Sunday, December 4, 2016

Great Conversations...


"All stories are in conversation with other stories."
Neil Gaiman




 Behind the Beautiful Forevers was the first selection for a book club I attended briefly. It was hand picked by a member who has traveled to India and seen the beautiful and the antithesis first hand. Normally, I would never pick up a book like this. It's a harrowing non-fiction tale of the inhabitants of the Annawadi slum. Trust me. If it was fiction, it would be easier to absorb. Unfortunately, it is disturbingly true. But, that being said, it is beautifully written and enlightening. As an aspiring writer, I'll never forget how the author describes little yellow flowers as the open beaks of baby birds. Dazzling imagery. There is so much ingenuity in almost all of the characters. Like teenage Abdul. His talent is foraging for recyclables. He digs, sorts and scrapes together a meager existence for his entire family. In fact, exceeding their income far above others in their slum. And then there's Asha, clawing her way to the top by utilizing every means available to her. Rarely an honest mean is ever selected. In fact, Angela, from my book club, described honesty as a luxury in Annawadi. There's no truer statement. 

The most powerful character for me was Fatima the one leg. Her plight becomes a main plot point as the book progresses. 

You'll never forget the fighting spirit of these unforgettable, real life characters. 


 I'm just starting to admit to people that I'm writing a novel. After telling my cousin Jane about my story, she noticed definite similarities between my novel and the one she had just finished. So she handed me Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger and told me to read it. She said she could barely put it down. She said that for awhile, it had been her go to book for nocturnal reading sessions. So I dove right in. Research, right? During the day, mind you.

The voice of teenage Frank narrates the novel. He's the son of a Methodist minister. Unfortunately, the life of Frank and his family become awash in un-ordinary deaths. A literal laundry list of his neighbors and even sadder still, people much closer to him. The small town scene comes to life visually. The train takes off and doesn't stop. And the characters are real citizens of the time. My favorite character was Gus. He was living in the basement of the church across the street from the central family. And plenty of mischief ensues from that simple fact. There's a bonus for us Minnesotans too. It's set here.

 Being of devious mind, I guessed what the mystery revealed in the end. But it didn't matter. It was still a great book. 

Extraordinary. 




"Our son will be your son now." 

The diminutive sentence above is the heart and soul of the haunting book LaRose by Louise Erdrich. It is an affecting story of loss, love and the lore of a whole culture of people in North Dakota.

I learned about Native American life in the book. The good and the bad. The old and the new. There were so many well drawn characters. Like the wise beyond his years LaRose. The 5 year old boy at the center of the story. But there are many namesake LaRose's hanging from the family tree like beautiful wind songs. We meet all of them in the book. The mystical backstory of the first LaRose was my favorite part. 

The conflict occurs when Landreaux, LaRose's father, accidentally kills his neighbor's child while deer hunting. The lives of all of the central characters are subsequently torn apart.  Landreaux resorts to the old ways for guidance. He visits a sweat lodge and is compelled to give away his son, to make amends for the one he killed. 

I wish I would have purchased this book at our local Minneapolis book store, Birchbark Books, owned by the author. Because then I could have acquired a signed copy. It was so good.


Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Stephen King 




Friday, November 25, 2016

The Waffle House Index


A patient dog, waiting for master, at a Naples, Florida Waffle House. 
An old favorite photo of mine.

Fear not fellow Americans. Well, let me clarify. Fear not fellow hungry Americans that live in the South. There is a new weather forecaster in town. In fact, as we count down to the inevitable,  futuristic nightmare of world Armageddon, look to the Waffle House as your guide for the end of days. 

The rest I gleaned from the internet. Enjoy...


