The Gold Trail Motor Lodge (Little Shit in Gold Country)

Taking a break from scholarly work (I take an amazing number of breaks from it; gotta work on that), I decided to revisit my memoir-in-progress, the Little Shit Chronicles. This episode takes place nearer to the end of the cross-country trip; we were actually pretty close to our destination of Sacramento, but for reasons I’ve never known (and can only imagine as being not good), we spent some long, boring days at the Gold Trail Motor Lodge on Highway 50 in California. It’s only 37.9 miles from the house we were to be moving into. That’s not a typo, either. It’s 37.9 miles.

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The Gold Trail Motor Lodge still exists, and still looks just the same. JUST THE SAME. The Mother Lode Motel is real and still exists, too. In fact, you have to check in at the Mother Lode to stay at the Gold Trail.

Highway 50 is very much busier than it was 45 years ago, and the town of Placerville is a bit more bustling.

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The Gold Trail Motor Lodge, Placerville

 

 

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Downtown Placerville in 1969.
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Downtown Placerville, today.

I would not undertake the 2.7 mile walk along the highway from the motel into town that we took then. We shouldn’t have taken it then, but it wasn’t nearly as dangerous as it would be now. But we were young, bored, and desperate. And hungry. My teenaged brother needed food. We would get him food.

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Don’t misundertand me. We weren’t that kind of hungry. Not the poor, starving childrren you see in the news, children of Appalachia or inner city food deserts. We were spoiled middle-class suburban kids who felt like we’d been deprived of a meal, and we had some money in our pockets. We had been eating at restaurants, some very nice ones, for 2 weeks and our expectations were of 3 solid meals a day. At the Gold Trail Motor Lodge, we relied a little too much on vending machine potato chips and Cokes. Fun at first, but eventually you need something else.

 

In 1972, I didn’t know much about Italian food, or American-style Italian food, except for spaghetti and lasagna and pizza. Minestrone and spumoni sounded very exotic and a little scary. But by this point, I’d already accidentally ordered and then eaten escargots in New Orleans, so a little soup wasn’t going to get in my way.

 

[text copyright Genevieve Cottraux 2017]

The Gold Trail Motor Lodge is right on the side of Highway 50. I’m not sure that anyone else is staying here but us. We are on our third day here. There is nothing to do. At least the equally plain and ugly Mother Lode Motel, next down the highway, lets us use the pool. The three of us sit in the water and spend the change we collected in Las Vegas in the vending machines, sipping cold sodas and eating potato chips while the hot sun beats down on us. An occasional car roars down the road that we can see through the chain link fence.

            Steve has taken to studying the road atlas.

            “It’s only 45 miles from Placerville to Sacramento,” he points out gloomily.

            We hardly see Mom and Van.

            “How far is it into town?” asks Ellen as she drags her hand through the blue water. I can’t see her eyes behind her sunglasses.

            Steve uses his fingers as a ruler and tries to figure out where we are on the red line that is the highway in the atlas. “I think it’s about 3 miles.”

            “We’ve walked that far before, going into Emory Village to Horton’s,” Ellen reminds us of the many treks to our favorite dime store and soda fountain. Will I ever see Horton’s again?

            “But there are sidewalks and shade trees there. It’s not safe to walk on the side of the highway,” I say nervously.

            “I could try to get the keys to the car,” Steve says. I can’t tell if he is joking. Ellen can’t drive; she’s afraid to take the drivers’ test to get her license. Steve is only 14, but he drives sometimes. Van lets him now and then when he’s tired or wants to smoke and drink without worrying about keeping his eyes on the road. I think Steve is the better driver.

            “I’m getting really tired of potato chips and Cokes. There has to be a place to eat in Placerville. Or a grocery store. We’ll walk single file and be really careful.”

            In my head I see us straggling down the busy highway, cars zooming past and the sun blazing down and me desperate to keep up with the others. Then my stomach growls thinking of a cafe with real food and drinks with ice.

            “The television doesn’t work,” adds Steve. “I’m sick of this place.”

We go to our room, put on the sneakers none of us have worn for 3 days, and set off down Highway 50, the sun in our eyes. Ellen leads the way, with me in the middle so I will feel safer, and Steve bringing up the rear, singing “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”

            At about 90 bottles, Ellen turns around. “Oh, shut up.”

            “I wish Cathy was here. She knows all the good songs.”

           Some summer nights, we would all pile in the car, even the dog Tripp, and Mom would start driving and the game was to get her lost. “Turn left here!” Cathy would start the sing-alongs. By the Light of the Silvery Moon, with extra made up choruses, Sipping Cider through a Straw, The Chicken Song. Knowing how much my mother hates to drive, I really don’t understand why she was willing to play this game with us. And we never got lost, how was that?

            We can’t get lost on this outing; the motel is on the side of Highway 50 and it looks like whatever there is in Placerville is right on the highway too. Sweat trickles down between my shoulder blades and my braid feels really hot on the back of my neck. Ellen must be desperate to get out; she hates to do anything that involves dust or sweat.

            It’s hard to talk with the cars roaring past so we don’t for a while. After what seems like hours, we finally get to town. I see a lot of bars. Maybe we’ll find Mom and Van if we go in, but then, we don’t really want to find them.

            “Just down there.” Ellen points to a little side street and the neon lights of an Italian restaurant. We trudge forward, no longer in single file. It’s cool and dark and smells of garlic inside the restaurant. An older woman, wearing all black and a big black apron, comes over to us, concern on her face.

            “The 3 of you are alone?” she asks.

            “Oh, our mom is down the street. She sent us to get some dinner.” Ellen acts like we’ve been doing this all of our lives, not just the last few weeks. “We have money.”

            “Of course. This way.” The woman takes us to a scarred old wooden table, and comes back with ice waters and menus. As I sit down, I can feel the muscles in my legs twitching from the long walk.

            There are several pasta dishes; we call it macaroni at home. A choice of salad or something called minestrone. Ellen says it’s a soup. Dessert and coffee are included in the prices. Another thing I’ve never heard of, spumoni. Ellen doesn’t know what that one is.

