percent new recipes at the moment and so we’re tracking down recipes that are both tasty and don’t take all day to get ready. If any of you have a good website that you regularly use for your plant-based cooking, please let me know. I’d love to get more choices!
So, it’s been a busy week or two. I feel behind in my reading and my blogging, so expect a post or two over the next few days of catching up.
So – how about you all? How were your last few weeks of 2019? I hope you can say that you’ve been having fun interspersed with some great reading!
It’s been a little while since I’ve done a catchup post on here and thought that today would be good for one of those. Enjoy!
The university semester is almost finished and we’re in the midst of Final Exams Week (or Finals Week as we call it). My students had their final exam for my class last Saturday so I’m immersed in grading those and calculating their overall final grades. (Hooray for Excel sheets. They make life so much easier for this sort of task.)
It’s been a fun semester teaching this group, and I hope that we’ve both learnt a lot over the past few weeks and months. As much as I love them, I’m ready for a break though, and am looking forward to a few things during the break.
The first big thing is that we’re going to go to New Orleans for a few days, just to hang out and see things. I’ve been doing some research (as I am wont to do) and have lots of ideas of how and where to spend our time while we’re down in the Big Easy, and so we’re looking forward to the trip. More deets to come.
The second big thing is that both the Superhero and I are off work until after Christmas so that means loads of time to do not much (or as much as we want to of whatever we want to), so that’s a great holiday present right there. I’m still planning out what I’m thinking of doing, but I’m sure it will be fun (or if not fun, at least productive – I see some cleaning/organizing of the house in my future).
The third big thing is that my lovely mum is traveling from England for the holidays, so that will be great to spend some time with her. She and I are rather alike in how we like to spend our time, so that makes trips easy and laid-back for the most part, so I see lots of shopping, jigsaw puzzles, reading and going to thrift shops during her visit here in Texas.
I will also be having an update on my books in another post to come… So – how’s your life? Are you involved in the academic calendar (on any level)? What are your plans for Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukah, Solstice, something completely different or none-of-the-above? 🙂
Set in the lower left corner of Canada, British Columbia’s flagship city of Vancouver seems to have the best of everything in its location: close to the Pacific Ocean, close to mountains, plenty of green, easy to get to (good to and from airport transportation), friendly people… Plus, the locals tell us that it’s pretty moderate, despite being so north: medium summer and medium winter… (unlike Toronto, according to a couple of people, where temps are really hot in summer and really cold in winter. Is this true?)
Situated as it is on the west coast, Vancouver is also full of outdoor active choices, and the SuperHero and I wanted to make the most of some of these whilst we were there. Of course, limited time and finances meant that we couldn’t do everything, but after researching, it looked like the two things not to miss were both achievable and super-fun.
Our first outdoor adventure was a quick trip to the northern part of Vancouver and its surroundings to visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. Set in the Canadian rainforest (which I hadn’t realized that Canada has), this national park features a lovely old cable bridge (which really sways) and a treetop wooden track which allows you to see the rainforest from high up in the canopy. (What a great idea.)
I wasn’t really expecting that exciting a ride from the cable suspension bridge, but you know what? It’s actually much cooler than I had anticipated so poo on me for thinking that.
The bridge spans a large gorge (I think is the right term?) and is wide enough for two fairly typical height-weight appropriate people (or one rather large person). It’s built using cables so the bridge actually sways in the wind and wobbles from side to side, so you’ll probably need to grab the handrails at time to steady yourself and the view is outstanding. (Not recommended for perhaps very old or unsteady folks…)
Once you reach the other side of the cable bridge (which is the first thing to do when you enter the place) and have survived the overly-dramatic groups of teenaged girls walking across (:-)), then you get to go on the Treetop Adventure experience (which is the wooden track high up in the tree canopy that gives you a super-great view of life as a bird/squirrel). It’s sounds very plain-Jane, but is in fact a really nice experience as you get to look down and around from an unfamiliar view. (Plus – it’s so green!!)
And then towards the end of the trail, there’s a big climb up some stairs to reach a glass overhang than gives you a view of the rocky chasm right beneath you. Honestly. If you get the chance to see this place, it’s worth the effort to get there.
(And – what is really helpful is that the place provides a free shuttle from downtown Vancouver by the harbor so you can just jump on to that and get there really easily and cheaply.) Totes enjoyable.
The next day was also a super-fun outdoor experience when we rented assisted bikes (i.e. bikes with a little motor attached) and rode the wide and well-maintained bike path that takes you from, again, the downtown harbor to the nearby Stanley Park, a huge outdoor park place which juts out into the ocean with a well-designed bike/roller-blade path (separate from the walking path) to follow that hugs the coast.
(Note: You might want to take a light jacket with you since, due to the off-shore winds, the temp can get quite a bit lower than it is downtown. We could have used one each…)
The park is a lovely ride and has occasional stops for a quick coffee or similar, and the views are simply amazing. The bike rental place provided a lock, helmets and a map, and then it’s up to you. (Bike rental places are pretty easy to find, so no shortage of those.) Since we opted for the motor-assisted bikes, it wasn’t strenuous and kept it fun. We had a great time, to be honest. Worth doing and pretty affordable since the only thing you pay for is the actual bike rental, and our ride took about 2.5 hours in total.
After that, we hung out at the harbor for a bite to eat and to watch the cool sea planes land on the water, and then it was back to the hotel.
Vancouverites: thank you for a lovely and welcoming visit! We’ll be back. I’m curious how you guys handle winter! 🙂
Relating back to our Spring Break trip to Memphis:
We not only went there for Elvis and the other musical connections, but also because it is home to the National Civil Rights Museum and the historic Lorraine Motel, outside of which Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, a sentinel event in the history of civil rights in America.
