Book Review: A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America

A Black Cowboy's Ride

It’s not every day that a good book about both geography and history comes along, but Lisa Winkler’s non-fiction epic, A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America, guides the reader from New Jersey to California.  Each chapter portrays the real-life adventure of an African-American teacher, Miles Dean, who rides horseback across the United States beginning September 22, 2007.  The mini-biography of Dean spans not only the country, but the centuries of African-American history in various places along the way.

There is not enough room in history books to tell the stories of all the remarkable people who walked this earth.  So they  leave out those folks who do not specifically advance the historical narrative the editors wish to portray.  For example, American children all read about George Washington, the first President of the United States, and they should.  Do they also know about Blanche K. Bruce, the first African-American to serve a full term in the U.S. Senate in 1874?  Readers travel with Miles and pick up gems of history where they happened along the journey.

Blanche K. Bruce Mississippi Senator, 1874-1880

In this book the reader experiences the difficulties of the actual horseback ride across motorized America in spite of extensive planning,  along with the exuberance of meeting welcoming strangers in every place.  Readers learn along with Miles about various famous African-Americans, who were firsts in fields that don’t make the history books, such as horse jockeys or cowboys.  Rather than being a chronological history, this is a geographical history.  Every locale has its heroes and heroines, and they fit into various historical time frames.  The focus of this book is on African-American heroes from each stop along the way, so there might be a Civil War hero, and a country singer in the same location.

In truth children learn history, just as they learn their first language, from those closest to them.  They learn about their own ethnicity from their parents and grandparents, and blend it in with their growing life experiences.  They hear the stories of the folks in their home territory.  Then they learn how those stories fit into the broader scope of history.  Somewhere along the way, they begin to pick up an internal timeline.  In this book the reader becomes like a child growing up in each site where Miles stops, and learns a bit about each place, whetting their appetite to follow-up and research more about specific people or events later.

Winkler’s mini-biography easily meets the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts, since students will be required to read greater percentages of non-fiction texts.  This is a book that will interest students, particularly ones who like horses and cowboys.  Teachers are often looking for books that will appeal to disenfranchised students.  This book is the perfect hook for African-American males, statistically having the largest percentage of students in this category.  Miles, the rider, is the first hero, attempting this difficult trip at age 57, and overcoming obstacle after obstacle, persevering until he completes his goal.  Then meeting all the unsung African-American heroes along Mile’s historic epic gives these students a sense of belonging and contributing to the history of the United States that is so essential for creating future citizens of this nation.

Miles Dean, age 57 riding across America
Miles Dean, age 57 riding across America

As an educational consultant, I think this book has implications that reach far beyond the written word, and the standards we teach.  It touches the heart, and motivates young people to emulate heroes.  It goes beyond exposing the faults of the country to forgiveness and allows students to see how people of different ethnicities contributed to the success of Miles’ journey.  We don’t forget our history or cover it up, but maturely go beyond its faults and take advantage of new opportunities.  We stand on the backs of heroes who paved the way for our success, and move forward in appreciation of their sacrifices to create a better world.

I featured Lisa Walker’s blog, Cycling Grandma, in my Christmas Sweater Post earlier in December.  You will enjoy visiting her blog as well.  A Black Cowboy’s Ride will make an excellent gift for your child’s teacher, a student in your life, a history buff, or yourself. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreign

This post was inspired by a prompt from WP Daily Post: Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreign. In this case I chose to focus on the word foreign meaning outside the United States where I grew up, and have lived my entire life.  Almost anything that is out of our comfort zone could be classified as foreign, and this trip was as foreign as I have ever felt in my life.  I hope you enjoy my long past memory of Paris, France where we traveled to be with my husband’s son when he married a Chinese-Laotian girl who grew up in France.

“The French approach to food is characteristic; they bring to their consideration of the table the same appreciation, respect, intelligence and lively interest that they have for the other arts, for painting, for literature, and for the theatre. We foreigners living in France respect and appreciate this point of view but deplore their too strict observance of a tradition which will not admit the slightest deviation in a seasoning or the suppression of a single ingredient. Restrictions aroused our American ingenuity, we found combinations and replacements which pointed in new directions and created a fresh and absorbing interest in everything pertaining to the kitchen.”
Alice B. Toklas

Basque restaurant in Paris

The short time we spent in Paris was lovely – eat visit museums, eat, eat, eat.  Wear fat lady clothes.  Someone told us that we had to go to this lovely alley Basque restaurant, Auberge de Jarente.