            The woman I think of as Mama comes to take our order. She looks at me first. I always want to go last because I’ve never made up my mind, but she looks so worried.

            “Min…min…the soup,” I stutter.

            “The minestrone. Good. You’ll like it. And?”

            “Lasagna.” At least I know what that is. “Can I have iced tea instead of coffee?” I’ve learned to add the “iced”; otherwise I’ll get hot tea out here. In Georgia, tea always means on ice. If you want it hot, you say “hot tea”. It’s 100 degrees outside; why would I want hot tea?

            “Of course. And I’ll think you’ll like the spumoni for dessert. It’s an ice cream.”

            “Okay,” I say, relieved not to have make that decision.

            As we wait for the food, Steve brings up again that Sacramento isn’t that far away, so why aren’t we just going there?

            “I have a flight to catch in a few days,” Ellen reminds us. I don’t want to think about her leaving. Or, I don’t want to think about her not taking me with her.

            “The sooner we get there and find a house, the sooner Cathy can send Tripp out to us. “I wish she could have come in the car.” Steve reminds me of how much I miss the pets.

            “Don’t count on it,” says Ellen. “Van took all the other animals to the pound; he might not send Cathy the money for Tripp’s flight out. And you know how Cathy is about the dog. She might refuse to send her.”

            Tripp joined the family before I was born. The story is that Cathy was getting tired of asking for a dog and instead getting a new little brother or sister. So Daddy took her to a neighbor’s house, where they were giving away black lab/Collie mix puppies. All of the other puppies were black and playful, but there was one brown and white one smaller than the others. Cathy picked her up and the pup licked her face and that was that. I was born about a year later, so Tripp is like one of my big sisters. When Mom is calling us in, she calls the names in order, Cathy, Ellen, Steve, Tripp, Gen!”

            Tripp turned out to be epileptic. We’ve learned what to do when she has a seizure. What if she has one in her kennel on the plane? I miss her, but maybe she’d better stay with Cathy. We also had a younger dog, an Airedale named Sunshine, and three cats: Whiskers, the dignified, older long-hair orange tabby; Luke (previously Lulu), the short-hair orange tabby who is not very smart; and Christy, the youngest cat, who had the 4 kittens that all died earlier in the summer. One day I came home and only Tripp was left. “Van took them all to the pound,” Steve informed me gloomily. “He said we can’t take them to California.” I guess even Van isn’t mean enough to send an almost 12-year old epileptic dog to the pound.

            Mama brings 3 little silver dishes of spumoni. It’s not like my favorite ice cream, mint chocolate chip, or the vanilla that Mom swirls coffee powder into. It’s filled with fruits and nuts, and is a pinkish/brownish color. It melts quickly, so I spoon it up as fast as I can.

            Ellen pays the check. “Time to head back up the highway before it gets dark.”

            “Do you think we will get in trouble?” I ask, the worrier of the family even if I am the youngest.

            “I bet they don’t even know we’re gone,” says Steve. He’s right, as usual.

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As usual, my apologies to my siblings for any exaggerations, embellishments, or misremembering.

Now, back to my scholarly work, already and always in progress.

Peace and hugs.

Galveston, Oh Galveston

Today we continue on the adventures of Little Shit, aka me. When we drove cross country in the summer of 1972, the routine was that we would get to a motel or hotel (usually a motel) and check into two rooms, Mom and Van in one, the three of us kids in the other. Ellen and I would share a bed if they were big enough, or there’d be a roll-away bed brought in for me. I’m sure brother Steve didn’t love sharing rooms with his sisters, but we usually didn’t spend much time in the rooms anyway.

After an adventurous day and night in New Orleans, we went on to Galveston, Texas. I only knew of Galveston from the Glen Campbell song of 1969. (Rest in Peace, Mr. Campbell.)

 

I did not have a good time in Galveston. When you read the memoir excerpt below, you will wonder if, one, my mother really left me alone in the hotel while they all went out to dinner. Yes, she did. It didn’t occur to any of us then that it wasn’t safe to do so. Two, did room service really take an order and deliver to a 10 year old kid? Yes. And I enjoyed the experience immensely! [Warning to my vegan friends; when I was 10 I was not a vegan; there will be animal products consumed in this story.]

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Galveston beach in 1972, photo by Blair Pittman.

I bring up Audie Murphy (1925-1971) in the story. He was a real World War II hero, the most decorated hero of the war, who then went on to be an actor. He had already been killed in a plane crash by the time of the story, but I had no idea. He just looked like a nice guy. I found out later that he refused to do ads for cigarettes or alcohol. He sounds like the total opposite of my mother’s second husband, who was never without a drink and a cigarette. My instincts at 10 weren’t too bad.

 

I’ve figured out from images that it was the Flagship Hotel where we stayed. It was built in 1965 on Galveston’s Pleasure Pier, and severely damaged by Hurricane Ike in 2008. It was demolished in 2009.

 

[text copyright Genevieve Cottraux 2017]

We are staying in a big hotel this time, instead of a motel. It’s right on the beach, too, and we are up pretty high. It’s fun to go out on our balcony and look down at the water. I haven’t ever really spent much time at a beach before.

We visited Mimi and Granddaddy in San Diego last summer and they took us to the beach. I had to wear that hand-me-down yellow bathing suit that was Cathy’s or Ellen’s (or Cathy’s and then Ellen’s). As usually, I got sunburned. I was embarrassed that I can’t swim, but I just went in up to my knees and splashed around. I’d rather collect seashells or build sandcastles anyway.

This beach looks kind of dirty, but I don’t care. At least we are out of the hot car and the clouds of cigarette smoke, and we can get away from Mom and Van for a while. But Mom insists that we all eat lunch first, so we trudge into the hotel restaurant. Van is weirdly all smiles, and that scares me. He announces that he’s made appointments for Mom, Ellen, and me to go to the hotel beauty salon for haircuts and manicures. Mom and Ellen look happy, but I feel a knot in my stomach. He looks at us all expectantly. Mom says, “Oh, thank you! Girls?” Ellen says thank you. They all look at me.