Weathermen took to the airwaves Thursday declaring Hurricane Matthew historic, a storm like no other central Florida had seen, one that would rage and ravage. Millions along the East Coast were instructed to evacuate. Grocery store shelves emptied. Gasoline ran out. The Sunshine State’s governor said “this storm will kill you.”
To all tuning in, it was clear this storm was dangerous.
But some Floridians refused to accept the true gravity of Hurricane Matthew’s destructive spin until the South’s most reliable, authoritative voice spoke out.
“All Waffle House restaurants on 1-95 between Titusville, Fla. and Fort Pierce, Fla. are closed,” the restaurant tweeted Thursday afternoon. “Stay safe Waffle Nation!” The Washington Post


“ . . . if a Waffle House store is open and offering a full menu, the index is green. If it is open but serving from a limited menu, it’s yellow. When the location has been forced to close, the index is red.” Magazine EHS






One tweet summarized the reaction like this:
News: “Evacuate Florida”
Floridians: “Nah”
News: “Waffle House closed”
Floridians: “IT’S THE END OF DAYS!! F—— SAVE US BABY JESUS!!”



 Purpose of a Waffle House:

1) informally but decisively indicate whether the world is going to be destroyed by God's wrath,
2) waffles. Kaleb Horton





I love the Waffle House!



Monday, October 31, 2016

I See Dead People...



"If you dis a kid with a crayon, you just might end up with fuzzy wuzzy brown on your face." logic from Sharon Wagner: child artist, revenge advocate, recess crayon warrior.

 More words of revenge wisdom from the internet....

1)  My silence is not weakness, but the beginning of my revenge.

2) Your knife, my back. My gun, your head.

3) When karma comes back to punch you in the face, I wanna be there...just in case it needs help.

4) Never go to bed angry, stay awake and plot revenge.

5) Weak people revenge. Strong people forgive. Intelligent people ignore.

Did you read number 5? I threw that in, just to show you I've grown up. Poor Theresa. She crossed the wrong girl. She didn't know I was packing heat. But not too much, it might melt my crayons. I remember drawing this, brain firing on all cylinders, laughing hysterically. (not really)  But, I have no idea what made me mad in the first place. Tyrone is the real loser. Figuratively, not literally. I deemed him objectionable enough to be a dire warning of a bleak future. Hey Theresa, if you dis me again, you'll end up married to Tyrone. Ha. Take that!  Of course, the last laugh might be on me. Because they obviously were married a long time and died on the same day. How romantic. Unfortunately, 2022 is fast approaching. It must have seemed so far in the future when I was in grade school.

I love my weird creativity in giving the girl ghost boobs. And both cadavers have their arms sticking straight up. There's no relaxing for the damned! Not in my world. And both ghosts need canes. I guess to portray their feebleness. Is that a sun? In the middle of a black crayon night? Good grief. What was I thinking? The moon is my muse now. I love painting it. See below.



The good news is I forgave Theresa for what ever the heck she did. But, will she forgive me if she sees this? I hope so.

Happy Halloween!

I'll be back in December...


Monday, October 24, 2016

The Spooky Sand Hill Cemetery



The Sand Hill Cemetery has the unfortunate reputation of being haunted. 

In fact, there is no doubt that the location near Caryville, Wisconsin, isolated on a dirt road leading to the edge of a rural bluff, is indeed scary. But, is it haunted? As the narrator of Ancient Aliens always proclaims...some say yes. 

We were picnicking on the bucolic Chippewa River State Trail in May, when an older gentleman appeared out of nowhere, with a camera in hand. After discussing the historic value of the site where we were eating lunch, (click here for more on that) he regaled us with ghost stories surrounding the nearby Sand Hill Cemetery. He warned us that a demon named Blackie resided there, growling at all comers. He said once, back in the day, he witnessed a circle of dark figures wearing black swirling cloaks, surrounding the grave of Baby, performing some kind of unnerving ritual. And some say, they've seen children roaming the grounds, attempting to converse with visitors. Except, they might not really be children at all. Well, not anymore. Gulp. So what did we do after hearing these mysterious tales?

We finished eating and biking, of course, then headed straight for the cemetery...



The grave of Baby.



This stone is slowly being masticated by the ravenous earth.