Address:  7 Rue de Jarente, 75004 Paris, France
Phone:  01 42 77 49 35
Marais District

We have a large Basque community in Fresno, and they are famous for their hospitality and home cooking.  This one was no exception.  It was early September, slightly cool enough to be comfortable in a light jacket at lunch time.  We sat outside and watched people come and go into their apartments across the alley.  The dining experience itself bordered on being elegant.  Cloth napkins and table cloth.  Handsome waiter checking on you often to bring you more of whatever you wanted.  Yet the location was an alley – very foreign!  I gained 10 pounds just sitting there that afternoon.

We took this picture as a joke since the food was almost gone.

We had kind of a meat paella.  There were foreign kinds of meats I had never eaten including duck, which was sort of heavy and greasy as I remember.  It must have been good, but you’ll never know until you go to Paris.  Amateur photographers may take a decent picture once in a while, but they forget that picture-taking is the MAIN objective.  That would mean as soon as the meal comes out, the camera is set ready to go.  As amateur photographers, we finished our delicious food, then we remembered that we Spencer and Margaret ALWAYS send us picture of their food.  oops – oh well!  I think that must be a foreign tradition – I still struggle with it.  “Eat first, photograph later – the All American Tradition.” – U.S. diner. (me)

Hotel in the Marais District

This really isn’t an interesting photograph, but it shows just how narrow and crowded the streets are.  I can’t imagine driving in Paris, and that is very foreign to me.  In my work I was driving about 30,000 miles a year.  We stayed in the Hotel du Vieux Marais which you can see if you enlarge this photo is on the right side just in front of the black car.

Louvre, Paris France

We did visit the Louvre because you can’t go to Paris maybe only once in your life, and ignore the largest museum in the country, and third in the world.  We got too close to Mona, and had to be ushered back.  I probably tried taking her picture.  (You know those amateur photographers always taking the wrong picture in the wrong place!)  I remember the big crowd standing around this tiny painting.   It is much smaller that I expected it to be.  I don’t know about you, but I get overwhelmed by museums and SO MUCH  visual input.  I can only take in a little bit, and then I feel stuffed and tired, almost like eating too much.  My brain won’t process all that I am seeing.  I know I won’t remember more than about one or two things in the museum at the maximum, yet I have this insatiable appetite for visiting museums.

Museum of Judaism

This was one museum I had to visit in honor of my friend, Elane Geller, who survived the Holocaust.  Going through this museum really brought home the fact that Jews had been in Europe for at least 400 years before Hitler was even born.  I wasn’t able to take pictures inside any of the museums, and I didn’t buy tons of souvenirs.  But the golden and bronze religious items on display were ornate and definitely foreign to a simple American like me.

I hope you enjoyed my short walk down my short memory lane.  There are a few more pictures, but I have to find out what they are!!! Maybe if I post one that I don’t know you will tell me what it is!????

Where were we?

Sorry that my photos are sort of grainy – too much noise.  We discovered undeveloped rolls of film YEARS after we took them.  We didn’t even think there would be anything to develop, but there’s enough here to jog our memories.  I’m not sure what happened to the rest of our pictures.  They were before digital!!  That’s foreign to me now!  How did I ever exist before digital?


Week at Ka’anapali Beach Club (KBC)

Do you prefer to relax or be very active on a vacation?  Ka’anapali Beach Club, one of the Diamond Resorts in Maui, HI, might be a place you would enjoy.

Timeshare traveling – not time traveling  This is taken from V’s favorite table around the pool. 

Timeshare travel differs from regular travel, and there is an art to doing it.  Believe me, that is another skill I am learning as I move forward into retirement.  At age 50 I had never been to Hawaii, never thought I would ever get to go, and was just plain jealous of anyone who had ever been!  Things change.  Friends asked us to cruise around the Hawaiian islands with them.  We landed in Honolulu, Oahu, and visited Kona, Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii.  At each island we had several hours to tour, either guided or on our own.  We fell in love with Maui, and during our free time there went on a timeshare tour.  Timeshare sales people in Maui are as ubiquitous as abizia trees.  We were in love with the idea, but not enough to part with tons of our hard earned capital.