“No, thank you,” I say, knowing it’s the wrong answer but unable to say anything else. I don’t want to go. I can tell by the look on Van’s face that I am in big trouble again.

“You’re going. And then we are all going out for a nice dinner tonight.”

“No.” I can be stubborn. I am happy with my long wavy hair. My nails are short and stubby and bitten down. A manicure would be silly. And I’d rather be at the beach.

Are they all mad at me? I guess it would be easier to just go along, but I’m in a mood now and there’s no giving in. We go through a few rounds of “Yes you will” followed by “No I won’t.” We all head up to our rooms, Ellen and Mom to get ready for their salon appointments. I’m told I can go down to the beach with Steve, but when they all go to dinner, I have to stay in the hotel room.

That’s my punishment? To get to stay in the nice big room, with 2 big beds, and watch television instead of putting on my dress-up dress with the hated white knee socks and patent leather shoes, and sitting for hours in a smoky restaurant waiting for Mom and Van to decide we can leave? Cool!

I go down to the beach with Steve, but he says there are jellyfish and I get a little scared.     I dig in the sand and the afternoon goes by.

Everyone else gets ready to go to the fancy restaurant that Van’s picked out. As they all leave, Van looks around and says “Thank you” to Mom, Ellen, and Steve. He looks at me and says “No, thank you” with a mean look, and they head to the elevator.

Finally, I have the room to myself! I turn on the television but there’s nothing much on. A World War II movie with Audie Murphy. I go out on the balcony and watch the water below. I take off my favorite shoes, the red Keds that I have to get in the boys’ section since my feet are wider than a “normal” girl, and consider throwing them off the balcony. I think, “That’ll show them.” Show them what? I love those shoes, so I toss them to safety back into the room.

My stomach growls. I think my punishment is supposed to include not having any dinner, but no one said that, so I look at the room service menu. Why shouldn’t I call for food? Van didn’t say not to, so I’m not disobeying anyone.

I pick the most expensive thing on the menu—filet mignon. I know what that is from the other restaurants we’ve been to. It comes with a baked potato. Yum! And a salad, which is okay. I like salad, especially with a creamy dressing. I think I should order a glass of milk, which is what Mom would make me drink.

I hate drinking milk. It’s gross. It always makes me think of the time I had lunch with a kid down the street. I can’t remember his name, but his mother made cheese sandwiches and poured us glasses of milk. I swear I saw that kid spit in my milk, so I refused to drink it. She was unhappy with me, and I think I got fussed at for it by Mom. Ever since then, I can’t stand the idea of drinking milk.

I call in my order, with a Coke instead of the milk. Surprisingly, no one tells me I am too little or in trouble or anything else. My food will be right up. And it is. I sit at the little wheeled table and turn the Audie Murphy movie back on. The sliding glass door is open, and I can hear the sound of the ocean. The baked potato with sour cream and chives is delicious.

At some point, I give up on finishing the food and get in one of the beds to watch the movie. I can tell Audie Murphy is the hero, but that’s about it. I like this Audie Murphy guy. He looks nice. Why couldn’t Mom have married somebody like him? He’d never call me Little Shit. He’d call me his little princess and bring me a kitten. He’d never tell me I’m chubby or make me wear white knee socks. He’d come down to the beach and let me bury him in the sand and then we’d look for sand dollars. We’d have a car with an air conditioner. We’d go back home.

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In hindsight, it might not have been so bad to go to the salon. It was the idea of being made to go and being expected to say thank you for something I didn’t want that set me off. I was a good Southern girl, raised to say “please” and “thank you” and “yes, ma’am” and “no, sir”. But something got into me that day in Galveston. And in an odd way, I am proud of my Little Shit self for it. You go, girl!

 

 

For my big brother (love you, Steve)

I doubt my brother Steve reads my blog. He’s not a social media kind of guy. He lives almost 3,000 miles away in North Carolina; I live in California. We are 4 years apart. He is my sibling closest to me in age, and the one with whom I share the most memories of our lives after our mother married her second husband, Van. We went through a lot together in the 1970s. But time and life have a way of distancing people from those kind of bonds. He is a man of faith, conservative of politics. I am a woman of confused thoughts, led by my heart and a desire for kindness. We don’t talk about religion or politics at family gatherings, but family gatherings are very rare in any case. He keeps more in touch with our sister Ellen, the glue of the family, so to speak, who tries her best to keep us all from drifting too far apart. The last time I saw my brother was after our sister Cathy’s husband Ralph passed away, much too young. I don’t think we spoke much except to tell our favorite Ralph stories.

Steve was my protector during the Van years. Dubbed by Van as Little Shit, I was always in trouble for some imagined offense or slight. I was honestly a well-behaved kid, good in school, and mostly quietly in my room reading or drawing. But Van saw the worst in me. I’ll never forget Van going ballistic over something I’d done (and really it would have been something minor, like not closing the screen of the sliding glass door all of the way) and chasing me through the house with a two-by-four. It was the summer of 1973, and we had just moved to Gardnerville, Nevada. I was almost 12, Steve almost 16. He was more than a foot taller than me, quick and wiry. I was neither of those things. He got the piece of lumber away from Van and helped me get to my room, where I could lock the door. I needed my brother, and he kept an eye on me.

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With my brother, either 1962 or 1963.

In 1972, on our drive from Georgia to California, my brother, in my memories, is endlessly enjoying all you can eat breakfast buffets. There is the time he locked me out of the car in the New Mexico desert, but even that in its way is a fond memory.

My absolute favorite memory of my brother on that trip is at a fine dining restaurant at the Sheraton resort in Tucson, Arizona. Mom and Van would typically disappear for a few days after we checked into whatever town’s hotel/motel, leaving Ellen, Steve, and me on our own for the most part. We spent 2 or 3 days in Tucson, the 3 of us floating in the swimming pool and seriously out of our element. The Arizona desert in summer is a vastly different place than the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia.