The penny stones.


It really does seem like a lonely and forgotten place.


If you look into the distance, you can see that this small, scattered cemetery sits on a ridge. The isolation is off putting. After hearing tales of hauntings, my pulse raced as we approached the site in our vehicle. Luckily, it was during the day, because some say, the headlights of a ghostly vehicle will trail you at night and then mysteriously vanish. I wondered if we too, would experience an assault on our car, as others have claimed. After parking, I shakily exited the car with my camera. Meanwhile, my husband was too freaked out to take any photos with his phone. None.

I walked to the edge of the tombstones and just stood there. I wondered if I would be accosted with a negative energy.  To be honest. I didn't feel anything. I only felt a gentle breeze stir over the ridge line. I only heard the rustle of pine branches. But, that being said, I didn't like it when my husband abandoned me to go wait in the car. I, on the other hand, felt compelled to finish my illicit photo safari.


Tails.


Heads.

I don't know what significance placing a penny on grave stones possesses. But, it must mean something to someone.



On our way out, we noticed blood red tags on this sign. I don't know what the red tag signifies either. But I assume it is some kind of warning. Unfortunately, we most likely didn't heed it. Gulp.

When we got home, I asked my husband why he wouldn't take any photos. And more importantly, why he abandoned me to wait in the car. Jerk.

He said he didn't want any spirits attaching to him like an unwanted tick. I've always wondered... 

if we came home alone.

Or not.

For more on the Sand Hill Cemetery and Caryville, Wisconsin, just google it. If you dare...

The Awesome Links: 


Monday, October 17, 2016

What Lies Beneath?

Quarry Hill Nature Center

The question, "What lies beneath?" is very appropriate here. At the very top of a wooded hill in Rochester, Minnesota, there's an abandoned limestone quarry surrounded by a restored oak Savannah. Eight miles of trails zig zag its perimeter. But it's really what lies beneath that make it interesting. 

The 329 acre park was once part of Rochester's historic state hospital grounds. The hospital was built in 1877.


This fireplace opens its gaping mouth over a former landfill for the hospital. The fireplace site became a picnic area for patients. Click to enlarge the placards for the rest of the story. The placards do most of the talking today.

click to enlarge


This 250 foot cave was used for food storage. It was dug by a crew of hospital patients. The leader of the crew, Thomas Coyne was a poet. He carved lines of poetry into the soft rock walls. If you visit during the right time, you can take a guided tour. It was rather cavernous and creepy when we peered inside. Trust me. 

Inside the cave...

click to enlarge



2,019 grave sites dot the hillside below the Quarry. The park is in the process of placing new grave markers on all of the burial sites. But, a few old markers remain. They rise above the soil like spooky sentinels. 


click to enlarge


You can see some of the old markers here.  Eroded and lonely.


There was an occasional marker that was still legible. Ella must have had an unfortunate life. 

The state hospital was an asylum. 


Treatment of mental diseases at the hospital before the 1920s consisted mainly of keeping patients occupied with work and recreation, and restraining violent patients. Many patients worked on the hospital’s 500-acre farm. Plays, concerts, and dances were put on for recreational purposes. In the late 1940s insulin and electroshock treatments were common, and in the 1950s lobotomies were used on some patients. Throughout the hospital’s history the use of drugs became more extensive. The hospital served as a surgical center for many of the other state institutions, as well as for Rochester State Hospital. The Mayo Clinic provided doctors free of charge, and the hospital absorbed the cost of supplies.

It made me wonder if those lost souls still wander...

The Awesome Links:


Monday, October 10, 2016

It was a ghost...



Belize Snow. Served poolside to ghosts at Cahal Pech

We didn't have a T.V. when we stayed in Boquete, Panama last January. So, what do two early rising, exhausted and tipsy, middle aged travelers do at night? Read TripAdvisor reviews. But, we have our standards. We only read reviews of places we've had negative experiences with or ones that have crossed our paths, that resemble dumps. And there's one particular dump that's at the top of our list. Cahal Pech Resort in San Ignacio, Belize. We stayed there twice. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on us... 