Although I’ve lived here in the U.S. for a long time now, I’m still continually surprised by how much life is impacted by racial issues in this country. I know that I shouldn’t be that surprised – after all, the U.S. has had a long, difficult and complicated history of race relations and TBH, England was also complicit in that trade, so it’s not as though England is above that. It just seems to be much more of a recent event that impacts ordinary everyday life, but perhaps that is just me who feels this way. (Very well could be.)
So it was important to me to make time to visit and pay homage to the city which played an integral part of this movement, so off we trundled (via Uber) to the National Civil Rights Museum, a modest and rather unassuming building that is added to the original site of the Lorraine Motel (including the marked balcony where Martin Luther King Jr. was killed on April 4, 1968.)
You do have to make an extra effort to get to this site, as it doesn’t seem to be very close to any of the other attractions, but I could be mistaken on that. (It just seemed quite a long drive in the Uber.)
It’s in part of the older section of Memphis with lots of red brick buildings and smaller roads, but despite this location, the area was busy with tourists. Not a whole ton of places to sit down and have a cup of coffee or anything, so might want to keep that in mind when you’re dropped off there. (I think there was a vending machine, but there was definitely a very limited selection if you need a respite and some munchies.)
But we weren’t there to eat. We were there to pay our respects to a fallen civil rights icon, and so to be at the actual site of one of the most important civil rights events in the nation was very impressive. (We also happened to be visiting around the same date in the calendar only fifty years later.)
The Lorraine Motel’s exterior has been kept exactly the same as though time has stopped, and even includes period-appropriate cars that sit in the parking lot under the balcony and the rooms. There’s a huge permanent wreath in that location, and it’s really quite a place for awe and respect with a rather hushed and well-behaved crowd around it. It’s more of a hallowed ground than tourist haven, and generally, people seemed to appreciate that. (I was pretty impressed with this, to be honest.)
Although you can’t actually go into the hotel room, you can visit the neighboring museum to learn more through interactive exhibits. Inside the museum, it’s not as big as I had expected but the exhibits and general curation were to a high professional standard. I rather get the impression that this museum is a labor of love from a small community group rather than a big museum association. That doesn’t dilute the message in any way, but may be one explanation for the size. I’m not sure.
The message of the civil rights movement is conveyed through mostly displays and it can take as long (or as short) as you’d like as you are given time to consider your thoughts in relation to the exhibits. It’s a steady stream of visitors and I recommend that you don’t be in a big hurry when you visit here as there is a lot of moseying around (at least when I was there). Plus – school kid groups as well, so there’s quite high traffic.
However, don’t let that put you off. The museum is worth visiting, and once you see the location of King’s murder and can put it into context with the rest of the civil rights history, it’s a powerful experience.
So – that was a good and thought-provoking afternoon.
We also visited Beale Street that day, an old wide street that has some really interesting history, but I think it’s more of a nightclub scene now than anything else. (Some interesting public art displays as well as one of the most curious general merchandise stores I’ve ever visited, but you might want to stay aware as we came across some rather rough-looking people as well.)
So, our overall experience of Memphis was really good, and I really recommend a visit if you’re interested. What really elevated the trip was the fact that everywhere we went, we were met with kind and generous people. Honestly – it was the people who made the difference here.
It’s been a while since there’s been a general catch-up post on life, and so here’s a bit of what I’ve been up to.
The Summer of Liz continues at a really enjoyable pace. The first summer session at the university where I work was filled with a demanding (but rewarding) completion of a writing class. I was taking it for professional development, and it was really well taught which meant that I learned a lot from it. It was a lot of work, so I was a bit relieved when it finished. (Glad I did it though.)
This second summer session is keeping me pretty occupado, but this time I’m on the other side of the desk and teaching which I really enjoy. (It was fun, I must admit, taking the part of a student for a few weeks. I’ll definitely repeat that experience again at some point.)
So the next weeks will be busy in the mornings with teaching, prepping for class, and grading, and then that leaves the afternoons mostly free to play. I do have a work-related conference to attend in Dallas this weekend, but I love this event so I’m looking forward to it. I always learn a lot when I go and feel energized when I return. Lucky me, I know.
Since, as I mentioned yesterday, my mum is coming out to visit, I’ve been preparing for a trip we’re doing (with my sister as well), this one to take us to Toronto. I’ve never been to Canada, so I’m pretty psyched to see how life is up there.
One thing that I know for certain is that it will be cooler than West Texas, thank goodness. I checked the weather in Toronto the other day, and it was a rather nice high 70s. (High 70s is high for some places, I know, but when we’ve been averaging 100 degrees most day, hanging out in such an amenable climate will be lovely, especially when I’m with the fam.)
(Quick question: Is Toronto humid? I’ll have to find out.)
We’re up north for a few days, then my mum goes with my sister to visit in CA, and then she comes to stay with me here. Then, when she leaves Texas to go home, I have a couple of days to hang out, and then the SuperHero and I are off down south to sit on a beach in Mexico for a bit. The goal: to do not much except enjoy the place where we’re staying and chill out. (Oh, and a bit of reading, no doubt.)
And, then, when we return from Mexico, it’ll be almost time for back to school for the fall semester, and then it’s back to business again.
I’m starting to plan some of my books to read when I’m traveling, and in Canada, I’m going to visit a bookstore (or five) with the aim of buying some titles by indigenous authors. If you have any titles/authors that you recommend, I’m starting a list so please let me know your thoughts.
In the meantime, it’s teaching, grading, hanging out, and going to the gym. Not a bad way to live at all. 🙂