 

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Arizona dessert
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Georgia roads

 

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Me, upside down, and Steve,, in the Georgia countryside in 1972.

Van must have been in a good humor and slipped someone at the hotel restaurant a lot of money, arranging for “the kids” to spend an evening in the restaurant, ordering whatever we wanted and playing at being grown-ups. It’s actually one of my very favorite memories of my brother.

We wore our best clothes. We were shown to a nice table. The maître d’ treated us with the utmost respect, but was probably laughing inside. We were brought amuse-bouche, in this case little stuffed grape leaves. It all seemed so over the top to me at 10 years old. Steve ordered everything that could be made table-side and preferably set on fire. Whenever I see Crêpes Suzette on a menu, I smile and think of my sweet brother.

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This is a  short, unfinished, and very rough bit from the Little Shit memoir-in-progress. But I wanted to post it today because I’ve been thinking of you, Steve.

[text copyright Genevieve Cottraux 2017]

“You’ll get us in trouble. It’s too expensive!”

            Steve looks over the top of the menu at me. “He told the maître d’ to give us anything we wanted.”

            I look to Ellen but she smiles and shrugs. She’s enjoying having our brother act like a big-shot man of the family.

            “And he put me in charge.”

            The waiter approaches, turning to Steve, ready to take our dinner order.

            “We’ll have the Caesar Salad and Steak Diane for three.” His voice seems deeper as he gives the order.

            “Very well, sir.” The waiter walks away.

            I shift in my chair and pull up my white knee socks. “It’s really expensive! He’ll get mad!”

            “He’s never going to look at the bill. It’ll just be part of the room charges.” He signals the waiter. “Could you bring another round of drinks, please?”

            “Two Shirley Temples and a Roy Rogers, right away.”

            I look down at the menu for what Steve’s ordered. Table-side service—I’ve never seen such a thing before, and the prices are so high!

            The waiter brings the drinks and I take what I think is a ladylike sip of the pink drink through the straw.

            “What if he does look at the bill this time?” I don’t know if I can eat with the knot I feel in my stomach.

            Steve counters, “What if he does? It’s Mom’s money.”

            He nods approvingly as the maître d’ wheels the table over and begins assembling the Caesar salads.

            “You don’t like dressed salads or half the things in Steak Diane,” I point out.

            “Maybe I’ll like it the way they make it here,” he counters.

            Eyeing the menu again, he looks to the maître d’ again and says, “And for dessert, we’ll have the Crêpes Suzette.”

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Half a Genevieve, Ellen, Steve, Mom and a complete stranger at the Grand Canyon in 1972. Yes, Van deliberately left me out when he took the photo.

 

After a few days of floating in the pool in Tucson, I had the worst sunburn in recorded history, huge blisters on my back that will color my memories of our next stop, the Grand Canyon.

Steve, whatever the times bring or however different our paths through lives are, you are always my big brother and I love you.

Peace and hugs.

 

 

 

The Best Pie in Winnie, Texas (from Just Call Me Little Shit)

Here is another scene from the someday memoir of my summer of 1972. It’s not complete and needs some work, but I’ll never forget stopping at a diner in Winnie, Texas.  We were so hot and miserable. Texas seemed to go on forever.

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I call this fictionalized autobiography;  it’s based on truth but the truth as I remember it from the perspective of a ten-year old girl who lived it 45 years ago. I might have the timelines and details and confused, and some of it might be as I dreamed it rather than as it was.

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Many of my memories are about food. I was a chubby kid (still am!), getting my weight issues honestly through genetics and my mother. Plus a love of sweet and salty. My brother, at 14, could and did eat everything. “All you can eat” were his favorite words. My sister Ellen, hating being on the road and having to stop at gas station bathrooms and roadside diners, ate a lot of yogurt when she could get it and cottage cheese when she couldn’t. How I longed for greasy, salty, diner food! But it was made clear that I would be made miserable if I indulged.

fries     Fries versus cottage cheese.    plate-cottage-cheese-25961453

Years after the diner in Winnie, Texas, I read the short story “Full Count” in Elizabeth Berg’s book The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted and Other Small Acts of Liberation (2008), and Janey’s story was so familiar.

 

Here’s mine. [text copyright 2017 Genevieve Cottraux]

I’ve lost track of what state we are in; maybe we are still in Texas. It seems to be Texas for days. My stomach growls. Even though we have an ice chest near my nest in the way back, Van has made it clear that snacking in the car pushes his buttons.

            “What, are you eating again? No wonder you’re chubby.” Of course, this is directed at me. Neither Steve nor Ellen is in the least chubby. Steve is a teenage boy, a bottomless pit of appetite, tall and skinny. Ellen at sixteen, lives on yogurt and Tab diet cola. Mom and Van smoke and drink up front, but we sit quietly in the back, hoping not to rock Van’s shaky boat.

            My stomach growls again. I can’t help myself. “Are we stopping for lunch soon? I’m really hungry.”

            Mom looks back at me, brows furrowed. Van doesn’t turn around, but exhales cigarette smoke with a big sigh.

            Texas heat, cigarette smoke and hunger are making me reckless. “I’m really hungry. Are we ever going to stop for lunch?”

            “Can’t you wait until dinner?”

            I stare at the back of Van’s scrawny neck and wish I was brave enough, or dumb enough, to aim a spitball at him.

            I don’t know if they are really hungry or feeling sorry for me, but Ellen and Steve both chime in, “We’re hungry, too. Let’s stop.”

            “It won’t take long; let’s pull over and get something,” my mother looks at Van, pleading for us. Van sighs again, outnumbered.

             He doesn’t speak, but I can tell he’s starting to simmer with annoyance. There’s a roadside diner not much farther down the highway. The parking lot is full of trucks with Texas license plates. The diner sign flashes, “Last chance to eat in Winnie, Texas.” I’ll take it.

            We file into the crowded but blissfully air-conditioned diner. A friendly, uniformed older waitress clears off a table for us and brings ice water. She smiles at me. I smile back, glad to see a friendly face on this endless, hot journey.