The only reason we stayed there in the first place, was that it was the lesser of two evils. We booked a week at Iguana Junction, affectionately known as Iggy J's. (forever known as Icky J's to us) Unfortunately, the place flooded earlier that year. Every rustic cabana was sloped, sinking into the ground and moldy. At night, disco music blasted from a neighboring bar. It sounded like someone was menacingly holding a megaphone against your skull. And the worst part, was the stinky sheets neatly folded over our bed. They smelled like the owner's mangy dog. Do you know why? Because the dirty dog napped in the laundry room.

We hightailed it up to Cahal Pech. And in comparison, it seemed like a beautiful castle on a verdant hilltop. It has a great location overlooking the city. At night, you can sit in your own cabana, enjoying a Belikin and listening to the city. It also sports a great pool, delicious drinks (see above) and is next door to the Cahal Pech Mayan ruins. The cabanas however, are rustic at best.

Flash forward a few years. The cabanas were worse for wear. The rooms were dirty, crumbling and the blankets were scratchy and full of quarter sized holes. So, we weren't surprised, on our Panama trip, to read several bad reviews for the joint. We posted our own negative review after our stay. But what we didn't expect, was a hilarious review. 

Imagine this...you're awakened in the middle of the night by a deranged monster; his drugged out face plastered against the thread bare screen to your room. You're in a foreign country and you are terrified. You call the front desk and then the police. An employee is quickly dispatched to comfort you. They tell you...that it was just a ghost. Ha! Is that supposed to make you feel better? I think not. 

But it wasn't a ghost. It was a Spanish speaking employee, trying to say in English, that it was only a guest. Hilariously lost in translation. It turns out, the wayward guest took sedatives for the first time and was so looped out, he wandered around the resort, asleep, like a deranged ghost. I mean guest. 

The review by Chase S. is posted below for your reading pleasure. The large print is the best part. Enjoy....


2 of 5 starsReviewed July 23, 2014

I've been debating writing this review for a long time... but the lack of customer service has struck me so much that I had to finally take the plunge.

My family and I visited this establishment for a few days as we made a day trip to Tikal around the new year. They picked us up from the airport, provided good service on the day of entrance. The daytime staff seemed very welcoming and cordial. The "Belize snow" award-wining mixed drink was very good. The Cahal Pech dig site next to the resort is fascinating and under appreciated or documented in the Fodors/Lonely Planet/Travellers Bible realm. However, overall, the "resort" was quite cheap looking on the inside. It felt like a run down beach cabana or college dorm -- that might be insulting to a college dorm. There weren't even phones to call the front desk in the room. Very bare bones. Fine, we'd rough it, we thought... until the second evening...


I'll try not to embellish this next part: at 1am, someone climbed onto our deck balcony and banged on our door, trying to get in. Luckily my fiancĂ© had locked the door. Terrified, we tried to scare him off. He looked wild-eyed and altered. He stumbled off the deck onto the next deck. We tried to get help from the front desk but alas no phone. Worried as we were in the middle of nowhere, we were hesitant to leave the room as we couldn't see where he went. He came back again. Other patrons in neighboring rooms were yelling, too, screaming for help and for him to go away. Finally after 20 minutes of yelling a very confused man who only spoke Spanish came running with a headlamp and machete. He was more frightened by our story than we were -- kept calling it a ghost. I dragged him downstairs as my protection to find the only working phone at the front desk unmanned. I called 911 and luckily the police spoke english and said they were on the way. In the meantime, we saw him trying to break into another patron's room via chair banging on their deck window as they were screaming. Finally the police came and we ran around the corner. They fired gunshots, the whole hotel was awakened. No staff but this make-shift security guard. Luckily no one was hurt and the hauled the guy away in handcuffs. 