We went back the next year with American Express points at the Westin.  The Westin was lovely and we talked them out of making us switch rooms mid-week.  We did not escape the OTHER Timeshare sales people in Lahaina.  Here was the deal, if we agreed to spend 90 minutes with a KBC salesperson, we got a boatload of discounts from the Expedia man.  I love discounts, so we did it.  (He’s still there by the way.)  At that KBC presentation we signed papers to buy a timeshare to come enjoy a scenic view suite in Maui every other year for the cost of only $11,500.  (Much better than $90.000 at the Westin).  Unfortunately for the timeshare woman, we (I) got cold feet, but not so cold that we didn’t want a timeshare.  Actually V’s feet were never even as warm as mine but he accommodates.

So we went back to Lahaina and visited the Timeshare RESALE salesman (different breed).  He sat in his office waiting for people to come to him, and NO free tours of anything.  We bought his KBC timeshare at a fraction of the other timeshare value – NO points – deed only, and he very generously cancelled our first contract with Diamond Resorts for 3,250 points.  That little tidbit of information plays into a future story.

our newly appointed living room in scenic view room 1132

The next year, our first time as owners, we tried to register to use our KBC timeshare, nobody could find a record that V & M existed, we convinced them that we were real, and we really did own a timeshare there.  The next couple of times we used our KBC timeshare, we walked gingerly past the timeshare updaters.  (That also plays into another post about this saga.)  We didn’t want to run into the poor sales woman who was so sweet, and bought our breakfast, and dinner.

The open lobby is filled with gentle breezes, birds chirping and sunburned people year-round.

This is our third visit here.  We loved the place.  It is large, newly furnished and upgraded.  It is not a new hotel.  They are not building many any of those now. KBC used to be Embassy Suites.  There are some downsides – sort of.  KBC doesn’t have a full kitchen like our Westin timeshare experience had.  On the other hand, it didn’t cost $90,000 per week.  It comes with a sink, full refrigerator and electric cooking equipment.  Do you know how much V and I wanted to cook in Hawaii?

our kitchen/dining room area

We have our favorite restaurants, and we try not to eat so much that all we do is eat and sleep.  Believe me that is hard!!!  We use the microwave, but we really don’t miss the stove.  If you have a large family, love to cook, and want to timeshare travel, I would recommend a different resort.  If you do like to cook, and many people are whizzes on the electric frypan, then go to Costco on the way from the airport.  Many people do – we got stuck in the parking lot, and thought we’d never get out.  Costco obviously didn’t contact a feng shui when they designed their parking lot in Maui.

The bedroom opens up to the living area as well as the bath area.

We purchased the one bedroom unit, no frills, no added benefits, no bringing friends or relatives at the same time.  But the bedroom is large and comfortable. This was the best shot I took to get an idea of the layout of the entire suite.  To the right of the dresser is a nice desk looking out on the scenic view, which by the way is a lot less expensive than the ocean view.  Both the closet door and the bathroom door go into the bathroom, so you can access your clothes from the bathroom – a VERY handy feature.

We both loved the bathroom.  I know, who wants to spend time in THERE when you are on a vacation?  Trust me when you come back with your swimming suit filled to the brim with sand because you can’t stand up in the surf, you appreciate the shower.  When you not only can’t stand in the surf, but you can’t get up once you get down, and pounding waves from all directions polish you like a rock or a shell before they toss you out of harm’s way, you appreciate a deep soaking tub.  When you go horseback riding, and can barely get off the poor, sweaty animal, foggily clinging to it until you can stand on your own two whatever they are… You get the picture.  The bathroom takes on importance in gigantic proportions.

Notice the ubiquitous abizias in the foreground. I labeled our room on this trip.

There’s a lot more to tell about this story than you want to read tonight.  However, I warn you, I took notes while I was there, so I wouldn’t forget so much.

Do you want to hear the rest of the story?


Jury Duty

I’m retired two months, and the court has my number.  “No worries,” I think to myself.  I was the coordinator of Mock Trial for our county.  I know TOO many attorneys and judges.  They’ll throw me off in a second, and I’ll be back to Retirement Bliss.

OK that didn’t happen.  What did happen was that I ran into our friend and my husband’s former boss, Carlos Aleman, in the Jury Waiting Room –  Room 202.

I got caught up on stories from his daughter’s debut at Georgetown University.  I’m not quite sure what her major is, but she’s learning all about politics, economics, and wonderfully social studies/civics types of classes – AND she has to learn Chinese!