            Van orders black coffee. Mom follows suit. I know she wants cream in her coffee but Van has aimed a chubby remark or two at her, too. He rarely eats, living on cigarettes and black coffee alternating with whiskey.

            The motherly waitress looks to the three of us expectantly.

            “I’ll have a side of cottage cheese and ice tea, please.” Ellen looks down at the damp table and disdainfully picks up a spoon, inspecting it and then wiping it with a napkin. She hates being on the road.

            I’m being my usual indecisive self, fidgeting with the laminated menu, so Steve jumps in. “Cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate milkshake, please.” We are proper Southern children in our way, always putting in the please and thank you.

            My mouth waters and my stomach growls painfully. Oh, do I want what he’s having! Would a tuna sandwich and chips be less likely to attract Van’s attention?

            “Your turn, honey. What sounds good?”

            It all sounds good; that’s the problem.

            “Honey?”

            “The fruit plate, please.” I can’t look up at her.

            “Are you sure? Not many little girls order that; it’s usually their mamas.”

            “Yes, ma’am.”

            We wait for our food. Van relaxes, or what passes for it with him, lights a cigarette. I guess I’ve passed the test.

            My brother makes endless puns on the town name. “Winnie is hotter than poo” sends us into fits of laughter.

            The food arrives. I look longingly at my brother’s plate, cheese oozing out from the burger, as he pours red, silky ketchup on the fries. Ellen barely touches her cottage cheese. I pretend each bite of fruit is a greasy, salty fry.

            The waitress comes back, plates of cherry pie for all of us. “Couldn’t let these growing children leave without some of the best pie in town. On the house.” She looks at Mom and Van as she sets the plates around.

            “You’ll hurt my feelings if you don’t eat it.” She smiles at me and hands me a clean fork. I almost hope Van will call me Little Shit in front of this angel waitress as I take a bit of the best pie I have ever eaten.

 

Today I was going to post the scene in which my mother marries Van, but went with Winnie, Texas instead. Maybe I am craving pie!

Next time. Or maybe something else, who knows. It’ll be the day I wrote whatever I wanted. To small acts of liberation!

The milk of human kindness (is non-dairy)

I love my cafe latte. LOVE.

cafe-latte

But whoever said the latte part has to come from cows? Cow’s milk is for baby cows! It is great for calves–rich in fat and perfect for promoting growth OF A COW. Like 500 pounds growth in a year. I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in a growth formula.

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The dairy industry is also unspeakably cruel, separating calves from their mothers immediately after birth. Many die. Males are “dispensable” and often killed or sent to veal crates. The mothers mourn for their babies. So we can drink their milk.

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Male calf in a veal crate.

Not so long ago, the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to block the use of the word “milk” in the labeling of non-dairy products like soy milk and almond milk. If NMPF wants “truth in labeling” then they can label cows milk as a lacteal secretion. Sounds yummy, yes? No.

Shakespeare is credited with the phrase “the milk of human kindness”, referring to care and compassion for others.

billy
William Shakespeare

 

(Is it just me, or does the above portrait of Shakespeare look a lot like the actor Steve Weber?)

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Steven Weber

From Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 5, (1605):

Lady Macbeth:
Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be
What thou art promis’d. Yet do I fear thy nature,
It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way.

For ambitious and ruthless Lady Macbeth, the milk of human kindness denoted weakness; she was afraid her husband lacked the wherewithal to muder King Duncan as the quickest way to the throne.

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John Singer Sargent painting of actress Ellen Terry playing Lady Macbeth (1889).

 

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I, however, fully approve of the milk of human kindness. And I extend it to the cows of the world by using alternate milks in my latte.

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I’ve even started making my own soy milk in my handy dandy Japanese soy milk maker.

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Here’s a quick video:

 

There are some continuity issues in the video (I put the top of the machine on backwards and then corrected it).There are dinner dishes in the sink. I couldn’t get Taste Tester Bob to try the soy milk. I will never forget the time at his friend Dave’s house when Dave was trying to get Bob to try soy milk on his bowl of cereal. Dave was basically chasing Bob around the kitchen with a carton of soy milk. Highly entertaining.

Commercially, I like Wildwood Farms soy milk, and any of the plant/nut-based milks from Califia Farms. I prefer the unsweetened and unflavored milks, but there are options if you have a sweet tooth or like a vanilla latte.

(By the way, I freaked out when I Googled “sweet tooth” and the first image was a horrible scary clown. I do not like clowns.)

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Apparently this is Sweet Tooth.

 

Speaking of the milk of human kindness, can we stop with the scary clowns already? Real life is scary enough.

Someday, I will figure out how to make almond milk and rice milk in the soy milk maker. The directions promise that I can! Then there is the okara–the ground up soy beans left at the end of the process. Being from Georgia, I keep thinking the word is okra…

 

Okara can go into veggie burgers; I’ve put it in stews and sauces for a protein boost. The recipe book that came with the soy milk maker includes okara “chicken” strips, okara bread, and, the one that might be my next video–an okara facial mask!

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I don’t think I will look this lovely applying my okara mask, but maybe when I’m done?

Oh, one last thing. Please don’t ask me where I get my protein.

 

Peace and hugs.

Cooking for Insomniacs

Presenting the last cooking video of 2016! I go through periods of not sleeping well, and sometimes one of the things I like to do in the wee hours of the morning is bake.

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Muffins magically appear in the early morning hours.

I went through a particularly bad period of insomnia back in about 2003 (pre-vegan). I decided to perfect the baking of the morning bun–you know, those beautiful laminated dough twists covered in cinnamon sugar.

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I went through endless recipe variations, taking my middle-of-the-night creations to work everyday. I think my co-workers enjoyed my insomnia more than I did! But baking was much healthier than taking sleeping medications. I did have a prescription, but the nurse-practictioner neglected to mention that I should take a half-dose given that at the time I was down to about 100 pounds. (Those days are LONG gone.) The one time I took a pill, it took me two days to wake up.

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Size 2, smiling on the outside but really not a happy time.