I awake the next day after taking us forever to get to sleep and we check-out to find that the guy was a patron of the hotel, a tourist, who took a sleeping pill he'd never taken before (probably Temazepam or Zolpidem/Ambien), doesn't recall the event and was delirious. I'm a physician. I understand that. This is probably a rare circumstance. I don't fault the hotel/resort for it.

However, I do fault them for being dismissive of the event, simply shrugging their shoulders, and offering no recourse. Their security was severely unhelpful. There are no phones in their rooms. There was no way to easily get help. Had I not intervened, would one of the patrons been even more hurt--either this delirious man or the people whose room he was about to break into? Absolutely. The staff did not thank me, did not want to hear the story despite multiple patrons being upset and furious. No apologies, AND no compensation. I don't ask for food to be returned or special treatment or reimbursements at restaurants or hotels. But in this case? Yes, absolutely, especially in light of no thankfulness or apologies. And nothing.

I don't believe it's proper for them to call themselves a resort. I perhaps would have given them two stars had this rare event not happened. But it did and the place is unsafe in the event of a rare circumstance. I'm not a sensationalist but they are close to very high crime neighborhoods. Their security is lacking. Their customer service is lacking. Their professionalism is lacking. I would never recommend friends or family to stay here.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Feathered Floozies


It's Halloween month on The Chorus of the Crows. I've lassoed 4 Halloween themed posts. And I'm sweetening the deal by re-posting an old favorite. An expose on my unforgivable, dirty lowdown past... 


Me and my favorite pistol. Beside me, my pretty partner in crime, 



Alas, there is a shameful and checkered past reflecting back at me from my foggy rear view mirror. Oops, I mean the dusty old fashioned looking glass I held up over my shoulder, to ascertain just what was galloping at a rowdy clip, at the tail end of my wagon. I ran across this picture in my photo archives and it spurred me to describe my former life, as a low cost Saloon girl. 

The news of the weird unfolds like this...I may have worn feathers by night, but by day, I was a gun toting outlaw; robbing from my former clients. There were no morning trots of shame for me. No little doggie. Me and my trusted horse Maybelline, tethered up back at the saloon every misty sunrise with garters full of cash. There were only a few occasions where the men were so flat broke, that I had to steal a chicken or a skinny goat. Well, a girl has to eat. It was all too easy. Those were the glory days. The nights were sticky, the sheets looked like a future Jackson Pollock painting and my lips were always irritatingly chapped, from long rides in the Arizona sun. But, those were good times. 

So, just how did I pull off my illicit crime sprees?  I plied the men folk with so much whiskey during our rolls in the hay, on the third floor of that filthy, whiskey soaked establishment, that they never saw me follow them home. Maybelline was a sure footed horse with the stealthy hooves of a cat on the hunt. The foul drunkards never heard or suspected a thing. Mind you, I never hurt any woman folk or young-ins. Although, I heard from my friend Michelle (on the right) through one of her clients, that one wife bashed in the skull of her husband at breakfast with a cast iron skillet; bison meat and eggs flying around the cabin in a flurry of grease, after one of my early morning visits. I guess the cheater deserved it. 

I never made enough money to get rich. But I lived well. I could afford to mail order new feathery frocks from the Sears Robuck catalog. I had a custom made saddle, rumored to be fashioned and carved by the same leather mason that the Jesse James gang used. How I learned that will remain a secret between me and a certain, un-named outlaw. And my friend Michelle and I never went hungry. When other settlers were eating potatoes boiled with pine needles for flavor, through the long harsh winters, we were eating high on the hog. And a fat one at that. 

After a time, I gave up the outlaw life and married a warrant/bill collector. My friend Michelle became a famous horse whisperer. She fixed up unhinged horse flesh in a jiffy, starting her career in the arid hills of Los Angeles, and winding all the way down to the wilds of Baja, Mexico. She always did have a way with my Maybelline. 

She gave up whiskey. 

I didn't.


The sober truth.
Me and my friend Michele at one of those old time photo booths. As if you didn't already know that!