Then he got called away, and I saw teacher I knew, but she didn’t see me and besides we were watching a video about grand juries.  I didn’t have a clue as to what was in store for me.  Before I even had a chance to pull out my Kindle story of Tale of Two Cities, a serious woman behind a glass window called about 30-35 names, and lo and behold my name was among them.  So up I went to the farthest room on the third floor, Department 10.  I can’t tell you a THING about the case, but I can tell you a little about what it was like being on this Grand Jury.

All of us crowded inside the room.  More names were called, and I stayed put.  “NO WORRIES”, I thought.  I speak Spanish.  They threw me out last time because I MIGHT understand what the witness said.

“Are you all of sound mind?”  The judge asked.  Nobody moved a muscle – not even a smile.  “Nobody wants to admit to that.  Is there anyone here who cannot understand English?”  Several people raised their hands.  The judge questioned each one individually, and dismissed them all.  One man didn’t move.  He REALLY didn’t understand English.  Finally people motioned and waved goodbye.  A big grin spilled over his face.  He left.

My name was called.  “NO WORRIES” I thought.  I am best friends with a defense attorney.  The prosecution threw me out last time.  I took my place in the juror’s box.  They called a few more names.

“OK, that’s 19.  the rest of you are dismissed.” I was in shock.  I looked around.  The rest of the 19 were in shock.  The video didn’t warn us about this.  It just said how much fun it (the experience of being on a Grand Jury) was, and how much the jurors learned from their experience, and how they trusted the system now.

The judge looked at us, read some instructions, then said, “___ ___.”  (no names here) “You are going to be the floor manager (I think that’s what he called him.)  Who knew what that meant?  Does any one want to be the keeper of the keys?  The courtroom is locked at all times until YOU let the witnesses in. One juror finally raised her hand.  “And now we need someone to be the court secretary.”  No one raised their hand.  I volunteered.  Then the judge LEFT.  Did you get that?  The man with the black robe walked OUT of the courtroom.

WOW!  Now what?  There were two attorneys.  One said, “I’ve never done a Grand Jury before.”  The other one said, “YOU are in charge,” and looked at US.  “You can  determine your schedules.”

___ ____ took his/her place in the judge’s spot (the bench).  There was a book up there that he could read from when one of the attorneys directed him.  (Usually the judge directs the attorneys.)  “Oh, and you (and the knowledgable one pointed to me) are going to have to move over here somewhere because you are going to manage all the evidence.  But you don’t have to move yet, you can wait until after the break.”  So I stayed put.  We all got packets with the case.  I got a binder with my duties spelled out.  I’m in charge of taking roll.  I guess a retired teacher can do that with no problem.

Then we started hearing witnesses.  After the attorneys finished with their questions, we could submit our questions in writing – but NO TALKING!  So we sat quietly and listened and watched.  Still in shock.  Was this really happening to us?  We came back after lunch.  More witnesses.  One juror had to be home to pick up kids by 3:00, so we adjourned at 2:45.  Everybody agreed to start at 8:30 the next morning.

It came SO early!  I took roll, and noted the time when ___ ___ called the court to session.  More witnesses.  No lunch because a different person had to go on a trip, so we got out at 1:08.  I wrote it down as prescribed by my job description.  ___  ___ admonished us not to talk to anyone, ANYONE about anything regarding the case under penalty of perjury.  We will be done on Monday.  Our only job is to decide whether the case needs to come to trial, or in courtspeak “whether a criminal indictment will be issued.”  That’s it.  We don’t decide if the accused is innocent or guilty.

I looked up Grand Jury in Wikipedia.  I know that’s not the total expert, but it was quick and interesting to note that ONLY the United States even uses Grand Juries, and only 21 of the states still employ them.  Grand Juries got the name GRAND because they are big.  Notice, we are a group of 19, not 12.  That makes us just Grand as opposed to petit juries, or trial juries.  Grand juries had a lot of business and were influential in public matters in the beginning days of the United States. Once public prosecutors came into being, the Grand Jury was not AS necessary to weed out “incompetent or malicious” prosecutions.

So on Monday I go back to do the mostly unnecessary work of weeding out a potentially malicious or incompetent prosecution, with the two prosecutors directing our GRAND group as to what to do.  Amazingly, I’m OK with that.