At the time, I was working at Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts in the art exhibitions department. For a show we were working on at the time, artist Susan Graham installed her sculpture of sugar beds that reference insomnia. I talked to her a lot at the time about insomnia, and the sculpture haunts me still when I can’t sleep.

 

Lately, my insomnia nights have had me writing blog posts. But at 4:15 a.m. on December 31, 2016, I decided to cook instead of write. I am still learning how to use iMovie, so forgive the clunkiness of the video. And it was early in the morning. Apologies to amazing animal activist and vegan food writer Colleen Patrick-Goudreau for any liberties with her recipe.

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Muffins from a previous early morning baking session.

 

Because I had been sick (I promise I washed my hands many times during the cooking), my hair looked particularly bad, thus the hat. Taste Tester Bob says I have to wear it in every video now. (Hat courtesy of the Cat Lady Box.) Not making any promises about that one!

Have a happy new year, happy baking, bon appetit, peace, and hugs.

 

Under Pressure

Actually, this isn’t going to be about David Bowie or Queen, as much as I loved Freddie Mercury. Now I have the song Under Pressure stuck in my head (see Is there a cure for earworms?Or, Help! I Need Somebody…); thank you very much. Hoisted by my own petard!

No, this is about my new pressure cooker! I finally bought an Instant Pot after reading about them on Facebook page for Instant Pot Vegan Recipes.

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I first became interested after going to a holiday cooking demonstration at the Oakland offices of the PETA Foundation last year. I am not going to comment one way or the other about PETA here; this is about food! Let’s come together around the table. Or the Instant Pot.

The presenter was JL Fields, and you can follow her at JL Goes Vegan. She is funny and informative and PRACTICAL about food and vegan cooking.

But it took me a year to convince myself to buy the Instant Pot. Now that I have it, I need to make a point of using it, which means learning HOW to use it. I got the cookbook:

cookbook

I am a bit afraid of pressure cookers; back in the day they were dangerous, and I had a bad experience with one. I know so many people with a mother or grandmother with a near-death pressure cooking story.

old_time_pressure_cooker_ad

kitchen

I decided to start with something easy. I am not much of a breakfast person (beyond coffee), but Bob likes to start his day with traditional Western breakfast foods. I had a day off and was avoiding my academic duties (I love writing, but sometimes…), so I made oatmeal for breakfast!

Granted, oatmeal isn’t that hard to make in any case. But the pressure cooker was calling me, it sounded quick and easy, and one benefit of pressure cooking is you set it and walk away. Oatmeal on the stove can get messy if left unattended.

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In my new capacity as wannabe Vegan Food Network Star (see Can I Vegan That? (My first cooking video!), I ended up making a video of the project. I have no pride; I am in my pajamas with bed hair. Hey, it’s real life. I spend a lot of my day off in pajamas! And you might notice near the end of the video that I have sweater fuzz on my chin. That is not a chin hair! I have a habit of wearing my shabby old gray cardigan over my bathrobe on cold mornings (see Tim Gunn and Ruby Dee walk into a bar…). You might not think it’s pretty, but I think it’s warm and comforting, like a bowl of oatmeal.

The oatmeal was pretty good. In hindsight, I would have added more liquid (2-1/2 cups to 1 cup of oats instead of 2:1), and maybe cooked it at 4 minutes pressure instead of 5. But it was a learning experience, and I am more comfortable using the Instant Pot now. Heck, Bob cooked dinner in it last night. The lure of using a new gadget was stronger than his dislike of cooking!

Happy viewing! I’d love your (vegan) pressure cooking tips!

 

Bon appetit!

Can I Vegan That? (My first cooking video!)

veganize

I am addicted to cooking shows, especially the competition ones, but I know I’d never survive against a timeclock and a group of cutthroat competitors. For a while, I was also addicted to the show The Chew on ABC, a daytime multi-host show about food, cooking, home, entertaining.

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The Chew hosts Carla Hall, Mario Batali, Michael Symon, Daphne Oz, and Clinton Kelly.

One of the recurring segments on the show, at least when I was last watching, was with Carla Hall, called Can You Blend This?

She’d take a bunch of weird leftovers, blend them together, and make her cohosts taste it. Interesting faces were made. Sometimes the answer was yes, sometimes definitely no.

As a vegetarian, I always wanted more vegetarian alternatives, or at least not to be made fun of. Then I went vegan, and I felt totally left out of the Food Network world!

My dream is to have a segment called Can I Vegan That? But I’ve never made a video before.

Here is my trial run. Clearly, I need to up the production values. A second person to hold the iPhone would be nice! Bob was taking a nap until the end; I was on my own. Until cats develop opposable thumbs, I’m without assistance. And someone (not a cat, thanks) to do hair and makeup would be even better!

Brownies, not a huge challenge, but an easy one to start off with and I happened to have the ingredients and a sweet tooth. Next up? I’m open to suggestions.

So, grab some non-GMO popcorn and turn down the lights. Here we go:

Music: Cappelletti Show by Serena Giannini
Direct Link: https://www.youtube.com/c/FreeMusicTime8

The brownies really did turn out good. Moist and super fudgy, just the way brownies should be. No cakey brownies for me!

Now, what’s for dinner? I have asparagus, mushrooms, potatoes…img_9058

Bon appetit!

“Let’s go out there and do a f*** ton of good!”

“Let’s go out there and do a f*** ton of good!” was the closing sentence of Will MacAskill at the Effective Altruism Global 2016 conference held at UC Berkeley August 5th through 7th this year. Professor MacAskill is the youngest tenured professor of philosophy in the world (yes, in the world, at age 29) and is the co-founder of Giving What We Can, author of Doing Good Better, and a major voice in the Effective Altruism movement. As one might hope at a conference of altruists, the book was free!

Will
Will MacAskill

I only heard about the conference and the movement itself the day before the conference, when I met Tobias Leenaert, The Vegan Strategist, when I went to a talk he gave at the newly opened Berkeley Animal Rights Center.

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Tobias Leenaert, The Vegan Strategist

One online application submitted and there I was, at the Effective Global 2016 conference with about 1,000 other altruists.