Have you ever served on a Grand Jury?  Does your state even use Grand Juries?  Did you like the story of my experience, or was it as dull as sitting in a Jury Waiting Room?

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Ocean Canyon RV Park

The last time I went to the California Central Coast with my friends, we rented a house at Shell Beach for $175 a night (summer rates).  This time my husband, puppy and I stayed in our trailer at a KOA RV park where we own a time share.  The cost for this trip would have been $132 for two nights, but since we own the time-share it is free.  Even the wi-fi was free this trip, but it is usually $10 per 24 hour period.

It’s almost like being in a gated community.  …without the gate.

There are about as many varieties of RVs here as there are campers.  It’s not as interesting as walking up the streets of Berkeley, but there is a story there which I’ll tell you in another blog.  What you see in this picture are the park model trailers that belong to the park.  When you buy a time share you get a free week in one of the park models, so it’s nice if you have family that can join you.  My brother and I stayed in one once because they have two bedrooms so it’s almost like home.  You just bring your own linens, and you’re set for the week.

The grounds are well-kept and the flowers…  that’s another story as well…

If you’ve read my blog you can go back and read about the Avila Barn to get the setting.  This particular park is right across Ontario Avenue from the Avila Barn where you can pick up all kinds of fresh vegetables grown right there.  If you walk down Ontario across a bridge, you come to the entrance of a bike path (one of my favs).  This path takes you 1.5 miles to a cute grocery story/restaurant where you can get anything for the price millionaires pay.  Or you can walk three miles all the way to Avila Beach.

Inside the park it’s quiet except for the freeway which runs directly behind the park above the trees.  I tried to capture a picture or a car or truck passing in that little area of sky to show how close it is, but even though I could hear traffic, the trees hid all the cars from my view.  Back to the quiet aspect – The reason for the QUIET is the live-in managers who go out of their way to be friendly, visible, and manage us well.  Several managers have come and gone since we’ve come, but they are always nice.  This current manager gave me a photography lesson, and several photography magazines when he saw me taking pictures around the park.  So I took his picture.

Ah yes, QUIET.  I guess the better word would be SLOW, and slow seems to produce quiet.  All ages come to the park, but it seems to be a majority of older people who bring their whole families.

There are lots of activities here, and you wouldn’t even have to go anywhere else if family time is the object of your trip.

The pool is heated to 85 degrees year round.  My brother and I swam at night in March and were perfectly comfortable.

If we got a little cold we climbed into the spa.  Had we wanted to, we could have washed the chlorine off of us in an outdoor shower.  We didn’t do that, and unlike at the beach, I’ve never seen anyone else do it either.

I have never seen a movie on the outdoor screen, but when Smiley (no kidding, that was his name) sold us the time share, he said that the park shows a movie every Saturday night.

One young man and his son were pretty capable basket ball shooters, so I had fun trying to capture their intense expressions and pretend I was a sports photographer.  I needed my 70-300 lens, but I hadn’t expected to use it, so it was in the trailer.

I thought I was all done taking pictures of the stars, but as I started to leave, Dad took a few shots, so how could I stop?

Twins enjoyed the slide while their grandparents watched them.

People walk their , babies, dolls, dogs and ride bikes around the park, but the managers are vigilant.

Years ago one of our friends almost got escorted out of the park because the previous managers had asked her son to slow down two or three times when he was riding his bike. – and he was 7, so you know how long he remembered that!!!  Doggies, you have to watch your pees and Qs, too,

or you may wake up and find yourself tied to the posts outside the park.

(JK, but don’t press your luck, poopies, ops puppies.)

Nobody has even scuffed the paint on the shuffleboard.  You can decide what that means.

There’s also a clubhouse.

Inside you can play cards or working jigsaw puzzles with friends, enjoy an evening by the fire reading old books that other visitors have donated, play ping-pong or table shuffleboard.  That shuffle board table is VERY scuffed.  My inside pictures came out poorly.  Maybe in my next article, I’ll share them.

Each Saturday and Sunday the park staff cooks a simple breakfast that campers may purchase for about $5.00.  We haven’t done that yet, but we did go to a pot luck dinner once and had a good time.

Since many people are here with family members or friends, you smell a lot of outdoor cooking.  I usually walk 1.5 miles and have bagels, cream cheese, lox, capers and fresh tomatoes and fruit.

The accommodations are as elegant inside as you want to make them.  Ours are simple, but comfortable, and Kalev is welcome here.