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do it

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Your intrepid reporter, day 1.

After making my way through registration, and grabbing a coffee (altruists need coffee too!), I went to my first session, How to Change Your Mind, presented by Miya Perry, Head of Training for the Oakland start-up Paradigm Academy. We learned about changing our behaviors by digging deep into our System 1 and System 2 beliefs (I found this description helpful).

Next up: Cooperative Conversations, led by Tsvi Benson-Tilsen, formerly of the UC Berkeley Math Department and now at the University of Chicago. Conversation is more complicated than you think. We all operate from different world models of knowns, “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns”, and our models may or may not overlap.

Et voilà, it was time to check out dinner! Being altruistic can work up an appetite. The food was delicious and predominantly vegan, with a couple of vegetarian alternatives for those who must have cheese (I understand, I really do). Vegan as the default was such a great way to go! Thank you, Centre for Effective Altruism, for that decision as well as the compostable bamboo plates and forks.

And of course, you know I wouldn’t leave out the all important dessert!

Saturday started with the keynote talk, The Past, Present, and Future of Effective Altruism,  by Will MacAskill and Giving What We Can co-founder Toby Ord. (Note: a side benefit was getting to hear all of the wonderful accents and languages from this international community. Will is Scottish and Toby is Australian, though both are now at Oxford in England.)

Toby Ord

Toby presented about the past, going through the history of ideas, while Will spoke about the present expansions in the EA literature, EA groups, and outreach.

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Will MacAskill on his first meeting with Toby Ord.
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Toby Ord takes us through the history of ideas.

Tired yet? It’s early still! Let’s grab a coffee and keep moving.

day 1 coffee

Away we go, to The Future of EA for Animals, presented by Jacy Reese from Animal Charity Evaluators. It was a quite lively discussion about the most effective ways to help animals

Time for lunch. The lunch buffet was set up on the plaza in front of Zellerbach Hall. In addition to good food, lots of small groups formed to continue the conversations that the various sessions (of which I went to only a handful) so far had triggered.

While a nap might have been a good thing about now, I soldiered on to Are Scientists Responsible Enough?, a talk given from the UK via the magic of Skype by astrophysicist Lord Martin Rees for the Centre for the Study of Existential Risks. As Lord Rees says (paraphrasing), because of the huge implications of the possible actions by a few people, we need more conerned and socially engaged scientists. As he said, “the global village has its village idiot with a global range”. In the US, his book is sold under the title Our Final Hour.

Back to my favorite topic–animals–with Irene Pepperberg from Harvard, talking on Avian Cognition and Consciousness: The Gray Parrot and Its Implications for Animal Welfare. We share this world with many other creatures and we are all interconnected. Empathy is called for, and we are only just finding out how much we don’t know about non-human animal intelligence.

Next, I went to a workshop on how to prioritize and compare different interventions for helping non-human animals, run by Lewis Bollard from Open Philanthropy Project.

Still holding up okay? Me too!

me 4
Your intrepid reporter, day 2. Still smiling.

If we want to make the world a better place, of course, humans are a big part of the picture.  The next session I chose was The End of Poverty, a lofty goal.

Utilitarian philsopher Peter Singer, author of many influential books (Animal Liberation, Darwinian Left, and, relevent to this presentation, The Life You Can Save: How to Play Your Part in Ending World Poverty) was able to participate in a question and answer session with the audience through Skype.

His ending message: don’t think in terms of sacrifice but of fulfillment in your efforts to make the world a better place. As the saying goes, the life you save may be your own.

This was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Rajesh Mirchandani from the Center for Global Development.

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The panelists for The End of Poverty discussion.
Poverty panel 6
From left, Svetha Janumpalli, Timothy Telleen-Lawton, Jeff Brown, Anne Healy, and Rajesh Mirchandani.

When evaluating possible interventions, some of the things to consider: scale, evidence/data, incentives, accountability, and transparency.

Catch your breath, and now we move on the day 3, which I started with a round of 3 20-minute talks. These were in the Senate Chambers for the Associated Students and Graduate assembly at UC Berkeley, on the 5th floor of Eshleman Hall. Very spiffy, and great views.

First up, Tobias Leenaert on Helping Animals with Technology or Morality? It takes a lot of motivation to get people to change their habits for ethical reasons. Maybe the vegan movement should focus on getting people to eat meat alternatives as they become more readily available (just try them, they’re [mostly] delicious!), and then their attitudes toward animals will shift as a result. In other words, instead of trying to change people’s beliefs to change their behavior, change their behavior and the attitude shift will follow. I will say that I am creeped out by lab meat, aka, clean meat, cultured meat, and tissue-engineered meat. But I am not a meat lover and my attitude is already with the animals!

Tobias 12
When surveyed, most professors of philosophy agree with the statement that it is not ethical to eat animals, but in reality, their behavior doesn’t match up.

Tobias was followed by Adriano Mannino of Effective Altruism Foundation on Affecting the Far Future with the Animal Cause. The foundation is an anti-speciesist think tank and project incubator headquartered in Germany. His point, if I understood correctly, is that people who value the lives of animals and want to prevent animal suffering are of a mind-set that also predisposes them to take on other causes and value all things living, human, non-human animals, plants, the planet, and that we can build toward a better future for all utilizing those values.

Finally, the round of speakers ended with nanotechnologist and futurist Christine Peterson, co-founder of Foresight Institute on Upstream Altruism: Applying EA Principles to Early-Stage Action.

My favorite bit was the idea of “hit and run” altruism, which could be equated to random acts of kindness. Nanotechnology means nothing to me, kindness does.

We aren’t done with lab-grown meat yet! Back to Zellerbach Hall for a panel discussion, Rethinking Meat and the End of Factory Farming, moderated by Claire Zabel with Open Philanthropy.

rethinking meat panel 2
From left: Tobias Leenaert, Claire Zabel, Lewis Bollard, Isha Datar, Bruce Friedrich, and Allison Smith.

For more information on the panelists:

Tobias Leenaert

Lewis Bollard

Isha Datar

Bruce Friedrich

Allison Smith

I met Allison Smith again at the workshop on interventions, led by Allsion and Jacy from Animal Charity Evaluators.

I promise this is the last on lab-grown meat; panelists Uma Valeti of Memphis Meats, Oliver Zahn of Impossible Foods, Tim Geistlinger from Muufri, and Isha Datar from New Harvest answered audience questions about technology, nutrition, and the notion of cellular agriculture. I’m still sticking with plant-based, thanks.

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Seated, from left: Uma Valeti, Oliver Zahn, Tim Geistlinger, and Isha Datar.

We’re almost done! Yes, I’m getting tired too.

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Your intrepid reporter, day 3.

I couldn’t leave without going to the talk by Cass Sunstein, who I know as the editor of texts I’ve used in animal protection classes in my humane education program. He has other claims to fame: Harvard Law professor, legal scholar,  Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2012, and author of many books, including The World According to Star Wars (surprised by that one?!).

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Professor Sunstein’s talk was titled From Behavioral Economics to Public Policy. Don’t let the title scare you. Many Star Wars references were sprinkled throughout (I won’t pretend to have understood most of them).

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Cass Sunstein

It was a very interesting talk on social meaning and concepts like using nudges to get people to do good things. For example, at the Amsterdam International Airport, flies painted in the urinals nudge men to aim at a spot where pee doesn’t overflow onto the floors. These have resulted in 44% less “spillage” in the men’s bathrooms at the airport. Don’t ask me how it was measured. Or who had to measure it.

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Men are weird.

And now to the closing remarks!

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Will MacAskill on the future of the Effective Altruism movement

A gathering on stage of the staff of the Centre for Effective Altruism who made the conference happen, the awesome volunteers, and a big thank you to them and to all of us for attending and spreading the ideals of effective altruism.

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And proving that we are also optimists, all of us went outside to gather for a group photo, I haven’t seen the final result, but here we are trying to squeeze together in front of Sproul Hall.

I’d like to end this with one last thought. The weekend before this, I attended the World Vegan Summit 2016 in the same location. I thought I would have a lot to write about, but I had an uncomfortable feeling the whole time (compounded by food poisoning; gotta wash those fruits and veggies and use clean hands, food service people!). It was an amazing opportunity to hear Professor Gary Francione, a divisive but forceful leader in the animal rights movement, and I learned alot. But there was a vibe of “our way is the only way” that doesn’t sit well with me. I am much more interested in open-minded thought and discussions.

Peace. And may the force be with you.

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The Alameda Point Antiques Faire, aka “The Flea”

On the first Sunday of every month, rain or shine, crowds make their way to the Alameda Point Antiques Faire, or as we fondly call it, “The Flea.” This is not your junky flea market; this is huge, with lots of stuff, ranging from the, yes, junky, to high end antiques. It’s a fun way to spend a few hours on a Sunday morning, and I count it as exercise. And there are food trucks; who doesn’t love a food truck? If you have time afterward, the town of Alameda is fun to explore, too.

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The Alameda Point Antiques Faire, at the sign of the clock.

The entrance fee goes down as the morning goes on; early birds pay more! Your strategy will depend on several things: e.g., how badly do you need coffee and do you want to start at the way far back in the low rent district or start at the front in the high rent district?

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There are several coffee purveyors; I usually decide by which has the shorter line.
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In the low rent district, the vendors don’t mess much with fancy displays and there tends to be empty real estate.
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It may be the low rent district, but you can still find some good things!
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The stalls closer to the entrance, i.e. the high rent district, go to a little more trouble but also charge more.

The food options vary; on this January day there weren’t quite as many trucks to choose from, but you can get “state fair food on a stick”, falafel, pizza, Chinese food, Indian food, Greek food, baked goods, and of course, kettle corn (it’s everywhere).

 

One of my favorite activities is looking for the “art” (note the quotation marks).

 

Then there are the specific categories of art, such as clown art. The stuff of my bad dreams.

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The classic clown portrait.
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Surprisingly, it didn’t sell. Maybe next month.

Weird sculptural things also make an appearance.

 

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Daryl Hall as Mrs. Santa?

If you have any interest in old family photos and other people’s ancestors, there are always lots of stacks and frames of interesting, usually stern people’s faces. It does make me sad that they end up at the flea market though.

ancestors

Interesting yard art opportunities abound. Someone purchased both of these and was wheeling them out. I title it The Bear Thinks About Eating The Thinker.

bear eats thinker

 

For the bookworm, there are children’s book, books that don’t really seem old enough to be at the “antiques faire”, and cookbooks, to name a few.

 

For the clothes mavens, there are plenty of “vintage” clothing vendors. Birkenstocks are vintage now?

 

Unfortunately, there is a lot of fur among the clothing items. My animal activist side gets riled up. Maybe I can get my activist friends out protesting with me some Sunday.

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It’s not fashion, it’s violence! Don’t buy fur!!!

I will allow the purchasing of a tiara or two, however. You can’t have too many of those.

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One of my very favorite categories–cat lady (or cat guy) merchandise!

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The vendor informed me that this cat was made to cover a can of hair spray.
Susie kitten
I really was tempted to buy this.
Kitty Wampus
Kitty Wampus proved irresistable; I did buy it.

I am also fascinated by the extremely expensive French road and building signs. I can’t guarantee they are genuine; “faux French” is a thing.

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This one will set you back $265.

Here are a few of the fun things I saw on this January visit:

 

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Beam me up, Scotty! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
Fargo snowglobe
Who wouldn’t want a Fargo snow globe, complete with bloody snow?
kiss ducks
A complete set of Kiss rubber ducks!
troll
Bob said he wouldn’t object if I bought a troll doll as long as it wasn’t bigger than my head. This one was close, but at $65, I don’t think so!

Transportation theme:

 

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Fraternity house furnishing?
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A successful purchase; Tibetan bowl for Joe the music teacher.
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Misty is not impressed with my purchases.

Maybe Misty will have a chance to be impressed next month. And maybe I’ll see you at The Flea!